Over Our Heads? Climate Change Threatens A Beleaguered Chesapeake Bay

Shana Campbell Jones

Nov. 6, 2008

You can never step in the same river twice, the saying goes. According to a new report about how climate change is expected to affect the Chesapeake Bay, that saying may become truer than ever.

 

In Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay, a group of scientists and water quality experts found that, because of climate change, “the Bay’s functioning by the end of this century will differ significantly from that observed during the last century….” The report concluded that affects of climate change are already occurring and that “certain consequences” are likely:

  • The mean and variance of sea level will increase, elevating the likelihood of coastal flooding and submergence of estuarine wetlands;
  • Warming and higher CO2 concentrations will promote the growth of harmful algae, such as dinoflagellates;
  • Warming and greater winter-spring streamflow will increase hypoxia;
  • Warming will reduce the prevalence of eelgrass, the Bay’s dominant submerged aquatic vegetation;
  • Increases in CO2 may mitigate some of the negative impacts of climate change on wetlands and eelgrass by stimulating photosynthesis;
  • Warming will alter interactions among trophic levels, potentially favoring warm-water fish and shellfish species in the Bay.

The Oct. 27 report goes on to recommend a series of monitoring and adaptation strategies, as well as noting the need to drastically lower carbon emissions.

 

Meanwhile, even if the future effects of climate change were not causes for concern, the Bay’s health stagnates. This summer, EPA officials admitted that the 2010 cleanup deadlines, which were set in 2000, will not be met. Frustrated by this lack of progress, a coalition that includes the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland and Virginia watermen associations and several others announced on Oct. 29 that it would sue EPA to force new deadlines and take more aggressive action.

 

The status quo for the Bay isn’t good enough, and climate change will make things worse. Lawsuits to push action are one solution, but much more must be done. As CPR points out in its white paper, The Clean Water Act: A Blueprint for Reform, the Clean Water Act is a 20th century tool that is ill-equipped to deal with 21st century problems, including climate change. Many reforms are needed. We are barely treading water with the Bay’s health now. Thanks to climate change, we may be over our heads sooner than we think.  

 

Read More by Shana Campbell Jones
CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Jan. 21, 2022

Key Federal Agency Takes Steps to Protect Public Lands, Curb Climate Change

Jan. 13, 2022

Will the 30 x 30 Initiative Protect 30 Percent of Freshwater Resources by 2030?

Jan. 12, 2022

States Should Act to Protect People and Our Environment from Unregulated Chemical Tanks

Jan. 6, 2022

The Quagmire of Clean Water Act Jurisdiction

Dec. 20, 2021

Democracy, Rulemaking, and Outpourings of Comments

Dec. 9, 2021

CPR, Partners Call for Climate Justice Reforms to the Chemical Industry

Dec. 9, 2021

Memphis Commercial Appeal Op-Ed: Supreme Court Turns to Science to Resolve Groundwater Dispute Between Mississippi and Tennessee