U.S. Water News Online
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Increasing salinity in the Chesapeake Bay
because of the ongoing drought is harming wildlife, federal and state
Diseases that thrive in salty water have killed more oysters than
scientists have ever seen, leading to a dramatic decline in oyster
harvests this winter. Up to 60 percent of the bivalves in some areas
have been lost.
Fish, meanwhile, are being forced to swim farther upstream to
spawn, officials said.
"Fish and plants tend to adjust, but when you have severe weather
extremes and less water to dilute salinity, it becomes harder for
them," said Richard Batiuk of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program.
The U.S. Geological Survey said freshwater flows into the Bay are
on pace to reach historic lows, which were set in 1941.
"We need a major change in salinity, and I'm not talking about
just a few months of rain," said Chris Judy, head of the Maryland
Department of Natural Resources' shellfish division. "We need three
to four years of significant, normal rainfalls to reverse this
drought situation in order to see these mortality levels subside."
The state spends about $4 million a year to grow and plant oysters
and to improve water quality in the Bay.
The National Weather Service said rainfall at the end of last
month was expected to bring the region close to the average March
rainfall of 3.6 inches, but there is still a significant seasonal
deficit. Since September, 8.6 inches have fallen. Rainfall is usually
23.2 inches in that time span.
Scientists suggest that the changes will cause salt-loving
underwater grasses in the lower portion of the Bay to thrive and
those farther north that like fresher water to die.
The saltier water also will bring sea nettles, which often sting
swimmers in the summer, to the Bay earlier and cause them to spread
to more rivers and creeks than in recent years.
In addition, reproduction among rockfish and white perch may be
down from cooler, wetter years.
"It's not clear whether we're going to have an early spring, as we
thought a couple of weeks ago when it was so warm, or whether
conditions may be moderated," said Bob Wood, assistant research
scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental
Science's Chesapeake Biological Lab.
"I certainly am not excited about jumping into the prediction
game, and this is one of those years that reminds me why," he said.
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