Bay Journal

January 2016 - Volume 24 - Number 10
Lead story image

Rural pollution is becoming an urban issue

Arkansas poultry farmer Jeff Marley grows 240,000 birds a year on his farm outside Fayetteville. But it’s because of city dwellers in Tulsa, OK, that he rarely spreads manure on his pastureland.

Marley sells most of the 1,500 tons of manure his birds generate via a litter bank. He doesn’t store it on his property even for a few days, he said. As soon as the hauler shows up and loads his truck, the manure is gone.

“I spend more time managing my litter than I do my chickens. There is no comparison in terms of what we did and what we do today,” Marley said. “We used to pile the litter. We didn’t care where we piled it. We would never consider doing that today.”

Hidden in plain sight, Oxon Cove Park strives to attract more visitors

What if someone built a national park next to one of the largest U.S. cities and hardly anyone came?

That seems to be the case with Oxon Cove Park, a 500-acre gem that is just 2 miles south of Washington, DC and just one exit off the busy Capital Beltway. It offers a variety of plants along hiking and biking trails, a woodsy area for fishing and historic buildings that date back more than 200 years. The property’s Oxon Hill Farm includes 70 acres and an opportunity to see goats, chickens and a donkey.

Nearly 6 million people live within a short drive of the park; more than a million could walk or bike there. Yet, just 30,000 visitors a year discover the park, and most of them come on school field trips from Prince George’s County, MD, the District of Columbia and Alexandria, VA.

MD’s tough phosphorus tool may be joined by revisions of other Bay states

Maryland’s Phosphorus Management Tool imposes the toughest restrictions on how farmers apply and handle manure on their fields of all the Chesapeake Bay watershed states. But maybe not for long, as the other states are looking at revising their phosphorus limits as a result of new research and new funding to look more closely at the issue.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission issued a report in January comparing Maryland’s new phosphorus management tool, or PMT, to the index approaches that Virginia and Pennsylvania have taken. Virginia has not updated its index since 2005; Pennsylvania’s has not been updated since 2007. In the intervening years, scientists have learned more about the movement of phosphorus, which was once thought to bind to the soil and could be controlled by preventing erosion. They now know that phosphorus moves with water through subsurface pathways and can be a particular problem in artificial drainage structures, like tile drains, or in sandy soils.

Precision conservation: mapping the watershed meter by meter

A handful of young computer professionals, most fresh out of college or graduate school, work at stand-up workstations, or sit, using ergonomic ‘balance balls’ as chairs. They peer intently at screens checkered with aerial images of farms, forests and subdivisions.

Here, in a workroom at the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy in Annapolis, they are re-imaging the Chesapeake Bay watershed and creating new ways to envision restoration, conservation and public access to the Bay and its rivers.

At one workstation, Jeff Allenby, their leader and the director of the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Conservation Innovation Center, clicks his mouse, causing a vertical cursor to scroll from left to right. An aerial image of dense forest is replaced with another image of the exact same parcel two years later. In this second image, the forest has been penetrated with a road leading to 20 houses, each with its own lawn and driveway.

Land cover data getting closer to the real world

In 2011, regional planners in Virginia found that the way the Bay Program’s computer models assigned land use often didn’t reflect what they saw when they looked out the window.

For example, the model said that there were confined animal feeding operations in the resort city of Virginia Beach.

“It’s true, there are some hog operations down along the North Carolina border, but at Lynnhaven Inlet where the land use was called a CAFO, the closest thing we could find was Captain George’s Seafood Buffet,” said James Davis-Martin, Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Riverkeeper repels threat from one utility; is pressuring another

The Gunpowder Riverkeeper has fought back one utility company’s plan that he and other advocates for the river say would have endangered habitat within Maryland’s Gunpowder Falls State Park, but he’s still fighting another company on a pipeline project that would cut through other parts of the watershed.

The Gunpowder River, which flows through the park, supplies water to 1.5 million Baltimore area residents. Baltimore Gas and Electric had planned to clear trees in the right of way of an existing high-voltage power line that runs through the park. The company also planned to spray herbicides, which could have harmed new growth, and to sell the timber, which could increase erosion as contractors removed the logs from sensitive areas.


Dominion’s plans to drain coal ash ponds raising concern

An environmental group was threatening to sue Dominion Virginia Power over the mere presence of outmoded coal ash ponds near Quantico Creek’s intersection with the Potomac River when the power plant announced plans last month to do away with them — by draining them into the nearest waterway.

That proposal, outlined in a draft permit for the Possum Point Power Station, drew an impassioned crowd to a public hearing in mid-December. More than 50 local residents, public officials and representatives from regional environmental groups concerned about the proposal’s impact on local water quality presented the case against the plan. Many of them pleaded with the Virginia Department of the Environment for more time to consider the proposed changes, the comment period for which ended Dec. 14.

Anacostia commuter retires after rowing to work 15 years

For Gabe Horchler, the sounds of sirens and idling cars on the Anacostia Freeway aren’t disruptions to an otherwise peaceful trip down the river. They’re reminders of one of the many reasons he rows.

Most every weekday, from March to December, for the last 15 years, Horchler has taken the river, rather than the road, for at least one leg of his commute from home in Cheverly, MD, to work at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

If he rows to work on a Monday, he’ll take the metro home that evening, then reverse course the following day, taking the metro to work and rowing home. The commute is car-less, but it is “a three-bike operation” to get him from his house to one boathouse, the other boathouse to work and then from the metro stop in Cheverly to his home.

Study of sick bass in Susquehanna cites endocrine disruptors

Hormone-altering compounds and herbicides are likely weakening the immune systems of Susquehanna River smallmouth bass, making them more susceptible to diseases, and that, in turn, has caused a population collapse for the bass, the river’s most popular recreational fish, a new study has concluded.

The multi-year study, which involved dozens of scientists from multiple state and federal agencies as well as universities, said that exposure to endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, along with infections from parasites and pathogens, were the “most likely” reasons that few young smallmouth bass in the river have survived to become adults since 2005.

Congress approves $11 million to protect landscapes in Bay region

The Bay region received nearly $11 million to protect high-priority lands, mostly along the Bay and its rivers, in the federal spending bill approved by Congress in December.

That’s the largest amount of federal funding for land acquisition that the region has received in years, though it is only a third of what the Obama administration requested in its 2016 budget.

Nonetheless, land conservation advocates are optimistic the funding is the first step in what they hope will become a multi-year Rivers of the Chesapeake initiative aimed at protecting lands along the Potomac, Rappahannock, James, York, Nanticoke and Susquehanna rivers.

Congress passes school bill that includes environmental education

A decade ago, Don Baugh had seen plenty of successful environmental education programs. As vice president of education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, he had helped produce many of them.

But for all the success, many — if not most — students had little if any exposure to those programs in their schools.

“All the environment education that was being done was really critical and really helpful and really pushed the Bay restoration movement,” he said. “But it was not being done at the scale of the problem — the problem being an ecosystem collapse.”

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