Bay Journal

June 2011 - Volume 21 - Number 4

Ounce of protection is worth a gallon of cure for rivers

On a sunny day in early spring, Leslie Middleton stood along Doyles River. The gurgling water that flowed past her had wandered through a mix of woods and pastures and a sprinkling of new development. Some had originated in near-pristine streams that rise from mountain springs along the nearby slopes of the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park

Eventually, though, the river's water would reach Charlottesville, VA, where the clear water that had been home to brook trout would merge with silty runoff from parking lots that would cloud the water and taint it with oil from crankcases, pesticides from lawns and other residues of daily life. ...

Past landscapes live on at Mount Harmon at World’s End

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is a popular Disney movie in which characters take a perilous journey and eventually sail off the edge of the map. Centuries ago, travelers could reach the "world's end" simply by sailing to the upper Chesapeake Bay.

The nickname took hold along the Sassafras River, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where the bounty of the Bay and its vibrant maritime commerce could not offset the basic isolation of the tidewater colonial experience.

"Mount Harmon at World's End," the formal name for a historic plantation on the Sassafras River, preserves this fact for contemporary visitors. Even today, the tag line rings true. ...

Congress slashes, eliminates funding for Bay-related programs

Funding for several Bay-related initiatives, including the National Park Service's Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, face elimination or severe cutbacks stemming from steep funding cuts in the final 2011 spending plan approved by Congress in April.

Among other programs that could face deep cuts are oyster restoration, environmental education, monitoring buoys and the EPA's loan program to help fund water system upgrades.

The 2011 budget proposed by President Obama had actually slated increases for some of those programs, including the Gateways Network. The increases - a record $491 million for Bay-related projects - were in response to the president's earlier executive order calling for a "new era of federal leadership" for the Chesapeake. ...

Health officials struggle with how to react to Vibrio cases

This summer, as the mercury rises and sweaty residents flock to area beaches, health department officials find themselves in a sticky spot.

Do they warn residents of the rare but potentially fatal risk of contracting Vibrio, a bacterium that lives in the water and thrives in July and August? Or, when the chance of infection is so small, is it better not to draw attention to such a rare condition and thereby not risk compromising the tourism industry?

The question comes after a Calvert County, MD, man nearly died last year when he contracted Vibrio through a cut in his leg. Overall, Maryland averages about 25 cases of the infection a year, according to state health officials. In most cases, the infections are not fatal. But an Eastern Shore waterman died about six years ago after exposure to Vibrio when he went into the water with a cut. ...

Paddle up to seek wealth of knowledge, souvenirs on Captain John Smith Geotrail

The first national water trail is going high-tech.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is launching a geocaching component at 10 a.m. on June 4 with an event at Piscataway Park in Accokeek, MD.

Geocaching, a hobby that dates back about a decade, uses global positioning devices to hunt for treasures on trails, in parks and at historical sites around the country. Searchers using the technology are led to a hidden container, or cache, filled with small items and souvenirs. The hunters usually take one item and leave another behind. ...

MD law sets strict limits on use of fertilizer on lawns

A measure that limits the nutrient content of lawn fertilizer and restricts when it may be applied by homeowners was signed into law by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on May 19 to help the state meet its Bay cleanup obligations.

The law would prohibit homeowners from using fertilizer after Nov. 15 or before March 1. Further, that fertilizer can contain no phosphorus unless it is for specific uses, such as establishing a lawn or repairing turf. It also restricts the amount, and type of nitrogen that can be used in fertilizer, and requires that at least 20 percent of nitrogen be slow-release. ...

TMDL guide available

The new Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load cleanup plan will affect everyone living in the Bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed, but issues related to the TMDL can be complex and confusing.

EcoCheck, a partnership between the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office, has produced a four-page newsletter that concisely explains how nutrient and sediment pollution affects the Bay, what the TMDL is, the science behind its development and how cleanup strategies - or watershed implementation plans - will be written. ...

Coastal seas conference coming to Baltimore

Registration opens June 15 for EMECS9, an international conference on the global health of the coastal waterways, which will take place Aug. 28-31 in Baltimore. Its goal is to improve the ability to manage coastal seas in all their ecological, economic and cultural dimensions.

The conference will work to cross barriers of discipline and culture by bringing together experts and stakeholders from different backgrounds to share information, insights and lessons learned.

Conference topics include: the latest science for coastal restoration and management; improved accountability for measuring progress toward management goals and reporting of results; sustainable approaches learned from case studies in coastal seas restoration; innovative ways to finance restoration and conservation; models for developing partnerships for shared governance and environmental stewardship; and education and communication techniques. ...

Bay’s health took a turn for the worse in 2010

The Chesapeake Bay's health declined in 2010, the first time in four years, according to an annual report card compiled by Bay scientists.

Scientists blamed the lower scores on higher rainfall, which washes more nutrients and sediments off fields, lawns, parking lots and other land and flushes them downstream.

The annual report card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science dropped the Bay's health from a "C" in 2009 to a "C-" last year.

The overall score was 42 percent of what constituted totally healthy conditions, down from 46 percent the year before. The scores were based on six indicators reflecting water quality and the health of biological communities. ...

MD DNR contest offers prizes to those who kill snakeheads

Catch and kill isn't the typical management technique used to promote conservation, but fisheries officials say that's the most appropriate action when it comes to dealing with snakeheads, which have invaded the Potomac River.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are even providing an opportunity for anglers who catch, kill and enter photos of northern snakeheads to win prizes.

"We do not want snakeheads in our waters," said Don Cosden, inland fisheries director for the Maryland DNR. "This initiative is a way to remind anglers that it is important to catch and kill this destructive species of fish." ...

Researchers asking public to help them get their mitts on invasive crab

Anyone spending time on the Bay or its tidal tributaries this summer who spots a crab with furry looking claws is asked to report the sighting to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The center, based in Edgewater, MD, is trying to gather information about the distribution and abundance of Chinese mitten crabs in the region to help develop plans to control their spread and limit their damage.

Since 2005, more than 100 of the crabs, which are native to East Asia, have been found in mid-Atlantic estuaries from the Chesapeake Bay to the Hudson River, and biologists believe the species may have the potential to spread as far south as Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. ...

Poster alerts Virginians to invasive species

A new educational poster highlighting invasive species that pose the greatest threat to Virginia's resources is now available. The poster, produced by the Virginia Invasives Species Advisory Committee, highlights six species already in the state, and six on its fringes.

The six already in the state include three fast-spreading trees and plants: tree of heaven, phragmites and Japanese stilt grass. The three animals already present are the voracious northern snakehead fish, shellfish-eating rapa whelk and fire ant, which destroys crops and attacks people and wildlife. ...

Feds release draft guidance on what constitutes U.S. waters

The Obama administration has released what it calls "clearer, more predictable guidelines" to determine what waterways and wetlands are protected from pollution.

The draft guidance, issued in late April, tries to resolve questions that have lingered for the last decade over what areas are "waters of the United States" in the wake of two Supreme Court decisions that reined in federal jurisdiction over some waterways.

The guidance would help protect more small streams and headwater wetlands, which drew praise from environmental groups, but criticism from farm organizations and home builders. ...

MD to sue gas driller after spill into Susquehanna tributary

The Maryland Attorney General's office has filed a notice of intent to sue one of the country's largest energy companies for contaminating state waterways after a hydro-fracking spill in northern Pennsylvania.

The spill happened in Bradford County, about 20 miles south of the New York border, on April 19. Thousands of gallons of fracking chemicals spilled into Towanda Creek, which is a tributary of the Susquehanna River.

Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, companies do not have to disclose what's in their fracking fluids, which are used to lubricate the wells and coax the gas to the surface. But the fluids are known to include harmful chemicals, including methanol, strontium and benzene. Maryland officials are worried because of what they don't know, and also because the Chesapeake Bay gets half of its freshwater from the Susquehanna. The river is also a major drinking water source. ...

Report says tracking of Bay cleanup efforts needs to be improved

It's impossible to estimate the impact of many nutrient reduction efforts because of inconsistent and - often poor - efforts to track their implementation, a new report says.

A panel of scientists said existing programs undercount some nutrient control actions, double-count others and frequently count them differently from state-to-state.

The issue is of "paramount importance," the panel said, because the Bay Program relies on that data to estimate progress toward meeting its nutrient reduction goals. "The current accounting cannot on the whole be viewed as accurate," said the report from the National Research Council. ...

Spawning female Atlantic sturgeon found in James River

A routine fishing trip produced the catch of a lifetime April 20 when it netted the first spawning female Atlantic sturgeon documented on the James River.

The 6-foot, 200-pound fish was netted by watermen George Trice and Jimmy Moore while participating in a study aimed at finding ways to reduce mortality of sturgeon caught in fishing nets.

"That is probably the biggest fish I've handled," said Albert Spells, Virginia fisheries coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who was on the boat at the time. "In fact, the day before we caught a fish 2 inches shorter. But it wasn't a female." ...

Spring workdays around the watershed net 350 tons of trash

Spring cleaning in the rivers and streams around the Chesapeake Bay brought in more than 350 tons of trash - including kitchen sinks and couches, beer bottles and unemployment papers.

The annual Potomac River cleanup project brought in 205 tons of trash, less than the 250-ton total recorded last year. Nearly 10,000 volunteers at 252 sites spent a day in April picking up garbage from the river and its tributaries, including the Anacostia. But the cleanup had fewer volunteers than it did last year, the result of rain and some confusion over whether it would go on because of the then-impending, but ultimately avoided, government shutdown. ...

Watermen recover 10,000 ‘ghost’ crab pots

Watermen pulled up nearly 10,000 "ghost pots" along with 52 fishing nets and hundreds of other pieces of junk from the Bay's bottom during the third year of Virginia's Marine Debris Removal Program.

The program, which is funded through federal blue crab disaster funds, is open to watermen who would have been eligible to participate in the crab dredge fishery, which was closed in 2008 as part of an effort to protect female crabs.

Watermen are paid to use side-imaging sonar units to detect and retrieve lost or abandoned crab pots and other debris spotted on the Bay floor. Watermen were paid $300 a day and compensated for fuel costs. ...

Did your Bay Journal get lost in the mailing list process?

Our yearlong odyssey to rebuild the Bay Journal mailing list is entering its final phase, and we appreciate the patience of readers who have cooperated as we've worked through this process.

Part of this process meant working off two mailing lists simultaneously for a period of time this spring.

As a result, the initial mailings of the April and May issues missed a number of readers, who ended up getting copies that were mailed late. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Because of the switchover, and because some people sent their renewal notices a bit late, some people may not have received the March, April, or May issues. If you did not receive one or all of those, mail a note to Bay Journal, P.O. Box 222, Jacobus, PA 17407-0222, or e-mail We will send you copies of any missing issues while supplies last. ...

Blue Plains upgrades to make it first to create power while treating sludge

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority broke ground in May on two massive projects at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant that will protect water quality in the Potomac River and downstream in the Chesapeake Bay.

The $1.4 billion upgrades keep Blue Plains on the cutting edge of wastewater treatment technology, much of which reduces the amount of nutrients in the water discharged to the Potomac River. Nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorus - are the main pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and many of its tributaries. ...

Watermen learning how to add ‘tourist trap’ to their fishing gear

On a stormy day in April, the bright, tidy room in the back of the Neavitt United Methodist Church was filled with watermen who, temporarily, weren't on the water.

They clustered instead around tables and note pads, discussing how they might catch an occasional group of tourists along with their more traditional harvest of oysters and crabs.

These watermen, along with some family members, were participating in a new program called Watermen's Heritage Tourism Training. The training was organized by the Chesapeake Conservancy in partnership with the Maryland Watermen's Association, Coastal Heritage Alliance and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. ...

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