Bay Journal

December 2011 - Volume 21 - Number 9

Survey will develop a clearer understanding of Bay oyster population

For the last century and a half, Chesapeake Bay oysters have yielded huge harvests and inspired debates, disputes and even open combat.

Yet during all that time, scientists and fishery managers never answered the most fundamental question about the Chesapeake's most iconic species: Just how many oysters are in what Native Americans called the Great Shellfish Bay?

Sometime next year, a team of scientists from universities and agencies in Maryland and Virginia hope to complete what would constitute the first Baywide oyster stock assessment. The assessment will provide an overall population estimate, as well as a clearer idea as to whether the bivalves are increasing, decreasing or holding their own.


River herring to undergo review to see if species belong on threatened list

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has determined that an environmental group's petition to list river herring under the Endangered Species Act contains enough information to merit a full review.

The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service in August, contending that populations of blueback herring and alewife - collectively known as river herring - have declined so dramatically that they warrant listing as a threatened species under the act. A threatened species is one that could become endangered in the foreseeable future. ...

EPA gives states more leeway to set local cleanup goals

States no longer need to assign nutrient and sediment reduction targets that are measured in pounds to local governments to guide their pollution reduction efforts.

Instead, the EPA said in an October letter that states could use a "narrative" to describe the types of local actions they will implement to achieve broader nutrient goals assigned to them.

The change in emphasis affects the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans that states must complete by March 30 to show how they are involving local governments to help meet the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or "pollution diet." ...

Obama designates Fort Monroe a national monument

The National Park Service presence along the Chesapeake Bay grew in November as President Barack Obama designated Fort Monroe as a national monument.

Fort Monroe was closed as a military site in September, and the presidential action to protect the fort and surrounding beaches was urged by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, local officials, several Virginia members of Congress and many conservation groups.

The president's act will put 325 of the peninsula's 570 acres into the new national monument. The monument is composed of 90 acres concentrated around the fort and 235 acres of the North Beach area. ...

Academy helps communities ‘take ownership of their stormwater’

John Dawson fought a weeklong battle with the dense layer of clay that lurked beneath the surface of his front yard.

"It was red, and it was thick. The colonists could have made bricks from that stuff," he said.

Dawson discovered the clay while trying to reduce the flow of stormwater runoff from his home in Severna Park, MD, to local waters and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. He was replacing his lawn with a rain garden designed to collect and absorb stormwater close to where it falls. But clay isn't very absorbent. For the rain garden to work, the clay had to go. ...

Critics call TMDL too costly for farms, local governments

Members of Congress continued their attacks on the EPA's new Bay cleanup plan during a November hearing, saying it was forcing huge costs upon farmers and local governments, and criticizing the computer models the agency uses to set pollution goals.

The Nov. 3 hearing was the second time this year that a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee delved into the total maximum daily load, or pollution diet, which many of its members fear will be used as a pollution control template for other areas in the country. Several members sought, unsuccessfully, to block funding for Bay TMDL implementation this year. ...

Efforts to control ballast water discharges into Bay falling short

Efforts to keep ships from importing foreign species into the Chesapeake and other East Coast ports are falling short, according to a new study by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Scientists at the center, located near Edgewater, MD, found that nearly a quarter of the ballast water discharged in East Coast ports was never exchanged at sea.

Ships often take in water, along with any organisms in the water, to help stabilize their vessels before leaving port. When that water is released at its destination, it can cause the introduction of unwanted species, such as zebra mussels, which were introduced to the Great Lakes via ballast water in the 1980s. ...

Zebra mussels slowly spreading into Chesapeake tributaries

Ron Klauda studied a row of buoys freshly pulled that morning that had been marking areas of the Sassafras and Elk River, Susquehanna Flats and other parts of the Upper Bay since being placed in the water last spring.

He was in search of zebra mussels, a notorious invader that showed up off Port Deposit, MD, just a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Susquehanna River, in the summer of 2010.

College farms conference provides food for thought as well as the plate

It was the type of crisp autumn weekend in central Pennsylvania when people cheer local football teams, find a fall festival or rake falling leaves. Dickinson College, located in the town of Carlisle, seemed sleepy. But looks can be deceiving.

That weekend, Dickinson College's classrooms hosted the nation's first conference on the role of farms and gardens on college campuses. Seeding the Future convened 240 students, faculty, farm staff and school officials from more than 60 higher education institutions from around the United States and Canada. ...

MDE denies permit to build road through Mattawoman watershed

A proposed highway that could devastate one of Southern Maryland's most fertile fish nurseries has hit a major speed bump.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has denied a permit for Charles County commissioners to build the rest of the Cross-County Connector, a 16-mile road that would cut through and add large amounts of impervious surface to the Mattawoman Creek watershed. 

MD oyster farmers want legal market size reduced to 2 inches

Maryland oyster farmers could start selling smaller oysters next year if the state's Aquaculture Coordinating Council has its way.

The council, a group that includes regulators, oyster farmers, legislators and scientists, voted at its November meeting to reduce the size at which a farm-raised oyster can be sold to a minimum of 2 inches. Currently, the market size for Maryland oysters is 3 inches.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources still has to introduce a regulation to make the change official. First, a delegate or a senator will need to introduce legislation to enable the department to make those regulations. The council expects that legislation will be introduced in the coming General Assembly, but it's unclear what the final change will look like. The Maryland Natural Resources Police oppose the change, on the grounds that enforcing the law and protecting bars from poachers will be difficult with two size classes. ...

MD taking bids for 10-megawatt manure-to-energy plant

The Chesapeake Bay's manure-to-energy movement just got a boost from Maryland's government, which is seeking to have the state's first electricity-generating plant operating in four years.

The state is seeking companies to build a 10-megawatt facility that will turn animal waste into power. Dubbed Clean Bay Power, the initiative would double the amount of renewable energy purchased by the state, bringing it to about 30 percent. The winning bid will be announced in early 2012, and the plant would be operational by the end of 2015. ...

Conservancy gives Potomac’s water quality a failing grade

The Potomac River's split personality isn't doing its health any favors. From the increased development in exurban areas around Washington, DC, to a more intensive agriculture industry in the Shenandoah Valley, the health of the water quality is close to failing, according to the Potomac Conservancy.

The Conservancy, which calls itself the environmental voice of the nation's river, grades the river every five years. In its November 2011 report, it gave the Potomac a D - down from a D plus in 2007. The reason for the downgrade stemmed from increased impervious surface in the watershed, the loss of trees as buffers and the increased amount of animal waste connected to chicken farms, said Hedrick Belin, the conservancy's president. Buried streams, Belin said, are also a major source of pollution to waterways, and one area where researchers are only just learning the extent of the problem. ...

Tripling of MD ‘flush tax’ sought to speed progress in improving water quality

A legislative committee is calling for tripling Maryland's so-called flush tax so that the state's environment department can make more progress in upgrading sewage treatment plants, replacing failing septic tanks and controlling stormwater.

The 28-member task force, which Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed to advise him on sewage and stormwater matters, voted to double the $2.50 monthly fee for 2012 and increase it to $7.50 a month by 2015. Marylanders on public sewage systems pay the fee with their utility bills, while homeowners on septic systems pay it with their property taxes. The task force also said the state would be more likely to meet its Bay cleanup goals by the EPA's target date of 2025 instead of O'Malley's target of 2020. ...

Marcellus Shale drilling may take huge chunks out of PA forests

During the coming two decades, Pennsylvania could lose enough forest land to build a couple of large cities. The forest won't be lost in a single large chunk, but as thousands of small sites that are cleared to drill natural gas wells and connected with hundreds of miles of new pipelines.

While those impacts will be scattered across the landscape, their cumulative impact on forest habitats could be severe, and it could also complicate the state's efforts to meet its nutrient and sediment reduction obligations under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or pollution diet. ...

ASMFC votes to reduce commercial menhaden landings

Conservationists, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen have long argued over just how many menhaden to leave in the water. In November, East Coast fishery managers - after years of debate - finally weighed in with an answer: They want the commercial fisheries to leave almost twice as many adult fish in the water to help maintain the menhaden population and provide adequate food for other species.

This November in Boston, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees fisheries management from Maine to Florida, set new population threshold and harvest targets for menhaden, which will begin reducing the catch in 2013. ...

A Bay Journal Film, Nassawango Legacy



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