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News, notes and observations from the Bay Journal staff.

Lancaster County, PA, releases preview of plan to reduce water pollution

No location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed produces more animal manure than Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, but farmers may need to stop applying that waste to fields during the winter under a locally produced plan aimed at meeting the county’s pollution reduction goals.

Banning winter manure applications — long advocated by clean water advocates — is part of draft plan unveiled on Oct. 3 in a 3-page summary that calls for slashing overall manure applications in the county by 25 percent. 

Donna Morelli

Virginia attorney general sues over environmental violations at Fones Cliffs

The Virginia attorney general is suing Virginia True Corp. over environmental damages at Fones Cliffs, the office announced late Wednesday.

Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement that he will seek the maximum allowable penalties for "significant and repeated environmental violations” at the 1,000-acre property that is being developed into a luxury golf resort and homes along the Rappahannock River northwest of Warsaw, VA. The filing states that penalties could run up to $32,500 per day for each violation.

Whitney Pipkin

Marsh-dependent black rail nominated for federal listing as a threatened species

The diminutive Eastern black rail, an elusive marsh-dwelling bird that has nearly disappeared from the fringes of the Chesapeake Bay in recent decades, may be headed to the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird, whose population has been in sharp decline all along the East Coast, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in a notice that appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday.

Karl Blankenship
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Drinking Water Report: 188 Bay state communities have nitrate levels that could increase cancer risk

An environmental group is warning that more than 1,000  communities nationwide, including many in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, have nitrates in their drinking water at levels that recent research suggests could raise consumers’ risks of getting cancer.

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Working Group contended in a report issued Tuesday that worrisome levels of nitrates, primarily from polluted farm runoff, contaminate the public water supplies of almost 1,700 communities nationwide. The group’s list of community water systems with potentially problematic nitrate levels included 188 in the six Bay watershed states, with 100 alone in Pennsylvania — though many are in portions of the states that fall outside of the watershed. 

Timothy B. Wheeler

Report: Drinking water in 188 Chesapeake-region communities has nitrate levels that could increase c

An environmental group is warning that hundreds of communities nationwide, including many in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, have nitrates in their drinking water at levels that recent research suggests could raise consumers’ risks of getting cancer.

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Working Group contended in a report issued Tuesday that worrisome levels of nitrates, primarily from polluted farm runoff, contaminate the public water supplies of almost 1,700 communities nationwide. The group’s list of community water systems with potentially problematic nitrate levels included 188 in the six Bay watershed states, with 100 alone in Pennsylvania.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Phragmites, other invasives help fight climate change

And now, a kind word about one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most hated invasive plants: phragmites.

The tall, feathery-plumed marsh reed is the bane of waterfowl lovers around the Chesapeake Bay region, as it crowds out native wetland plants, depriving ducks, geese and swans of nourishment. Landowners and resources managers alike spend a lot of time and money trying to control its spread, if not eliminate stands of it.

But a new study finds that Phragmites australis and some other invasive plants help to fight climate change by enhancing the storage of “blue carbon.”

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Southern Maryland county puts aquaculture restriction on hold

A controversial proposal to temporarily restrict the expansion of some types of oyster farming in St. Mary’s County, MD, has been tabled for now, as county officials lobby the state to give more weight to local wishes in the permitting of aquaculture.

The St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners decided on Tuesday, Sept. 11, to extend the public comment period until Dec. 4 on a proposed ordinance that would impose an 18-month moratorium on the use of commercial docks to support new state-approved leases for growing oysters in cages or floats.

The decision — reached by a 4-0 vote, with one commissioner absent — comes two weeks after a well-attended public hearing in Leonardtown, where more people spoke in opposition to the proposed moratorium than spoke in favor. 

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Time will reveal July storm’s impact on Chesapeake water quality, ecosystem

The persistent storms that pounded the Mid-Atlantic region in late July could have lingering impacts on the Chesapeake Bay, though it will take weeks, if not months, of monitoring for scientists to fully assess the potential damage.

The deluge, which dumped 7 inches or more of rain on much of the Bay watershed over a 5-day span beginning July 21, could be a temporary setback for Bay recovery efforts, where underwater grasses and dissolved oxygen levels have shown signs of recovery in recent years.    

Karl Blankenship and Jeremy Cox

FERC approves ‘Potomac pipeline’ that would carry gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia

​Over objections from environmentalists, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given the green light to building a hotly disputed natural gas pipeline through western Maryland and under the Potomac River.

With one of its five commissioners voting no and another dissenting in part, the five-member commission approved the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project, a 3.5-mile pipeline proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission that would carry gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Army Corps commander retires from Baltimore District with a legacy of oyster and island restoration

By his own admission, Col. Edward P. Chamberlayne didn’t know that much about oysters or what it took to get a permit for an oyster farm when he assumed command three years ago of the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

He proved to be a quick study, though. Maryland oyster farmers were hopping mad then about government red tape and delays they said were holding back the state’s fledgling aquaculture industry, and the Corps’ Baltimore District shared the blame for it.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Maryland invites input on next phase of Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

Maryland officials are seeking public feedback as they draft the state’s next steps in the long-running effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Earlier this week, officials with the state departments of the Environment and Agriculture briefed local officials, nonprofit leaders and others about the cleanup progress to date and the tough issues still to be faced.  While water quality is improving, the Bay’s oxygen-starved “dead zone” is shrinking and underwater grasses are rebounding to record levels, they said more needs to be done to fully restore the Chesapeake — and keep it that way.

Timothy B. Wheeler

After dodging hurricanes, Harriet the osprey last heard from in Puerto Rico

Some Bay Journal readers have wondered what became of Harriet, an osprey nesting in Masonville Cove in Baltimore that last summer was fitted with a transmitter allowing biologists to track her movements.

Karl Blankenship
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Long-buried oyster shells show how the Bay sustained early Americans

What can a bunch of old oyster shells tell you about the Chesapeake Bay’s past, and maybe its future? More than you’d think, according to Alex Jansen, a researcher with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

For several years, Jansen has been working with other researchers poking around on both shores of the Bay, digging up “shell middens,” primitive landfills holding ancient debris and other castoff artifacts. Around the Chesapeake, they mostly contain heaps of oyster shells, an indication of the dietary importance of the Bay’s bivalves to indigenous people long before European settlers arrived. 

Timothy B. Wheeler

Panel with Virginia governor will detail state’s opposition to offshore drilling

A coalition of Virginia officials now opposes federal leasing plans that would permit oil drilling in waters off the coast of the state. Gov. Ralph Northam — who has said he will use “every tool at his disposal” to derail the drilling plans — will share the specifics of his stance during a forum at Old Dominion University in Norfolk at 6:30 p.m. on March 5.

Northam will return to the Tidewater region that he once represented in the state senate to participate in a panel about the risks that offshore drilling poses to the region’s environment, economy and military. The event is part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Blue Planet Forum at ODU’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Whitney Pipkin

Two members of MD fisheries panel replaced who'd questioned crab regulator's firing

The replacement of the chair and another member of a key Maryland fishery advisory body has surprised some observers and led others to question whether it’s political fallout from the firing a year ago of the state’s veteran blue crab fishery regulator.

Billy Rice, a widely respected Charles County waterman who since 2011 had been chairman of the Department of Natural Resources Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission, learned last week that he’d been replaced.

And Rachel Dean, who with her husband runs a fishing business in Calvert County, learned in late December that she would not be reappointed to the commission, either. They were the only two seeking reappointment who were replaced on the 16-member panel, which advises the department on regulations and issues involving crabbing, oystering and other tidal fisheries.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Hogan urges U.S. Senate to reject curb on EPA role in Bay cleanup

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week sent a letter urging Senate leaders to oppose a House-passed measure that would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its power to act against any Bay watershed state that fails to meet its Chesapeake pollution reduction goals.

Hogan -- who chairs the Chesapeake Executive Council, which guides Bay restoration policy -- voiced his “strong opposition” to a pending spending bill provision put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA. The House approved it last September by a vote of 213 to 197, but whether it takes effect depends on congressional budget negotiations to be completed by next month.

Hogan said Goodlatte's amendment would harm Bay restoration efforts by preventing the EPA from enforcing “policies and procedures that are necessary for achieving pollution reductions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

Karl Blankenship
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Winter brings waterfowl bonanza to Bay

If you think you’ve been seeing more ducks, geese and swans around the Chesapeake Bay this winter than usual, you’re onto something.

Recent aerial surveys have tallied more than one million waterfowl of all types along Maryland’s coasts and shoreline, the state Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday. That’s 25 percent more than were seen last year and about 20 percent above the average for the last five years.

Timothy B. Wheeler

High Tide in Dorchester: A new documentary from the Bay Journal

Though it begins with aerial shots of the seemingly endless tidal marshes in Maryland’s Dorchester County, the latest Bay Journal documentary is about a fast-approaching future in which that landscape could be entirely underwater.

High Tide in Dorchester is the second collaboration between Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton, Bay Journal photographer and videographer Dave Harp and environmental filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown. The same crew produced the documentary Beautiful Swimmers Revisited in 2015, also sponsored by the Bay Journal.

Whitney Pipkin

Baltimore harbor cleanup effort spotlighted on MPT

Baltimore’s harbor is one of the most polluted sites in the Chesapeake Bay – with water that's often unsafe for swimming and for eating many of the fish that local anglers can catch.

An ambitious effort is under way to turn centuries of abuse around, and make the harbor safe for swimming and fishing by 2020. It's one of the stiffest local challenges in the entire Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. A team of students at American University undertook a film to document the harbor’s condition and the status of the cleanup effort. 

Timothy B. Wheeler

Pruitt says EPA reconsidering Bay Journal grant decision

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told a Senate committee on Tuesday that his agency’s decision to terminate a six-year grant that partially funds the Bay Journal was “under reconsideration.”

Pruitt, appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was questioned by Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Chris van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, about the agency’s decision last summer to end the six-year grant after just two years of funding.

and Staff Reportand Karl Blankenship

Proposed gas pipeline under Potomac draws fire

As pipelines go, the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project isn’t much. It would run just 3.5 miles, north to south, traversing one of the narrowest parts of western Maryland.

But there’s no small controversy around this project. It would involve tunneling deep under the Potomac River — drinking water source for the Washington metropolitan area and other smaller communities upriver — to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to growing communities in West Virginia.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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MD leaders pledge support for environmental protections amid Trump rollback

Maryland’s legislative leaders delighted environmental advocates Thursday by vowing to strengthen the state’s forest conservation law, increase renewable energy and pass other green initiatives, while resisting environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration. It remains to be seen whether election-year politics will help those prospects.  

The 23rd annual environmental legislative summit in Annapolis drew a standing room only crowd to hear pitches — and pledges of support — for green groups’ top priorities during the 90-day General Assembly session that began Jan. 10.

“We’re going to make us the most environmentally friendly state in America,” House Speaker Michael Busch declared, to enthusiastic applause. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller voiced similar sentiment, predicting that amid upcoming debates over taxes, spending and other tough issues, “the one thing we’re going to agree on is the environment.”

Timothy B. Wheeler

Bay Barometer finds things keep looking up

The wintry weather outside may be frightful, but the latest Bay Barometer is pointing in a generally positive direction.

The annual report released by the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program trumpeted continued gains the long-running effort to restore the estuary, with new highs reached last year in fish passage, water quality and blue crab and underwater grass abundance.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Bay water quality nears record high mark

Water quality in a little more than 39 percent of the Chesapeake was 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.  

Karl Blankenship

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