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Tropical Storm Contributes to Declining Grade for Bay Health

SedimentationHeavy rains and runoff pollution contributed to a poor grade -- D plus -- in the University of Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most recent report card on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The grade for 2011 was lower than the previous year’s C minus and meant that the Bay received its second worse health score since scientists began making annual assessments in 1986, according to the report .

The Bay had the lowest water clarity on record and a large drop in aquatic vegetation, according to the report.   The good news from the report is the continuing recovery of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, whose populations have been boosted by restrictions in catching females.

“Flood waters from the Susquehanna River watershed during Tropical Storm Lee (on September 7, 2011) brought up to…one and a half inches of sediments to the Upper Bay,” according to the report.  This runoff pollution from the storm is shown in the NASA satellite image of the Bay above.


It is impossible to control rain events like Tropical Storm Lee, of course.  But projects to control runoff pollution from developed and agricultural areas can help reduce the impact of storms like Lee  by slowing and filtering rainwater mixed with pollutants before it flushes into streams and rivers that feed the Bay. 

This is why it is important for municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay region to support stormwater system constrution projects and agricultural conservation programs  that control runoff.

A new law passed in Maryland last week requires Baltimore and the state’s nine largest and most urban counties to create stormwater control fees. An existing program provides funding for winter cover crops to reduce agricultural runoff.  The University of Maryland report says that Maryland supported a record planting of cover crops in 2001.

To learn more, click here.

ByTom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation


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