After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Chesapeake Bay Report Card: “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News”

(Posted by Bill Dennison.)

This year’s Chesapeake Bay report card, produced by EcoCheck, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, was released last week. The overall report card score was a C-, based on data collected throughout 2010. Unfortunately, this report card score declined from the 2009 report card which was a C, and this was the first time the score declined since 2004. Of the 15 reporting regions, only two had higher scores than last year, but nine had lower scores, leaving four with no change.

The Chesapeake Bay report card is based on three water quality parameters (dissolved oxygen, water clarity and chlorophyll levels) and three biotic parameters (aquatic grasses, benthic index of biotic integrity and phytoplankton index of biotic integrity). The data are collected and analyzed by state agencies, academic institutions and private consultants, and coordinated through the Chesapeake Bay Program. EcoCheck staff then calculate, map and analyze report card scores to produce the final report card.

Why was this year’s Chesapeake Bay report card bad news? The report card indicators are influenced by nutrient loading into the Bay, and one of the most efficient ways to increase nutrient loading is to have dry weather punctuated by high runoff, washing unused fertilizer, animal waste and other nutrient sources into the streams and rivers. In the Potomac River watershed, this is what happened last late winter and early spring.

Chesapeake Bay aquatic grass, one of the biotic indicators in the report card, had a downturn which is likely due to thermal stress in early summer. Hot, still weather created extremely high water temperatures in the shallow water where aquatic grasses reside. The heat stress led to aquatic grass declines, just as happened in the late summer of 2005.

The natural inclination when receiving a bad grade is to blame the weather. “It was too rainy,” “It was too hot,” etc., but what really causes problems are the things that we are doing on land that affect runoff when it does rain. Animal waste and unused fertilizer applied to the land is delivered to the Bay with rainfall-derived runoff. In this sense, blaming the rain is blaming the courier (I.e., shooting the messenger), rather than the real cause. Heat stressed aquatic grasses will bounce back in healthy meadows supported by good water quality, but will not do well in poor water quality.

No one likes to receive a bad report card, no matter the cause or the overall upward trend since 2003. What is important is our reaction to the bad news report card. We need to be receptive to the message that we still need to do more, that our considerable efforts are not enough to guarantee measurable improvements in the Bay health. The Chesapeake Bay report card is totally data based, and there is no subjectivity to the final grades. The data are the data. It is up to us not to say “Don’t bring me no bad news,” but rather, “We’ll do better next time.” Inspired by the need to avoid saying “Don’t bring me no bad news,” I have adapted the lyrics for a song with the same name:

Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News

(Adapted from lyrics by Charlie Smalls for a song of the same name, used in the musical “The Wiz” and sung by Mabel King in the film version)

When I wake up and look at Chesapeake
Which it pleases me to do
Don’t nobody bring me no bad news
‘Cause I wake up already negative
And I’ve got too much to lose
So don’t nobody bring me no bad news

If we’re going to be reportin’
Better bone up on the grades
‘Cause don’t nobody bring me no bad news
You can be my best of friends
If you act before hope fades
But don’t nobody bring me no bad news

No bad news
No bad news
Don’t you ever bring me no bad news
‘Cause I’ll need you to act right now
That you cannot refuse
So don’t nobody bring me no bad news

When you’re lookin’ at the grades
Don’t be cryin’ the blues
‘Cause don’t nobody bring me no bad news
You can rationalize and apologize
But just start payin’ your dues
But don’t nobody bring me no bad news

Bring some restoration to the Bay
We cannot afford to lose
But don’t you ever bring me no bad news
If you’re gonna bring me something
Bring me, something I can use
But don’t you bring me no bad news

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