Bay Journal

January 2014 - Volume 23 - Number 1

Sink your teeth into this quiz!

It is not unusual for the weather in early March to be “biting cold.” So what better month to celebrate teeth? In this first part of the quiz, match the creatures listed here with the four statements just below them, then answer two toothy questions. 

Set sail to turn back in time at Spocott Windmill Village

Little known fact: On the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in the days before fossil fuel, there were dozens and dozens of wind-powered gristmills.

Maryland’s Dorchester County alone, by some accounts, had 20 of them. That makes sense when you think about it. The Eastern Shore, with hundreds of square miles of mostly pancake-flat topography, has little fast-moving water, but plenty of wind.

Today, none of the windmills remain, because … well, mostly because of wind. The last of Dorchester County’s windmills blew down in a hurricane in the very early 20th century.

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First sewage-storing tunnel comes online in DC

The Anacostia River, which has for decades functioned as the polluted washbasin of an urban watershed, may now have less bacteria than the Potomac River during rainfall.

In mid-March, DC Water opened the floodgate on a 2.3-mile section of concrete tunnel that’s been under construction since 2005. With the rolling away of a concrete slab, about 80 percent of the polluted sewage and stormwater runoff that has for decades flowed into the Anacostia will be diverted into this underground tunnel.

In this first of several sections of tunnel under construction, more than 400 million gallons of polluted water can be stored in the bowels of the city until the utility’s wastewater treatment plant can fully treat and release it into the Potomac.

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Stream mapping helps to identify most cost-effective restoration sites

When Joseph Sweeney purchased farmland in Lancaster County, PA, in 2001, its fairly level pastures were typical of a traditional local farm — so were the steep, failing banks that strangled the stream as it ran through the property. 

“I could jump across any part of our stream when we first bought the property,” Sweeney said.

About 10 years later, after a major stream restoration project involving government agencies, university researchers and consultants, things had changed.

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James spinymussel population approaching rock bottom

Mussels. Aside from some marine species appearing occasionally on menus, what do we really know about them? Freshwater members of this group of bivalves are perhaps the most obscure members of the Chesapeake Bay area’s waterways: camouflaged filter feeders dependent on whatever flows their way.

Logging trucks and even casual hikers unknowingly crush them as they splash over shallow streams. Mussels look just like rocks and generally behave as such. Immobile and silent, they are as much a part of the streambed as the cold stones they resemble, but their critical ecological role is often overlooked. And they’re increasingly endangered by our own actions.

In case anyone is asking: Warmer temperatures hurt the Bay

This is fundamental to the science behind saving the Bay.

In a February interview on KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, questioned whether a warming climate might actually be a good thing. “We know that humans have flourished during times of warming trends. So, I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal temperature should be during the year 2100, or the year 2018?” he asked.

Here in the Chesapeake Bay, there is overwhelming documentation of the damage that climate change will wreak on this national treasure.

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Trumpeter swans add flourish to Patuxent Refuge’s winter

As the days get longer, spring approaches. Before winter ends, though, it’s worth taking note of some infrequently seen avian visitors to Maryland this season – trumpeter swans.

With a wingspan up to 7 feet and a standing height of about 4 feet, the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is the largest waterfowl in North America. So named because of their deep, sonorous bugling, trumpeters aren’t a common sight around the Chesapeake Bay. But several have been reported since December in and around the Patuxent Research Refuge between Washington, DC, and Baltimore. Multiple birds have also been sighted as recently as this week in southern Anne Arundel County.

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When it rains, it pours in Ellicott City

Beth Woodruff keeps a “go” bag packed in her home — spare clothing and essentials in case she has to flee at a moment’s notice. 

“Every time the weather radio goes off,” Woodruff said recently, “we start watching the river to see if it’s time to go.”

Woodruff doesn’t live along the Atlantic Coast, and it’s not hurricanes that put her on edge. She’s a resident of Ellicott City, MD, at least 120 miles from the ocean and a dozen or more miles from the Chesapeake Bay. It’s sudden, severe downpours that worry her because in just a few minutes they can turn the stream in front of her house into a raging torrent, rising out of its banks to wash over her driveway and prevent escape by vehicle.

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.

Draft of next Bay agreement omits toxics goal, mention of climate change

Next year, 20 years after approving a strategy that called for a “Bay free of toxics,” the Chesapeake Executive Council might settle for something else: a Bay agreement free of any reference to toxics.

Controlling toxic pollution has been an issue for the Chesapeake since the EPA released the results of its multi-year Bay study in 1983 that identified toxic pollution as one of the factors in the Bay’s decline.

Yet last fall, new toxics goals were struck from the latest draft of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the first new regional strategy for Bay restoration since the Chesapeake 2000 agreement was signed 14 years ago.

Conservation service returns to its roots – soil health

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reviving its focus on the conservation concern that led to its creation after the Dust Bowl: soil health. The service that provides federal and state technical conservation assistance on farms throughout the Chesapeake watershed is recasting its message of conservation to focus on this key ingredient to improved water quality, farm production and sustainability.

The service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture was originally called the Soil Conservation Service. It was established in the 1930s to prevent the soil erosion on U.S. farmland that led to the Dust Bowl.

Public-private partnership to certify youth corps for restoration work

Beyond political will or ecological know-how, restoring the Chesapeake Bay and other impaired waters across the country requires a good deal of manpower.

It takes workers and “waders in the water,” as one firm puts it, to physically return rivers, streams and wetlands to a more natural state.

It’s work that Trout Headwaters, Inc., a private water restoration company, has been doing nationwide for nearly 20 years — and work that the company, through a new partnership with The Corps Network, now plans to equip youth corps nationwide to do.

Invasive insects lead to increased pesticide use, at least at first

A tiny fly that lays its eggs in still-ripening fruit has begun to wreak havoc on small fruit crops in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, leaving growers few options beyond additional pesticides for controlling it.

The newcomer is the spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii). Originating in Asia, the fly made its way into the United States in 2009. It has traveled up both the West and East coasts, and appeared in Virginia in the summer of 2011. It has since showed up in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.

Bioreactor chips away at nitrogen running off farm fields

Several farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region are testing a new conservation practice that can reduce nitrogen coming off farm fields’ drainage systems.

The practice is called a bioreactor. Instead of surface water from the fields collecting in a drain or ditch and discharging to streams and rivers, the collected water flows through a pipe that takes it to a buried trench filled with wood chips. The wood chips are a substrate for bacteria that digest the nitrogen. Then, the denitrified water continues flowing out the other side of the wood chip “box.” Thus, what ultimately runs off the farm fields has much less nitrogen in it.

River bottoms offer watermen new lease on life

As a young waterman, Mike Lindemon dreamed of having his own oyster lease. He wanted to work his own bottom, plant his own shell, set his own hours. For a man who fell off scaffolding while working at a nuclear power plant and still nurses the injuries 40 years later, the dream did not seem unreasonable. But it was painfully out of reach.

The Nanticoke River, where Lindemon had property, had been the base of operations for H. B. Kennerly and Sons, one of the state’s most successful oyster companies. Kennerly had thousands of acres under lease, making it next to impossible for a waterman to obtain one if he didn’t work under contract for Kennerly. And Lindemon had no luck obtaining a lease elsewhere. For more than a century, nearly every other waterfront county in the state outlawed private leases.

Project helping a living shoreline to emerge on shore VA creek

Occohannock on the Bay, a United Methodist camp and retreat center, sits modestly on the rise above Occohannock Creek, its cabins and beaches quiet among tall Virginia pines. A breeze out of the northwest is tinged with the promise of the coming winter storms that will soon buffet the shoreline of the creek in Belle Haven, VA.

Where campers splashed in the water and jigged for crabs just a month ago, a front-end loader is poised to pinch a 1,000-pound granite rock from a mammoth rock pile. The operator swings the arm out over the water and drops the rock just so between two PVC pipes that mark the linear “sill” of rocks, a mostly submerged jetty being built parallel to and about 50 feet from the shoreline.

Proposed natural gas line threatens trout stream, drinking water

A proposed natural gas pipeline in the Gunpowder River watershed is raising alarms among environmentalists, who worry that its construction would disrupt one of the East Coast’s finest trout rivers as well as drinking water for the Baltimore metropolitan region.

Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of Texas-based energy giant NiSource, wants to build a 21.5 mile gas line that would extend from Owings Mills in Baltimore County to Rutledge in Harford County. The 26-inch natural gas line would follow Columbia’s existing pipeline for 16.5 miles, then extend an additional five miles. Per a request from the Department of Natural Resources, it will go around Gunpowder Falls State Park instead of through it, which is one reason it needs the extension.

Living shoreline summit highlights emerging science, practices

“We are on a journey through the unknown,” said Evamaria Koch, a Brazilian-born scientist, who came to Maryland for her doctoral work and became captivated by the Chesapeake’s shorelines and submerged aquatic vegetation.

Speaking in Cambridge, MD, on the second day of the Mid-Atlantic Living Shoreline Summit, she was referring to her research on the effects of shoreline structures on SAVs and to the wider question of the effectiveness of shoreline defense strategies.

Koch could have been talking about any scientific inquiry, but her statement had special resonance for the more than 300 attendees who had braved snow and ice to spend a couple of days sharing knowledge and building community in support of living shorelines — one of the most promising tools that has emerged for protecting coastal properties from sealevel rise while enhancing habitat and ecological systems.

Conservation practices find fertile ground at VA farming conference

Conserving water, soil and farmland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were all part of the discussion at the second annual Virginia Farm-to-Table conference in December.

The conference focused on growing the local “foodshed” — a term coined in 1916 by a New Yorker encouraging residents to protect their food resources and infrastructure like they would access to clean water.

Based on surveys taken after the first conference in 2012, Eric Bendfeldt with the Virginia Cooperative Extension said attendees “wanted to hear more about soil health and its impact on human health.”

Pollution reduction efforts make strides, but Bay water quality slow to react

The Bay Program’s latest effort to answer the perennial question — how is the Bay doing? — offers a decidedly mixed view of the efforts taken to help restore the Chesapeake and its watershed.

While it shows pollution reductions proceeding ahead of schedule, it shows most of the Bay and the streams that feed it are still in poor health. And while good strides are being made on some efforts such as fish passages and public access, other important goals — such as planting stream forest buffers — are coming up far short.

Judge rejects suit challenging legality of nutrient trading programs

A federal judge in December dismissed on procedural grounds a suit brought by two environmental groups that challenged the legality of nutrient trading programs, which are touted as a way to reduce the cost of implementing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of the District of Columbia granted the EPA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth in October 2012.

Ancient ocean water discovered half mile beneath the Chesapeake

Scientists have discovered ocean water that dates to the time of dinosaurs trapped more than half a mile underneath the Chesapeake Bay.

Scientists believe the water, which they estimate to be between 100 million to 145 million years old, was trapped when a meteorite or comet hit the Earth near what is now the mouth of the Bay.

It is the oldest sizable body of seawater to be identified in the world, providing a unique window on the past.

No matter who gets a local LID prize, the Bay comes out a winner

In 2005, Dov Weitman, chief of the nonpoint source control branch at the EPA, returned to Washington, DC, from “an amazing consciousness-raising process” and wanted to share the experience with his colleagues.

Weitman had just served on the jury of the Houston Low Impact Development Competition, a contest that challenged development professionals to find new, low-impact ways to handle stormwater.

In a memo to his staff, he said the competition caused developers, civil engineers, architects and landscape architects to think differently — and more creatively — about stormwater, and he was convinced similar competitions — and benefits — could be replicated nationwide.

Air regs have helped water quality more than previously thought

The Chesapeake Bay may have reaped greater benefits from air pollution reductions over the last two decades than previously estimated, new research suggests.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOX, have declined sharply since the late 1990s as a result of increasingly stringent regulations aimed primarily at reducing acid rain and ground-level ozone, or smog. When those pollutants fall to the ground, they also contribute nitrogen pollution to the Bay.

But until now, it’s been thought that the water quality benefits to the Chesapeake from air pollution controls were relatively modest, largely because the greatest reductions in nitrogen deposition took place in the heavily forested western edge of the watershed, which is downwind of large Midwestern power plants.

Living Waters Summit starts key conversation between faith, conservation groups

Drum circles, interfaith songs and a baptismal-like bowl of water all had a place at the first Living Waters Interfaith Summit, hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Richmond on Tuesday.

But these were mostly props, intended to set the tone for an event that was both reverent and reflective in its efforts to engage Virginia’s faith-based and environmental communities in much-needed conversation.

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