Bay Journal

July-August 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 5
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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.

Opponents of PA gas pipeline vow to continue the fight

It’s not surprising that Lancaster County residents would be suffering from pipeline fatigue. The Sunoco Mariner II project is under construction, cutting a 125-foot-wide swath across 6.5 miles of northern Lancaster. Three years ago, the Rock Springs Pipeline was built through mostly farm fields in the southern part of the county before dropping down into Cecil County, MD.

So when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held its first hearing in August 2014 on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Lancaster residents logged in 4.5 hours of testimony, mostly in opposition to it.

Double-crossed — or a mystery of archaeology?

Coastal geologist Darrin Lowery, among the Bay region’s premier finders of ancient artifacts, tells cautionary tales about how discoveries are not always as they seem.

There was the fork inscribed “Davy Crockett” that he found poking out of an eroding Delmarva Peninsula coastline—dating merely to a 1955 Disney commemorative production; and a 4,500-year-old spear point penetrating a castoff Frigidaire — go figure.

“Proving anything from the archaeology of a single day is virtually impossible,” Lowery said.

But then there came the blistering, buggy day Lowery and two colleagues virtually tripped over a small brass cross as they surveyed one of the Bay region’s remotest shorelines on Mockhorn Island, VA.

Programs filling growing number of jobs created by stormwater rules

Two months ago, Sean Williams and Antique Jett would have driven by the field next to a parking lot in Baltimore without a second thought to the gray structure resembling an infield parking pad, or the grate next to it.

But today, they identify instantly what’s wrong. This raised slab, covered in wire mesh and gravel, is supposed to slow down and filter rain runoff before it reaches the drain. But it’s choked by weeds, Jett said. There’s a hole around the drain, Williams added. They jotted notes on a clipboard. The library parking lot at Notre Dame of Maryland University does not have  the worst stormwater controls, they agreed, but they could use improvement.

Williams and Jett are among the 10 Baltimore City residents undergoing a stormwater training program through Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit, and the Center for Watershed Protection, based in Ellicott City.

While other states go along, NY says no to gas pipelines

In the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Tim and Chris Camman walk daily through a thick wood, shaded by a canopy of tall hemlocks, white pines and hardwoods. Dappled sunlight filters through, with only the sounds of birds and Carrs Creek as it bubbles and swirls around the flat rocks and wood snags of its bed.

It has been several years since surveyors came through and measured where a 100-foot wide swath of forest could be felled on their 77-acre farm in New York northeast of Binghamton to make way for a natural gas pipeline. If the project goes forward, it would ultimately take about 10 percent of the land the Cammans have owned since 1988.

Plan to put wastewater into 2 MD trout streams raises heated debate

Trout are among the most highly prized of freshwater fish; their presence in a stream is a sign that the water is clean, cold and rich in all the things fish need to survive, grow and reproduce.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that these pollution-sensitive fish are at the center of a debate in Maryland about how best to sustain them amid the sprawling development that threatens their survival in the central part of the state.

Carroll County plans to upgrade an aging, poorly performing sewage treatment plant serving the town of Hampstead in the northwestern suburbs of Baltimore. In an effort to reduce pollution to Piney Run, a trout stream into which the plant discharges, the county wants to split the wastewater flow and pipe a portion over to another stream.

But the other stream, Deep Run, also has trout. Now there’s a dispute over how much protection each stream should receive.

VA city’s artificial wetland the real deal in slowing stormwater pollution

Historically, cities and towns relegated stormwater treatment to the unseen places: The backs of buildings, the edges of town. A pond that held runoff containing the detritus of urban life — water mixed with heavy metals and fertilizer, motor oil and animal waste — was not the prettiest town amenity.

But Waynesboro, VA is bringing stormwater treatment to the forefront. Recently, the city of 21,000 installed a 10-acre “constructed wetland” in its center. Mimicking nature as best as it can, it filters runoff from its natural drainage basin — 330 acres of mostly residential neighborhood. The beneficiary is a mile or so to the east: the South River, which flows through the city and eventually to the Shenandoah’s South Fork 15 miles away.

Easing of smallmouth bass fishing curbs on Susquehanna stirs debate

After many years of disease and depressed populations, smallmouth bass have recovered somewhat in the Susquehanna River, enough so that Pennsylvania regulators are looking to ease a spring fishing ban that has been in place since 2012.

The state Fish and Boat Commission is considering reopening the spring smallmouth spawning season, which for the last five years has been closed to anglers from May 1 to June 18 along 98 miles of the middle and lower Susquehanna and 32 miles of the lower Juniata River, a major tributary.

The proposal, to be taken up at the commission’s July 10 meeting, has sparked almost as much controversy among anglers as the original closure.

Charles County, MD, restricts development in Mattawoman watershed

After six years of heated debate, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to restrict development in one of Maryland’s fastest-growing counties to protect one of the state’s healthiest — and most threatened — water bodies, Mattawoman Creek.

By a vote of 3–2, the commissioners approved a Watershed Conservation District, which will reduce potential development in the Mattawoman drainage basin and the headwaters of the Port Tobacco River. The vote follows an intense, nearly yearlong debate after the county adopted a new comprehensive growth plan that called for protecting the creek, a Potomac River tributary just 20 miles from Washington, D.C.

State leaders oppose federal pullback from Bay cleanup

Amid encouraging signs that the Chesapeake Bay’s health is on the upswing, state leaders of the restoration effort are calling for Congress not to let the Trump administration pull back from the federal-state collaboration.

At the annual meeting of the Bay Program’s Executive Council on June 8, the governors of Maryland and Virginia, plus officials from the four other Bay watershed states, the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission adopted a resolution appealing to President Donald Trump and Congress to “continue the current level of federal support.”

Trump’s budget cuts wide and deep swath through Bay-related programs

A relaxing trip to the beach could instead become a step into unknown waters next year.

In its quest to squeeze dollars from environmental programs, the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 spending plan would eliminate federal support for water quality monitoring at beaches, which could warn swimmers of high bacteria levels and other pollution threats.

Trump’s budget proposal also would slash money for programs that help predict when conditions are right for harmful algae blooms and outbreaks of dangerous vibrio bacteria that may lurk in the water.

Power line across James River one step closer to approval

A new transmission line that would carry electricity across a four-mile span of the James River has received a federal agency’s long-awaited nod of approval. But the $270-million undertaking still needs to earn permits at the state and local level this summer, and it is expected to continue facing vocal opposition from environmental and historic preservation groups.

After reviewing for nearly four years Dominion Energy’s plans to run a 500-kilovolt power line on towers across the river, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a preliminary permit for the project on June 12. The Corps’ final permit is contingent on approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the James City County Board of Supervisors.

States show mixed progress toward meeting nutrient targets

From 2010 through the end of 2016, the Bay region had achieved only half of the nitrogen reductions it was to have accomplished by the end of this year, according to new figures from the state-federal Bay Program partnership.

Only three of the Bay watershed’s seven jurisdictions were on pace to achieve their 2017 pollution goals for the key nutrient, the data show. In several cases, states were only slightly off track, but for others, especially Pennsylvania and New York, the gaps remain large.

Feds interview Tangier watermen, look into oyster sales records in Crisfield

Officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited several watermen on Tangier Island and seafood businesses in Crisfield last week as part of an investigation they are conducting related to oysters.

The federal officials interviewed watermen on the Virginia island, asking for records related to oyster sales to Crisfield businesses. They took copies of records but did not seize any bivalves; it’s not harvest season.

Federal officials would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, saying that’s their policy. But Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, did confirm “federal law enforcement activity” in Crisfield and Tangier last Wednesday.

Smith Island losing land, population and now its shepherd

They stand in a tidy church graveyard in the main town of Ewell, adorned with U.S. flags and fresh wreaths, their shiny coatings a rebuke to the battering winds and rising tides. The headstones bear the surnames of Smith Island: Bradshaw, Somers, Evans, Corbin. Hardy stock, all. Their descendants are still there, sticking it out on Maryland’s last inhabited offshore Chesapeake Bay island, while dozens of other isles have succumbed to the seas.

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