Bay Journal

March 2007 - Volume 17 - Number 1

Legacy sediments may pose threat to Bay cleanup

When early settlers needed power, they often looked no further than the nearest stream. By erecting a small dam, they harnessed power to turn giant waterwheels that would grind grain into flour, saw logs into boards, produce gunpowder, and perform a host of other tasks essential for commerce.

The demand for water power was nearly insatiable. U.S. Census figures show that more than 65,000 water-powered mills were operating in the eastern United States by 1840. Streams in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County averaged a dam every two miles. ...

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Restorers banking on reconnecting streams to their flood plains

Milling Around

Bay Journal News Service up and running

The Bay Journal News Service began distributing weekly Op-Eds to newspapers throughout the region Jan. 30, and appears to have gotten off to a strong start. Although final counts aren’t available, the initial offerings were printed in publications with circulations totaling more than 250,000, and more were planning on publishing material.

The goal of the Op-Ed service to foster public understanding and discussion of key conservation issues facing the region, from the Bay cleanup to forest management to sprawl control to promoting vibrant rural communities. In addition to the Op-Eds, we will soon be providing news and features from the Bay Journal for publication. ...

Development fee could raise millions for Bay cleanup effort

A plan to raise millions for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup would charge Maryland developers for paving over dirt.

A proposal announced in February would start a “Green Fund” charge on new development in Maryland to pay for efforts to reduce nitrogen and other pollution in the Bay. Supporters say the fund could raise $130 million a year to speed cleanup efforts with the aim of getting closer to the 2010 goals of improving water quality in the Bay.

Here’s how it would work: Builders would pay 25 cents a square foot for any surface that water can’t get through, such as a traditional roof, parking lot or driveway. The fee would go up eight times—to $2 a square foot—if the new construction occurred outside an area designated for growth. ...

Bay’s commercial menhaden catch plummets to lowest level in decades

The 2006 commercial menhaden catch in the Chesapeake Bay fell to its lowest level in decades, although overall Atlantic catches increased last year as commercial boats found many schools of larger fish off the coast.

Fisheries officials in January said preliminary figures indicate that about 65,000 metric tons of the oily fish were harvested in the Chesapeake last year, down from about 98,000 metric tons in 2005, and well below the 109,020 metric ton average between 2001 and 2005.

But overall Atlantic catches, which include the Bay figures, increased from 146,000 metric tons in 2005 to an estimated 157,000 metric tons last year, according to figures presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates catches of migratory fish. ...

Unexplained illnesses, deaths suggest something’s fishy in Bay, rivers

The Chesapeake Bay and its watershed seem to be tough places to be a fish.

Just consider:

  • The majority of adult striped bass in the Bay are infected with mycobacteriosis, a chronic wasting disease.
  • Many menhaden in low-salinity areas are afflicted with ulcerative lesions caused by the fungal pathogen, Aphanomyces invadans, which may be lethal.
  • Cancerous tumors have been found in brown bullhead catfish and mummichog. While the cancers have been found primarily in highly contaminated areas, such as the Elizabeth and Anacostia rivers, some have also turned up in the South River, an area not associated with particularly high contaminant levels.
  • Unexplained fish kills have plagued parts of the Potomac drainage since 2002, primarily in the Shenandoah watershed. During some events, as many as 80 percent of the adult smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish have died.
  • A high prevalence of intersex (the presence of eggs inside male testes) has turned up in male fish of some species in the Potomac watershed.
  • Skin lesions and large numbers of dead smallmouth bass were reported in the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers in Pennsylvania in 2005, apparently associated with the bacterial agent Flavobacterium columnare.

“When you look at them altogether, I think it does sort of hit you that things aren’t right with the system,” said Beth McGee, senior regional water quality scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. ...

Virginia commits $2.1 million to oyster restoration

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission approved $2.1 million for oyster restoration, banking most of the money on a new, promising approach to restoring the Chesapeake Bay oyster.

The funding approved in January will help to continue “spat-on-shell” oyster replenishment. Using this technique, about a dozen hatchery-raised or wild oyster spat are attached to single shells, which are then placed in Bay tributaries.

In clusters, the spat-on-shell oysters are less susceptible to predatory cownose rays, which swarm river bottoms and gorge on single, unprotected baby oysters. ...

CBF, hungry for oyster shells, enlists restaurant’s help

Oyster shells from a French restaurant in Williamsburg, VA, are collected weekly, destined to return to the waters where they originated.

The pilot recycling program is designed to keep oyster shells out of landfills and to put them back in rivers to help restore habitat for the shellfish and other marine species.

Shells are needed for oyster larvae to attach to and thrive. When they are harvested without being replaced at an equal rate, suitable habitat declines.

Tommy Leggett, with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the group is trying to get several more Hampton Roads restaurants involved and to get a public drop-off program started for homeowners or anyone who hosts an oyster roast. “It’s no more effort than when the homeowner separates newspaper and cans and bottles,” Leggett said. “It’s about a change in behavior.” ...

PA governor outlines energy plan, proposed fee

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in February proposed a new fee on the sale of electricity in Pennsylvania to help finance a wide-ranging plan to promote alternative energy sources, increase conservation and blunt expected increases in utility bills in the coming years.

Money generated by the fee would be used to pay off a bond issue Rendell wants to use to create an $850 million Energy Independence Fund that is the core of his energy initiative, administration officials said. The bond issue would require legislative and voter approval. ...

Global warming’s threat to Bay habitats described

A leading Bay researcher told a Senate subcommittee in February that global climate change was not only “a real phenomenon” but that it posed a serious threat to the Chesapeake and Mid-Atlantic habitats.

Roger Mann, director for research and advisory services at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said likely climate change scenarios for the region indicate that the Bay’s dead zone will worsen, striped bass—which are already suffering from disease—will be further stressed, and oyster restoration projects may become more difficult. ...

While not endangered, American eels face numerous threats

American eels may not be endangered, but biologists still believe the snakelike fish needs plenty of help.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January concluded that while the eel population has undergone significant declines in some places, including the Chesapeake Bay and the upper St. Lawrence River, it does not warrant listing as a threatened or endangered species.

Eels face a number of threats, but still inhabit about 75 percent of their historic range in the United States and Canada, the service said. Reproduction—measured by the number of small “glass eels” seen in coastal areas—appears stable, the service concluded. ...

Creating a Rain Garden

A rain garden is a depression filled with native plants that protects water quality by retaining and filtering stormwater. Rain gardens look like a normal garden, but they are designed as much for their function as their beauty.

Size: The ideal size of a rain garden is related to the size of the area that drains into the garden. For example, a home downspout often captures one-fourth of the rooftop runoff. If the downspout is directed into the rain garden, the garden must be large enough to capture and process the right amount of water. The ideal size of the garden will depend on the size of the roof. Available space and budget also come into play. Most home rain gardens range from 100 to 300 square feet, but a smaller rain garden can still filter an impressive percentage of runoff. ...

Rain gardens sprouting in watershed in effort to stop blooms on Bay

When members of St. Philip’s Episcopalian Church gathered on their grounds in Annapolis for a stewardship project last spring, it rained.

A few months later, a television crew came to film the project. It rained again.

But their project was a rain garden, so the wet weather proved a fitting backdrop to the cause at hand.

“We put in the rain garden because it was a great way to catch some of the runoff from our parking lot,” said the Rev. Angela Shepherd. “The rain showed us right away what the whole process would lead to. The water was pouring right into the area as we worked, and making this little pool.” ...

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Creating a Rain Garden

Milling Around

The use of water-powered wheels to ease human labor dates to at least 200 B.C., when ancient Greeks and Romans learned they could harness a stream’s power to help grind grain and perform other tasks.

Until medieval times, the power was gained simply by putting a wheel into a running stream, but that left mill operators subject to the whims of nature.

“During storms, the wheels got ripped out and during low flows, the wheels didn’t even go into the water,” said Bob Walter, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Franklin and Marshall College. “You were limited by optimum stream conditions. Putting in a dam allowed you to run the stream year-round, provided it wasn’t frozen over.” ...

Restorers banking on reconnecting streams to their flood plains

When Mark Gutshall wants a glimpse of what mid-Atlantic streams looked like before European settlers arrived, he only needs to look outside his office window.

Along a 900-foot stretch of Lititz Run, his firm removed between 3 and 4 feet of “legacy sediment” that smothered the historical flood plain in the centuries after the region’s first farmers began tilling the soil.

The steep, unstable banks that once held the stream in a fairly straight path through the property was replaced with a broad flood plain just inches above the groundwater, through which the stream moves in broad, slow, meanders. ...

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