Bay Journal

October 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 7
Lead story image

Scientists cast their widgeon seed upon the water, see success

Mike Norman grabbed a handful of seeds. Then he thoughtfully offered words of warning. “I apologize in advance if I hit you with the backwash in my throw,” he said. “This is not a perfect science.”

With a gentle sidearm motion, he tossed scores of widgeon grass seeds — a species that may be key to restoring the once-vast underwater meadows in much of the Bay — into the Magothy River.

Splashes pock-marked the chocolate-milk colored water as the seeds disappeared below the surface. “They’re negatively buoyant, so they will sink,” said Norman, who has been working with underwater grasses for years at Anne Arundel Community College.

Researchers examining effectiveness of stream restoration

From the way it looks, Muddy Creek would seem to deserve its name. The Maryland stream is decidedly murky, with an orange tint to its slow-moving water.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. This tributary of the Rhode River near Edgewater underwent an extreme makeover earlier this year, and it’s still adjusting to being dramatically altered by a $1 million stream restoration project that raised its bed, widened its banks and added some meanders and pools to its channel.

Whether the creek has been “restored,” or just rehabilitated, remains to be seen. Its condition is being closely monitored by scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, on whose sprawling campus the project was performed.

Sacrificing Canada geese to protect wetlands

For more than a decade, groups working to restore wetlands on the Anacostia River have been exasperated by a feathery foe: Canada geese that never leave.

A subspecies of the migratory population that visits the Chesapeake Bay region each winter, these “resident” geese were introduced a half-century ago for sport hunting. But they’ve become a little too comfortable in the suburban and urban parks where they find food aplenty and few predators.

New zoning restrictions address issues from larger chicken houses

Chicken farms, once tucked into fields and in mostly rural areas, have come to roost near schools, daycare centers and subdivisions on the Delmarva Peninsula. The change — in both location and density — is prompting local politicians to enact some of their first zoning restrictions on poultry growers.

But many residents contend the changes are window dressing — addressing cosmetic concerns but ignoring the larger problems they have with large-scale poultry operations as close neighbors, such as long-term potential health problems, environmental pollution and property values.

“It’s not the farm of the past. It’s not a family farm. It’s no-land farms, just packing as many as they can put on a parcel of property,” said Lisa Inzerillo, an Eastern Shore native who lives near Princess Anne along a once-quiet country road that now includes dozens of chicken houses. “That’s not the beauty of what we come over to the Eastern Shore to look at. That’s not what makes me proud to live here.”

Where there’s a way, there’s a trout that runs through it

Stepping onto the uneven concrete that spans an otherwise untouched stretch of the Robinson River, Celia Vuocolo waved her arms as if presenting a piece of art rather than an artifact of short-sighted thinking.

“This is like the poster child for a bad culvert,” she said. “Everything you can do wrong has happened here.”

When Vuocolo, a habitat stewardship specialist with the Piedmont Environmental Council, first started looking for stream crossings worthy of replacement in the headwaters of Virginia’s Rappahannock River — home to much of the state’s remaining native brook trout — this one stood out.

Students paddle Susquehanna with teacher who’s seen it all

If your science teacher has kayaked from the source of the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay, you can bet that she’ll join right in when her students spend a day canoeing on the Bay’s biggest source of freshwater.

And Desiree Fox, a science teacher at Crossroads Middle School of Lewisberry, PA, did just that on a sun-drenched school day in September. Twenty Crossroads students joined her to learn about the river from Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators Tom Parke and Emily Thorpe as they paddled down the Susquehanna in canoes.

Bay Journal has covered ebb, flow of Chesapeake issues for 25 years

Twenty-five years ago, the first issue of the Bay Journal hit the streets — or rather, the mailboxes — across the watershed. Its lone cover photo featured swans taking flight; the headline read: 1991: Taking a new look at an old goal.

The newspaper’s 12 pages featured stories about budgets, turtles, a list of “toxics of concern,” and an ominous report that nutrient reduction efforts could fall short in 2000. The entire publication, from writing the headlines to driving the paper to the printer, fell on the shoulders of Karl Blankenship, a Michigan native with a passion for the outdoors and an understanding that covering the Chesapeake Bay well meant spending a considerable amount of time indoors at meetings.

Septic reg rollback raises fears of increased sprawl, pollution

The Hogan administration’s move to stop requiring less-polluting septic systems across most of the state has earned raves from developers and rural county officials who say it was expensive and unnecessary, and censure from environmentalists who say it will promote sprawl and degrade water quality.

One thing both sides agree on: Gov. Larry Hogan likely has the authority to relax the 4-year-old requirement, which had been a tough sell for his predecessor.
Hogan announced the rollback in August at the annual summer meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties, and his Department of the Environment followed up in mid-September by formally proposing the change.

Growing number of watermen could pose threat to oyster comeback

The recent uptick in the Bay’s oyster population has reversed the long-term decline in the number of watermen pursuing the bivalve. But as another oyster season begins Saturday, some worry that what’s good in the short term for harvesters could harm the fledgling oyster comeback.

In Virginia, the number of watermen who’ve paid the fee required to harvest oysters from public bottom has grown by 50 percent since 2013. In Maryland, the ranks of those who’ve plunked down $300 for the same right doubled since 2008.
That’s produced some tension on the water, particularly at the beginning of the season in October, as scores of boats jockey for position at times to find a good spot to harvest.

VMRC balancing demands of oyster growers, homeowners on Lynnhaven

The legendary Lynnhaven River oyster, reputedly the favorite of royalty and presidents in centuries past, is now at the heart of a local dispute that even George Washington might have had trouble settling.

According to Karen Forget (pronounced “for-ZHAY”), executive director of the environmental group Lynnhaven River Now, the river has the distinction of being the only urban Chesapeake Bay tributary where the water quality is high enough for commercial oyster farming. And there’s the rub.
Oysters had been harvested in the Lynnhaven for thousands of years, but pollution forced its closure decades ago as the Atlantic coast resort of Virginia Beach grew into a city and encompassed the watershed of the short tidal river.

The river is on the rebound, thanks to the concerted efforts of government and nonprofits like Forget’s group. But by the time a significant portion of the Lynnhaven’s oyster beds were reopened in 2008, few of Virginia Beach’s 450,000 residents had any memory of oystering on the river.

2015 Bay water quality was fourth best since 1985

Dry conditions over much of the Bay watershed helped to make 2015 the fourth-best year for overall Bay water quality in three decades, according to figures released Wednesday by the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Monitoring data from the state-federal partnership showed that 37 percent of the Bay and its tidal tributaries had adequate oxygen, water clarity and the reduced algae concentrations needed to meet water quality goals for the three-year period of 2013–15.

That was a 10 percent improvement over the previous 2012–14 assessment period, though it was still well below the 100 percent attainment needed to meet Bay cleanup requirements. Goal attainment is measured on a three-year rolling average.

Sewer system to replace failing septics in southern Kent Island

When the Bay Bridge opened in 1952, developers raced across to the Eastern Shore to build dreams. Real estate agents sold vacation homes, family getaways, retirement retreats and quaint cottages so close to the water it was practically in their backyards. On Kent Island, Maryland’s oldest settlement in one of its least populated counties, builders needed no permits, no inspections, no site plans. They built many homes on small lots, and the homes quickly sold.

But many of those homes on southern Kent Island along narrow Route 8 were built on septic systems that soon failed, posing health hazards for the community and polluting the Chesapeake Bay. The problem kept getting worse with each new home until the 1980s, when environmental health director John Nickerson imposed a building ban, leaving hundreds of vacant lots in limbo. That set Kent Island up for a Hobbesian choice: endure the pollution, hassle and falling real-estate prices associated with the failing tanks; or extend a sewer line and open the low-lying island to hundreds of new homes, worsening traffic and other concerns.

CBF calls for ramped-up federal funding for 5 PA counties

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called Tuesday for a major boost in federal funding to help Pennsylvania jump-start its lagging Bay cleanup efforts, arguing that the Keystone State could make significant progress with a targeted push to reduce farm pollution in just five heavily agricultural counties.

The Annapolis-based environmental group appealed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “an initial, immediate commitment of $20 million” to help farmers in Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland and Adams counties design and pay for conservation practices aimed at reducing nutrient and sediment pollution.

That’s more than USDA spent on farm conservation last year in all 42 Pennsylvania counties in the Bay watershed, by one report. It’s nowhere near enough, foundation leaders acknowledged, to pay for everything the state needs to do to meet its obligations under the federally mandated Bay restoration plan. But it would be a big down payment, they said. And without that kind of federal help, they warned that the cash-strapped state might never catch up.

Bouncing windsock waves goodbye to Dominion’s vultures

As the largest coal-burning plant in Virginia, Dominion’s Chesterfield Power Station is used to being harassed — mainly by environmentalists and residents who’d rather not have the facility in their backyard.

But none of the plant’s critics have been as relentless, foul smelling or perilous to the workforce as the flocks of black vultures that have plagued the facility south of Richmond on the James River.

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