The 2017 River Report Cards Are In!

South River

South Riverkeeper’s 2017 Report Card on the South River revealed that once again some underwater grasses had vanished. In 2017, the summer beds of widgeon grass vanished. Just like they did in 2013, 2011, 2010, and several other years in the past. After seeing better, longer visits from 2014-2016, the South River Federation thought that these transient beds of underwater grass could be depended on to show up every year, same time, same place, but with an increasingly large footprint.

Is the diminishing water clarity in those areas the cause, or the effect of this disappearance? They’ve seen rising chlorophyll levels in those areas for three years in a row as well. Perhaps algae is the culprit? They may never know exactly why underwater grasses come and go, but they will continue administering the finest non-profit monitoring program in the State to search for answers.

ShoreRivers: Chester River, Sassafras River, Choptank River and Miles-Wye Rivers

ShoreRivers issued a series of five State of the Rivers reports: 2017 Report Cards for the Choptank, Chester, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras Rivers, as well as Eastern Bay. The River Report Cards analyze the data from their extensive water quality monitoring during 2017. Data was collected at hundreds of sites by ShoreRivers scientists, Riverkeepers, and dozens of trained volunteers. 

The Chester River 2017 report card results show water quality on the Chester River was similar to recent years. The de-oxygenated dead zone is generally limited to the deepest areas of the channel during the hottest months, but there is still have too much nutrient and sediment pollution. The Chester continues to slowly improve, but is still a river at risk. The Sassafras River 2017 Report Card highlighted that historical water quality data showed a remarkable change in salinity, the level of salt in the water. In the fall of 2016, the salinity levels rose markedly from previous years. A drought in Pennsylvania reduced the amount of fresh water entering the Bay from the Susquehanna – allowing salter Bay water to come north to the Sassafras.

The River Report Card regarding the Choptank, Miles and Wye Rivers, Eastern Bay, and their tributaries show results that are in line with those from the past two years, reflecting improved water clarity, expanding grass beds, and reduced or stable pollution concentrations for many sampling locations. The year 2017 had wet and dry months and the data correlated to these weather trends. Months with increased rainfall washed from the land pollutants such as sediments and fertilizers into the rivers, an important indicator that river pollution comes from the surrounding land. As in years past, ShoreRivers has been heavily involved in installing pollution-reducing practices across the watersheds that are contributing to improved river health.

James River

The State of the James provides an interactive report card on the ongoing effort to bring the James River back to full health. This comprehensive assessment of the health of the river is published every two years. In 2017, the James River had an overall grade of B minus, which is an increase of 10 points over the past 10 years. In order to stay on track, Virginia needs to invest more in urban stormwater and agricultural pollution controls. James Riverkeepers also has an interactive map on current water quality at

In addition to River Report Cards, several of our Waterkeepers report water quality through other means. These Waterkeepers post water quality data on the Swim Guide:

  • Assateague Coastkeeper
  • West Rhode Riverkeeper
  • South Riverkeeper
  • James Riverkeeper
  • Anacostia Riverkeeper
  • ShoreRivers
  • Shenandoah Riverkeeper
  • Potomac Riverkeeper (coming soon!)

Blue Water Baltimore measures and maps water quality on the Patapsco and its tributaries on its interactive Baltimore Water Watch map. The South River Federation rolled out an interactive data map this year. It takes a look at whether the river is fishable and swimmable and includes historical data. The data map also provides photos and information about where restoration projects are located. View the data map at