Bay Journal

January 2015 - Volume 1 - Number 1
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Every little bit counts: Microplastics plague Chesapeake waters

Julie Lawson, director of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance, has a new weapon in her fight against waterborne plastic pollution. It’s a glass jar filled with brown water from the Chesapeake Bay, and she takes it everywhere she goes.

She takes her jar to community events and meetings with grant makers. The Maryland General Assembly is next on her list. People have asked to borrow it.

“I think I need a check-out system,” Lawson said.

Frequent spills signal need for inspection, regulation

This winter, an oil spill from a pipeline in Montana caused residents and businesses to replace their normal Yellowstone River water supply with water hauled in by trucks. The pipeline owner estimated the 12-inch pipe drained about 50,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota beneath the river’s ice, making the oil nearly impossible to locate, and even more difficult to clean up.

Oil also was detected in the river 60 miles downstream, in Billings — Montana’s largest city.

Lessons from a fruit tree

About this time every year, the age-old rabbinic story of Honi, The Circle Maker makes its rounds. It goes like this: Honi was a minor miracle worker in first century Palestine. Once, in his youth, he happened upon an old man planting a carob tree. Now the carob tree was legendary for taking 70 years to mature, and Honi found it odd that someone so advanced in years would bother planting one.

Even as water shortages occur where least expected, there’s hope

I recently sat down with Brian Richter, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water Program, to talk about his recent book, “Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.”

“Chasing Water” is a primer on water scarcity and the basics of water supply planning. It offers examples in the United States and around the world based on Richter’s experience of consulting on more than 120 water projects with governments, corporations and local communities.

Debate rages over whether pesticides benefits outweigh risks

A report released this fall argues that pesticides have done more good than harm as they’ve bolstered food production across the United States and Canada — and that their application should be expanded to help feed the world’s growing population by 2050.

The report, released as Issue Paper 55 by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, a nonprofit backed by companies like Dow AgroSciences and groups like the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, states that pesticides have contributed to greater crop yields while lessening the legwork required to combat pests and increasing farmers’ incomes.

VA state, wildlife officials to go whole hog to eradicate feral swine

Feral hogs rank right up there on the lists of invasive species considered “bad actors” — bad for wildlife, bad for ecological systems, bad for the economy.

Like other nuisance species, feral hogs (also called feral swine) take advantage of opportunities. For Virginia’s small — but likely growing — populations of feral hogs, those opportunities derive from legal loopholes, misinformation and a nationwide enthusiasm for hog hunting that may be taking root in Virginia.

The Virginia Feral Hog Task Force, consisting of a range of stakeholders — from wildlife managers to the pork industry — was formed to combat the spread of feral hogs. Its call to action is “Feral Swine: Not Here, Not Virginia,” and its tools include education, regulations and eradication.

Cedar Island vacation homes vanish, vanquished by rising water

Before the last house on Cedar Island could slip into the sea, the owners burned it.

It happened on Black Friday, and the owners posted on their Facebook page that it was definitely a dark day for their family and friends: “the end of a long, wonderful era.”

Technically, two other structures remain on the island. There is a Coast Guard station, privately owned now, with a tower and a couple of outbuildings, and a tiny, shingled, brown cottage next door. But the last house, a pretty red fishing cabin, was the last of its kind, the last home built for vacations and lazy days on an unspoiled beach.

Analysis estimates Bay’s blue catfish at 100 million, with room for expansion

The Chesapeake Bay region may be home to roughly 100 million hungry blue catfish — with plenty of room for their numbers to expand, according to a recent estimate.

If the estimate is correct — and there are plenty of caveats — that would mean the Bay has roughly one blue catfish for every three blue crabs, though the average catfish is many times larger than the average crab.

Only the James, Rappahannock, Potomac, Pamunkey, Mattaponi and Piankatank rivers have high densities, according to the analysis prepared by biologists from the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center. Others, including all Maryland tributaries, had only medium or low densities of the invasive fish.

Lack of clear goal, information hampers effort to control blue catfish

Efforts to rein in the region’s escalating blue catfish population through an expanded fishery and other measures could face numerous obstacles, the greatest of which is a lack of basic information about the voracious predators, a new report says.

Nonnative blue and flathead catfish were introduced into Virginia tributaries in the late 1970s but have since exploded in numbers and spread to Maryland.

They are a top predator, and their rapid expansion has raised concerns that they could outcompete native species and also consume large numbers of shad, river herring, blue crabs and other species of concern to fishery managers.

Living shorelines rising up to offset effects of higher sea levels

Most of the shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal reaches is composed of highly erodible soils — and it’s also mostly privately owned.

The question of what to do about the effects of sea level rise hits many waterfront property owners right in their own backyards as valuable real estate is lost to higher tides and storm surges are amplified by rising sea levels and a changing climate.

Until recently, the options for homeowners were limited — and decidedly of the brute force variety. Steel vertical bulkheads and stone riprap have been the choice of thousands who wanted immediate control of erosion.

Prince George’s churches embrace alternatives to stormwater fee

A program that kicked off this fall with a group of officials and church leaders smiling broadly as they plunged symbolic golden shovels into the soil did not begin with such good spirits.

It began last winter with a roomful of pastors from churches in Maryland’s Prince George’s County saying, “No, thank you,” to a fee-oriented program that they considered a new tax on nonprofits.

“It was basically a very tense and public argument,” said Adam Ortiz, director of the county’s Department of the Environment, who thought he was being proactive by arranging the meeting.

MD attorney general will uphold law while serving new governor

Come January, Maryland will have a Republican governor and a Democrat attorney general. And not just any Democrat attorney general, but Brian Frosh: a longtime state senator who championed many of the Maryland’s environmental laws in the last three decades.

Already, the divisions between the policies of Frosh and the soon-to-be Repub-lican Gov. Larry Hogan appear to be stark.

Perseverance pays off for MeTompkin Seafood

For nearly 50 years, a man named Dise has been pulling up to a Crisfield dock to sell oysters to a man named Todd.

The Dises, of Tangier Island, catch the oysters, setting sail early on frigid mornings for beds in the Pocomoke and Tangier sounds. The Todds see to it that the oysters are cleaned, shucked, packed and shipped out on time for family dinners.

MD report recommends fracking – if – strict rules are followed

Maryland environmental officials are recommending that the state allow fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation in western Maryland as long as the drillers follow rigorous safety guidelines set forth in proposed regulations.

Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, announced the recommendations after a three-year study on the risks and benefits of drilling in rural Western Maryland, the only part of the state that includes the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.

Proposed ozone standards would help meet Bay’s water goals

A new federal proposal to clean up the nation’s air would not only help people breathe easier, but would also help meet the goals for cleaner Bay water by 2025.

The EPA on Nov. 26 proposed tightening the air pollution standard for ground-level ozone, the key component of smog, from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion by 2025. It is also taking comments on a standard of 60 ppb.

Rising sea level swallowing red knot’s migration stopovers

This is the fourth in a series of articles — produced by the Bay Journal and Chesapeake Quarterly, the magazine of Maryland Sea Grant — that explore the impacts of, and policies related to, sea level rise around the Bay.

When it comes to endurance athletes, few can match the performance of the rufa red knot. The 5-ounce shorebird may fly 19,000 miles annually from its wintering grounds at the southern tip of South America to its summer breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic and back again.

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