Bay Barometer, Report Card & State of the Bay - Who is Watching the Watchdogs?

Pages from 2006 chesapeake bay report card   Pages from 2018 chesapeake bay watershed report card 1

2006 Report Card & 2018 Report Card. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

At various intervals over the last decade-plus, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Program and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science have released glossy reports that simultaneously tout success and generate fear about the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Recently, the CCC took a look at each of these reports side-by-side, attempting to cut through the buzzwords to determine what actual progress has been made since the grading began. Grading ScalesDespite changing metrics and inconsistent choices about what Bay data to share and how, we were able to draw some conclusions about the where we are after 13 years and billions of dollars of intervention. The short answer is - not too terribly far from where we started...according to the "report cards."

As we reviewed these documents, we were struck by several things. Leaving aside the waste of resources - time, money, paper, etc. - that such duplicative efforts likely represent, we searched for patterns that would indicate that taxpayer dollars are being used in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner. Unfortunately what we found instead is obfuscation, questionable calculations and goals that are designed to be out of reach. 

A perfect case in point is the messaging around the curve built into the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) grading scale. In nearly every State of the Bay report we are reminded that CBF, "measure[s] the current state of the Bay against the healthiest Chesapeake [they] can describe - the Bay Captain John Smith depicted in his exploration narratives from the early 1600s, a theoretical 100." However, given that a potentially hyperbolic diary entry is difficult to measure against scientific data, CBF generously sets up their system so that a particular metric need only score a 70 to earn an "A." Lest you start thinking your charitable gifts can be safely reallocated to another worthy cause, they don't want you to forget incremental upward trends should be both celebrated and concerning. From the CBF President's Message in the 2012 State of the Bay, "While hopeful, a Bay health index of 32 on a scale of 1 to 100 should be a sobering reminder that there is a great deal left to do." Given that 100 is an impossible achievement, it seems likely that case for progress yet to be made will be useful for the foreseeable future. As a side note, our Coalition county members do not consider 32 out of 100 "hopeful."

CBF 20 year chart