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Chesapeake shows signs of resilience, report finds

Bay grasses, crabs and rockfish are showing signs of resilience in the Chesapeake Bay, which continues to suffer from poor water quality as a growing population stresses it, according to a report released Thursday.

The bay barometer provides a snapshot of water data from 2011 and 2012.

The report by the Chesapeake Bay Program says grasses are one of the success stories. Grasses in the large Susquehanna Flats grass bed near the top of the bay not only survived Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, but those in the mid-Bay have seen dramatic increases. However, only 34 percent of the bay met standards for water oxygen levels, and water clarity was very poor.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is the federal and state partnership that coordinates restoration efforts. Partners include the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the six bay watershed states — Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York — and the District of Columbia.

Other bay successes include the rockfish population. The fish, also known as striped bass were once threatened, but their population remains stable and above restoration target levels. The juvenile crab population is at the highest level since 1993 although the number of adult females is down. And the bay’s “dead zone,” where water oxygen levels are too low to support life, is the smallest since 1985.

The successes come as increased restoration efforts have created 240 miles of forested buffers to keep storm water runoff from carrying pollution into waterways and opened 148 miles of streams to migratory fish. Between July 2009 and June 2011, jurisdictions in the bay watershed have reached about 20 percent of their goals for cutting pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus, which promote oxygen-robbing algae blooms that contribute to “dead zone” growth, the report said.

Reductions in sediment running off areas such as farm fields, construction sites and developments has also reached 30 percent of the goal called for under a restoration strategy mandated by a 2009 presidential order. The order put the federal government at the head of the effort that had previously been led by the states.

However, the effort has prompted a court challenge arguing the EPA has overstepped its authority by mandating the states develop and stick to tougher pollution limits.

Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale said the data shows “it is a great time for optimism, if we continue moving in the right direction.”