The Chesapeake Bay's water quality has taken a turn for the better, state officials report, as the oxygen-starved 'dead zone' where fish, crabs and shellfish struggle to breathe has shrunk to its second smallest since 1985.

Water samples taken in early August found that 11.8 percent of the Maryland portion of the bay has poor oxygen levels, nearly half the long-term average for this time of year, according to a report posted online by the state Department of Natural Resources.

That's a turnaround from July, when the volume of water with low oxygen levels was above average. The improvement is attributed to the dry weather lately, which has kept rain from washing pollution into the bay. 

Water quality has been better than average for the year overall, which officials say indicates the bay has suffered little lasting impact from Tropical Storm Lee, which flushed millions of tons of sediment and nutrient pollution into the Chesapeake and extended its dead zone into the fall. 

Despite the good news, the DNR report notes that a substantial portion of the Chesapeake still can't provide suitable habitat for fish, crabs and other shellfish.