Chesapeake Bay barely gets passing marks on latest report card

The Chesapeake Bay keeps its D-plus rating in the latest State of the Bay report because of the ongoing struggle to reduce farm pollution and from a decline in the number of species in the bay, such as the blue crab.

The report, released Thursday, is conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and released every two years. It issued the same score in 2020. The study measures the health of the bay in three categories: pollution, habitats and fisheries. There are 13 indicators among the categories and each gets a grade. An A would mean the bay is as healthy as it was in the early 1600s based on historical records.

Phosphorous runoff earned a D because there is still significant contamination, but the amount of pollution has slightly improved. Phosphorous, which comes from fertilizer and pet waste, gets into the bay and promotes the growth of algae, which kills off plants and creates dead zones. Nitrogen pollution earned an F as it did in the last report because the rate hasn’t worsened or improved.

There is a concern that limiting pollutants from entering the bay will become more difficult as are sea levels rise and flooding will still carry toxins into the water.

Peggy Sanner, CBF Virginia executive director, said farmers are working to prevent runoff but the government needs to invest more money in installing wetland buffers. She said at least $140 million will need to be invested this year.

The most recent push to combat sea level rise came from the Community Flood Preparedness Fund under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation announced Friday $52 million in flood resilience grants and Norfolk will receive $25 million for a flood wall.

The study also noted that blue crab populations and water clarity have worsened.

The blue crab populations are the lowest in the 33 years that the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences has conducted surveys. The count sparked the Environmental Protection Agency and state governments recently to reassess how the blue crab fishery is managed.

“We don’t really know how many crab pots are out there at any given time,” said Chris Moore, senior regional ecosystem scientist with the CBF.

Populations are measured by how many female blue crabs are in the bay. The population has not dropped low enough for the EPA’s fishery managers to put a halt on blue crab harvesting, but fewer juvenile crabs are being found.

Oyster restoration has improved, but was still graded at an F because researchers said the amount of oysters in the bay does not compare to the numbers of the early 1600s.

Two areas of improvement included a rise in the rockfish population — B-minus — and a decrease in phosphorous pollution, which only improved slightly.

“While the news is tough today, we are all optimistic about the future,” said Hilary Falk, president of the CBF.

Everett Eaton, 262-902-7896,