Bay Journal

July-August 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 5

Politics, Schmolitics—We All Want a Healthy Planet

A depressing myth about “the American people” has been debunked consistently in surveys among actual Americans.

The myth portrays U.S. citizens as pitted acrimoniously right against left, with no common ground between us and no interest in finding some.

Worse, it depicts Americans as hostile to our own homeland — happy to wreck our ecosystems, obliterate wildlife populations, public lands and water supplies; and eager to hand our fragile public coastal habitats over to destructive private drilling operations.

Eagle provides a ‘golden’ moment to crown a day of birding

We had just finished a wonderful three hours enjoying the avian bounty of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Cambridge, MD. Our animated discussion about winter waterfowl was slammed to a halt as a huge raptor flew right in front of us and disappeared into the trees bordering Key Wallace Drive.

The bird was only in view for a few seconds, but the identification was unmistakable. Huge, powerful, dark brown and wearing an elegant golden scarf — it was a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and we were momentarily speechless.

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DiPasquale’s legacy is leaving a better Chesapeake than the one he inherited

While kayaking in a couple of Chesapeake Bay tributaries last fall, Nick DiPasquale experienced some good news firsthand — by nearly getting stuck.

“The grass beds were so thick you basically got hung up in them,” he recalled of his excursions to the Mattawoman and Gunpowder rivers. “It was almost like being on land.”

As DiPasquale wrapped up his 6.5-year tenure at the helm of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program partnership, the Bay has had some of its best water quality in years. Underwater grass beds have surged to their highest level in decades.

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PA’s Environmental Rights Amendment grows some teeth

For all of its natural bounty, Pennsylvania has environmental woes aplenty. Take your pick — 19,000 miles of impaired streams, 5,500 of them from abandoned coal mines; state environmental agencies and programs starved of funds as Pennsylvania fails to do its part to maintain safe drinking water and clean up the Chesapeake Bay; and state forests carved up by drilling pads and pipelines.

But the state does have an Environmental Rights Amendment. Since 1971, Pennsylvania’s constitution has guaranteed that the people have a right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. 

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Hogan urges U.S. Senate to reject curb on EPA role in Bay cleanup

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week sent a letter urging Senate leaders to oppose a House-passed measure that would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its power to act against any Bay watershed state that fails to meet its Chesapeake pollution reduction goals.

Hogan -- who chairs the Chesapeake Executive Council, which guides Bay restoration policy -- voiced his “strong opposition” to a pending spending bill provision put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA. The House approved it last September by a vote of 213 to 197, but whether it takes effect depends on congressional budget negotiations to be completed by next month.

Hogan said Goodlatte's amendment would harm Bay restoration efforts by preventing the EPA from enforcing “policies and procedures that are necessary for achieving pollution reductions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

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Winter brings waterfowl bonanza to Bay

If you think you’ve been seeing more ducks, geese and swans around the Chesapeake Bay this winter than usual, you’re onto something.

Recent aerial surveys have tallied more than one million waterfowl of all types along Maryland’s coasts and shoreline, the state Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday. That’s 25 percent more than were seen last year and about 20 percent above the average for the last five years.

Other actions needed before rushing to address climate’s effect on nutrients

I was among the first and have been among the most persistent scientific advocates for addressing climate change in our efforts to restore the Bay. Even so, I think that the recent decision of the Bay Program's Principal Staff Committee not to increase, at this time, the nutrient loads that must be reduced by 2025 to accommodate the effects of climate change is appropriate. 

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Trump proposes slashing EPA Bay funding 90 percent

The Trump Administration is proposing to spend $7.3 million on the Chesapeake Bay Program next year.

That’s $7.3 million more than it proposed in last year’s budget, when it called for eliminating it and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's other regional water quality programs. But it’s 10 percent of what the Bay restoration program has been receiving — and significantly less than Congress is poised to approve for 2018.

It’s part of a broader budget proposal released Monday that calls for an overall 23 percent cut for the EPA in the 2019 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Finding enchantment in our theater of grace

Fairies are nesting in my trees. Right there in my front lawn, at the very top of my tulip poplars.

In the wintertime I can see them cleverly posing as seed clusters perched at the end of the trees’ highest branches. Sometimes they look like golden chalices, or crowns, or stiffened gowns hung upside-down. When the wind is right you can hear them whispering, as if conspiring about the next mischief they will play on the deer.

Opponents of PA gas pipeline vow to continue the fight

It’s not surprising that Lancaster County residents would be suffering from pipeline fatigue. The Sunoco Mariner II project is under construction, cutting a 125-foot-wide swath across 6.5 miles of northern Lancaster. Three years ago, the Rock Springs Pipeline was built through mostly farm fields in the southern part of the county before dropping down into Cecil County, MD.

So when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held its first hearing in August 2014 on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Lancaster residents logged in 4.5 hours of testimony, mostly in opposition to it.

Double-crossed — or a mystery of archaeology?

Coastal geologist Darrin Lowery, among the Bay region’s premier finders of ancient artifacts, tells cautionary tales about how discoveries are not always as they seem.

There was the fork inscribed “Davy Crockett” that he found poking out of an eroding Delmarva Peninsula coastline—dating merely to a 1955 Disney commemorative production; and a 4,500-year-old spear point penetrating a castoff Frigidaire — go figure.

“Proving anything from the archaeology of a single day is virtually impossible,” Lowery said.

But then there came the blistering, buggy day Lowery and two colleagues virtually tripped over a small brass cross as they surveyed one of the Bay region’s remotest shorelines on Mockhorn Island, VA.

Programs filling growing number of jobs created by stormwater rules

Two months ago, Sean Williams and Antique Jett would have driven by the field next to a parking lot in Baltimore without a second thought to the gray structure resembling an infield parking pad, or the grate next to it.

But today, they identify instantly what’s wrong. This raised slab, covered in wire mesh and gravel, is supposed to slow down and filter rain runoff before it reaches the drain. But it’s choked by weeds, Jett said. There’s a hole around the drain, Williams added. They jotted notes on a clipboard. The library parking lot at Notre Dame of Maryland University does not have  the worst stormwater controls, they agreed, but they could use improvement.

Williams and Jett are among the 10 Baltimore City residents undergoing a stormwater training program through Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit, and the Center for Watershed Protection, based in Ellicott City.

While other states go along, NY says no to gas pipelines

In the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Tim and Chris Camman walk daily through a thick wood, shaded by a canopy of tall hemlocks, white pines and hardwoods. Dappled sunlight filters through, with only the sounds of birds and Carrs Creek as it bubbles and swirls around the flat rocks and wood snags of its bed.

It has been several years since surveyors came through and measured where a 100-foot wide swath of forest could be felled on their 77-acre farm in New York northeast of Binghamton to make way for a natural gas pipeline. If the project goes forward, it would ultimately take about 10 percent of the land the Cammans have owned since 1988.

Plan to put wastewater into 2 MD trout streams raises heated debate

Trout are among the most highly prized of freshwater fish; their presence in a stream is a sign that the water is clean, cold and rich in all the things fish need to survive, grow and reproduce.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that these pollution-sensitive fish are at the center of a debate in Maryland about how best to sustain them amid the sprawling development that threatens their survival in the central part of the state.

Carroll County plans to upgrade an aging, poorly performing sewage treatment plant serving the town of Hampstead in the northwestern suburbs of Baltimore. In an effort to reduce pollution to Piney Run, a trout stream into which the plant discharges, the county wants to split the wastewater flow and pipe a portion over to another stream.

But the other stream, Deep Run, also has trout. Now there’s a dispute over how much protection each stream should receive.

VA city’s artificial wetland the real deal in slowing stormwater pollution

Historically, cities and towns relegated stormwater treatment to the unseen places: The backs of buildings, the edges of town. A pond that held runoff containing the detritus of urban life — water mixed with heavy metals and fertilizer, motor oil and animal waste — was not the prettiest town amenity.

But Waynesboro, VA is bringing stormwater treatment to the forefront. Recently, the city of 21,000 installed a 10-acre “constructed wetland” in its center. Mimicking nature as best as it can, it filters runoff from its natural drainage basin — 330 acres of mostly residential neighborhood. The beneficiary is a mile or so to the east: the South River, which flows through the city and eventually to the Shenandoah’s South Fork 15 miles away.

Easing of smallmouth bass fishing curbs on Susquehanna stirs debate

After many years of disease and depressed populations, smallmouth bass have recovered somewhat in the Susquehanna River, enough so that Pennsylvania regulators are looking to ease a spring fishing ban that has been in place since 2012.

The state Fish and Boat Commission is considering reopening the spring smallmouth spawning season, which for the last five years has been closed to anglers from May 1 to June 18 along 98 miles of the middle and lower Susquehanna and 32 miles of the lower Juniata River, a major tributary.

The proposal, to be taken up at the commission’s July 10 meeting, has sparked almost as much controversy among anglers as the original closure.

Charles County, MD, restricts development in Mattawoman watershed

After six years of heated debate, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to restrict development in one of Maryland’s fastest-growing counties to protect one of the state’s healthiest — and most threatened — water bodies, Mattawoman Creek.

By a vote of 3–2, the commissioners approved a Watershed Conservation District, which will reduce potential development in the Mattawoman drainage basin and the headwaters of the Port Tobacco River. The vote follows an intense, nearly yearlong debate after the county adopted a new comprehensive growth plan that called for protecting the creek, a Potomac River tributary just 20 miles from Washington, D.C.

State leaders oppose federal pullback from Bay cleanup

Amid encouraging signs that the Chesapeake Bay’s health is on the upswing, state leaders of the restoration effort are calling for Congress not to let the Trump administration pull back from the federal-state collaboration.

At the annual meeting of the Bay Program’s Executive Council on June 8, the governors of Maryland and Virginia, plus officials from the four other Bay watershed states, the District of Columbia and the Chesapeake Bay Commission adopted a resolution appealing to President Donald Trump and Congress to “continue the current level of federal support.”

Trump’s budget cuts wide and deep swath through Bay-related programs

A relaxing trip to the beach could instead become a step into unknown waters next year.

In its quest to squeeze dollars from environmental programs, the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 spending plan would eliminate federal support for water quality monitoring at beaches, which could warn swimmers of high bacteria levels and other pollution threats.

Trump’s budget proposal also would slash money for programs that help predict when conditions are right for harmful algae blooms and outbreaks of dangerous vibrio bacteria that may lurk in the water.

Power line across James River one step closer to approval

A new transmission line that would carry electricity across a four-mile span of the James River has received a federal agency’s long-awaited nod of approval. But the $270-million undertaking still needs to earn permits at the state and local level this summer, and it is expected to continue facing vocal opposition from environmental and historic preservation groups.

After reviewing for nearly four years Dominion Energy’s plans to run a 500-kilovolt power line on towers across the river, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a preliminary permit for the project on June 12. The Corps’ final permit is contingent on approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the James City County Board of Supervisors.

States show mixed progress toward meeting nutrient targets

From 2010 through the end of 2016, the Bay region had achieved only half of the nitrogen reductions it was to have accomplished by the end of this year, according to new figures from the state-federal Bay Program partnership.

Only three of the Bay watershed’s seven jurisdictions were on pace to achieve their 2017 pollution goals for the key nutrient, the data show. In several cases, states were only slightly off track, but for others, especially Pennsylvania and New York, the gaps remain large.

Feds interview Tangier watermen, look into oyster sales records in Crisfield

Officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited several watermen on Tangier Island and seafood businesses in Crisfield last week as part of an investigation they are conducting related to oysters.

The federal officials interviewed watermen on the Virginia island, asking for records related to oyster sales to Crisfield businesses. They took copies of records but did not seize any bivalves; it’s not harvest season.

Federal officials would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, saying that’s their policy. But Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, did confirm “federal law enforcement activity” in Crisfield and Tangier last Wednesday.

Smith Island losing land, population and now its shepherd

They stand in a tidy church graveyard in the main town of Ewell, adorned with U.S. flags and fresh wreaths, their shiny coatings a rebuke to the battering winds and rising tides. The headstones bear the surnames of Smith Island: Bradshaw, Somers, Evans, Corbin. Hardy stock, all. Their descendants are still there, sticking it out on Maryland’s last inhabited offshore Chesapeake Bay island, while dozens of other isles have succumbed to the seas.

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