Bay Journal

July-August 2011 - Volume 21 - Number 5

Local officials worry that TMDL actions are much too costly

Local government environmental officials in the Washington area recently met with their federal counterparts to discuss the implementation of the new Bay "pollution diet."

They delivered a blunt message: The Bay cleanup plan is too costly and undoable in the 14-year time frame the EPA has allotted. Many counties in the region are facing costs that will exceed $1 billion.

Those are "big numbers and scary numbers," said Randy Bartlett, deputy public works director for Fairfax County in Virginia. Meanwhile, "we're cutting teachers, we're cutting police and we're cutting fire," he said. ...

Coalition of small PA colleges takes on big job of assessing Susquehanna’s secrets

A group of scientists from six small Pennsylvania colleges have formed a coalition calling for more research on water quality and aquatic life in the Susquehanna River.

The group, the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies, formed in 2004 out of concern that while, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup was consuming a lot of dollars and attention, little was known about the river that gave the Bay 50 percent of its fresh water.

Baywide decisions were largely made in Annapolis, while Harrisburg was responsible for Pennsylvania regulations or programs. In the streams hours away from population centers, researchers were in the dark about stream quality. Without a baseline, it was hard to make management decisions about upgrading sewage treatment plants or permitting natural gas drilling. And it was also hard to determine whether targeted cleanups, such as those for acid mine drainage, were working. ...

Battlefields showcase natural as well as military history

The bloodiest day in U.S. history took place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, along a Potomac River tributary called Antietam Creek.

The Battle of Antietam left more than 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing on a single day in September 1862. Many fell before noon. They died in farm fields and woodlands, along orchards, dusty roads and fence lines. Days later, most bodies remained untended.

It was a horrific clash on incredibly beautiful land, just beyond Sharpsburg, MD. Today, the National Park Service maintains more than 3,000 preserved acres of the battlefield to honor the sacrifice that occurred there. The nation is marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and historic significance is top priority. ...

Greater than normal oxygen-starved waters predicted for summer

Springtime showers will result in oxygen-starved water in deep parts of the Chesapeake, at least through the first half of the summer, according to Bay scientists.

High stream flows, along with the nutrients they carry, will likely result in the fourth largest volume of oxygen-depleted water since 1985 in deep portions of the Bay through early summer, according to the annual forecast from a partnership between the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ...

Journey through Hallowed Ground offers 400 years of history on a single tank of gas

If you have a tank of gas to spare, Cate Magennis Wyatt knows a great way to use it. She'll send you on the Journey through Hallowed Ground.

The Journey through Hallowed Ground is a north-south corridor in the western Chesapeake watershed toured mostly by way of U.S. Route 15.

"The Journey through Hallowed Ground is about as long as the Grand Canyon, and when it comes to history and heritage, it's just as deep," said Wyatt, a founder and current president of the Journey through Hallowed Ground partnership. ...

Fewer shad stocked in Bay rivers; strong spawning run raises hopes

Fishery managers stocked sharply fewer American shad around the Chesapeake this spring than in most years of the past two decades; but biologists said efforts to rebuild the shad population might be helped by a spawning run that appeared stronger than those of recent years.

Biologists attributed dismal stocking numbers on the Bay's largest tributaries, the James and Susquehanna, to high river flows and cool temperatures that hampered egg collection.

High flows also hampered fishlift operations on the Susquehanna River, where only eight fish made it past three dams to reach suitable spawning habitat - the worst year since fish passages began operating in 1997. ...

Elizabeth River rises from the depths

From its northern intersection with the Chesapeake Bay to its southern convergence with the Intercoastal Waterway, the Elizabeth River hums with commerce.

At the Norfolk Naval Station, sailors and intelligence officers are tweaking the nation's defense systems for one of the world's largest military bases. Just to the south, the Port of Virginia's Norfolk International Terminal moves billions of dollars of freight around the world. Farther south, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and several private companies focus on shipbuilding. The world's largest coal export facility is nearby, as are refineries, loading docks, container-repair facilities and working barges. ...

Tests reveal if rivers are safe to swim in, inspire people to act

For decades, those who summered around Annapolis rarely questioned whether or not to dive in. The beaches along the Severn, South, West and Rhode rivers were crowded with city families trying to escape the heat. Children dove off wooden piers adjacent to their family cottages and stayed in until the smells of barbeque called to them in the late afternoon.

But by the 1970s, the area began to change. The summer cottages came down, replaced with larger homes that now sell for millions of dollars. More people living year-round on the land led to changes in the water, too. It got murkier, and people would occasionally complain of earaches, diarrhea and stomach discomfort. Some newer residents built pools or joined existing ones, unwilling to trust the rivers. Even the stalwarts often wondered, is it still safe to swim in the rivers? ...

Barge plants seed of love for river, hoping it will take root in students

The kindergarteners from Coleman Place Elementary School nose down into the wetland. They touch the blades of arrow arum and spartina, twitching as they feel the sharp plants against their faces. One little girl spots a critter nestled in the leaves.

"I see something living!" she exclaims.

The deckhand educators who run the Elizabeth River Project's Learning Barge are hoping their young visitors see more than something. They want the children to see that the whole river is alive, to fall in love with it, and to cherish it into adulthood. If they succeed, they figure, these kindergarteners will become stewards of the river that has been Norfolk's lifeblood since the city's earliest days, sustaining both the nation's defense systems and its commerce. ...

George Washington National Forest plan would prohibit hydrofracking

Drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale in the George Washington National Forest would be greatly restricted under a draft management plan for the forest, the largest single federal landholding in the Bay watershed.

The draft plan, which is open to public comment until Sept. 1, would prohibit horizontal drilling - the type of drilling usually done to exploit the deep Marcellus pockets - in the 1.1 million-acre forest. The current management plan has no such restriction.

"We heard a lot of concerns from a lot of people, a lot of local communities," said Ken Landgraf, the Forest Service staffing officer for the plan. ...

Biologists grapple with how to handle spread of blue catfish

Powell's Creek was smooth as glass, but that was about to change as fisheries biologists dipped electroshocking gear off the end of a boat and sent a low-frequency charge into the stream.

Suddenly, stunned fish began popping to the surface of the creek, which is part of the James River National Wildlife Refuge. They included blue catfish, channel catfish, largemouth bass, killifish, pumpkin seed, gizzard shad, blue gill and others.

By tweaking the device to send out a certain number of pulses per second, the biologists suddenly brought only catfish to the surface. ...

Exposing hydrofracking risks can be hazardous to one’s reputation

Cornell University biogeochemist Robert Howarth had heard it dozens of times: Natural gas was the green fuel.

As horizontal drilling, also known as hydrofracking, swept across Texas and Arkansas and into the gas-rich regions of New York and Pennsylvania, that claim became more and more widespread.

And it wasn't just coming from the gas companies. Journalists repeated the statement in their numerous reports on the radio and in newspapers. Small-town mayors in gas-rich areas touted the importance of getting off foreign oil and onto a beneficial energy source. Even environmental groups talked about shale gas reserves as a clean, green energy - if nothing else, a bridge fuel to bring the nation closer to renewable sources such as wind and solar. ...

Environmental groups file motion on EPA’s behalf in TMDL suit

Several environmental groups filed a motion in federal court in May seeking to intervene on the side of the EPA in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by agricultural groups that want to block the agency from implementing its new Bay cleanup plan.

The groups include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and several others that contend that the EPA's actions were overdue under the Clean Water Act, and based on sound science. ...

NOAA to promote sustainable aquaculture

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced a nationwide aquaculture policy that promotes the growth of sustainable seafood, particularly oysters and clams.

The policy calls for substantially increasing the percent of shellfish and other seafood that the domestic aquaculture industry supplies to the U.S. market, currently about 5 percent. It sends a message that NOAA is committed to promoting shellfish and finfish aquaculture in the federal waters it controls three miles from shore, provided the operations do not interfere with environmental resources and are based on sound science. ...

Labs work to get scoop on poop

An emerging science known as source-tracking may soon identify for scientists the sources of bacteria pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The method isolates the bacteria in water samples and compares them with those found in samples from known sources. A match between samples determines the origin of the waste in the water sample.

Common sources of bacteria include waste from dogs, wild geese, deer and humans. If scientists can figure out the source of the bacteria, then health officials can conduct public awareness campaigns so people will clean up after their pets, or municipalities will work harder to retrofit stormwater or encourage septic upgrades. ...

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