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Update on Health of Chesapeake Bay: Fragile

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GRAPHIC: Agricultural and conservation activities on Central Pennsylvania creeks, streams and rivers play a significant role in the overall health of Chesapeake Bay, according to the latest biennial report on the state of the bay. Image courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
GRAPHIC: Agricultural and conservation activities on Central Pennsylvania creeks, streams and rivers play a significant role in the overall health of Chesapeake Bay, according to the latest biennial report on the state of the bay. Image courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
January 6, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The condition of Chesapeake Bay is still very fragile, according to a new report just released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

This year the bay comes in with an overall score of D-plus, the same grade as the last report in 2012. Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says the report does offer some good news in spite of the poor letter grade.

"Most exciting are the elements of the report we care the most about," says Baker. "Dissolved oxygen, oysters, underwater grasses, and water clarity are all going up."

On the other hand, Baker says the health of rockfish and the bay's iconic blue crab populations have declined.

"In terms of the blue crab, scientists aren't sure what's going on," he says. "It may be climate change, maybe there's a new virus, maybe it's simply a natural variation."

Baker also points out that despite the fact no part of Pennsylvania physically touches Chesapeake Bay, the commonwealth's watersheds play a significant role in the bay's overall health.

"Half of all of Pennsylvania is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed," he says. "So all of the rivers and creeks in the central part of Pennsylvania are part of the watershed, and creating cleaner water quality conditions in Pennsylvania will benefit water quality downstream."

Baker says a restored watershed will provide billions of dollars in benefits, including $40 billion a year in Pennsylvania, in the form of cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreational opportunities and fresh, healthy food and seafood.

"Agriculture has a big role to play," he says. "One of the best ways to reduce agricultural pollution is to plant forested buffers. That is extremely valuable for the quality of local creeks and rivers."

According to the report, Pennsylvania currently plants six acres per day of such buffers, but needs to plant 50 acres a day to fully protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - PA