Bay Journal

December 2013 - Volume 23 - Number 9

You know spring is around the corner when…

Although the vernal equinox — the official first day of spring — occurs on March 20, changes in our natural world are already heralding the end of winter. These changes are erupting on the land, in the sky and in waterways, as quiet, gray days begin to burst with color and song.

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Norfolk’s Lafayette River close to meeting oyster restoration goal

Kalie Johnson didn’t plan it this way, but she’s helping to restore oysters in one of the most challenging places in Virginia.

[Kalie Johnson (left), owner of Colonial Oyster Company, Jackie Shannon of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and volunteer Clark Dewing knock oysters off overgrown cages retrieved from mouth of York River. (Dave Harp)] Three years ago, the Williamsburg native launched her own aquaculture business, Colonial Oyster Company, which raises hatchery-bred bivalves at the mouth of the York River. It’s been a good spot for cultivating shellfish, but shortly after she started, nature threw her a curve. Eighteen of her 250 cages became so heavily overgrown with wild-spawned oysters that she couldn’t get them aboard her skiff to clean off the hitchhikers.

Figuring that portion of her stock was lost, the 27-year-old oyster grower offered to donate everything in and on those cages to the Lafayette River in Norfolk, if she could only get help salvaging her gear.

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Virginia lawmakers keep coal ash recycling on the table, feds try to loosen regs

Virginia requirements for the disposal of ash produced by coal-burning power plants could soon be more stringent than rules set by the federal government.

The General Assembly approved a bill at the end of session last week that requires companies with coal ash pits in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to take another step toward recycling their contents, though the measure stopped short of requiring recycling. The bill forces companies such as Dominion Energy, which maintains nearly a dozen coal ash pits in the state, to seek proposals from contractors to recycle coal ash into concrete or other construction materials and to compile the costs into a report for lawmakers to consider by the end of the year.

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A growing respect: Plain Sect become more involved in Bay conversation

A small stream flows out of the mountains in Lancaster County, PA, near the Berks County border, with water as clear as a freshly wiped window pane. It winds through woods and over stones, shaded by trees and embraced by undeveloped land.

Downstream, where the trees give way to farmland, the stream flows through an enclave of Amish farms, first through Benuel Zook’s pasture and then through Raymond King’s.

As recently as 2012, the stream ran brown once it hit pasture. It was often lined with up to 250 cows, from the first pasture to the last, about 40 from each farm. Their manure, combined with soil from eroding banks, entered the stream.

But then farmers began to make some changes — and delivered a chain of conservation actions with collective results.

Project Clean Stream collects future stewards as well as trash

Every year between March and the first week of June, tens of thousands of volunteers come together to clean up their local communities as a part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream — the largest trash cleanup initiative in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

For more than 15 years, the support provided by project has sustained the cleanup efforts of volunteers and groups, both big and small, throughout the watershed. Cleanup events receive support with free gloves, trash bags, first aid kits, safety vests, signage and assistance coordinating the project’s logistics.

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How close to perfect must Bay water quality be to achieve goal?

States in the Chesapeake Bay region are spending billions of dollars to stem the flow of nutrients that foul the Bay’s water — but just how “clean” must the Bay be to declare victory?

The answer is a complex mix involving a lot of science topped off with some policy decisions, as well as one that could be subject to debate in coming months. 

In fact, a handful of places around the Bay were always likely to fall short of prescribed cleanup goals even if all of the actions to support the Bay’s “pollution diet” were fully enacted. Those places were given variances that allowed their dissolved oxygen levels, at specific times and locations, to fall short of established minimum levels.

New computer model projections show that some of those areas may no longer need such variances if current pollution reduction goals are met. But the deepest area in Maryland’s portion of the Bay, between the Bay Bridge and the mouth of the Patuxent River — a segment known as “CB4” — may be even more problematic.

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Congress faces deadline for Bay funding, EPA authority decisions

Congress faces deadlines this month to determine how much authority the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to enforce Bay cleanup efforts — and how much money it will have to spend on that work during this fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

A year ago, President Trump proposed eliminating funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates regional restoration efforts, monitoring and computer modeling programs, as well as makes grants to states and local governments to help cleanup efforts.

Congress isn’t planning to go along with Trump, but the actual amount the Bay Program will receive has been in limbo for months as lawmakers have passed a series of short-term continuing resolutions rather than a full-year spending plan. 

MDE must rethink lease of 46 years for Conowingo

The Maryland Department of the Environment public comment period for the Conowingo Dam Water Quality Certification renewal closed on Jan 15. The MDE certification is mandatory before Exelon reapplies for federal relicensing. (They have requested a 46-year lease term without any significant changes in how they operate.) This will set a precedent for the federal relicensing process. Here are our concerns:

We own and operate commercial oyster aquaculture operations in the Upper and Middle Bay regions, respectively. Through careful record-keeping, and discussions with those most knowledgeable with the dam’s operation, we feel its openings and closures have a direct and profound effect on our businesses and the aquaculture industry, as well as the public oyster fishery.

Waterfowl break winter silence at VA wildlife refuge

Laid bare of its sound-absorbing foliage, the forest of lanky hardwoods becomes a cacophony of sound. On this cool morning, the leaves crunch underfoot and rustle nearby as a squirrel digs for hidden treasure. 

The din of a waterfowl gathering in the Great Marsh, though still a hundred yards away, swells quickly as we walk toward the Potomac River through the woody peninsula. From a sturdy overlook, the geese, swans and ducks come into view. Their quacking, honking and flapping are all we can hear. 

The Bay Journal staff wishes you a happy holiday season

Season’s Greetings. We at Bay Journal wish you all happy holidays and a propitious New Year!

Thank you for your interest in our work, your letters to the editor, comments on coverage, and financial support (it keeps us going and is always welcome).

Have a healthy and safe holiday season, then join us in the New Year as we continue to explore the conservation issues facing the Bay and its watershed.

Geologists putting region’s overlooked streams on the map

When geologist Andrew Elmore came to the University of Maryland’s Appalachian Laboratory in 2008, he wanted to familiarize himself with the data on the area’s streams, the bedrock of his area of study.

It didn’t take long for Elmore to realize the data he sought didn’t exist.

The National Hydrography Dataset, which the U.S. Geological Survey has used for more nearly 100 years to map streams, was missing many of the waterways. Some of the unmapped streams had been buried long ago, trapped in culverts to facilitate development. Others were too small to be part of the map. Still others were so deep in forests that those charged with searching for the streams never found them.

Lag times’ impact on Bay cleanup no drop in the bucket

Pull a bucket of water from the Chesapeake, and each drop will most likely be from a different place and tell a different story about how it got there.

For some, it’s been a pretty short trip that started as a drop of rain that smacked into a parking lot, then flushed quickly into a local stream and reached the Bay a few days later.

Some may have soaked into Piedmont soil a decade ago and only recently emerged in a stream after traveling through groundwater.

Some drops from the Eastern Shore may have fallen as rain when John F. Kennedy was president, seeped into the Delmarva’s slow-moving aquifers, and now, after 50 years, made it to the Bay.

Start the New Year on the right foot

Americans across the country have found yet another way to celebrate the start of a New Year — this time in the great outdoors with a First Day Hike on Jan. 1.

In 2013, more than 22,000 people logged a total of 43,011 miles on guided First Day Hikes that took place in all 50 states.

So when New Year’s Day arrives in 2014, pull on your boots and put the children in the car because there’s likely a First Day Hike at a state park near you.

Massive bee die-off coincides with use of systemic insecticide

In July 2012, beekeeper Steve McDaniel peered into one of his most productive hives and saw healthy, busy honeybees. He and his wife left for a week’s vacation, confident they could begin collecting the honey after a break at the ocean.

When they returned, the bees were dead. The honey was gone. The few guard bees that remained alive were listless.

Over the next several months, colony after colony on his Carroll County farm succumbed. In all, he lost 13 of 20 colonies. In 35 years of raising bees, McDaniel had never seen anything like it.

CREP helped plant seed of conservation in landowner’s outlook

Cliff Miller is the third of four J. Clifford Millers in his family. He’s the sixth of seven generations of a family that has owned and, at times, lived on an 845-acre property since 1827.

He knows what it means to have “a long-term association with the land.”

And he knows what it takes to — at an age when most are looking to retire — completely rethink his relationship to that land and how it’s managed.

“It was in our heritage and we wanted to continue to own it,” Miller, now 72, said during a drive through his property in October. “To do that, we needed to make some changes.”

VA Tidewater communities educating themselves on fracking issues

The Facebook page of Ruby Brabo, Dahlgren District’s county supervisor of King George County, VA, is all about communicating with her constituents: reminding them to “fall back” for the time change or reporting job postings or a minor school bus fender-bender that might delay their children’s getting home from school.

Brabo has also posted information about the number of leases sold by landowners in King George and counties to the east and south to Shore Exploration & Production Development Corp. of Dallas, TX, since 2011.

The leases convey mineral rights to deposits containing natural gas or oil that may lie 3,000–10,000 feet beneath their property in a geologic formation called the Taylorsville Basin.

River herring making a comeback in Patapsco River

Given the traffic roaring by along Interstate 895 as a backdrop and century-long reputation as a dumping ground, the Patapsco River, where it runs beside Baltimore’s South West Area Park, hardly seems a likely haven for rare fish.

Yet the river this year became the only place around the Bay to stock river herring.

River herring — alewife and blueback herring — were once among the most abundant species in the Chesapeake, but their populations are so low all along the East Coast that they were recently considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Frank Hamons, MD port official who navigated stormy issues, retires

The son of a baseball scout, Frank Hamons moved dozens of times before graduating from college. Always the new kid at school, he learned quickly how to make friends so he could survive the next few months. He learned to take in the mood of a lunch table, lose the accent from wherever he lived last and defuse hostile situations.

Those lessons prepared the future deputy director of harbor development at the Maryland Port Administration well for his first days on the job in 1980. He walked into a battle over placing dredge material at Baltimore County’s Hart-Miller Island that was so contentious it went all the way to the Supreme Court. Always being the new kid also armed him well for the fights to come, from little skirmishes about the port’s projects to the all-out war on the disposal of dredge material in the open waters of the Chesapeake in the 1990s.

Blue catfish taking bite out of key species

A new study confirms that nonnative blue catfish around the Chesapeake have the potential to take a significant bite out of populations of important native species such as blue crabs and river herring.

The study examined the diets of blue catfish in portions of several Virginia tributaries and concluded they “may contribute to substantial losses of key fishery resources.”

Those losses could be “ecologically significant” for some species such as blueback herring, whose populations are already at low levels, the study concluded.

University of Maryland Law



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