The Chesapeake Bay's health appears to be slowly rebounding, but still has a long way to go to be considered fully recovered, according to the region's largest environmental group.
The Annapolis-based Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the estuary's overall condition last year slightly better than it was two years ago, when the group took its last comprehensive look. CBF gave the bay a score of 32 out of 70 for 2012, a one-point gain from two years ago and up four points since 2008.
"While the Bay is still dangerously out of balance, I am cautiously optimistic for the future," CBF President William C. Baker said in a statement released with the report.
The foundation's "State of the Bay" report found improvements in levels of phosphorus pollution, in dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water and in the abundance of oysters and crabs and certain aspects of protecting or restoring ecologically important "resource lands." Only one, underwater grasses, declined. More aspects of the bay's health remained unchanged - levels of nitrogen and toxic pollution, extent of wetlands and forested stream buffers, and numbers of rockfish and shad.
Some offered a slightly different perspective on the bay's water quality, which the foundation graded a D overall. "Eyes on the Bay," a program of the state Department of Natural Resources that provides real-time data and analysis of water quality in the Chesapeake and coastal bays, asked via Twitter: "How are nutrient grades derived?" It said it's tracked record low levels of nitrogen as well as phosphorus in the bay's river tributaries over the past year.
Looking ahead to this year, the foundation said Maryland, though a leader in the six-state bay restoration effort, faces a challenge dealing with complaints from rural communities about the costs of pollution reductions required of them under the bay cleanup plan. Several counties have hired a law firm to help them question the state's requirements of them. CBF urges the state to stand firm on requiring reductions but to work with local officials to find "cost-effective" solutions.
Baker said the gradual increases in the group's report card suggest that the bay watershed states's efforts to comply with the federal government's "pollution diet" for the Chesapeake seem to be showing results.
"We have never before had this level of accountability and transparency in Bay restoration efforts," Baker said. "This is indeed THE moment in time for the Bay. Our children and grandchildren can inherit a restored Chesapeake Bay, but only if we continue the hard work and investments that will lead to success."