Heavy Rain May Affect Chesapeake Bay Health

Heavy Rain May Affect Chesapeake Bay Health
Heavy Rain May Affect Chesapeake Bay Health

The heavy rainstorms of mid-March resulted in over 3 inches of rain across much of Maryland, and if excessive wet weather continues, may result in less underwater grasses, an increase in algae blooms and early onset of dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will continue its comprehensive Chesapeake Bay water quality habitat and living resource monitoring to assess any short- or long-term storm-related impacts.


"In addition to the heavy rains, rapidly melting snow cover in western Maryland and Pennsylvania, and saturated soils caused the rain and snowmelt to run off streets, parking lots, buildings, residential yards and farm fields, filling neighborhood stormwater facilities and downstream culverts, small creeks and wetlands," said Tom Parham, director of DNR's Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment. "This surge of water carrying excessive nutrients, sediments and other pollutants continued downstream to rivers, and then eventually down to the Chesapeake Bay. Continued wet spring weather could extend these high freshwater flows that might result in less underwater grasses, an increase in algal blooms and an early onset of Bay "dead-zones."

A high amount of freshwater flowing into the Chesapeake Bay erodes sediments and transports polluted runoff (including nutrients and sediments) downstream towards the Bay. Generally, short-term storms will have short-term impacts on the Bay, but, if wet weather continues, there could be long-term consequences for the Bay's water quality, and its abundant plant and animal population, as well.

The late winter/early spring season is a critical period for many aquatic species such as the underwater grasses, which are beginning to grow and the many types of fish, which are beginning to spawn. Full storm impacts may not be known until mid-summer or later. However, through its comprehensive Chesapeake Bay monitoring programs, DNR will be assessing the short and long-term impacts of the March storms on the health of the Bay's water, habitat and its living resources.


Even with the surges in precipitation, Maryland is committed to reducing polluted runoff in order to meet Chesapeake Bay water quality goals. In May 2009, along with Pennsylvania and Virginia, Maryland agreed to aggressive 2-year milestones for assuring accountability in limiting nutrients and sediments entering the Bay. This will require citizens, businesses, and local, state and federal governments to work together in efforts to reduce polluted runoff, such as:

  • planting cover crops to reduce runoff from farms,
  • reducing runoff from urban areas,
  • restoring natural filters, and
  • conserving high priority lands.

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