Bay Journal

May 2012 - Volume 22 - Number 3

Protein-rich diet linked to Bay’s unhealthy state

This is the fourth installment in "Growing Concern," an occasional series about how issues related to growth threaten Chesapeake restoration efforts.

The Chesapeake may be on a "pollution diet," but one of the most effective ways to make the Bay healthy might be to put watershed residents on a diet as well, according to a number of scientists.

The Bay, they say, is a reflection of what we eat.

The so-called Chesapeake pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load, is aimed at trimming the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the estuary, where they spur the growth of huge algae blooms that foul the Bay's water.

Debate rages over push to lift ban on uranium mining in VA

The largest county in Virginia, Pittsylvania, lies in Southside Virginia, about halfway across the state from east to west, bordering North Carolina, in the heart of the Roanoke River basin. With a history dating to 1767, this rural county hosts the city of Danville in the south, the birthplace of Nancy and Irene Langhorne - the former being Lady Astor, the first woman to sit in the British Parliament, and the latter being Mrs. Gibson, the inspiration for her artist husband's famous "Gibson Girls."

With a median annual household income of less than $40,000 and an unemployment rate of up to 10 percent (compared to the statewide rate of 6 percent), the county faces economic challenges much different from those of the luxurious lifestyles of these two famous Victorian ladies.

The county is still a farming community for many, including the Coles family, which raises cattle on its farm on Coles Hill. For years, the family farm produced tobacco, as did many of the county's farms. Five generations of the Coles have worked Coles Hill; the family received the land by grant from Thomas Jefferson when he was governor.

Little did then-Governor Jefferson know that in the 21st century, the land would be recognized as part of the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States, and the seventh largest in the world, sparking a public debate involving national energy policy, regional environmental concerns and local economic...

Wavyleaf basketgrass gaining ground amid efforts to control it

Four years ago, plant biologists in Maryland thought they could get a handle on wavyleaf basketgrass before it went the way of kudzu.

At that time, the plant, a native of Southeast Asia that was first discovered in the United States near a Baltimore County reservoir in 1996, had only been confirmed in a few places. The green grass with rippling waves on its blades was thought to be an invader on the verge, but state invasive plant biologists believed they could stop it from taking hold. Armed with a little bit of money and a lot of volunteers, they predicted the job would be done by now.

But wavyleaf basketgrass has increased more than tenfold since then. Where it once occupied about 150 acres, it now stretches across more than a thousand, said Kerrie Kyde, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' invasive plant specialist.

"In 2008 and 2009, I was still sure that, if someone handed me $1 million, and gave me five years, I could take this stuff out," Kyde said. "In 2010, I realized, 'I cannot do this.'"

In addition to its presence in the interior of public hiking trails in Patapsco Valley State Park and Little Paint Branch Park, wavyleaf has also hopscotched across private lands. It is now in Virginia, on that state's side of Great Falls and in Shenandoah National Park.

Kyde said she now realizes that the dream of eradication was too ambitious, considering how the plant spreads. It can grow...

Weed warrior Marc Imlay leads the battle to conquer invading plants

It's just past noon when the first of the college students pulls into the small parking lot off Cherry Hill Road in College Park, MD, near a bustling Home Depot and in the shadow of the Capital Beltway.

Marc Imlay is ready for them. He opens his trunk, covered in bumper stickers, and offers the young volunteers four-pronged gardening forks. Wearing a pair of 20-year-old dungarees, two shirts and a sweater, the 73-year-old weed warrior is raring to slay the invasive species that remain in this urban park.

There aren't many left, at least not in the 12 acres of Cherry Hill Park proper that hug the highways in this busy Washington suburb. Imlay and his groups of twice-weekly volunteers have rid the woods of most of the invasive vines that have reigned here for so long, among them periwinkle, English ivy, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle. Now, one can see the forest through the trees. But the park has annexed an additional four acres, and those need attention.

So Imlay - like a super-fit Santa Claus carrying pamphlets on invasive plants instead of a sack of gifts - leads the 20 students from the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity into a ravine-like area. After a short explanation about what plants need to be taken out, and a demonstration of how to do it, the students are on their way.

One doesn't need a Ph.D. in biology like Imlay has to see the difference between the old acres and the new. The area the students...

Bay blue crab population up 66%, highest level in 19 years

The Chesapeake Bay blue crab's population reached its highest levels in 19 years, with record numbers of the crustaceans counted throughout Maryland and Virginia.

The long-awaited winter dredge survey, which the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science conduct every year, indicated that 764 million crabs spent the cold months burrowed in the Chesapeake's bottom - nearly 66 percent more than last year. The good news should continue: The survey counted a record high number of juvenile crabs - 587 million, compared with last year's 207 million. The previous record of 512 million was reached in 1997.

Report says one forage fish in the water is worth two in the net

Small fish such as herring, menhaden and anchovies are twice as valuable when left in the ocean as when caught in commercial fisheries, according to a new report which calls for management agencies to re-examine how they set their forage fish harvest limits.

The team of scientists from around the country also recommended that catches for most forage fish species should be cut in half to protect both their stocks and the huge array of species that eat them.

MD legislature passes sewage fee, septic system bills

Maryland's environmental community didn't get the wind to go their way on legislation to create incentives for offshore wind power development, but other environmental priorities discovered relatively smooth sailing in Maryland's legislative session.

A bill to double the $2.50 fee Maryland homeowners now pay to support the Bay Restoration Fund easily passed. The fund helps to pay for upgrades to the state's largest sewage treatment plants. The fee is also used to pay for cover crops and septic systems that remove nitrogen from the effluent.

The legislature also passed a bill limiting development that would rely on septic systems. Farmers, local governments, home developers and rural legislators railed against the bill this year, just as they did last year, when Gov. Martin O'Malley surprised even his allies by proposing curbs on septic systems.

Also passing was a bill requiring the state's largest jurisdictions to levy a stormwater remediation fee and to create a plan to protect watersheds from polluted stormwater by next summer. The bill would affect Baltimore City and the Maryland's Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Charles and Carroll counties. Montgomery County, which includes many of the DC suburbs and is the state's largest, with nearly 1 million people, is exempt. It already has a robust stormwater control program.

The Family Farm Preservation Bill, a...

VA approves wind turbine; MD more cautious

This spring, Virginia took several major steps forward to harness the wind off its coast for energy. But for the second year in a row, Maryland couldn't get its wind efforts off the ground.

In March, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission approved the state's first offshore wind turbine, which will stand in the Chesapeake Bay about three miles off the coast of Cape Charles, on the Eastern Shore. There was no opposition.

The turbine is a joint effort between Gamesa Energy USA, a large European turbine manufacturer, and Huntington Ingalls Industries' shipbuilding unit, which has a major facility in Newport News, VA. The companies agreed to give the state $2 million in advance in case there is a problem, and they also agreed to do sound tests to ensure the turbine's whirring doesn't affect marine life, according to reports in the Virginian-Pilot in Hampton Roads, VA.

The turbine is a prototype that will educate regulators, would-be investors, rate payers and environmentalists on how efficient wind energy is, how much it will cost and how wide it could spread. It will generate about 5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1,250 homes.

Virginia officials have embraced wind's potential to reduce carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs. In 2010, legislation created the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority with the goal of promoting wind energy.

Recently, the U.S. Department of...

States, district submit strategies to EPA

The EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office received final Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia by the March 30 deadline. The EPA has received New York's draft Phase II WIP and provided comments, but a final was not publicly available by mid-April.

These plans were developed by the states and the district in coordination with their county, municipal and other partners. Each WIP identifies how that jurisdiction will achieve 60 percent

of the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions required by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load by 2017.

EPA officials said they would spend several weeks conducting a detailed review of the each WIP to ensure the viability of its commitments. In the meantime, the Phase II WIP submissions will be available online at

SRBC withdraws permits in Marcellus region, cites low-flows conditions

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has suspended 17 water withdrawal permits because of low-flow conditions. Almost all of the permits were for companies seeking to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region, which overlays much of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania.

The commission made the announcement April 18. The commission, along with the U.S. Geological Survey, has been closely monitoring the water levels at streams in the Marcellus region where gas companies have been withdrawing water. Typically, a gas company will need several million gallons of water to "frack" a well; the water is laced with chemicals to loosen the gas and coax it out of the rock formation thousands of feet underground.

When the drilling process started, the commission did not have solid monitoring, and occasionally streams were sucked dry for the fracking process. Now, the commission requires all companies withdrawing any amount of water to obtain permits, and they can suspend the permits as needed in low-flow conditions.

The commission will re-instate withdrawal permission once the streams return to normal flow conditions. The suspended permits were for withdrawals in Bradford, Tioga, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Luzerne counties.

Storms bring down Bay’s grade on report card

The Chesapeake Bay brought home its worst report card ever this spring, thanks to a pair of storms that washed huge amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment into its mainstem.

For 2011, the Bay scored a D+ overall, with two rivers - the Patuxent and the Elizabeth - earning Fs. The Upper Western Shore, Upper Bay and Lower Bay all earned Cs, the highest grades. Only two regions improved their score since the 2010 report card, but even those were not worthy of gold stars. The Patapsco and Back rivers scored a D- instead of last year's F. And the Lower Western Shore of Maryland (Annapolis area rivers) moved up to a D from last year's F, a move that signified the greatest improvement.

"It's the worst we've ever given, and it's a damn shame, because we've had a banner year, and we're doing so many of the right things," said William Dennison, a vice president at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the architect of the report card. UMCES began issuing Baywide report cards six years ago, with data culled from real-time monitoring stations in 15 locations.

Weather patterns created a perfect storm of problems. Spring rains clouded the water, blocking light that underwater grasses and plants need. A hot and dry summer contributed to low dissolved oxygen. Then Hurricane Irene actually increased the oxygen because its winds mixed up the water, said UMCES scientist Caroline Wicks. But Tropical...

Converting nitrogen in air to usable form on industrial scale 100 years old

One hundred years ago this month, ground was broken in Oppau, Germany, for a plant that would help transform the world-and the Chesapeake Bay. It marked the first industrial-scale attempt to synthesize nitrogen from the atmosphere into a reactive form that could be used for fertilizer, as well as munitions, using a process developed three years earlier by German scientist Fritz Haber.

Although scientists knew that nitrogen made up the bulk of the air we breathe-it's 78 percent of the atmosphere-they had long been stymied about how to convert that into forms humans could use.

Farmers and scientists recognized that food production required adequate nitrogen, and by the late 1800s, nitrogen from massive guano piles from bird droppings in Chile were actively being mined and exported to meet a growing demand, but those supplies were limited.

William Crookes, a British chemist, warned in a famous 1898 speech that "all civilized nations stand in peril of not having enough to eat" and that finding a way to "fix" nitrogen from the atmosphere was the great challenge for world chemists.

Haber was able to convert N2 from the atmosphere using a process involving high pressures and large amounts of energy. The result was 4 ounces of ammonium an hour. The German company BASF purchased the rights to the process, and its scientist, Carl Bosch, got the job of scaling up the process and making it more economical. In 1914, its first full year...

Greening of Lancaster, PA, goes through the roof

From the rooftop of the Tellus 360 shop in Downtown Lancaster, Charlotte Katzenmoyer can see the Victorian shops and homes that have long made the city a tourist stop on the way to Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

But the most interesting part of the view is what's below her feet. Katzenmoyer, the city's public works director, is standing on a mix of sprouting green plants, compost and stone - a 9,000-square-foot green roof. And as large as it is, the roof over the furniture and clothing shop on King Street is not even the city's largest. That honor belongs to the National Novelty Brush Co., a company founded more than 50 years ago.

Since the city began implementing its green infrastructure plan in 2011, it has helped build nine green roofs. Katzenmoyer has overseen the repaving of one alley with porous pavement - a project she says will capture an additional 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of stormwater that would otherwise be headed for the Conestoga River.

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