Next year, 20 years after approving a strategy that called for a “Bay free of toxics,” the Chesapeake Executive Council might settle for something else: a Bay agreement free of any reference to toxics.
Controlling toxic pollution has been an issue for the Chesapeake since the EPA released the results of its multi-year Bay study in 1983 that identified toxic pollution as one of the factors in the Bay’s decline.
Yet last fall, new toxics goals were struck from the latest draft of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the first new regional strategy for Bay restoration since the Chesapeake 2000 agreement was signed 14 years ago.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reviving its focus on the conservation concern that led to its creation after the Dust Bowl: soil health. The service that provides federal and state technical conservation assistance on farms throughout the Chesapeake watershed is recasting its message of conservation to focus on this key ingredient to improved water quality, farm production and sustainability.
The service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture was originally called the Soil Conservation Service. It was established in the 1930s to prevent the soil erosion on U.S. farmland that led to the Dust Bowl.
Beyond political will or ecological know-how, restoring the Chesapeake Bay and other impaired waters across the country requires a good deal of manpower.
It takes workers and “waders in the water,” as one firm puts it, to physically return rivers, streams and wetlands to a more natural state.
It’s work that Trout Headwaters, Inc., a private water restoration company, has been doing nationwide for nearly 20 years — and work that the company, through a new partnership with The Corps Network, now plans to equip youth corps nationwide to do.
A tiny fly that lays its eggs in still-ripening fruit has begun to wreak havoc on small fruit crops in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, leaving growers few options beyond additional pesticides for controlling it.
The newcomer is the spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii). Originating in Asia, the fly made its way into the United States in 2009. It has traveled up both the West and East coasts, and appeared in Virginia in the summer of 2011. It has since showed up in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
- Whitney Pipkin
- February 13, 2014
- Wildlife + Habitat
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Several farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region are testing a new conservation practice that can reduce nitrogen coming off farm fields’ drainage systems.
The practice is called a bioreactor. Instead of surface water from the fields collecting in a drain or ditch and discharging to streams and rivers, the collected water flows through a pipe that takes it to a buried trench filled with wood chips. The wood chips are a substrate for bacteria that digest the nitrogen. Then, the denitrified water continues flowing out the other side of the wood chip “box.” Thus, what ultimately runs off the farm fields has much less nitrogen in it.
As a young waterman, Mike Lindemon dreamed of having his own oyster lease. He wanted to work his own bottom, plant his own shell, set his own hours. For a man who fell off scaffolding while working at a nuclear power plant and still nurses the injuries 40 years later, the dream did not seem unreasonable. But it was painfully out of reach.
The Nanticoke River, where Lindemon had property, had been the base of operations for H. B. Kennerly and Sons, one of the state’s most successful oyster companies. Kennerly had thousands of acres under lease, making it next to impossible for a waterman to obtain one if he didn’t work under contract for Kennerly. And Lindemon had no luck obtaining a lease elsewhere. For more than a century, nearly every other waterfront county in the state outlawed private leases.
Occohannock on the Bay, a United Methodist camp and retreat center, sits modestly on the rise above Occohannock Creek, its cabins and beaches quiet among tall Virginia pines. A breeze out of the northwest is tinged with the promise of the coming winter storms that will soon buffet the shoreline of the creek in Belle Haven, VA.
Where campers splashed in the water and jigged for crabs just a month ago, a front-end loader is poised to pinch a 1,000-pound granite rock from a mammoth rock pile. The operator swings the arm out over the water and drops the rock just so between two PVC pipes that mark the linear “sill” of rocks, a mostly submerged jetty being built parallel to and about 50 feet from the shoreline.
A proposed natural gas pipeline in the Gunpowder River watershed is raising alarms among environmentalists, who worry that its construction would disrupt one of the East Coast’s finest trout rivers as well as drinking water for the Baltimore metropolitan region.
Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of Texas-based energy giant NiSource, wants to build a 21.5 mile gas line that would extend from Owings Mills in Baltimore County to Rutledge in Harford County. The 26-inch natural gas line would follow Columbia’s existing pipeline for 16.5 miles, then extend an additional five miles. Per a request from the Department of Natural Resources, it will go around Gunpowder Falls State Park instead of through it, which is one reason it needs the extension.
“We are on a journey through the unknown,” said Evamaria Koch, a Brazilian-born scientist, who came to Maryland for her doctoral work and became captivated by the Chesapeake’s shorelines and submerged aquatic vegetation.
Speaking in Cambridge, MD, on the second day of the Mid-Atlantic Living Shoreline Summit, she was referring to her research on the effects of shoreline structures on SAVs and to the wider question of the effectiveness of shoreline defense strategies.
Koch could have been talking about any scientific inquiry, but her statement had special resonance for the more than 300 attendees who had braved snow and ice to spend a couple of days sharing knowledge and building community in support of living shorelines — one of the most promising tools that has emerged for protecting coastal properties from sealevel rise while enhancing habitat and ecological systems.
Conserving water, soil and farmland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were all part of the discussion at the second annual Virginia Farm-to-Table conference in December.
The conference focused on growing the local “foodshed” — a term coined in 1916 by a New Yorker encouraging residents to protect their food resources and infrastructure like they would access to clean water.
Based on surveys taken after the first conference in 2012, Eric Bendfeldt with the Virginia Cooperative Extension said attendees “wanted to hear more about soil health and its impact on human health.”
The Bay Program’s latest effort to answer the perennial question — how is the Bay doing? — offers a decidedly mixed view of the efforts taken to help restore the Chesapeake and its watershed.
While it shows pollution reductions proceeding ahead of schedule, it shows most of the Bay and the streams that feed it are still in poor health. And while good strides are being made on some efforts such as fish passages and public access, other important goals — such as planting stream forest buffers — are coming up far short.
A federal judge in December dismissed on procedural grounds a suit brought by two environmental groups that challenged the legality of nutrient trading programs, which are touted as a way to reduce the cost of implementing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of the District of Columbia granted the EPA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth in October 2012.
- Karl Blankenship
- January 09, 2014
- Politics + Policy,Pollution
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Scientists have discovered ocean water that dates to the time of dinosaurs trapped more than half a mile underneath the Chesapeake Bay.
Scientists believe the water, which they estimate to be between 100 million to 145 million years old, was trapped when a meteorite or comet hit the Earth near what is now the mouth of the Bay.
It is the oldest sizable body of seawater to be identified in the world, providing a unique window on the past.
- Karl Blankenship
- January 05, 2014
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In 2005, Dov Weitman, chief of the nonpoint source control branch at the EPA, returned to Washington, DC, from “an amazing consciousness-raising process” and wanted to share the experience with his colleagues.
Weitman had just served on the jury of the Houston Low Impact Development Competition, a contest that challenged development professionals to find new, low-impact ways to handle stormwater.
In a memo to his staff, he said the competition caused developers, civil engineers, architects and landscape architects to think differently — and more creatively — about stormwater, and he was convinced similar competitions — and benefits — could be replicated nationwide.
- Leslie Middleton
- January 03, 2014
- Politics + Policy
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The Chesapeake Bay may have reaped greater benefits from air pollution reductions over the last two decades than previously estimated, new research suggests.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOX, have declined sharply since the late 1990s as a result of increasingly stringent regulations aimed primarily at reducing acid rain and ground-level ozone, or smog. When those pollutants fall to the ground, they also contribute nitrogen pollution to the Bay.
But until now, it’s been thought that the water quality benefits to the Chesapeake from air pollution controls were relatively modest, largely because the greatest reductions in nitrogen deposition took place in the heavily forested western edge of the watershed, which is downwind of large Midwestern power plants.
Drum circles, interfaith songs and a baptismal-like bowl of water all had a place at the first Living Waters Interfaith Summit, hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Richmond on Tuesday.
But these were mostly props, intended to set the tone for an event that was both reverent and reflective in its efforts to engage Virginia’s faith-based and environmental communities in much-needed conversation.