Horn Point Scientists Tells WBOC Cause and Effect Of Clear Chesa - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Horn Point Scientists Tells WBOC Cause and Effect Of Clear Chesapeake Bay Waters

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Water in the Chesapeake Bay is unusually clear (Photo:WBOC) Water in the Chesapeake Bay is unusually clear (Photo:WBOC)

CAMBRIDGE, Md.-   If you've set foot near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay this fall, you may have noticed something.  The water is extraordinarily clear.  Earlier this week, WBOC spoke with Dr. Bill Dennison at Horn Point Labs in Cambridge, and asked him what caused the unusually clear water, what the benefits could be, and if this is the new norm in the Chesapeake Bay.

You can see the bottom in places where you couldn't in the past.  Typically cloudy water now almost looks as transparent as the waters of Bermuda.  So why is this happening?

"This has actually been a fairly normal year for precipitation overall, and that's been because we did have a dry autumn last year and a dry winter, But the spring was above average.  In fact June was extremely wet for Chesapeake Bay.  It got dry towards the end of the summer, but this is a fairly normal year of precipitation and ultimately runoff."

Water quality is measured using a device that looks like a dinner plate, first invented in the 1800s.  When you can't see the dinner plate, you make your measurement.  Typically, clarity is only at a meter.  Today, the plate can rest on the bottom and still be visible.

"There's important feedback, ecological feedback that occurs.  Light penetrating the water allows for more grasses, we're going to have a record year for grasses in the bay, and they serve to bind the sediments and baffle the water and settle out the particles, so they use that light to become important habitat for critters and to clarify the water.  Secondly, light reaching the bottom creates microscopic algae to grow on the bottom which serves as a cap or a seal on any of the nutrients in the sediment that would typically come out into the water column."

That means the improved water quality this year could be the start of a new trend.  There's no definitive reason for why there's such an improvement this year, but Dr. Dennison says it's taken a lot of good work to get here.

"We're doing a bunch of the right things.  We're doing better agricultural practices, we're doing better waste water treatment, we're doing better on air emissions.  So there are some reasons to suspect that we may be seeing some improvements on the bay level based off those best management practices."

Dr. Dennison says this is the clearest he's seen the water in the bay in at least a decade.  He says over the past 20 or 30 years, scientists have had to study why the bay was getting worse.  He's excited that now it's the search to find the reason why things are getting better in the Chesapeake Bay.

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