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Chesapeake Bay Health Improves, But There's A Long Way To Go

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A grade of "C" on a report card often comes with a brief note -- "Needs improvement."

And that sums up the annual scientific report card the University of Maryland is giving to the Chesapeake Bay.

While it may be in the middle of the grading curve, when it comes to the bay's health, a C is still an encouraging improvement.

"This bay has been under assault for almost three centuries now," says Nick Dipasquale, of the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program. "And it's not going to get turned around in a couple of decades."

But according to the UMD Center for Environmental Science, things are starting to turn around.

"This is very positive for the bay," says Dr. Bill Dennison.

When the university issued its first bay report card in 2006, the number score was a 43, or a "D." The latest grade is a 54.

"If you consider the Chesapeake Bay a patient, we went into the emergency room in critical condition... the patient is still in ICU, still monitored, we still have to be vigilant, but we're in stable condition and I think we're showing signs of improvement," Dennison says.

Here's why.

Fewer pollutants are flowing off the land into streams feeding the bay. Upgrades to sewage treatment plants have reduced nitrogen and phosphorous, in turn reducing algae blooms and dead zones. Crab, oyster and fish stocks in the bay are showing positive growth and water clarity and underwater grassed are also beginning to rebound.

In the past, the best report cards came during severe droughts. When there was heavy rain, pollution and sediment used to overwhelm the bay, damaging water quality and everything that depends on it.

That's changing, too.

"These improvement are pretty much weather independent... that's what's giving us cause for optimism," Dennison says.

Even after recent massive events like Hurricane Sandy, the bay's improving water quality has weathered heavy run-off from the land.

The University of Maryland doesn't just focus on our state. It also studies what's entering streams and rivers from five other state's that make up the bay's watershed.

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