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Study: Bay improving but has a ways to go

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Local,News,Nation,Business,Science and Technology,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Alana Goodman

Despite some areas of improvement, the Chesapeake Bay remained in poor health in 2009, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Bay's overall health improved to 45 percent -- an increase of 6 percentage points -- from 2008 to 2009, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership coordinating restoration efforts. A 100 percent health score represents a fully restored ecosystem.

The number of tidal waters that met or exceeded water clarity guidelines improved by 12 percent, and the health of the Bay's bottom-dwelling species reached a record high of 56 percent of goal. The adult blue crab population also increased to 223 million, its highest level since 1993.

However, water quality remained poor in 2009, only increasing by 2 percent since 2008 and meeting just 24 percent of the program's health goals. The Bay and the number of its tidal tributaries that met Clean Water Act standards for dissolved oxygen between 2007 and 2009 decreased by 5 percent.

As far as restoration and protection efforts, the Bay Program has implemented 62 percent of what it had deemed as necessary pollution-reduction efforts. The program was able to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus contaminants from wastewater, but not from agriculture pollution.

The report also gave recommendations for how residents can help with restoration efforts. It asked watershed residents to stop fertilizing their lawns, use phosphate-free dishwasher detergent, drive their cars less and pick up after their pets.

"We must keep moving on the path of forward-thinking actions and expansive involvement," the report said. "These and other critical initiatives will help us continue marching toward our restoration goals with each passing year."

The Environmental Protection Agency, which runs the Chesapeake Bay Program, recently ramped up its efforts to improve the health of the Bay, releasing guidelines last month recommending cleanup procedures for federally owned land in the watershed area.

The federal government stepped in to help regulate the Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup efforts last spring after state and local government proved ineffective at restoring the area. The EPA guidelines are in the draft stage and will be open to public comment before they are finalized in May.

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