Weather Swings Have Left Chesapeake Bay In Bad Shape

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Chesapeake Bay
Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Wild swings in the weather in 2011 have left the Chesapeake Bay in its worst shape in years.

Alex DeMetrick reports too much of what are normally good things left the bay with bad water.

Every year, the University of Maryland oversees a bay report card. 2011’s comes with a grade of D+.

“It’s the second worst that we’ve been able to calculate since we started in 1986,” said Dr. William Dennison, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

It was triggered last spring when heavy rains hit the bay’s multi-state watershed.

“Which brought lots of nutrients and sediments down the rivers followed by a long, hot, dry summer that cooked in the bay,” Dennison said.

That cooking produced huge algae blooms, which fed off nutrients like nitrogen that washed in with the spring rains. Oxygen vanished and dead zones spread. Then the final blow hit: huge runoff from Tropical Storm Lee. Almost 500 cubic feet per second of water poured into the bay from the Susquehanna River alone—and not just water, sediment researchers hadn’t seen in decades.

“Too much sediment can definitely disrupt the living resources of the bay,” said Jenn Aiosa, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

It did, burying and causing a die-off of underwater grasses. It helped earn an F in water quality for the Patuxent River. Only the upper western shore scored above a D for 2011.

While the weather hurt last year, this year’s warmer and drier conditions could mean a healthier bay in 2012.

“We’re very hopeful,” Dennison said.

Experts who track water quality say conditions could have been even worse last year if improvements in sewage treatment and land use had not been started.

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