- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The Chesapeake Bay is in pitiful condition despite restoration efforts, according to reports released yesterday by the University of Maryland and a federal-state partnership charged with Bay cleanup.

The university’s Center for Environmental Science gave the Bay an overall grade of D+ for 2006, with a tributary closest to Baltimore getting an F for such problems as low dissolved oxygen and cloudy water.

An analysis by the Chesapeake Bay Program, also released yesterday, showed distress in every health indicator tracked.

Most of the water in the Bay was described as “degraded,” with only one-third of water-quality goals met last year.

Bottom-dwellers such as clams and worms were suffering, while harmful algae persisted. Fish and shellfish were at two-fifths of desired levels.

Bay grasses declined by a quarter last year.

“The Bay is not responding as robustly and fully as we’d hope,” said Jeff Lape, director of the program.

The report card noted few bright spots.

The healthiest region of the Bay, the northernmost portion often called the Susquehanna Flats, notched a C+. The Patapsco and Back rivers near Baltimore had “very poor” conditions, and even rural areas were in bad shape. For example, the Choptank River on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore earned a D, lower than the Potomac River, which flows past the District.

“None of it is very good shape; 2006 wasn’t a particularly good year for the Bay,” said Bill Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Several restoration specialists gathered yesterday to review to report said that steps taken to improve the Bay will work, but they need more time.

“Everything is inching up. The unfortunate news is that everything is inching up slowly,” said Carlton Haywood of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

Among the efforts cited were sewage-plant upgrades in Maryland and Virginia, car-emissions laws in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and baywide efforts to plant underwater grasses, which help filter pollution and provide habitat.

“I hope [the report card] doesn’t give the wrong impression that we’re simply not making progress,” said Jeff Corbin, assistant secretary of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. “We’re doing this for the long haul.”

Others agreed.

“If we had a simple solution, we would’ve implemented it,” said Frank Dawson, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The public officials repeatedly said they are working at top speed to clean up the Bay. But some environmentalists, who attended the briefing but did not participate in the report card, questioned that assertion.

“We cannot continue to go at the same pace we’ve been going for the last five to 10 years and expect to see greater restoration. It just won’t happen,” said Roy Hoagland, a vice president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

That group puts out its own report card each year and agrees that Bay health is at basement levels, but it disagrees that enough is being done to restore the estuary.

Mr. Hoagland pointed out the failure earlier this month of Maryland lawmakers to approve a new development tax projected to raise $130 million a year for Bay cleanup.

“We haven’t seen state leadership,” Mr. Hoagland said.

The report card did have a couple of bright spots, albeit small ones. The authors noted that fish passages have increased, which could give fish greater habitat, and that Bay grasses are rebounding in parts of the northern Bay.

However, even the predictions of future success were muted by warnings that population growth expected in the region could turn back progress. The report concluded that “actions taken to date have not yet been sufficient to restore the health of the bay.”

“We’re maybe a little bit less than halfway there,” Mr. Haywood said.

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