State of the Inland Bays 2016
The 2016 State of the Delaware Inland Bays report is a compilation of environmental data about the Bays and their watershed. It provides communities, decision makers, and concerned citizens with robust scientific information that they can use to help restore and protect the bays and their resources.
To assess the health of the Inland Bays, a suite of environmental indicators was selected. These are specific species and conditions that are measured over time to determine how the Bays are changing and how much progress has been made toward restoration goals.
Thirty- five individual environmental indicators are grouped by subject matter and presented as the six chapters of the State of the Bays report. Each group is assigned a status and a trend by assessing its indicators together.
The indicators are based on long-term measurements of environmental parameters and management actions
Status and trends are assigned using best professional judgment and reviewed by scientists knowledgeable in these areas.
For each indicator, long-term trends are addressed, as well as short-term changes that have occurred since the previous State of the Delaware Inland Bays report was published in 2011.
The State of the Delaware Inland Bays report is updated and published every five years. Most of the indicators used in developing this latest report are the same as those presented in the 2011 document. This allows us to continue to track trends and progress over the years. A few new indicators have been added in 2016, as new monitoring data have become available.
How to Read the Status Bar
Status is indicated by a dot on the status bar. The farther to the left of the center the dot is, the more negative is the status of the group of indicators. The farther to the right of the center the dot is, the more positive the status. If the dot is in the center, the status is fair.
A trend arrow pointing to the left indicates a negative trend. A trend arrow pointing to the right indicates a positive trend. No trend arrow indicates a neutral or unknown trend.
Executive Summary – So how are the bays doing overall?
After a slowdown brought about by the recession that began in 2008, intense development is underway again, much of it near waterways where water quality impacts can be the greatest. With development comes impervious surfaces. Parking lots, roadways and roofs now cover over 10% of the watershed’s land area—a point at which studies show detrimental impacts to water quality in estuaries.
Nutrient pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus remains the greatest threat to water quality in the Bays, but actions taken to reduce nutrient inputs give reason for optimism.
The volume of tidal water passing through the inlet has increased over time. This helps flush out nutrients, but has also contributed to degradation of marshes in the Bays.
Overall, water quality in the Inland Bays remains fair to poor, though Little Assawoman Bay and open waters near the inlet are showing some improvements.
More than 6,800 homes on septic systems were connected to central sewer since 2011, and discharges from point sources are down more than 80% since the 1990s with only two ‘point sources’ of pollution to the Bays remaining out of thirteen.
Voluntary actions to reduce nutrient pollution, prescribed by the Pollution Control Strategy for agriculture and stormwater, show little progress, highlighting the need for dedicated funding.
Human health risks continue for those using the Bays for recreation. Most tributaries and canals continue to have very poor water quality and are unsafe for swimming or for the harvest of shell fish.
As the watershed urbanizes, loss of wetlands and natural shorelines impact both migrating and resident animal populations. Blue Crab populations remain low, and recreational fishing and its local economic benefits have not yet rebounded from losses brought about by the recession. Bald Eagles and Ospreys are thriving in the Inland Bays, and hard clam populations have been stable since the 1970s. Bay grasses, a signature species of healthy coastal bays, are still largely absent from the Inland Bays due to nutrient pollution.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide are bringing higher air temperatures, a longer growing season, and warmer Bays. Sea level in Delaware is now rising at a rate of 1.1 feet per century and is projected to increase to nearly five feet by 2100.