Bay Journal

October 1996 - Volume 6 - Number 7

From shipping lanes to shorelines

In what could be viewed as an act of recycling, 10 acres of wetlands popped up in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay this year. It was a matter of taking a bunch of sediment from where it wasn't wanted - the bottom of a shipping channel - and putting it where is was useful: the rapidly eroding shoreline of Barren Island in the mid-Bay.

It's an example of how dredged material, once seen only as a waste, is now viewed as a resource by many people. "You should look at it in a positive sense," said Walter Priest, a scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. "In the past, it has always been looked at as dredged 'spoil' you have to dispose of." ...

Susquehanna, Potomac commissions’ funding cut

Congress has eliminated funding for two commissions that help guide water resource decisions in the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers, the Bay's two largest tributaries.

The action could ultimately curtail research, monitoring, water allocation, public outreach, watershed restoration and other activities carried out by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. Both have been active Bay Program participants for years.

"The concern is, with the federal government pulling out, why should the states stay in?" said Paul Swartz, executive director of the SRBC. "The states are looking for ways to save money, too. Maybe all they need is an excuse from the federal government to say, 'The federal government is not meeting its commitment, so why should we keep ours?'" ...

Bay channels are a 126-mile lifeline to Port of Baltimore

Historically, the Port of Baltimore was the navigational gateway to the industrial Midwest. Its anchorages made it the closest deep water port to the coal and manufactured products being shipped out of the nation's heartland.

Today, that distinction makes the port dependent on the maintenance of 126 miles of navigational channels - more than any other port in the nation - to keep its place as the fourth busiest East Coast port in an increasingly competitive shipping business.

Dependence on dredging has increased in recent decades as the size of ships has grown. Six decades ago, the average ship was 460 feet long and 63 feet wide with a draft of 26 feet. Today, ships are more than 1,000 feet long and up to 110 feet wide with a draft of 45 feet. ...

State, federal agencies unite on dredge plan

Maryland's 20-year dredging plan won the endorsement of federal and state regulatory and review agencies that ultimately sway where - and how - sediment is placed when it is dredged from the Bay.

A cooperative statement signed by those agencies - often at odds over dredged placement issues - notes that they have worked together to identify the best mix of dredged material placement options, and the agreement commits them to continue working together to make sure all elements of the plan are implemented in a way that minimizes impacts on the Bay. ...

Virginia votes to reopen sounds for oystering

After last season's smallest oyster harvest in history, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission decided to allow oyster harvesting in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds for the first time in three years. The commission at its Sept. 24 meeting voted 5-4 to reject a staff recommendation that oyster harvests remain limited to the ocean side of the Eastern Shore and the James River.

The vote created a 2-month oyster season in Pocomoke and Tangier sounds beginning Dec. 1, with a 15-bushel-per-boat per day limit. The commission voted to limit the total catch in the two areas to 2,500 bushels. ...

Artificial island key element of long-term dredging plan

Sometime in the next quarter century, a giant new island will rise someplace in the upper Bay to hold millions of cubic yards of silt and sand dredged from shipping channels in Maryland's portion of the Bay.

The giant, new, artificial island is a key element of a new, long-term dredging plan to maintain shipping routes to the Port of Baltimore.

At the same time, the plan rules out disposing of dredged materials in the "deep trough," which has long been opposed by watermen and environmentalists. And, if implemented as written, the plan would end the controversial but low-cost "open water" placement of dredged materials in Maryland's portion of the Bay within a decade. ...

Bay’s birds feeling heat of warming temperatures

The Chesapeake and Delaware bays are among 15 migratory bird habitats in the world most threatened by global warming, said a report by an international conservation organization.

Rising sea levels, changes in the timing of the seasons and drier weather caused by global warming have already started to harm breeding grounds and affect food availability, the World Wildlife Fund said in its report.

Some changes could take place too fast for migratory birds to adapt, the organization said. "The first impacts of climate change can already be seen" in loss of habitat in coastal wetlands like those on the Chesapeake Bay, said World Wildlife Federation spokesman Lee Poston. ...

Virginia rockfish index hits 29-year high

Virginia biologists reported the young-of-year index for striped bass in Virginia was 23.05, the highest in nearly three decades.

The previous index high was 18.1, in 1993. Since 1967, when the Virginia Institute of Marine Science first began sampling in the James, Rappahannock, Pamunkey, Mattaponi and Chickahominy rivers, the 29-year average has been 5.5.

Scientists cautioned against reading too much into this year's spawning results, noting that rockfish births can be great one year and awful the next. ...

Md. seeks to control new sprawl

If present trends continue, Maryland residential development could gobble up 360,000 acres of open space by the year 2020 - about half the amount of land that was used for housing during the state's first 350 years of settlement.

To stem the tide of suburban sprawl, the governor has created a new initiative, dubbed "Neighborhood Conservation/Smart Growth," to identify what state agencies and local governments can do to concentrate growth in designated areas.

Specific actions are expected to be unveiled this fall by Gov. Parris Glendening, who has spoken several times in recent months about the need to improve land use management to protect natural resources and the Chesapeake Bay. ...

Rainy year dramatically increases flow of water to Bay

This year's unusually high freshwater flows into the Bay were further reinforced as the remnants of Hurricane Fran swept across portions of the Chesapeake watershed in early September, spurring a new round of flooding.

Even before Fran, the first eight months of 1996 racked up the second highest flows on record, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, surpassed only by 1972 which included the deluge from Hurricane Agnes.

Much of Fran's impact was felt in the Potomac drainage, which has recorded significantly higher-than-normal flows all year. During its September peak, the Potomac reached 313,000 cubic feet per second, only slightly lower than the 347,000 cfs recorded in January. During Agnes, the Potomac hit 359,000 cfs. ...

Ballast exchange bill close to being passed

The Bay and other U.S. coastal areas were close to gaining new protection from "biological pollution" that looms as a major threat to aquatic ecosystems, as Congress prepared to adjourn.

The House on Sept. 24 approved legislation aimed at having all international ships exchange their ballast in midocean to reduce the chances of transporting stowaway fish, crabs or other aquatic organisms from other parts of the world to U.S. ports. Action was pending in the Senate as the Bay Journal went to press. The bill had no opposition. ...

Lack of fish cancels fall release of Atlantic sturgeon

Plans to stock Atlantic sturgeon in the Bay this fall have been canceled because of the lack of fish.

Officials from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had hoped to follow up the July 8 stocking of more than 3,000 juvenile sturgeon into the Nanticoke River with an October release. But the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hatchery trying to produce the young sturgeon was not able to rear enough fish to warrant another release, said Richard St. Pierre, Susquehanna River Coordinator for the USF&WS . ...

Wild shad returning to Susquehanna

Despite high flows that sharply curtailed the operation of fish lifts at Conowingo Dam, 1996 has emerged as the second best year for American shad returning to spawn in the Susquehanna River.

A total of 37,503 shad were moved beyond the 100-foot-high dam, even though high spring flows forced the closure of fish passages for nearly half the migration season. Last year, more than 60,000 fish reached the dam, the most in the 20-year effort to restore shad to what was once its largest East Coast spawning river. ...

New group focuses on estuarine habitats

A new organization is calling for a national commitment to restore 1 million acres of habitat in estuaries around the nation, including the Chesapeake Bay, by the year 2010.

The group, Restore America's Estuaries, is an alliance of eight regional environmental groups seeking to heighten the public's awareness of the importance of estuaries and to bring more focus on efforts to improve habitats.

To that end, the organization in September announced plans to seek legislation in the next session of Congress that sets a specific 1-million-acre restoration goal and commits $100 million of funding annually to estuarine habitat creation. ...

Rockfish spawn setting records in Bay

Striped bass rode this year's unusually high flows to a record level of spawning success in the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland's annual juvenile index, considered the most reliable predictor of future striped bass abundance on the East Coast, hit 59.3. That far surpassed the 43-year-old survey's previous best mark of 39.8, set in 1993.

"Today's striped bass population is living testament that cooperative scientific management works and that working together we can improve the health of the living resources of the Chesapeake Bay," Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said at a Sept. 11 news conference on the shore of the Patuxent River. ...

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