Bay Journal

June 2014 - Volume 24 - Number 4
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Maryland targets two Potomac River tributaries for oyster restoration

The Hogan administration has selected two Potomac River tributaries in southern Maryland for large-scale oyster restoration efforts, one of them poorly rated by state biologists, while holding out hope of opening some state oyster sanctuaries for limited commercial harvesting.

Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton announced Friday that he’s recommending Breton Bay and the upper St. Mary’s River, both in St. Mary’s County, as the fourth and fifth Bay tributaries where Maryland would work with federal agencies to try to restore oyster populations. They are across the Chesapeake from the state’s other three waterways targeted for restoration — Harris Creek and the Tred Avon and Little Choptank rivers.

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If you see a sea turtle in the Chesapeake, consider yourself very lucky

Sea turtles, large and lovable to their fans, have endured a long decline around the world and in the Chesapeake Bay. But a team of international scientists has delivered a bit of good news, at least on a global scale.

The results of their study, published in the September issue of Science Advances, show that some species of sea turtles, after years of decline from harvesting practices and lost habitat, are beginning a modest rebound on a global basis.

Whether or not that rebound extends to the Chesapeake remains to be seen.

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Bay water quality nears record high mark

Water quality in a little more than 39 percent of the Chesapeake maintained levels good enough during the last three years to support Bay creatures, from worms to crabs to fish, figures released Thursday show.

That was the second-best extent of good water quality seen in any three-year period since coordinated Chesapeake monitoring efforts began in 1985, according to the state-federal Bay Program partnership.  

Bay jurisdictions’ no-action climate policy puts restoration in peril

Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth.

Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast or California how life was during the three consecutive hurricanes or the wildfires that have plagued them this summer and fall. Reliable scientific research shows climate change is also compounding pollution in the Chesapeake. Rainfall exacerbated by these dire developments could mean millions of additional pounds of nitrogen and significantly more phosphorus reaching the Bay every year that will put restoration out of reach by 2025.

2018 marks the crucial midpoint assessment that should ensure restoration remains on track, saving the Bay from dead zones and protecting 18 million watershed residents from increased flooding and toxic algae blooms. Yet regional regulators and political leaders recently decided to let themselves ignore climate-induced pollution during this crucial reassessment, kicking this heavy can down the road until 2025 or later.

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Still waters reveal raft of deep-diving white-winged scoters

We arrived at the refuge at daybreak and had already spent an hour watching huge flocks of waterfowl in the coves at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County, MD. Our attention shifted to the open waters leading away from the Chester River into the main body of the Chesapeake Bay. We weren’t disappointed.

Fifty yards offshore, a small raft of sea ducks was loafing on the still waters. I focused the spotting scope on the center of the group and pulled a large black duck into focus.

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline wins qualified VA go-ahead

A divided Virginia regulatory panel has given a qualified go-ahead to building a controversial natural gas pipeline across the state, but made its approval contingent on further review of the project’s water-quality impacts.

The State Water Control Board’s 4–3 vote on Tuesday, coming at the end of a tense two-day public meeting in Richmond, prompted opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to claim a partial victory, though officials seemed at a loss to explain what the decision means.

Before granting the project a key approval, some of the board’s seven members questioned whether they had enough information to certify that water quality would not be harmed by construction of the 600-mile pipeline across wild, mountainous terrain and the state’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Therefore, the board conditioned approval on completion of several environmental impact studies.  

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MD trailer park sewage facility’s zoning violation upheld

A Maryland mobile home park operator whose wastewater discharge is causing problems for a farmer downstream violated local zoning laws by building his sewage treatment facility too close to the stream, an appeals board has ruled. It’s not clear, though, what the remedy is — or if there is to be one at all.

The Caroline County Board of Zoning Appeals has upheld a local official’s ruling that Frank Prettyman built the wastewater treatment plant for Prettyman Manor in the wrong location.

But the unanimous decision doesn’t get the Eastern Shore county any closer to declaring what to do about the problem created in 2016 when Prettyman constructed the treatment plant by Little Creek, a tributary to the Choptank River.

The past is alive in former mill town of Waterford, VA

On the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs to the nation’s capital, there’s a time machine of sorts that can transport you back a century or two. It’s a quaint village called Waterford.

You’ll find it preserved like a dragonfly in amber amid the cookie-cutter housing developments that are gradually consuming the rural remnants of Loudoun County, VA, one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities.

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Virginia board approves first of two pipeline projects despite fervent opposition

A proposed natural gas pipeline through mountainous western Virginia cleared a key hurdle last week, as the State Water Control Board approved water-related permits needed to begin building the 106-mile segment through the state.

The board’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on Thursday, after two days of meetings in Richmond, was seen by environmentalists as an indicator of how the citizen regulatory body would rule next week on another gas conduit, the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would cut through the state’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The state Department of Environmental Quality had recommended that the board approve permits certifying that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would not harm state water quality, and the citizen board agreed — though not unanimously. Two of the board’s seven members, Nissa Dean and Roberta Kellam, cast dissenting votes.

Larger-than-average dead zone predicted for Bay this summer

A slightly larger-than-average dead zone is predicted for the Chesapeake Bay during the early portion of this summer, scientists say.

The prediction, which means fish and shellfish will find substantial portions of the Bay off-limits because it has too little oxygen, is driven largely by a slightly higher-than-average amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay from the Susquehanna River during the first five months of the year.

New Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is more pragmatic than its predecessors

The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort gained new partners — and new goals — as leaders approved a multi-state agreement that they insist will hold them, and their successors, more accountable in producing real results.

After nearly a year-and-a-half of negotiations, the Chesapeake Executive Council on June 16 signed its Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which pledges to restore water quality, improve habitats, conserve more land and expand environmental education, among other goals.

Task force sets goal of increasing streamside forest buffers

A task force will convene in each Bay state beginning in July to identify needed changes to state and federal programs to reverse sharp declines in streamside forest plantings seen in recent years.

Streamside forest buffers can be highly effective at reducing runoff and also improve stream health and aquatic habitats. The new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement calls for planting 900 miles a year, and state cleanup plans call for planting even more to meet Bay cleanup goals.

Members of Congress join legal challenge to Bay cleanup plan

Thirty-nine members of Congress last week sought to join agricultural and homebuilder groups in their legal challenge to the Bay cleanup plan, saying the EPA went “far beyond” its authority when it set limits on Bay pollution and required states to develop plans showing how they would meet those limits.

The group, which includes 11 members from the Bay watershed, contend that the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, if allowed to stand, would “usurp…traditional state authority over economic development and land use management decisions.”

New rules for transporting oyster seed in Bay region proposed

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources may soon change the way it issues permits for transporting shellfish over state lines.

Currently, oyster growers in Maryland need a shellfish transport permit to import seed or oyster larvae across state lines — even if that line is just a few miles away in Virginia. Maryland law requires the hatcheries supplying the seed to test each batch to make sure they’re free of the pathogens that cause MSX and Dermo, the two oyster diseases that have devastated populations in the last 50 years. The testing can take several weeks, and the “health certificate” is good for 30 days. That means if oyster growers need more seeds a couple of months later, they will have to endure the process again.

Ignoring growth won’t make it go away, nor restore the Chesapeake

Growth is good. Growth is necessary. Growth will come. Growth can be accommodated. These are the greatest, most uncritically accepted and fatally flawed assumptions made by those charged with protecting Chesapeake Bay.” — “Growing, Growing, Gone,” an Abell Foundation report, 2008.

Six years after the author of this piece wrote the “Growing, Growing, Gone” report for the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, limiting growth remains absent from discussions on restoring the Chesapeake ecosystem. It is the missing piece of the puzzle, the taboo subject.

MD to study ocean acidification’s effects on Bay’s oysters

As waters worldwide become more acidic from an increase of carbon in the atmosphere, Maryland is devising a plan to better understand acidification in the Chesapeake and other waters of the state to determine whether it will become a problem for oysters.

A new law, House Bill 118, which passed easily in the 2014 legislative session, established a task force that the Department of Natural Resources will staff. Other task force members will include representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the National Aquarium and the state’s aquaculture industry.

Coastal program turning the tide for VA’s working waterfront towns

The replica paddle wheel steamer, the City of Fredericksburg, was high and dry, cradled on a 150-ton marine railway at Chesapeake Boat Works in Deltaville, VA.

Jon Farinholt watched as more than half of the 25 boatyard staff removed the sand that the most recent high tide deposited around the railway’s steel beams tracking from the railway’s engine shed into the water of Fishing Bay off the Piankatank River.

Farinholt pointed to a second railway lying idle next to the first. “This railway was rated to 300-tons, but the underwater sections of rail supports are rotting, and we had to stop using it last year.”

New rules for transporting oyster seed in Bay region proposed

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources may soon change the way it issues permits for transporting shellfish over state lines.

Currently, oyster growers in Maryland need a shellfish transport permit to import seed or oyster larvae across state lines — even if that line is just a few miles away in Virginia. Maryland law requires the hatcheries supplying the seed to test each batch to make sure they’re free of the pathogens that cause MSX and Dermo, the two oyster diseases that have devastated populations in the last 50 years. The testing can take several weeks, and the “health certificate” is good for 30 days. That means if oyster growers need more seeds a couple of months later, they will have to endure the process again.

Turns out that when the going got tough, Bay’s oysters got tougher

Not long ago, Ryan Carnegie decided to take a look at some old samples of the oyster parasite dermo that had been archived for decades at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

What the shellfish pathologist saw when he peered at Perkinsus marinus through the microscope may change the way people look at oyster disease in Chesapeake Bay.

“The first sample I looked at was like, ‘Wow, this is not our Perkinsus,’” Carnegie recalled.

Scientists baffled by drop in Bay’s crab population

Fishery managers are moving forward with proposals to slash harvest pressure on female blue crabs by 10 percent after an annual survey found their numbers had dipped slightly below the level deemed “safe” by scientists.

But managers and watermen alike are frustrated that the iconic blue crab population — after showing signs of recovery — has slipped back to low levels seen prior to ramped-up management efforts imposed in 2008 that included an initial 33 percent reduction in fishing pressure on adult females. There is no single, clear explanation for the decline.

Green infrastructure jobs outpacing pool of skilled workers

It’s clear that stormwater projects are going to bring a deluge of jobs to counties and municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed at a time when recession-weary workers are looking for steady employment.

But it’s less clear that the people who want those jobs will have the skills to do them.

The new jobs include landscaping, installing rain barrels and rain gardens, engineering new storm drain outfalls and fixing old ones. But they will also include monitoring green-infrastructure projects to ensure they are reducing runoff; measuring the runoff that’s there; designing and maintaining computer apps that allow for easy data entry on project sites; and more jobs that have yet to be created.

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