Introduction

"How's the water?" That's a question any of us might ask while we swim or fish in our favorite lake or stream or drive over our local bayou on the way to work. The simple answer is "it depends." The quality of water in the region varies by geography as well as by which impairments or concerns are evaluated. At first glance it would seem that our water quality problems are quite severe. Currently 63 percent of our stream and bay segments are impaired by high levels of bacteria. Over 30 percent of the area's water bodies have a concern or are impaired for low levels of Dissolved Oxygen (DO). Elevated nutrient levels are a concern in 42 percent of our waterways. And finally, 21 percent of our water bodies (all tidal) are impaired by elevated levels of PCBs and dioxin.

Those numbers are concerning. But, there is some good news. When you look into the data you start to see that while it is true that we have a large number of water bodies that are impaired, trends in the data show that many of the streams and bays in the area are showing significant improvement:

  • 23 percent of water bodies show significant improvement for bacteria. While only 12 percent of area water bodies show bacteria levels rising.

  • 27 percent of area water bodies are showing significant improvement in DO levels. Only 5 percent of water bodies show a decrease in DO.

The story on nutrients is a bit more complicated. Data show more of a mixed bag with 36 percent of the water bodies in the area showing improvement in nutrient levels, while 26 percent of area waterways show nutrient levels on the rise. This is complicated even more when you consider Chlorophyll a. A quarter of this region's water bodies show increased primary productivity which may be a problem in keeping DO levels at adequate levels to meet water quality standards.

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