Bay Bridge from the air. Annual "barometer" finds the estuary still impaired but improving in a number of respects.
Bay Bridge from the air. Annual "barometer" finds the estuary still impaired but improving in a number of respects. (Kim Hairston)

The Chesapeake Bay is showing increased resilience in the face of natural and man-made abuses, though it's still seriously impaired, according to the latest official report on the regional restoration effort.

The annual "Bay Barometer" released Thursday says that only 34 percent of the mainstem of the Chesapeake has enough oxygen in it during summer for fish and shellfish to thrive, oyster populations remain a fraction of what they once were and a majority of streams throughout the six-state watershed are in poor or very poor condition.

But the report by the Bay Program, the multistate effort overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, also pointed out what it called "signs of resilience and hope," including the shrinking of the annual oxygen-starved "dead zone" in the middle of the bay to its smallest size in 27 years. 

In addition, the report card noted that underwater grass beds on the lower Susquehanna River important to spawning fish survived the flooding from Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 with only moderate damage. And the bay's rockfish and female crab populations, though down lately, are still deemed within sustainable range, it said.

"While we clearly have a lot of work to do, the bay is resilient and we have reason for hope," said Nick DiPasquale, EPA's bay program director.

The Bay Program's update on the estuary's health echoes one released earlier this month by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  Their "partly sunny" forecasts are likely fodder to answer complaints from across the watershed about increased regulation and cleanup costs that are required to meet the pollution reduction goals for the cleanup effort.

DiPasquale stressed the progress the states say they've made in ratcheting up their cleanup effort since the EPA put the region on a "pollution diet" requiring major reductions in the nutrients and sediment fouling the bay.  He noted that in the past two years alone, the state "partners" figure they've moved 19 to 30 percent closer to their goals for curbing those pollutants.

Maryland officials also touted planting trees along 43 miles of stream, restoring 750 acres of wetlands and tallying 578 sites where the public can access the water, claiming to have the most in the entire six-state watershed (see previous post about water access).

To learn more, go here.