Bay Journal

October 2013 - Volume 23 - Number 7

Judge upholds Bay TMDL, but critics likely to appeal

In a victory for Chesapeake cleanup advocates, a federal judge in September flatly rejected claims made by farm groups and developers that the EPA had overstepped its authority when it established the Chesapeake “pollution diet.”

U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo’s 98-page decision concluded that the EPA not only acted within its Clean Water Act authority, but that its role was “critical” in developing the complex, multi-state pollution reduction strategy.

Chesapeake Bay pact still up in air

Work is progressing on a new Chesapeake Bay Agreement, but at Bay Journal press time it was unclear exactly when it would be available for public comment — or be signed.

With a number of issues still outstanding, Bay Program officials were hoping that a draft agreement would be available for a 30-day public review by mid-October.

It’s unclear whether the agreement will still be signed in December as anticipated. Virginians will elect a new governor in November, and state Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said officials have reservations about signing an agreement with obligations for the next governor. “That has been a concern,” he told members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a legislative advisory panel, during a briefing on the agreement at its September meeting.

Court decision in TMDL case backs EPA

In a victory for Chesapeake cleanup advocates, a federal judge in September flatly rejected claims made by farm groups and developers that the EPA had overstepped its authority when it established the Chesapeake “pollution diet.”

U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo’s 98-page decision concluded that the EPA not only acted within its Clean Water Act authority, but that its role was “critical” in developing the complex, multi-state pollution reduction strategy.

Rambo’s Sept. 13 decision came more than 11 months after both sides made oral arguments in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. It depicted the cleanup strategy as a logical extension of Bay restoration efforts that date back nearly three decades, yet had repeatedly failed to clear the Chesapeake’s often-murky waters or bring an end to chronic, oxygen-starved “dead zones” each summer.

Housing project marries low-income and low-impact development

The small town of Lexington, VA, has big plans for a 4-acre plot of land officials have wanted to develop since the late ’90s — but not into big houses.

In fact, some of the two-dozen homes being built on the lots will measure just 950 square feet as the development’s partners aim to provide much-needed housing for low-income residents.

The big idea is in the project’s other and equal goal: to demonstrate the best in low-impact development and stormwater management in an area of the watershed that’s not often the focus of such efforts.

Seeds of Success

The end of Callis Wharf Road is not the end of the world; it just feels like it is.

From the careful-where-you-step pier at the dilapidated dock house, the protected waters of Milford Haven sprawl out, vast and rough in a brisk wind. To the west is the Piankatank River; to the north, the rocky Rappahannock. They all meet in the mainstem of the Chesapeake, just on the other side of an outbuilding barely holding its own against the wind and waves.

Only a small sign at the other end of the complex announces there is life within: Oyster Seed Holdings.

Take-Back Day aims to keep pharmaceuticals out of water

While decision-makers waver on whether a toxics reduction strategy will be included in the new Bay Agreement, citizens can act to keep pharmaceuticals out of waterways and the Bay by participating in National Drug Take-Back Day on Oct. 26.

Russ Baxter, Chesapeake Bay Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s water quality goal implementation team, said that the team, which includes representatives from all the Bay jurisdictions, could not achieve consensus on toxics. As a result, an ad-hoc committee was formed in May 2013 to work specifically on recommendations regarding the inclusion of a toxics strategy.

The January 2013 report, Toxic Contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed, issued by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA, listed 10 categories of toxic contaminants found in more than 70 percent of Chesapeake rivers and the Bay. The report characterized pharmaceuticals as “extensive in the watershed,” though it noted that data gaps prevent a complete understanding of the potential adverse impacts on fish and wildlife and the severity of the threat in the watershed.

West Virginia poultry farmer sues EPA to clarify CAFO regulations

Lois Alt is a trained electrician, a proud West Virginian, a loving mother and a doting grandmother.

She also happens to be the little lady who started the next big chicken war.

Alt, 61, is suing the EPA after inspectors visiting her Old Fields farm in 2011, found her in violation of the Clean Water Act, and ordered her to obtain a discharge permit for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO. CAFOs are regulated as a point source of pollution, much like a sewage treatment plant is.

Scientists find shockingly good news about eels in PA river

Wading into Buffalo Creek’s knee-deep water, a group of biologists were checking in to see how American eels were faring in their adapted central Pennsylvania home — by giving them an electric jolt.

The shock was delivered in the name of science: They wanted to find out whether the eels —apart from the sudden electric charge — were otherwise getting fat and happy in the creek.

With battery packs in their backpacks, two biologists placed a circular wand that sent a steady electric current into the creek’s clear water.

Calvert County holding the line on reducing new growth

In the spring of 2006, a self-proclaimed “unholy alliance” of developers, environmentalists, civic and academic leaders staged a series of reality checks around Maryland during conferences designed to stare future growth in the face.

The leaders gave each table of eight to 10 participants piles of colored Legos representing their likely share of the 1.5 million new residents projected to swell the state’s population from 5.5 million to 7 million by 2030. It would mean adding more than half a million new homes.

On a map of their region, each table had to place all of that new growth into what is already the nation’s fifth most densely populated state.

Low-oxygen conditions in Bay this summer were about average; wet summer contributed

A dry spring raised hopes for good Bay water quality this summer, but an unusually wet summer appears to have washed away those hopes.

Monitoring data collected by Maryland and Virginia agencies through August show that 22.1 percent of the Bay suffered from low oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions this summer. That was slightly worse than the 29-year average of 21.9 percent.

That was also a little worse than expected, as scientists this spring had predicted slightly better-than-average oxygen conditions, though the actual figures were still within the margin of error for the forecast.

VA improving access options to paddlers with disabilities

The American Disabilities Act is slowly but surely removing impediments and improving access for people with disabilities to buildings, parks, trails and fishing docks throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

But the ADA and related regulations offer no standards or guidelines for how to improve accessibility for disabled paddlers while they transition in and out of their boats at the shore, arguably one of the most critical maneuvers in paddle sports.

To learn how to make paddle sports more accessible to people with disabilities, more than 60 planners, paddlers and recreation specialists from federal, state and local programs and groups gathered in September in Smithfield, VA, for a workshop coordinated by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Once it was trash but now Masonville is a natural treasure

It’s an odd place for a wildlife refuge, this crab claw of a peninsula jutting into the Patapsco River at Baltimore’s southernmost edge. To the south, trucks rumble through the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. To the east, freight trains await their next loads. And just next door, hundreds of new Mercedes-Benz cars from Germany await delivery to well-heeled customers all over the United States.

But Masonville Cove is no ordinary wildlife refuge. Once a dump for debris dating all the way back to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, this 54-acre preserve is alive, again — thanks in large part to a $22 million investment from the Port of Baltimore, which will use a portion of the property to house sand and mud dredged from the Inner Harbor and its shipping channels.

PA legislators seek to remove protection for state-endangered species

Protecting high-quality trout streams would become more difficult under legislation being considered by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which could also remove protections for state-designated threatened and endangered species.

The Endangered Species Coordination Act has been sharply criticized by environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which warned about its implications for trout streams.

But the legislation is backed by the powerful natural gas industry, as well as coal-mining and home builder organizations.

MD to explain phosphorus tool at meetings

The Maryland Department of Agriculture will offer a statewide series of meetings to explain its new phosphorus management tool.

The tool was designed to provide a better understanding of how phosphorus moves from field to water, where it can lead to algae blooms, and to help the state comply with its watershed implementation plans. Those plans must comply with the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, better known as the pollution diet.

The department was the host of a September meeting in Walkersville, Frederick County, to reach farmers in the western part of the state.

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