Bay Journal

May 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 3
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Underwater grasses up 8%; acreage is highest in decades

Underwater grasses, one of the most closely watched indicators of Chesapeake Bay health, surged to the highest levels seen in decades, according to survey results for 2016.
This is the second straight year that grasses have set a record.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the Bay’s and its tidal tributaries were covered by the underwater meadows, which provide habitat for juvenile fish and blue crabs, as well as food for waterfowl.

That was an 8 percent increase over 2015, and more than twice what was in the Bay just four years ago

Localities not buying into nutrient trading – for now

Despite being touted as a less costly approach to curbing stormwater pollution, nutrient trading has yet to catch on among Chesapeake Bay localities. A recent report by the World Resources Institute and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation details the hurdles that are keeping the market-based approach from getting off the ground.

The report’s authors worked alongside officials in Maryland’s Montgomery and Queen Anne’s counties and in Virginia’s Arlington County for almost five years to help them establish a framework for trades. Each will need to reduce stormwater runoff to meet Bay pollution limits, and the two nonprofits had hoped to get the localities to demonstrate how trading could help satisfy some of those requirements at a lower cost.

Students bent on making hellbender PA’s state amphibian

With its huge, flat head and slimy skin, the Eastern hellbender won’t win any beauty contests. It’s picked up such unflattering nicknames as “snot otter” and “old lasagna sides.”

But because the rarely seen giant salamander can only live in the most pristine of streams, a small group of Pennsylvania high school students thinks Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis should be named the official state amphibian, as a sort of clean water mascot. By calling attention to the existence — and decline —of hellbenders, the students hope to foster awareness in Pennsylvania of the need to restore the health of its rivers and streams.

EPA letter to Bay states spells out cleanup expectations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has high expectations for Bay cleanup efforts in the coming years.

Earlier this year, it sent states a 10-page letter outlining what agency officials believe must happen to deliver on the decades-old promise of restoring clear Chesapeake Bay water where underwater plants thrive, fish and shellfish have plenty of oxygen, and waterfowl can graze on abundant food.

The “expectations letter,” as officials call it, outlines what assurances the District of Columbia and six watershed states need to provide in their next-generation cleanup plans to demonstrate they have enough funding and adequate programs to reduce farm and stormwater runoff and do everything else that needs to be in place by 2025 to restore the Bay’s health.

Dominion reconsidering coal ash storage plans in VA

Earlier this year, it seemed inevitable that Dominion Virginia Power would be permanently storing coal ash underground at a power station near the Potomac River. The site is the first of four along Chesapeake Bay tributaries where the utility is looking to entomb the accumulated residue from decades of burning coal for power. What happens at Possum Point near Quantico could set a precedent for how ash is handled elsewhere in the state.

But before state environmental regulators could issue the first permit to allow long-term storage, separate actions by the Virginia governor and a federal judge this spring have sent the company back to the drawing board for a more thorough consideration of alternatives.

Sea Grant, which sustains more than 20,000 marine jobs, faces uncertain future

Once a month, Matt Parker and Suzanne Bricker drive along Penny Lane through a Southern Maryland forest until it dead-ends at the Chesapeake Bay. Then, they pull on their waders and hop into a skiff to maneuver out to aquaculture cages, where they grab samples of water and the oysters taking it in.

Their results may eventually let oyster growers earn money not only for the bivalves they grow, but also for the water the shellfish clean under the state’s nascent nutrient trading program.

Inspectors find most PA farms, while not all in compliance, are trying

On the day of the inspection of the 350 acres he farms, Jay M. Diller drove his skid loader from the barn to meet staff from the district conservation office. The farmer pulled out large files from his desk and got ready.

“Nobody likes inspections,” said Diller, as he produced plans and other farm records the inspectors wanted to see. “I don’t even like state inspections on my car; they always find something wrong.”

Diller was joking, but he’s very serious about water quality. “I’m doing everything I can to keep manure out of the creek,” he said.

Neighbors don’t see eye-to-eye on viewshed, oyster leases

Tranquility Farm Lane, in St. Mary’s County, is tucked away from the bustle of the nearby naval base and ubiquitous strip malls. But the Patuxent River tributaries surrounding the dirt roads and cow pastures have been anything but quiet as an oyster war between shellfish farmers and prominent Southern Marylanders enters its third year.

Survey finds Bay crab population strong, with record number of females

Boosted in part by a record number of female blue crabs, the Bay’s crab population remained strong through the winter — something scientists say bodes well both for the crustaceans and those who catch and love to eat them.

Overall, the annual winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia estimated that the Bay held 455 million crabs, a decrease from last year’s tally of 553 million. Most of the drop was attributed to a falloff in juvenile crab numbers, which are both more variable and harder to survey.

But survey results released Wednesday showed that the number of female crabs — which have been the focus of conservation efforts for nearly a decade — reached 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year, and their highest level in the survey’s 28-year history

Maryland Assembly session gives environmentalists ‘reason to celebrate’

From “fracking” to oysters to clean energy, environmentalists had multiple reasons to smile when Maryland’s lawmakers wrapped up their work in Annapolis earlier this week.

With a boost from Gov. Larry Hogan, the General Assembly made Maryland the first state with known natural gas reserves to pass legislation prohibiting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract it. Over Hogan’s opposition, legislators also barred, at least for now, the harvesting of oysters from the state’s Chesapeake Bay sanctuaries. And they pushed through a series of bills promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles.

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