Bay Journal

March 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 1
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The coal ash conundrum

When Virginians got wind in December that water from coal ash impoundments was going to be drained into the Potomac and James rivers, the usually lackluster meetings where such decisions are made suddenly became hotbeds of public engagement.

More than 1,000 public comments poured in over a pair of permit changes sought by the utility company, Dominion Virginia Power. The vast majority of them opposed — many vehemently — the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s recommendation that a state board approve permit changes for power stations near Quantico and Charlottesville. The changes would allow Dominion to collectively drain more than 200 million gallons of wastewater from long-standing coal ash ponds into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

But approve the board did, voting 5-1 on each case at a hearing on Jan. 14.

Habits of Enoughness

Last December in Paris, nearly 200 countries, including the United States, came together to proclaim with one voice that we can no longer build a world of prosperity by burning millions of years’ worth of fossil fuels. The agreement commits us all to work to keep global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

There are some who argue that nothing will come of it because the accord has no teeth. They may have a point, but legal sanctions are only one effective way for society to enforce commitment to its values. Social sanctions can be even more powerful. And that is where we, the people, come in. More precisely, we, the people of privilege.

New seafood industry group lobbies against oyster project

A new group has emerged to speak for the seafood industry in contentious Chesapeake Bay fisheries issues, and it’s already being heard in Maryland on oyster restoration.

The Delmarva Fisheries Association formed last year with the stated intent of bringing together watermen, restaurant owners, packing houses, oyster farmers and boat captains.

Capt. Robert Newberry, the association’s president and founder, used to oyster in the Upper Bay and is now a charter boat captain and a hunting guide. He said he wanted to form a group that would unite the seafood industry.

MDE, MDA join forces to establish nutrient trading

Maryland is moving ahead with plans to launch a nutrient trading program that it hopes will set the standard for a market-based and cost-effective way to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The state’s Environment and Agriculture departments are working together to establish a system for buying and selling nutrient pollution credits. Likely buyers include cities trying to meet state requirements that they reduce stormwater pollution running off streets and parking lots. The likely sellers would be farms willing to go beyond what’s legally required to curb runoff from their fields, feedlots and pastures.

MD wants to take shells for oyster project from prime fishing reef

Seeking to counter a shortage of oyster habitat in the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is renewing a controversial bid to dredge old shells that have built up over centuries from an ancient reef southeast of Baltimore.

Reviving a plan abandoned in 2009, the DNR has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to take 5 million bushels of shells from Man-O-War shoal just beyond the mouth of the Patapsco River. Ultimately, though, the state wants to barge away 30 million bushels, or about a third of the 456-acre reef.

Squabbles threaten future of Chesapeake’s oyster restoration

Stocked with more than 2 billion hatchery-spawned oysters, Harris Creek became the crown jewel of an ambitious effort to revive the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted shellfish population. As it was being completed last fall, scientists, politicians and others made pilgrimages to the Choptank River tributary to witness Maryland and the federal government working together to restore 375 acres of reefs with young bivalves.

Now, the “largest oyster restoration project on the planet,” as one environmental group called it, has become a timeworn example of another sort – of political intervention in the stewardship of the Bay’s iconic shellfish.

Road salt putting human, aquatic lives on a collision course

Just a couple days before January’s “snowzilla” storm buried much of the region under 2 feet of snow, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser apologized for the city’s “inadequate response” to less than an inch of snow that left motorists variously sliding though icy streets or stranded in backups.

“We should have been out earlier with more resources,” she said. And the mayor assured residents that — with a blizzard officially named Jonas bearing down — that lapse wouldn’t occur again. She then outlined plans to deploy plows, front-end loaders, dump trucks — and 39,000 tons of salt. That’s 118 pounds for each district resident.

Catching up with crabs in Beautiful Swimmers Revisited

It's been 40 years since William W. Warner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book introduced us to the creature that’s been captivating diners and scientists alike ever since.

In Beautiful Swimmers Revisited, a documentary whose title was taken from Warner’s book, Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton and photographer Dave Harp catch up with the iconic blue crabs that are the subject of the original work.

The film, which premieres in March, is an initiative of the Bay Journal and was directed and co-produced by Sandy Cannon-Brown’s VideoTakes, Inc., with support from The Shared Earth Foundation and other donations.

Beautiful Swimmers revisits Warner’s classic book on Bay’s blue crabs

It’s been 40 years since William W. Warner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book introduced us to the creature that’s been captivating diners and scientists alike ever since.

In Beautiful Swimmers Revisited, a documentary whose title was taken from Warner’s book, Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton and photographer Dave Harp catch up with the iconic blue crabs that are the subject of the original work.

Swooning over swans at the sewage lagoon

Sometimes, to enjoy a feast for the eyes, you have to hold your nose.

Chesapeake Bay birders have long known that the best place to see dazzling winter waterfowl and rare arctic birds is at the local sewage treatment plant.

There, among aerated ponds and concrete barriers, the geese and swans roost after a long day feeding in nearby fields. Come in the morning and watch a clear blue sky turn white with tundra swans on the wing. Stay for the evening concert as the birds “ou-oh” before they settle in to the settling tanks for the night.

New web site aims to help public track Bay restoration

People wanting to know if the Bay is being saved now have a handy new place online where they can check.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has launched “Chesapeake Progress,” a website designed to provide “accurate, up-to-date and accessible information” about what’s been done to achieve the restoration goals and outcomes spelled out under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

“The idea is to increase accountability for progress, increase transparency and increase our information that’s made available to the public in a very simple and straightforward way,” said Nick DiPasquale, Chesapeake Bay Program director for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Latest ‘Bay Barometer’ shows uneven restoration progress

Migratory fish have more rivers in the Bay to swim, and underwater grass beds are growing, but streamside forest plantings and wetland restoration have lagged badly in recent years, a new report from the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program shows.

Its Bay Barometer, an annual assessment of the Chesapeake region’s pollution reduction and habitat restoration efforts, found uneven progress toward meeting the 11 goals set in the Bay Watershed Agreement adopted in 2014.

While much of the information has already been publicly released, the report compiles it to offer an overview of restoration efforts.

Maryland court revives water pollution lawsuit against state

Property owners may be entitled to compensation if the state government fails to act to halt pollution that is a “known and longstanding public health hazard,” Maryland’s highest court has ruled.

In a case that advocates say puts the state on notice to enforce environmental laws, a divided Court of Appeals declared in late January that a Caroline County woman can pursue her claim that she lost her family’s lake and campground because state and local officials didn’t address septic contamination from a nearby town.

The 4-3 ruling is the latest twist in the six-year legal struggle of Gail Litz, who is suing the state of Maryland and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro contending that their neglect of a long-running septic pollution problem cost her the business and property that had been in her family for decades.

US Fish and Wildlife Service creates urban internships

In an effort to diversify both the staff and visitors to national wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with the Hispanic Access Foundation to fund seven internship positions this summer.

The positions will be based at wildlife refuges in the northeast region close to urban populations, where visitation is lower than the service would like. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the intern will work at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Beltsville, close to Washington, DC. The intern will also work part of the time at Masonville Cove, a new urban wildlife refuge in Baltimore.

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