Bay Journal

April 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 2
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More boots on ground needed to inspect erosion at building sites

In a given year, construction activity in the Bay watershed cumulatively disturbs about 132 square miles of land — an area nearly twice the size of the District of Columbia.

On average, those building sites dump more sediment per acre into streams and rivers than just about any other human activity. But construction is so ubiquitous, it’s a pollution source hiding in plain sight.

“I drive by construction sites all the time, but it’s not something I ever noticed before,” said Matthew Henjum, a staff attorney with the nonprofit Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

Silt at Fletcher’s Cove could help fix Dyke Marsh’s erosion woes

On a springlike afternoon in early March, rowboats and oars gleamed with fresh coats of paint, waiting for the anglers that would soon arrive in droves to rent them, as they have for decades at Fletcher’s Cove.

Though the boats are likely to be ready for fishing season, the “floating” dock that’s supposed to launch them is another story. As the tidal Potomac River marched away from the shoreline that afternoon, it left the dock marooned on a mud flat, more navigable by muck boots than boat. Longtime anglers remember when this wasn’t the case.

Industry, environmentalists find fault with PA pipeline plan

With Pennsylvania facing a wave of pipeline construction over the next several years, the natural gas industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders remain far apart on the best way for it to happen.

That much is clear from a recent report by a 48-member task force tapped by Gov. Tom Wolf to help the state develop a “world-class” pipeline network to serve its booming gas industry.

Aquarium program offers food for thought on eating sustainably

For decades, the National Aquarium has entertained millions of visitors while also teaching them about the need to conserve aquatic resources. The Baltimore institution has rescued marine animals off the coast of Ocean City, built floating wetlands to help clean the Inner Harbor’s water and featured Chesapeake Bay creatures in its tanks and exhibits.

But the aquarium was nearly silent on the subject of seafood consumption. The dark, serpentine halls told the story of precious resources being overfished. But that story didn’t have an ending — a solution for how to stem the decline. It had no programs to guide visitors on where to buy local fish caught sustainably, or how a customer could even understand what that meant.

That’s starting to change.

Public-private partnerships expected to lower stormwater retrofit costs

A Maryland county’s unusual public-private partnership, which aims to slash the steep cost of reducing stormwater pollution, is off to a slow start but picking up speed as the first year of a possible decade of work ends.

Prince George’s County and its partner, Corvias Solutions, hope to retrofit 15,000 acres’ worth of pavement and buildings in the largely suburban DC community, installing rain gardens, vegetated roofs and other water-absorbing landscape features to capture runoff and help meet the county’s obligations to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Corvias has been engaged in infrastructure-related public-private partnerships for years with the Department of Defense, building military housing. That work, at bases in 10 states, includes installing and maintaining green infrastructure, company spokeswoman Cindy Willhite said. The partnership with Prince George’s County is the company’s first to be focused on stormwater.

Earth Day, 46 years on: How far we’ve come, how far to go

Today, April 22, is the 46th annual Earth Day.

But these days, in a way, every day is Earth Day.

Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about environmental injustices in the world, and about people who are fighting them. We are so much more aware now than we were decades ago about the importance of clean water, breathable air, sustainable food and healthy living. We don’t always get what we want or even what we need, but at least we have a better idea what it is.

Conscience not consequences key to Chesapeake’s future

Some may say the future of the Chesapeake Bay, and its watershed, hinges on new laws, regulations and stepped-up enforcement. Joel Dunn thinks it needs something more fundamental.

It needs, he said during an appearance on Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Summit last year, a new environmental ethic.

In a recent interview, the president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy expanded on that point as he laid on the table of his Annapolis office a tattered copy of Aldo Leopold’s 1949 classic, A Sand County Almanac, its binding broken, pages detached.

Enforcing rules could hasten the Bay’s cleanup, reduce costs

As hundreds of millions of dollars get poured annually into the 33-year effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, with progress still lagging in many places, some suggest that state and federal authorities are neglecting an essential tool — one that might reduce the cost and hasten the recovery of the beleaguered estuary.

“The most important thing is to hold people accountable when they don’t do what they said they were going to do,” contended Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and former president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a Washington, DC, think tank.

Appearing on Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Summit broadcast last year, Steinzor called for making polluters and governments alike answer for their failures to clean up.

Water pollution plummeted after Denmark tied farm runoff to subsidies

Imagine a scenario in which farmers would only receive government subsidies if they followed a strict fertilizer budget for their farms. Imagine also that, like all good budgets, theirs required a little belt-tightening, so they could only apply enough crop nutrients for 90 percent of their current yield.

Imagine, then, that the farmers got on board, and submitted to regulatory audits to make sure they were staying within their budgets. What, then, would happen to the water-fouling nitrogen and phosphorus coming from agriculture?

Denmark has an answer. 

Chestertown aims to attract new wave of visitors with marina purchase

A decade ago, Chestertown seemed destined to lose its connection to its namesake river. But with a second chance from the Great Recession, one of the Chesapeake region’s most picturesque waterfront towns is now on course to becoming one of its most water-accessible.

Chestertown has bought the town’s sole surviving marina, which was slated for condos and private-only access to the Chester River. The municipality plans to raise the wharf by 2 feet, dredge the harbor, rebuild the piers and refurbish the boat slips. The facility will then connect to the rest of the town through a half-mile promenade that Washington College now owns, which will also lead to a new campus being built for the school’s environmental programs.

Songbird lessons take DC 3rd graders from local trees to Central America

Sometimes the best lessons take place outside the classroom. A group of Washington, DC, third graders learned that recently during a lesson on just how connected the world is — and how essential their city’s trees are to a musical little bird that spends half of its life thousands of miles away.

Huddled around a map spread on the hallway floor, about a dozen students at John Eaton Elementary School quickly identified the United States and a handful of its neighbors to the south, including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras.

“Does anybody here have parents from El Salvador?” asked Steve Dryden, a guest presenter at the school that day.

Bay’s water was clearer last year, the reason why is murky

People boating and fishing on the Chesapeake last year kept noticing something they don’t often see — clear water. 

Citizens, the news media and resource agency staff all took note of it. Water was so clear in places it fueled explosive growth of ecologically valuable underwater grass beds — so much so that it spurred complaints from some boaters that grasses were tangling their vessels’ props, said Mark Trice, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Division.

But was the Bay actually significantly clearer?

Maryland man faces felony charges in oyster aquaculture theft

On a cold January day, Maryland Natural Resources Police said they saw a man dumping items in the water by his St. Mary’s County home. Divers searching that stretch of Smith Creek off the Potomac River then recovered oysters, oyster shell and mesh bags of the type used in shellfish aquaculture operations, according to police.

Virginia lawmakers OK millions for farm BMPs, sewage plants

Virginia farmers, wastewater treatment plant managers and localities stand to receive about $140 million over the next two years to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution under the biennial budget approved by the General Assembly in March.

Another $20 million would fund land conservation programs.

“Legislators hit a home run for Bay restoration,” said Ann Jennings, the Chesapeake Bay Commission Virginia director.

USGS’ enlarged monitoring network providing better pollution data

A greatly enhanced stream-monitoring network throughout the Bay watershed is helping scientists shed light on one of the Chesapeake region’s most fundamental questions: Is the amount of pollution from the Bay’s rivers increasing or decreasing — and why?

The network, overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey along with state and regional agencies, now samples water quality at 117 sites across the six-state watershed — a nearly fourfold increase from several years ago.

Supreme Court refuses to hear Bay cleanup challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ended a five-year legal challenge to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, rejecting without comment the American Farm Bureau Federation’s request that the court hear its argument that the federal government is effectively seizing land use authority from state and local governments.

The decision removes any legal cloud from the pursuit of the Bay pollution reduction strategy imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. It leaves in place a ruling last year by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the plan “is reasonable and reflects a legitimate policy choice” by the EPA and the states in the Bay watershed.

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