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News, notes and observations from the Bay Journal staff.

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Key to stream restoration success: location, location, location

With millions of dollars being poured into urban and suburban stream restoration projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a recent study suggests location matters when trying to assess how effective those efforts have been.

After surveying 13 Baltimore highly degraded suburban streams that had undergone makeovers, a pair of researchers found that aquatic insect populations were larger and more diverse in isolated headwaters than in larger downstream reaches.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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MD senators call on EPA to reverse Bay Journal decision

Warning that its decision to cut grant funding for the Bay Journal sets a “dangerous nationwide precedent,” Maryland’s two U.S. senators asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to reverse his agency’s action in a letter Wednesday.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said the Bay Journal has “done a sterling job of delivering returns on investments,” and that there was “no legitimate cause to deprive the residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed of such a vital source of information.”

Karl Blankenship
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Judge approves disputed plan to fix Baltimore's sewage overflows

Brushing aside an environmental group’s objection, a federal judge has given the city of Baltimore another 13 years to eliminate the chronic sewage overflows that frequently render local streams and the harbor unsafe for recreation.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz approved a consent decree on Thursday spelling out a new plan for overhauling Baltimore’s aged, leaky sewer system. It modifies the initial agreement reached in 2002 with federal and state regulators, which had given the city until January 2016 to fix its problems. Despite spending nearly $1 billion on repairs over that time, by city officials’ estimates, the overflows continue.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Virginia endowment honors Bay Journal Media

Bay Journal Media was one of 22 organizations recognized as one of the Virginia Environmental Endowment’s “Partners in Excellence” during its 40th anniversary celebration in Richmond on Oct. 5.

The VEE said the Bay Journal, the organization’s primary publication, “is recognized as the media voice for news about the Chesapeake Bay.” The endowment has provided financial support for increased coverage of Virginia issues in the Bay Journal, and has helped launch its recent Local Government Edition, which provides Bay-related information to local officials throughout the watershed.

Karl Blankenship
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Virginia board to hear pipeline arguments over four days in December

The fate of two sprawling pipeline projects in Virginia will be decided by the State Water Control Board at a pair of meetings in December, each expected to last two days.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which would carry natural gas across portions of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina have faced steep opposition from citizens and environmental groups. The projects are undergoing review by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which has pledged to apply several “regulatory tools…to ensure that Virginia’s water quality is protected” should the projects be approved.

Whitney Pipkin
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Oyster season opens on a down note

The public oyster harvest season began Monday, with Chesapeake Bay watermen no doubt hoping for a better haul this fall and winter than last. For Maryland watermen, though, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Despite mild weather last winter, Maryland’s 2016-2017 harvest from public oyster bars was off nearly 42 percent from the year before, a steep drop from the modest decline seen the previous two years. Last season, 1,086 licensed watermen harvested 224,609 bushels of bivalves, down from a 384,000-bushel catch in 2015-2016, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Documentary delves into rising sea level’s toll on culture, habitat

What happens when land that has been farmed or built upon for more than 300 years, and hunted and fished for thousands of years before that, becomes open water? What happens when nuisance flooding becomes prevalent and undermines roads to such an extent that the cost of fixing them cannot be justified by local government? What happens when one of the most popular national wildlife refuges in the country turns from marsh and upland — beneficial to migratory birds and many native species — to open water with barren bottom?

High Tide in Dorchester, a new Bay Journal documentary film about the cultural and ecological effects of rising sea level in Chesapeake Bay, will seek to answer these and other questions

David Harp
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Climate change brings heightened risks in Bay of contaminated water, shellfish

As climate change warms the Chesapeake Bay, people face heightened risks of getting ill from eating raw oysters out of the estuary or from swimming in its waters over the next several decades, a new study warns.

Drawing on climate models and extensive Bay monitoring data, a research team led by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that two of three harmful strains of Vibrio bacteria already found in the Chesapeake can be expected to grow in abundance as temperatures rise. The study appears in the current issue of GeoHealth, the American Geophysical Union’s journal.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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MD septic pollution lawsuit cleared for trial

A Caroline County judge has ruled that a former Maryland woman who sued the state and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro, blaming them for the loss of her family campground to unchecked septic pollution, will have her day in court.

In early September, Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen denied a motion by the town and the state to dismiss the case, saying that a jury needed to decide if either bore responsibility for the pollution to Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre impoundment on the 100-acre property that Gail Litz used to own.  The judge has yet to set a trial date.

Rona Kobell
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VA forum to bring Bay issues into governor's race

Virginia voters will get to hear this week where the state’s gubernatorial hopefuls  stand on the Chesapeake Bay and other water quality  issues, as a pair of environmental groups stage a candidates’  forum in Richmond.

The Clean Water Forum, co-hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the James River Association, will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 6 at The National Theater in the state capital.

Whitney Pipkin
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Once lowly soft-shell crab new darling of haute cuisine

Time was, seaside restaurants would put out a simple handwritten sign, usually around Memorial Day. It would say, “we have soft crabs,” and diners would line up for the fried favorite, served between two pieces of white bread.

Nowadays, the sign would have to stay up much of the year. Thanks to increased demand, better shipping methods, a changing global palette and a drive for artisanal and local food items, the proverbial “bug on a bun” has been elevated to a place on top of salads, small plates and platters — and even cooking shows.

“It’s just getting unbelievable,” said Terry Vincent, owner of Lindy’s Seafood, a Hooper’s Island wholesaler that sells crabs from the Chesapeake Bay as well as from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Rona Kobell
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Bay Journal to lose EPA funding

It’s always awkward to become the news rather than simply report it, but here goes:

Today, we learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to cut off a multi-year grant awarded to the Bay Journal by the EPA two years ago, effective Feb. 1. If the cut is upheld, it’s a big loss, as EPA funding covers about a third of our budget.

But it’s not the end of the Bay Journal — not even close.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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In about-face, VA's governor turns against offshore drilling

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe pulled an about-face Thursday on his previous support for offshore oil drilling, saying that he now wants the Atlantic Ocean waters off his state excluded from an upcoming federal leasing program.

Citing primarily economic but also environmental concerns, McAuliffe said that with the Trump administration’s “reckless actions” regarding oil revenue-sharing with coastal states, coupled with proposed cuts to funding for regulatory environmental agencies, “Virginia is left with only one option.” He asked that the state not be included in a new five-year plan for leasing portions of the Outer Continental Shelf for energy development

William H. Funk
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MD's Hogan looking for Conowingo remedies

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is convening his second annual summit Tuesday on the buildup of sediments and nutrients behind Conowingo dam.  But the agenda and attendees remain a mystery.

Doug Mayer, Hogan’s communications director, said in an email that the summit would be at 11 a.m. in Darlington, MD, near the dam on the Susquehanna River.  But Mayer said the session was closed to the press. He said Hogan would hold a press conference following the summit, but did not respond to a query about why the meeting was not open to the public.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Virginia city's share of $50 million cleanup deal still in doubt

A federal judge has approved a deal requiring the chemical company DuPont to pay $50 million for decades of mercury pollution of Virginia’s South River, finalizing the largest natural resources settlement in state history.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski did not specify how much, if any, of the $42.1 million earmarked in the settlement for restoration projects ought to be spent in Waynesboro, where DuPont’s polluting factory operated. 

William H. Funk
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Pennsylvania judge halts pipeline construction after multiple problems

A Pennsylvania judge has put a two-week hold on all drilling for a controversial pipeline construction project that’s had multiple spills and sparked complaints of well contamination.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco Pipeline L.P. late Tuesday to stop all horizontal directional drilling underneath waterways on its 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline after a series of leaks or spills of drilling fluid and the contamination of private water supplies.

Donna Morelli
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Dolphin-spotting: the next big Chesapeake pastime?

Dolphins might be more common and wide-ranging in the Chesapeake Bay than once thought, if recent reports from citizen spotters are any indication.

Since a Chesapeake Dolphin Watch website launched at the end of June, 1,200 people have signed up and reported more than 500 dolphin sightings, often of 10 or more of the mammals at once.

“We knew anecdotally that dolphins were seen in the Chesapeake, but I still wasn’t anticipating anything like the number of sightings we’ve seen reported,” said Helen Bailey, a research associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory who helped to launch the website. “It’s just been incredible.”

Whitney Pipkin
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House panel proposes $60 million in federal funding for Bay restoration

The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort stands to get $60 million in federal funds next year under a bill acted on this week by a U.S. House subcommittee. That’s a significant cut from this year’s spending level, but a clear rejection of President Donald Trump’s proposal to completely de-fund the cleanup.

The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee included that amount for the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal-state Bay Program in a bill it reported Wednesday, according to Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-MD, a member of the full committee. Of that total, $10 million would be allocated to grant programs to be spent for on-the-ground restoration projects in the six-state watershed.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Dinner with a side of Bay 101

There are plenty of places where diners in Washington, DC, can find a decent surf and turf. But, instead of steaks, one chef chose to serve his recent six-course seafood dinner with a side of education — and far more than would fit in the small font on a menu.

At a pop-up dinner in a warehouse-like event space this month, Mackenzie Kitburi of Capital Taste Food Group invited Bay experts to talk about water quality, federal regulations and invasive species while guests consumed a half-dozen types of fish they’re not likely to find on many local menus.

Whitney Pipkin
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Tangier mayor hopes that Trump call leads to a seawall

Tangier Island sits like a fishhook in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, a fishing village known for its distinct local accent and eroding shoreline. Every now and again, it makes the news for a quirky event, like when the mayor found some oysters attached to a crab, or a tragic one, as when a longtime resident drowned.

That changed in June, when President Donald Trump called Tangier Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge. The president, who has suggested in the past that climate change is a hoax, told Eskridge not to worry about rising sea levels. “Your island has been there for hundreds of years,” he told Eskridge, “and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more."

Rona Kobell
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EPA moves to rescind controversial Clean Water rule

It came as no surprise, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that it is moving to withdraw the so-called Clean Water Rule, potentially making it easier for farmers, builders and others to disturb some streams or wetlands.

The regulation, also known as the “Waters of the United States” rule, had been targeted for rollback since February, when President Trump issued an executive order instructing his administration to begin work on the “elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

It had been adopted in 2015 by the Obama administration, but drew intense opposition from the American Farm Bureau, National Association of Home Builders and other agricultural and industry interests. 

Timothy B. Wheeler and Rona Kobell
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Washington diplomats plant grasses in the Potomac, earn bragging rights 

Representatives from about a dozen nations got a lot more than their feet wet recently when they waded into the Potomac River to plant Bay grasses they had personally cultivated. But after a six-month competition only one country got to claim the esteemed prize for raising the “best grass.”

Those bragging rights went to China in a friendly contest to see who could grow the longest, thickest and overall best batch of underwater grasses, which participants transplanted into the river earlier this month during an event at Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, VA. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation helped organize the planting through its Grasses for the Masses program.

Whitney Pipkin
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Bay's 'dead zone' expected to be bigger than average this summer

A year after experiencing its best water quality in decades, the Chesapeake Bay is expected to have a larger than average “dead zone” this summer, where fish, crabs and shellfish will struggle to breathe.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are forecasting that the volume of oxygen-starved water in the Bay will grow to 1.9 cubic miles, enough to nearly fill 3.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Trump administration pledges to do more with less for U.S. aquaculture

"Aquaculture is not the future of oyster harvests. It's the present," said Mark Luckenbach - Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Luckenbach, based at the VIMS lab at Wachapreague, told me those words 11 years ago, when I wrote my first story about oyster aquaculture. Since then, I’ve written more than 100 stories on the topic, and someday, I hope, I’ll write a book. One thing is sure: the present has taken a long time to arrive - not just in the Chesapeake Bay, but all over the country.

Rona Kobell

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