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Reporting on Chesapeake Report Cards

Editor’s note
    Three report cards come to us in the early months of the year, each asking us to consider the health of the Chesapeake Bay and where — if anywhere — all our work is getting us.
    Each arrives at a different time, uses different criteria and grading systems and supports a different agenda. How to make sense of any — let alone all — of them? Here staff writer Ashley Brotherton offers a cheat-sheet on the basics.
    The goal of all three is, of course, improvement. On any scale, upward movement takes a lot of work. To see just how much, we consider shad, fish that are not only a CBF State of the Bay indicator but also on the move as spring stirs their ancestral memories.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation State of the Bay

January’s 2012 State of the Bay is the latest report card in a 15-year series released every two years by one of the Chesapeake’s largest non-profit advocacy groups.
    Bottom Line: This year’s grade is D, a composite of four F’s, five D’s, one C, two B’s, and only one A (rockfish).
    The Scale: Letter grades correlate to scaled rankings. The ideal score, 100, represents the impossible goal of the Bay as Captain John Smith saw it in 1608. This year’s overall health index rose to 32, one point up from 2010.
    A = 70
    F = 20
    What’s Graded: The state of the Bay is scored on 13 indicators, which combine to draw a big picture of the Bay in three measures: Habitat, Pollution and Fisheries.
    How It’s Graded: Indicators in each category are analyzed by Chesapeake Bay Foundation scientists, who compare the data to the last report for improvement, stability or decline. The grade is based on the degree of change.
    The Takeaway: The Bay isn’t where we want it, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. But it is improving. We’re one point closer to an A grade.
    How to Improve: The answer to a restored Bay is the Clean Water Blueprint, based on the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution limits. The six Bay states and local governments including the District of Columbia have goals they must meet — or suffer consequences. If all goes according to plan, by 2025 the Bay will be removed from the impaired waters list.
    What Could Go Wrong: Anti-Bay lobbyists who worry that the goal is too expensive could convince legislators to end the cleanup.

Chesapeake Bay Program Bay Barometer

The Chesapeake Bay Program released its annual report card, the Bay Barometer, in the last weeks of January. The 2012 Barometer is the 29th, dating back to the Program’s beginning in 1983 as the original partnership of the EPA, the District of Columbia and Bay states to restore the Chesapeake. The data are highly regulated as they are used to shape public polity.
    Bottom Line: Many indicators slid farther from the target goal, but only slightly. The good news is that the Bay held its ground to the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
    How It’s Measured: Chesapeake Bay Program scientists long ago decided on the best indicators to measure certain aspects of Bay health. They look at qualitative data for each of 30-plus indicators and graph them onto the past 30 years, showing the fluctuations of progress.
    What’s in the Barometer: About a dozen official indicators appear in the annual report, along with extra tidbits displayed in sidebars. The Barometer highlights popular topics.
    The Whole Picture: Go to to see all of the indicators and the science behind them.
    The Takeaway: Resilience can’t be measured scientifically, but the evidence is there. The Bay stood strong in the tough year of 2011, proving that efforts to restore it are working — as long as we keep the pressure up.
    How to Improve: There is no quick fix. Teaching students the value of restoration continues the line of stewardship. Following the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution limits is the best hope for getting the job done.

University of Maryland ­Center for Environmental Science Report Card

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science releases an annual Bay Report Card in May. The 2012 report card is upcoming.
    Bottom Line: Last year’s overall score, D+, dropped from a four-year C streak. That was the second lowest score since the Center assessment began in 1986. 2011’s wet spring, hot summer and storms Irene and Lee dropped the grade.
    How It’s Measured: The Bay is divided into 15 geographical regions. In each region, scientists study and score six indicators, measuring water clarity and living creatures. All the regions’ scores are averaged for the overall Bay score.
    Biggest Concern: Water clarity was at a 25-year low, scoring only five percent out of 100. Water clarity in two regions bottomed out at zero, for grades of F for the Patuxent and Elizabeth rivers.
    It’s All Connected: One improved indicator starts a chain reaction. If pollution goes down, water clarity improves. If water clarity improves, underwater grasses grow. If underwater grasses grow, the Bay gets the oxygen that creatures need to survive.
    Raise the Grade: You don’t need to be a scientist to contribute to Bay restoration. Build a rain garden in your back yard to divert rainwater carrying sediments and nutrients. Reuse food scraps to create compost instead of chemical fertilizer to make your garden grow. Get your hands dirty and support local initiatives to greenscape parking lots and construction sights. Take the bus to work or ride your bike to the grocery story.
    Be the Spark: You can spark a chain reaction. The step you take could inspire your neighbor to build a rain garden or your cousin to buy an electic car.