Looking out for water quality in Chesapeake Bay and area

Annapolis Maryland - Governor Martin O'Malley announces the Chesapeake Bay showed broad water quality improvements in 2009, receiving its highest mark since 2002 from the annual Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card. Joined by citizens, stakeholders and scientists alongside the Gunpowder River in Baltimore County, Governor O'Malley also launched StreamHealth, a new website to help Marylanders learn about the health of their streams and take action to improve them.

The report card - an annual analysis conducted through the EcoCheck partnership between University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office - is based on data collected by state and federal agencies through the Chesapeake Bay Program. The 2009 report noted improved conditions in eight Bay regions and degraded conditions in two, earning the Bay a grade of "C" for overall health.

"This report provides us with an independent look at how we in Maryland are living up to our commitment to restore the Bay," said Governor O'Malley. "When integrated with our BayStat initiative, snapshots like this one help us hold ourselves accountable for meeting key milestones that will lead us to a healthier Bay. This is the Bay's highest grade since 2002 and an improvement over 2008's 'C-minus.' Through our continued acceleration of efforts on the ground that we will deliver the results we need to turn the Bay and its rivers around."

Grades for 14 reporting Bay regions varied, ranging from "B-minus" (moderate-good) to "F" (very poor). The highest ranked region, for the third year in a row, was the Upper Western Shore, which includes the Bush and Gunpowder Rivers. The lowest ranked region was the Patapsco and Back Rivers.Scientists attribute the overall improvements to last year's unique regional rainfall patterns, continued efforts to reduce nutrient pollution within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the gradual rebound in Bay health since the historically poor conditions observed in 2003. Over the report's 24-year history, overall Bay health was rated at its highest in 1993 with a score of 57, and it lowest in 2003 with a score of 35. The 2009 rating of 46 falls in the top 25 percentile.

"Despite the record high rainfall in parts of Maryland and Virginia, the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay improved last year," said UMCES researcher and project leader Dr. William Dennison. "Normally, more precipitation means poorer Bay health. But last year, the Bay benefited from below average rainfall throughout Pennsylvania which appears to have reduced the amount of pollutants reaching the open waters of the mainstem Bay."

To help citizens better understand their critical connection to Bay health and encourage them to take action, Governor O'Malley today launched StreamHealth, a powerful new web-based tool that provides resources for citizens, grassroots organizations, schools and scout groups to survey their streams, and receive technical guidance and funding opportunities to restore and protect them.

Developed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Maryland Environmental Service, Towson University, and the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Information Technology, the site's interactive map provides information on individual stream health as well as the presence or absence of forested streamside buffers and impervious surfaces - two of the major factors influencing stream health.

"The health of the Bay is ultimately determined by what we do on the land -- in our cities and towns, on our farms and forests, in our schools and backyards," said Governor O'Malley. "Through this website we are providing information that is real to people because they can see the status of the streams in their neighborhoods -- our lifelines to the Bay."

"We must view our streams as ecological and aesthetic assets -- not just places where trash collects and flooding occurs," said Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin.

Governor O'Malley also encouraged citizens to join the Stream Waders program, the volunteer arm of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, an internationally acclaimed assessment program that provides data for the StreamHealth website as well as the Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card.

"Over the past 10 years, nearly 1,800 Stream Wader volunteers have sampled aquatic insect populations at about 6,000 stream sites, excellent indicators of stream health," said Governor O'Malley. "Like our citizen tree-planting and oyster growing efforts, Stream Waders offers citizens an opportunity to take personal responsibility for the stewardship of our fragile, finite resources."

Today's announcements come less than a week after the Environmental Protection Agency released its new strategy for Chesapeake Bay Restoration. Under the leadership of Governor O'Malley, Maryland is well poised to meet the new strategy, with many effective efforts already delivering results. These include: recent actions on stormwater, steps to better manage poultry litter and power plant rules, action on blue crabs and oysters, continued full funding of Program Open Space, upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, installation of best management practices on farm land and targeting and tracking through BayStat. In another significant victory for Marylanders and the Bay, the 2010 General Assembly approved Governor O'Malley's request for $20 million for the Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, an essential component in achieving the State's 2-Year Milestones.

More information about the 2009 Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card is available here, including region-specific data and downloadable graphics.Christopher Conner at cconner@umces.edu (443) 496-0095. UMCES is currently working with local watershed organizations to develop river-specific report cards to give residents a creek-by-creek look at their local waters.For more information about StreamHealth, visit www.streamhealth.maryland.gov.

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