The health of the Chesapeake Bay has seen significant improvements over time, but parts of the region still face pollution issues and progress has somewhat plateaued in recent years, according to a report released last week. The University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gave the Bay’s overall health a “C” grade in its annual report.
The grade has not changed much since 2019, when it received a C-. But the health of the Bay has seen significant improvements, and the score itself went up by 6% compared with last year. Despite this progress, experts generally expect the region to miss its 2025 goal for cleaning up nutrient pollution.
“While the trajectory of improvements, particularly concerning nutrients in the Bay, is in the right direction, we need to pick up the pace,” said Peter Goodwin, president of UMCES, in a statement.
The 2025 goal will become the third missed target for addressing nutrient pollution, which largely stems from urban and agricultural runoff. The first deadline was in 2000, and the second in 2010.
In remarks at a June 6 press conference on Daingerfield Island in Alexandria, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) described efforts to restore the bay as similar to trying to walk up an escalator heading down.
“We have to establish new, ambitious targets, and we need to hold ourselves accountable to get there,” Van Hollen said.
Taking Environmental Justice Into Account
For the first time, this year’s report included a measurement of environmental justice disparities between different areas within the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed. UMCES used a tool released by the CDC last year called the Environmental Justice Index to examine the inequities that persist in the region.
“The addition of the Environmental Justice Index provides a more holistic perspective of Chesapeake Bay and watershed health,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for science application at UMCES, in a statement. “This holistic approach will make sure the report card is relevant to all communities in the Chesapeake watershed.”
The index combines 36 factors across three categories — environmental, social, and health — to rank environmental justice impact on communities’ health.
Indicators include level of pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic status, race, housing types and environmental burdens like air and water pollution. Within the Chesapeake Bay region, the report said, cities and rural areas tend to experience more environmental impacts on health than suburbs.
“We need to have healthy communities to ensure that we achieve a healthy Chesapeake Bay,” Dennison said. “Addressing environmental justice is critical to ensure that restoration enhances long-term sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in an equitable way.”