Bay Journal

June 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 4
Lead story image

Bernie Fowler still fighting the good fight for the Patuxent

Bernie Fowler has been running most of his life.

As a child, he ran a mile to get milk for his mother. He ran track in high school, on a crude oval through the woods. He ran for office, first for Calvert County commissioner, then for state senator.

At age 56, he became a senior Olympian, eventually winning 100 gold medals, 38 silvers and 17 bronzes.

And when he wasn’t running, he was still using his feet, wading into his beloved Patuxent River in coveralls and a cowboy hat adorned with an American flag to see how deep he could get and still make out his white sneakers.

Loss of tax incentives could doom super-efficient heating/cooling system

Getting a household, school, office building or any other enclosed structure comfortably heated and cooled can be an energy-intensive proposition in the mid-Atlantic states, where winter temperatures can fall well below freezing and summer days can feel like a steam room.

But a little known type of heat pump — a geothermal heat pump or “geo-exchange” system — uses much less energy than conventional heating and cooling systems, especially when it is very cold. If that appeals, you will want to act fast: Substantial federal tax incentives for installing geothermal heat pumps are set to expire Dec. 31.

Measures to curtail nutrients, sediment also removing toxics

A small rain garden in the yard or a big stormwater pond at a commercial site may both be doing double duty when it comes to making the Bay and its tributaries safer for fish and other aquatic life.

Stormwater controls aimed at reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay can also curtail the flow of toxic pollutants into urban rivers, often some of the region’s most contaminated waterways.

Controls already in place may be reducing toxic runoff from cities by 25 percent, and that reduction could increase to 40 percent by 2025 as cities and counties install more stormwater controls to meet Bay nutrient and sediment goals, according to estimates made by the Chesapeake Stormwater Network.

Trash effort taking its message to Baltimore streets, sidewalks

The mural painted on the sidewalk shouts, “Keep it Clean!” in bubble letters adorned with daisies.

The sidewalk around it, though, is anything but. A giant cardboard box, which once contained a sofa lounge, obscures most of the mural. Plastic bags float into it with the wind. Trash from a can marked with an address up the block spills over onto the orange part of a painted daisy.

Leanna Wetmore sighed. Again. The community coordinator for the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore took out her mobile phone, snapped a photo, and typed in the appropriate address. She sent the information to Baltimore City’s 311 operator, and got a tracking number to check the progress of cleanup.

High school students in college-level lab take on Bay-size studies

Originally, Virginia Pan wanted to see if horseshoe crabs would be bothered by having a bit of their blue blood drawn in a high school classroom.

The 18-year-old at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA, had a soft spot for the shelled creatures and wanted to see if the extraction of blood — which is then commonly used for medical purposes — might make it harder for them to survive when returned to the wild.

But Pan decided that bleeding the crabs would be a bit messy.

Entrepreneurs to build large private oyster hatchery in MD

A group of Maryland entrepreneurs is planning to build the state’s first large private oyster hatchery in decades, a move they say will both boost and diversify the burgeoning aquaculture industry.

They have also agreed to work with Morgan State University, which has a small hatchery at its research facility in Southern Maryland.

Johnny Shockley and Ricky Fitzhugh, co-owners of Hooper’s Island Oyster Company, have joined with Baltimore businessman Carnelious Jones and other partners under the name Oysters, Inc. to construct a 12,000-square-foot facility that will breed oysters and produce millions of larvae for farmers to raise in their leased tracts of water around the Chesapeake Bay.

Dominion assures draining of ash ponds will protect local waters

As planned, Dominion Virginia Power has begun a months-long draining of coal ash lagoons into a tributary of the Potomac River and into the James River after agreeing to enhanced treatment of the water discharged at both sites.

The company began drawing water on May 9 from its impoundment at the Possum Point power plant near Dumfries, about 30 miles south of the District of Columbia. It started draining a lagoon at its Bremo Bluff plant southeast of Charlottesville at the end of April.

In the coming weeks, Dominion plans to seek permits from the state Department of Environmental Quality to permanently cap 11 inactive ponds at four of its Virginia power plants. But the permitting process — and the next round of public meetings that will accompany it — has been delayed by recent changes to the federal rule that first triggered the closure of the coal ash ponds.

Long slog ahead for new attempt to move shad past Conowingo, other dams

Leon Senft remembers a time when he and other fishermen lined the shore of the Susquehanna River below the Conowingo Dam and hooked American shad almost as fast as they could cast their lines in the churning water.

“We really had a bonanza there for a while,” recalled Senft, 85, who’s been angling for the big migratory fish longer than most people are alive. “It was not unusual to catch 50–100 a day. My personal best was 175.”

That heyday for Senft was maybe 20 years ago, when American shad appeared to be on the rebound from a severe decline in their springtime spawning runs. Optimism abounded, as a big new fishlift hoisted more and more of them over the 94-foot dam on their way upriver to reproduce.

But the rebound went off the rails. Although the number of American shad getting a lift over Conowingo rose steadily for a decade, it then dropped and kept dropping.

Finding the best restoration project can be upstream battle

“This is Reedy Creek,” Bill Shanabruch said, idling his stick shift on a bridge that overlooks a 50-foot-wide concrete channel covering the path where a stream once bent. At its center, lush grasses and cattails were springing from the sediment that had collected since the city of Richmond last dredged the channel a few years ago.

This approach to “get water off developed land as quickly as possible” was once the go-to option for cities dealing with flooded roads, homes and businesses. Now, it’s better known that paving creek beds exacerbates stream bank erosion and flooding elsewhere. It also channels pollutants to the nearest river as efficiently as it does the runoff.

Shanabruch, who co-founded the Reedy Creek Coalition, isn’t asking the city to remove the concrete channels that make up nearly one-third of this 3.5-mile waterway — a costly feat he knows isn’t feasible in the watershed’s current state. But he is concerned that the city’s planned $1.27 million project — which will rebuild a tree-shrouded stretch of the stream in his backyard — could similarly do more harm than good. And that’s putting his opposition mildly.

Charles County Board to vote on future of Mattawoman Creek

The fate of one of Maryland’s healthiest waterways may be decided this summer, as the elected leaders of one of the state’s fastest growing counties weigh a new long-term growth plan.

After five years of debate, the Charles County Board of Commissioners is set to take votes in July on a blueprint for future development in a land that’s changing from agrarian to bedroom community for Washington, DC. Sharp divisions remain over how the plan’s provisions might affect Mattawoman Creek, a high-quality tributary of the Potomac River in the crosshairs of that transformation, which not long ago was described as “what a restored Chesapeake Bay would look like.”

At a 2.5-hour public hearing in May, the five commissioners heard conflicting claims about the county’s proposed comprehensive plan — that it would either save or doom the creek from a juggernaut of development set in motion by the last growth plan local officials adopted a decade ago.

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