Bay Journal

April 2012 - Volume 22 - Number 2

Chesapeake’s grasses declined 22% last year

Tropical storms and hot temperatures proved to be a lethal combination for the Chesapeake's underwater grasses, which declined 22 percent Baywide last year, according to the latest aerial survey.

Much of the damage was inflicted by an unusually wet spring followed by record-setting September flows from the Susquehanna River after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene that left much of the Upper Bay awash with sediment, nutrients and debris.

That's bad news for grasses. Like all plants, they need light to survive. Sediment clouds the water while nutrients spur algae blooms and the growth of epiphytes directly on blades of grass, all of which block sunlight.

Also contributing to the decline were the warmer than normal temperatures during summer 2010 that led to a die-off of eelgrass in the lower Bay. The die-off wasn't evident until the 2011 aerial Bay grass survey, which is conducted by scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

VA membership in 2 Potomac commissions still up in the air

Two Potomac commissions still don't know if Virginia will fund them in the coming year.

Virginia officials earlier this year cut the budgets of both the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

State officials also notified the ICPRB of their intent to withdraw from that commission, which regulates water levels and monitors the river's health.

Budget wrangling is expected to continue until the end of March. As the Bay Journal went to press, the budget wasn't final, although Virginia had decided to maintain its membership in the interstate commission.

"Right now, we're on a wait-and-see thing, and we're hopeful, but nothing has been decided yet," said Curtis Dalpra, the ICPRB's communications manager.

Virginia had been contributing $151,500 annually to the ICPRB. Dalpra said if the state continues to fund them, it will be at "some fraction of that."

The interstate commission has already laid off one worker and not replaced two others, Dalpra said. It currently has a staff of about 20 and a budget of $3 million.

Maryland and Virginia each contribute $145,000 annually to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, which makes up the bulk of its budget.

They, too, are waiting for word on the budget, although the outlook for their funding is a bit brighter.

Virginia's Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech told...

Survey to explore feasibility of community-supported fishery

A new partnership between Virginia Sea Grant and the College of William and Mary- including the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Mason School of Business and Marshall-Wythe School of Law - is exploring whether a community-supported fishery is a feasible means to help promote greater consumption of locally harvested fish and shellfish.

The concept is based on the model of community-supported agriculture, which provide subscribers with shares of produce and other products from local farms.

The first part of the feasibility study - telephone and in-person interviews with W&M students, faculty and staff - wrapped up in late February. The goal was to assess the respondents' current seafood choices, knowledge of sustainability issues, local-seafood preferences and willingness to pay for local fishery products.

The next step in the project builds on the interview findings with an online survey that will expand the study into the local community and provide more quantitative results.

If the findings of the online survey confirm the positive comments from the interviews, the project team will move on to create a detailed business plan that identifies how to best proceed in terms of staffing, storage, transport, finances, legal arrangements and other factors.

The team will incorporate lessons learned from a small but growing number of community-supported fisheries at other campuses around the nation, including Duke...

Corps denies permit for Cross-County Connector

It looks like the end of the road for the Cross-County Connector.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied the Charles County Board of Commissioner's permit application to disturb wetlands in order to build a four-lane county highway to connect Routes 301 and 210. The road would have added pollution from impervious surfaces to Mattawoman Creek, one of Maryland's last pristine nurseries for fish such as yellow perch.

In a letter to the director of the county's department of planning, Col. David E. Anderson said the road would have "direct and permanent adverse impacts" on more than seven acres of nontidal wetlands. Anderson said the county failed to address issues that would have mitigated these problems, despite numerous requests.

The letter marks a rare denial for the Corps, which usually approves projects after some modifications. But it was not unexpected. Numerous state and federal agencies charged with protecting the environment have voiced concern about the road, among them the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of Planning.

Local environmental groups and many citizens have opposed the road since it was first introduced in the early 1990s as access for residents of Chapman's Landing, a proposed 4,600-home development on 2,100 acres near the creek's headwaters. Chapman's Landing was purchased by the state in one of...

University of MD lands Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center

The University of Maryland has landed a $27 million national grant to build an institution that will take available environmental and sociological data and distill it into meaningful pieces so it has a better chance of affecting public policy.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, which is based in Annapolis and funded by the National Science Foundation, hopes to foster interdisciplinary research to tackle some of the world's largest environmental problems, such as sustainable growth. The center will call for proposals around a theme; the first one, which was announced in January, is ecological health and societal migration. Researchers who submit the winning proposals will be able to use the synthesis center for conferences; the center will pay for their hotels and meals while they're in Annapolis. Altogether, the center expects to bring in more than 600 researchers from all over the world in its first year.

The center is also developing a curriculum for undergraduates to study synthesis. Internships will be available, and the center is establishing an apprenticeship program with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission for those interested in urban planning.

"Researchers are used to working in their silos, looking at things within their field of study," said Amanda Grimes, the center's director of administration and external affairs. "Maybe by interpreting this data, they will come up with...

Ohio earthquakes blamed on natural gas drilling

The earthquake that rocked Youngstown, OH, late last year has been blamed on practices associated with natural gas drilling, leading many observers to wonder if the earth will start to shake under the Marcellus Shale.

The short answer, scientists say, is that it's unlikely. The Youngstown earthquake has been blamed on injecting large quantities of wastewater into a deep well - a practice widespread in Ohio but hardly done at all in Pennsylvania.

Ohio has 177 deep-water injection wells used for the disposal of waste, which the state regulates. Pennsylvania only has eight, and one of them is no longer active. Three are in the northwestern part of the state; of the remaining four, two are in Clearfield County and two are in Somerset County. Those counties are on the periphery of the Chesapeake watershed, although the rivers that run through them do reach the Susquehanna.

In Pennsylvania, the EPA has regulated the deep-water injection wells since the mid-1980s. More deep-water injection wells have been proposed in Pennsylvania, but with the process controlled by the EPA, it will be harder to get them approved.

Pennsylvania's lack of injection wells, coupled with its drilling boom, has resulted in more waste going to Ohio. Pennsylvania recently asked state wastewater treatment plants to stop accepting drilling waste. Much of that waste was trucked to Ohio. Last year, the Buckeye State disposed of 11 million barrels of...

Administration’s proposed 2013 budget a mixed bag for Bay

The EPA's Bay cleanup effort would get a boost in President Obama's proposed 2013 budget, but some initiatives, including oyster restoration, would take a financial hit while others, like the Bay's smart buoys, face elimination.

Overall federal funding to support Bay-related activities - which got a cumulative $419.8 million this year - appears likely to decline in the 2013 fiscal year under the administration's plan. But the extent of the decline is hard to determine as some agencies are still examining how the spending plan would affect Bay initiatives.

Further clouding the issue is that ultimate spending decisions are made by Congress, which could make further cuts. And, it's unclear whether it will pass any spending bills before the 2013 fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

The administration's budget calls for spending a record $72.6 million to support the EPA's Bay Program Office, which coordinates overall federal Bay restoration efforts and is in charge of implementing the Chesapeake "pollution diet," which requires sharp cuts in the amount of nutrients and sediment runoff to improve Bay water quality.

That's about $15 million more than the Bay Program got this year. The additional funding would be used mainly to increase assistance to states and local governments to implement their nutrient and sediment control practices.

At the same time, the budget would cut other EPA programs that...

Plans outline progress, challenges in implementing federal Bay strategy

Federal agencies accelerated their efforts to restore water quality and habitats in the Bay and its watershed last year, but tight budgets could jeopardize their ability to maintain progress and fully meet objectives set forth two years ago in a sweeping federal Bay strategy.

The results of 2011 efforts toward implementing the federal government's Bay restoration strategy, along with plans for this year's work, were outlined in two draft reports released in March.

The strategy, released in May 2010, was developed in response to President Obama's 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive. The strategy called for a "new era of federal leadership" on the Bay" and outlined numerous actions to achieve the broad policy goals of restoring clean water, recovering habitat, sustaining fish and wildlife populations, and conserving land and increasing public access.

The 2011 progress report showed a mixed bag of results, in part because Congress appropriated less for Bay initiatives than the $491 million federal agencies originally anticipated. Exact figures for 2011 Bay spending were not available.

Because of the budget cuts, the launch of a large effort to restore and stabilize wetlands at the Barbados Island section of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is on hold, and implementation of other efforts has slowed. Just 247 miles of riparian forest buffers were planted last year, well below the annual pace of 900 miles needed to meet the...

Bill would take away EPA’s oversight on Bay cleanup, give it to states

A bipartisan team of House members has revived legislation that would sharply curb the EPA's implementation of its "pollution diet" to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, and Rep. Tim Holden, D-PA, in March introduced a bill that would remove most of the EPA's authority over nutrient and sediment reduction efforts, while giving states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture more clout.

Goodlatte, who serves as vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said the EPA's cleanup plan "limits economic growth and unfairly overregulates our local economies."

The bill is in response to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load established by the EPA in December 2010. Most often referred to by its initials, TMDL, or its nickname, the pollution diet, it set the maximum amount of nutrients and sediments that can enter the Bay from each river and state annually.

The EPA also set a cleanup deadline of 2025, and required states to develop plans with enforceable strategies showing how nutrient and sediment reduction goals would be attained, with specific accomplishments to be achieved in two-year increments.

Failure to write adequate plans or achieve targets can result in penalties from the EPA. The agency, for instance, recently withheld more than $300,000 in grant money from New York for being months late in delivering a draft of its latest cleanup plan.

The TMDL has triggered a backlash...

Improvements in Shenandoah from plant upgrades come at great cost

For the last several years, the EPA and the states have been warning municipalities that they must upgrade their wastewater plants to keep nitrogen and phosphorus pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay. And for just as long, the municipalities have complained they can't afford it.

That back-and-forth intensified when the EPA introduced the Chesapeake Total Maximum Daily Load last year and compelled the states to commit to pollution reductions - many of which will come from wastewater upgrades - as towns and counties continue to grapple with major deficits created by shrinking tax bases.

The nutrient-removal mandate is hardest on small towns. A new wastewater plant may be the biggest expenditure in their history. With few people to share the cost, the sewer bill can be even more expensive than the electric bill. But in the Shenandoah Valley, the leaders of several small towns have moved ahead with multimillion-dollar upgrades. The river is better for it - the bald eagles are back, and fish crowd one of the outfalls. But it has come at great personal and political cost. In one town, every councilmember lost his seat over the increases.

"Farmers here have been asked to do a lot, and they're being asked to do more now," said Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble, who has been keeping an eye on the upgrades. "We want them to have comfort that people in the cities are doing a lot, too."

The Bay Journal spoke last month to three...

Concerns over U.S. population growth date back to Nixon era

"One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population."

- Richard M. Nixon, July 1969.

President Nixon's words launched a bipartisan commission that spent more than two years considering a question radical today even for most environmental groups - should the United States keep growing?

Had the conclusions of "Population and The American Future," the remarkable report released 40 years ago this spring, been heeded, it's possible that the Chesapeake and the U.S. environment would have been substantially healthier.

Environmental protection when Nixon spoke was scant compared to today's assemblage of laws, regulations and dedicated organizations for protecting air, water and land.

Yet it was thinkable then to debate limits on the U.S. population and economic growth, the two major drivers of so many environmental pressures.

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich's 1969 book, "The Population Bomb," was outselling Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," and Ehrlich appeared on Johnny Carson. In 1972, a group of MIT scientists issued the landmark "Limits to Growth" report that began the debate, still ongoing, about whether humans are living sustainably on the planet.

The first Earth Day, in April 1970, carried a clear message that slowing population growth was key to environmental protection.

From President Lyndon Johnson to...

Reports say reducing immigration crucial to restoring environment

Should immigration become the main concern of the Chesapeake Bay restoration, as a recent report suggests?

The conventional solutions are to focus on abating pollution from fertilizer and sediment, sewage and stormwater, sprawl development, forest loss and fossil fuel burning.

But those ills all derive from a watershed population that has increased from 8 million to 17 million since the Bay was healthy in the 1950s, and is projected to add another 8 million by midcentury.

Foreign immigration drives two-thirds of the watershed's population growth, according to a recent report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Nationally, population growth is driven about 80 percent by immigration, says the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. In its calculation, Pew includes legal and illegal immigrants and the higher-than-average birthrates to foreign-born families. The other 20 percent of growth is from births among Americans who were born here.

FAIR's intent when it did its study was not to bash immigrants, but to highlight the need to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to slow or stabilize population growth, according to the report.

"The leading environmental groups dedicated to cleaning up the Bay recognize the harmful effects of population growth...but do not acknowledge that immigration is driving it," said the report, "Immigration, Population Growth and The Chesapeake Bay."

In fact,...

Historic preservationists name watermen to Endangered Maryland list

A panel of Maryland historic preservationists has put Maryland's watermen on their 2012 Endangered Maryland list. The list, compiled by Preservation Maryland, traditionally includes historically and architecturally distinguished properties that are threatened with destruction through neglect or development. Ten such properties were named this year.

Endangered Maryland's board members said that they "hoped that the inclusion of watermen on the list will encourage Marylanders to talk about the continued existence of these fixtures in our state."

The Chesapeake Conservancy and the Coastal Heritage Alliance nominated the waterman for the list. The two groups have worked with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Maryland Watermen's Association to develop a Waterman's Heritage Tourism Training Program to provide watermen and their family members with skills they would need to provide tours or programs about their region's stories, local waters and their work.

Maryland Magazine features a story on the Endangered Maryland list, as does Preservation Maryland's website.

"Watermen have been a part of Maryland's history for as long as there has been a state," said Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy. "Sadly, it is more and more difficult for them to make a living on the water and there are fewer young people joining their ranks. We hope this designation brings renewed support for...

Judge scolds Waterkeepers for actions in pollution suit

The Waterkeeper Alliance's lawsuit against an Eastern Shore poultry grower and Perdue Farms has ruffled feathers all across the state. But a resolution may soon be near.

The case, Waterkeepers Alliance, Inc. v. Alan and Kristin Hudson Farm et al., was scheduled for trial in Federal District Court in Baltimore on April 16. But the parties are scheduled to have a settlement conference on March 28. If the case doesn't settle, a new trial date will be set.

The settlement push follows a March order in which federal Judge William Nickerson denied all requests for summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed. The judge also denied a motion to prevent the Waterkeepers' experts from testifying at the trial.

But there wasn't a lot of other good news in the order for the Waterkeepers or the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic, which is representing the watchdog group in this case.

"As counsel might detect, there are elements of this litigation that the Court finds disturbing," Nickerson wrote, adding, "it seems clear that the original Plaintiffs in this action were looking for an opportunity to bring a citizen suit under the CWA (Clean Water Act) against some chicken production operation under contract with a major poultry integrator. When (Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy) Phillips discovered a large pile on the Hudson Farm that she believed to be chicken litter, she concluded that she had found her...

Interfaith group taking message of ‘creation care’ to the masses

It's commonly thought that religion and politics don't mix. Religion and science don't have a great history, either.

But some Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups in the Chesapeake Bay region insist that environmental stewardship is one arena in which science, religion - and even politics - are a natural fit. And they are working together to make their point.

Earth Day in Annapolis this year will include the Earth, Water and Faith Festival, featuring all of the music, booths and activities of an Earth Day celebration, but framed with speakers and readings that emphasize the call for "creation care" in a variety of faith traditions.

In February, 36 Maryland clergy petitioned state lawmakers to support wind power legislation. Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light coordinated their input, which resulted in a joint letter signed by Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders, as well as ministers from the mixed-faith Unitarian Universalist church.

"All of the major faiths are very consistent about the need to be stewards of creation, but not every religious group takes that seriously or is aware of it," said Bishop Eugene Sutton, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Often called the "green bishop," Sutton expressed his stewardship convictions when nominated to his current post and soon organized an environmental committee to work with the 116 churches in the diocese.

"We have a...

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