A water quality barometer for Chesapeake Bay: Assessing spatial and temporal patterns using long-term monitoring data
This paper develops a barometer that indexes water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and summarizes quality over spatial regions and temporal periods. The barometer has a basis in risk assessment and hydrology, and is a function of three different metrics of water quality relative to numerical criteria: relative frequency of criterion attainment; magnitude of deviation from a numerical criterion; and duration of criterion attainment. Metrics associated with these features are calculated at the station level, allowing flexibility for simultaneously evaluating multiple stressors, different designated uses, and physical characteristics of the water. The barometer score is then created as a geometric mean of the three metrics. The water quality barometer (WQB) station scores may be spatially aggregated to report habitat scores across a spectrum of spatial resolutions (e.g., management segment, tidal subsystem, or the whole tidal bay). Dissolved oxygen measurements in the Chesapeake Bay collected during summer seasons of 1985 to 2020 are used to evaluate water quality. The WQB score and its bootstrapped confidence interval are reported at the station, segment, tidal subsystem and whole tidal bay levels. Notably, water quality interpreted through application of the WQB with dissolved oxygen concentration data and averaged over the 29-year period of record is good (i.e. protects aquatic living resources) in tributaries such as the James River, Rappahannock River and others; but is not as good in areas such as the Upper Tributaries and the York River. Recent summaries indicate that while the water quality is improving in much of the bay and its tidal tributaries, however, there is an indication of decline in quality in the period 20182020, especially in the upper regions of the Bay. The barometer is designed around using the time series data produced by the Chesapeake Bay Programs annual monitoring strategy; the approach has application to other large water bodies with large scale monitoring programs with extended time series or for integrating information from environmental sensor systems.