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A Year of (Literal and Figurative) Ups and Downs for Our Waterways

Casey Trees: “Every other year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation releases a State of the Bay. Similar to our annual efforts with the Tree Report Card, this report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay’s health based on 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. The report finds the bay “dangerously out of balance,” giving it a D+ grade, down from a C- in the last report, in 2016. Most health indicators dropped or remained the same. The three biggest slides were in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and water clarity, each of which received an F. The drop was largely due to increased pollution from roadways, farms, and humans and poor water clarity caused by record regional rainfall. Still, there are heartening signs that the Bay is building resiliency. Bay grasses remain intact and recent studies indicate an improving trend in underwater dead zones over the long term. But the system remains dangerously out of balance. And new challenges like climate change and increasingly lax environmental protections are threatening success.

Closer to home, this past year was the very first year the Anacostia River posted a passing grade on the Anacostia Watershed Society’s State of the River Report Card. The grade — a 63, or D — is an accomplishment for a river that has failed every annual check for 10 years. Much like the Bay, booming aquatic vegetation is cause for celebration whereas water clarity and levels of toxins and trash are still much too high.

Both of these rivers suffer mightily from stormwater runoff or rainfall that flows over the ground surface. Stormwater runoff is a major issue because water flowing from impervious surfaces (e.g., roads, parking lots, driveways, roofs) brings numerous pollutants to streams and generates torrential stream flow, which causes streambank erosion and makes the water cloudy and inundates the river with sediment. The runoff also carries fecal matter, trash, and other pollutants to the river, the effects of which can clearly be seen in the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay….”

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