Bay Journal

May 2006 - Volume 16 - Number 3

Watchdogs on the Water

Starting in 2000, a new breed of water watchdog began cruising the region’s rivers, bays and coastlines, often leading to a full-throttle pursuit of polluters and other threats to water quality.

Riverkeepers, shorekeepers and coastkeepers patrol a dozen waterways around the region, acting as a “nautical 911,” fielding calls from citizens who want to report polluters but don’t know whom to call. The waterkeepers may investigate and alert government regulators.

Or, they may take things into their own hands. Some act like the Bay’s own bounty hunters—using the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Water Act to pursue polluters and bureaucrats all the way to the courthouse door. ...

Kaine outlines plans to double amount of protected land in VA

To the applause of environmental professionals, Gov. Timothy Kaine on April 20 outlined an ambitious plan for protecting land from development in Virginia, saying his goal is to preserve 400,000 acres in the next four years.

Virginia has put 330,000 acres off-limits to development since 1968, and Kaine told several hundred people at an environmental symposium that most of the preservation has occurred in the past five years.

The state needs to more than double the amount of land it preserves to meet its obligations under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, which called for permanently preserving 20 percent of the watershed as open space. Under that multistate agreement, Virginia must protect from development another 358,000 acres in the Bay watershed by 2010. The state has lagged behind both Pennsylvania and Maryland in preserving land. ...

MD approves funding to help preserve farms

Maryland lawmakers approved bills authorizing more money to help farmers stay in business and adopt environment-friendly practices.

The bills came out of months of work by farmers, lawmakers and environmental groups, who agreed that preserving agriculture is a key component in taming growth.

Maryland farmers said that they wanted to do a better job reducing nitrogen and other pollutants running into the Chesapeake Bay, but they need more money from the government to afford cleaner methods. ...

Erhlich signs strongest power plant emissions legislation in nation

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed legislation in April that would require sharp reductions in air pollution at six old power plants and reduce nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake.

The law requires plants to install technologies to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and mercury. It also calls for Maryland to join a regional pact to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2019.

Environmentalists, who had sought the legislation for two years, called it the strongest power plant emissions legislation in the country. ...

March flows to Bay set record low

Riverflows into the Bay reached record lows for March according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Freshwater streamflow into the Bay averaged 51,500 cubic feet per second in March, which according to the USGS, is equivalent to 33.3 billion gallons per day. That is 65 percent below average for the month, and 10,000 cfs lower than the previous March low-flow record set in 1981.

The exact impact on the Bay remains to be seen: Although March, and early April, were unusually dry, the months of December, January and February had higher than average flows—January was 70 percent above average—according to the USGS. ...

3,454 volunteers collect 131 tons of trash during Potomac cleanup

More than 131 tons of trash were removed in just three hours April 8 with the help of more than 3,454 volunteers who braved the rain and wind to pick up trash and illegally dumped items during the 18th Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup, reported the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which spearheads the annual spring tradition.

Volunteers collected trash from nearly 300 cleanup sites located in 18 jurisdictions throughout the Potomac Watershed. Lined up, the collected bags of trash would stretch 3.5 miles. ...

Bill would put Smith watertrail on track with Jamestown anniversary

The development of a water trail retracing Capt. John Smith’s explorations through the Chesapeake and its tributaries would be placed on a fast track under legislation introduced by Maryland and Virginia senators in April.

The proposed Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail is envisioned as a series of routes extending 3,000 miles along the Bay and its tributaries through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia that retrace his explorations during 1607–8. ...

Baltimore County’s new effort to tackle stormwater has it made in the shade

Hoping to curb the amount of stormwater washing off streets, parking lots and lawns, officials in Baltimore County this spring are trying to get homeowners to plant a small forest of trees.

In a partnership with local businesses, its new Growing Home Campaign is distributing coupons that give homeowners $10 off the price of most trees purchased from nurseries in the county. The goal: plant 10,000 trees.

County officials don’t see the program as an expense, but rather as a big potential savings. Studies show trees can sharply reduce the amount of runoff, and therefore reduce the amount of costly stormwater improvements needed in older, developed areas. ...

Magothy association volunteers dive right into monitoring their river

On weekends throughout most of the year, volunteers in the Magothy River take to the water—to figure out what’s in the water.

Some monitor water clarity, levels of algae and levels of oxygen. Other don scuba gear and check out conditions on and near the river’s five restored oyster reefs.

Those volunteer efforts have made the Magothy, which drains a 44-square-mile watershed north of Annapolis, one of the best monitored rivers in the region. The data the Magothy River Association has collected not only lets the group measure trends, but also allows them to gauge the impact of sudden surprises: When the population of dark false mussels unexpectedly exploded a few years ago, the Magothy River Association—which organizes the monitoring—was able to measure their impact on water quality. ...

Ecosystem Health report paints sorry picture of Chesapeake

A new report on the health of the Chesapeake concludes that most of its water is “degraded,” critical habitats and food webs are “at risk” and many fish and shellfish populations are “below historic levels.”

Overall, the “Ecosystem Health” report from the state-federal Bay Program paints a grim picture of the Chesapeake, showing the estuary is far away from goals set by the region’s leaders to restore the Bay’s water quality by 2010. ...

Dead zones putting a damper on some male fishes’ ability to mate

Scientists call the growing oxygen-starved patches of world waterways “dead zones.” That could also describe the not-so-swinging mating scene for some of the fish that live there.

For zebrafish, low-oxygen levels in the water turn their habitat into the equivalent of a freshwater locker room. When oxygen is reduced, newly born male zebrafish outnumber females 3-to-1, and the precious few females have testosterone levels about twice as high as normal, according to a recently released scientific study. ...

Commission to debate fate of Virginia’s menhaden fishery

A regional fisheries management agency in May will debate whether to shut down Virginia’s commercial menhaden industry because the state failed to set harvest limits.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last year required that the state enact regulations by July 1 to limit commercial catches of the oily fish to just less than 106,000 metric tons annually for five years.

But menhaden, unlike other species which are managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, are regulated by the state’s General Assembly, which failed to pass any of the three bills that would have set the limit. ...

Despite spring surge, blue crab harvest expected to be same as last year

Fisheries managers expect this year’s blue crab harvest to be similar to last year’s, but the season got off to a booming start in April as watermen were greeted with an unusual abundance of the crustaceans in both Virginia and Maryland.

There were so many crabs it dropped their prices. “I didn’t make any money today,” Mark Sanford said after pulling his boat into Spots Fish Co. in Virginia Beach, VA, and calculating his costs for fuel, bait, gear, insurance and his two-man crew. “Everything is going up. Everything but the price of crabs.” ...

Scientists confirm widespread loss of eelgrass

Biologists this spring confirmed what they feared last year—that the Bay last summer suffered a massive dieoff of eelgrass, which is by far the most important underwater vegetation in lower parts of the Chesapeake.

Many eelgrass beds are gone. In other places, only small seedlings remain. If those plants survive long enough to reproduce, scientists say eelgrass beds may quickly recover.

But if conditions turn bad and those seedlings are lost, it could take years for the grass beds—which provide some of the most important habitat in the Chesapeake—to bounce back. “It could be absolutely catastrophic,” said Bob Orth, a seagrass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. ...

Blue Crabs and Bingo

Eric Fitzgerald, an award-winning high school teacher at Turner Ashby High School in Rockingham County, VA, is on a mission. He wants his students to understand that crabs and oysters aren’t the only creatures living downstream. People live there, too.

The lesson resounded loudly on a recent April weekend, when Fitzgerald transported 30 students out of their rural farming communities in western Virginia to the shores of Smith Island and the world of Chesapeake Bay watermen. ...
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