Friday, February 26, 2016

Episode 305 (2-29-16): Checking on the Chesapeake with the Bay Barometer and Other Tools

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:49)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 2-26-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 29, 2016.

SOUND – ~ 7 sec

That’s the sound of a fog horn on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, Maryland, helping ships navigate the Bay on February 29, 2012. Mariners on the Bay that stormy day probably kept an eye on a barometer to help assess the Bay’s current and coming weather conditions. Figuratively speaking, another kind of barometer—the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual Bay Barometer report—helps scientists, government officials, and citizens assess the Bay’s ecological and water-quality conditions. The report also helps evaluate efforts to restore the Bay’s environmental health according to goals set in the 2014 Bay Watershed Agreement among the six Bay states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. While a weather barometer measures air pressure, the Bay Barometer examines data on 11 factors related to water chemistry, aquatic organisms, or land uses. The most recent report was released on February 2, 2016, and it indicated good progress in some of the factors, such as the population of Blue Crabs and American Shad, and the opening of new public access sites; but less progress in other areas, such as in planting of streamside forest buffers or in wetlands restoration. The Bay Barometer is one of several reports and tools used to track Bay restoration efforts; others include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “State of the Bay” reports, the University of Maryland’s Bay “Report Card,” and annual condition reports on Bay tributaries by various watershed organizations. The reports vary somewhat in the specific factors they consider, but each assessment aims to help answer a broad, complicated question: how’s the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States.

We close with a tribute to estuaries in general, courtesy of “So What is an Estuary,” a video from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

VOICES – ~ 27 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show. In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The closing sounds were taken from “So What is an Estuary—So Now You Know,” (7 min./2 sec. video, 2003), provided for educational uses by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA). This video was used previously in Virginia Water Radio Estuaries Episode 120, 7/23/12. This and other videos are part of a video gallery at the System’s “Estuary Education” Web site,, which includes many other resources for learning and teaching about estuaries.


Chesapeake Bay, from Kent Island, Md., Feb. 25, 2011; looking north toward the Bay Bridge (upper photo) and south (lower photo).


On the Chesapeake Bay Program

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership of federal and state agencies, local governments, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions working to restore water quality conditions, habitats, and biological populations in the Bay watershed. (Source: Chesapeake Bay Program Web site,

On the Bay Barometer

The Bay Barometer report released on February 2, 2016, covers data from 2014-15.  The 11 factors used in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s “Bay Barometer” are the following:

American Shad spawning population; Blue Crab populations; oyster populations; miles of unobstructed fish passage in rivers and streams; miles of streamside forest buffers; acres of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV, also called “underwater grasses”): acres of wetlands; areas allowing public access to the Bay or its tributaries; three water quality measurements (dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and levels of chlorophyll); and acres of land protected from development. (Source: Chesapeake Bay Program, “Bay Barometer at a Glance,” online as PDF at

On the Bay Watershed in Virginia

(Source: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation [DCR],

Three large watersheds contain, collectively, all of Virginia’s lands and waterways: the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. Within those large watersheds, Virginia’s major river basins are as follows.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed – Chesapeake Bay Coastal, James River, Potomac River, Rappahannock River, and York River.

In the Atlantic Ocean watershed – All of the river basins in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, plus Albemarle Sound Coastal, Atlantic Ocean Coastal, Chowan River, Roanoke River, and Yadkin River.

In the Gulf of Mexico watershed - Big Sandy River, Clinch-Powell Rivers, Holston River, and New River.


Used in Audio

Karl Blankenship, Latest “Bay Barometer” shows uneven restoration progress, Bay Journal, 2/4/16.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “State of the Bay 2014” online at

Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake Bay Program makes measured progress toward restoring the watershed, Feb. 2, 2016, news release. The 2014-15 Bay Barometer report is online (as PDF) at

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement,” online at

University of Maryland, “Chesapeake Bay Report Card 2013,” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Tools to Track Progress in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, online at

U.S. National Ocean Service, “Ocean Facts/Where is the largest estuary in the United States?” online at

Weather Underground, “Historical Weather,” online at

For More Information about Estuaries

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service, “Estuaries,” online at

Some Other Bay Tributary Conditions Reports

State of the James River. James River Association, Richmond, Va. Reports online at

State of the Lynnhaven River. (The Lynnhaven is a Chesapeake Bay tributary in Virginia Beach). Lynnhaven River Now, Virginia Beach, Va. Reports online at

Rivanna River Watershed Stream Health. (The Rivanna River is a James River tributary, joining the James at Columbia in Fluvanna County, Va.) Rivanna Conservation Alliance, Charlottesville, Va. Reports on line at

South River Scorecard. (The South River is in Anne Arundel County, Md.) South River Federation, Edgewater Md. Reports online at

State of the Susquehanna. Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Harrisburg, Penn. Reports online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( For episodes on the Chesapeake Bay or other specific water bodies in Virginia, please see the “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” category.

Previous episodes focused on the Chesapeake Bay include the following:
Estuaries – Episode 120, 7/23/12;
Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay – Episode 140, 12/10/12;
Oysters, Nitrogen, and the Chesapeake Bay, Parts I and II – Episode 279, 8/24/15 and Episode 280, 9/7/15.


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle, other cycles, and energy flow.
LS. 10 - changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes.
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.
LS.12 – genetic information and DNA.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.2 – physical geography of Virginia past and present.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.10 - cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at