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Water Quality Monitoring: Background

Our study focused on developing Chesapeake Bay water quality maps for 2 key parameters (secchi depth transparency and chlorophyll-a) identified by water resource managers at Maryland DNR as valuable for assessment of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. A description of the potential importance of this data to Maryland DNR follows.

The Chesapeake Bay is a valued ecological, economic, recreational, cultural and scenic resource. The Bay watershed States and the District of Columbia, in conjunction with the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, have teamed for the past 20 years to protect and restore the Bay ecosystem. A key component of this effort is water quality and habitat monitoring to assess the impacts of management actions and natural processes, and evaluate habitat parameters for living resources such as submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), oysters, and fisheries.

Maryland DNR and its Chesapeake Bay Program partners are constantly seeking new technologies that can improve the assessment of water quality. Aerial and satellite remote sensing methods are of particular interest for evaluating water clarity and chlorophyll for a number of initiatives.  As a result of the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, ambient water quality criteria for water clarity, chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen have been established for five habitat types in the Bay (http://www.chesapeakebay.net/baycriteria.htm). These criteria must be evaluated in over 77 Chesapeake Bay segments to determine if they can be removed from the list of impaired waterways.  Satellite remote sensing could prove useful in the evaluation of these criteria. 

Restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and oysters is a major initiative of Maryland DNR. SAV are an important component of the Bay ecosystem and require minimum standards of water clarity for survival. Obtaining Bay-wide water clarity data from remote sensing could provide valuable information on SAV habitat and could also be incorporated into a SAV restoration site selection model that is used at DNR. Improvements in this model, through better and more comprehensive input data, would greatly bolster our efforts of large scale SAV restoration. Large scale spatially intensive observations of water clarity data could also be used to measure the success of filtering by oysters at many of Maryland DNR current oyster restoration sites. Exceptional clarity has been observed in the upper Bay and its tributaries in 2004 and is partly linked to a large distribution of macroalgae, dense beds of SAV, and to a freshwater mussel that is in recent great abundance. Continuous spatial water clarity data could help elucidate the linkage between mussel populations and water clarity.


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