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Susquehanna River flooding

The Susquehanna River floods in the York and Lancaster region in summer 2018.

Large amounts of rain in 2018 resulted in increased pollution and poor water clarity, hurting the status of the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s biennial State of the Bay report.

The report’s score on the bay decreased one point to 33, an equivalent to a D plus, because of the rain. The report measures the bay’s comprehensive health looking at pollution, habitat and fisheries. The index score ranges from 1 to 100, with a score below 10 regarded as “dangerously out of balance.” In 1983, the score was 23.

“The good news is that scientists are pointing to evidence of the bay’s increased resiliency and ability to withstand, and recover from, these severe weather events. And this resiliency is a direct result of the pollution reductions achieved to date,” said Beth McGee, CBF’s director of science and agricultural policy. “In addition, we did see increases in scores for dissolved oxygen and bay grasses since 2016, but the recovery is still fragile.”

According to the report, two of the 13 indicators studied — dissolved oxygen and bay grasses — improved since the last report. In the pollution category, water clarity and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution were worse, while the score for shad declined in the fisheries category. Scores for oysters, crabs and rockfish remained the same, according to the report.

The foundation said its goal is to reach a score of 40 by 2025 and ultimately a 70, which would represent a “saved bay.”

Of the primary bay states, Virginia and Maryland were close to meeting the 2017 goals to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers and the bay, though they need to accelerate pollution reduction from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff, according to the foundation.

However, Pennsylvania is far short of its goals, which the foundation saw as a failure to address pollution from agriculture.

“Pennsylvania’s farmers are facing tough economic times and can’t implement the necessary practices on their own. The commonwealth must join Maryland and Virginia to fund proven clean water initiatives to help farmers,” foundation president William Baker said in a news release. “If the state Legislature does not fund efforts to reduce pollution in its next session, EPA must hold Pennsylvania accountable.

“In addition, we are standing with the Maryland Department of the Environment to require that Exelon mitigates for the downstream water quality damage caused by their operation of the Conowingo Dam, which changes the timing and form of pollution reaching downstream waters,” Baker said. “One cost-effective mitigation option is to help reduce the pollution coming down the Susquehanna River before it can ever reach the dam.”

“There’s a lot of work left to be done in Pennsylvania. And the unprecedented rains of last year, which threaten to become the new normal, left farmers and families without their crops, their homes, or in some cases, even their lives,” said Harry Campbell, the executive director of the Pennsylvania foundation. “But there is a growing energy and enthusiasm that the commonwealth can meet the challenge. More farm conservation practices have been found than were known, communities are banding together to address stormwater issues, and long-term river studies are showing improving trends.”

Campbell said he hopes elected leaders will help invest in nature-based efforts, such as placing trees alongside streams and streets, rotational grazing and planting farm field cover crops.

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