Bay Journal

July-August 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 5
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MD leaders pledge support for environmental protections amid Trump rollback

Maryland’s legislative leaders delighted environmental advocates Thursday by vowing to strengthen the state’s forest conservation law, increase renewable energy and pass other green initiatives, while resisting environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration. It remains to be seen whether election-year politics will help those prospects.  

The 23rd annual environmental legislative summit in Annapolis drew a standing room only crowd to hear pitches — and pledges of support — for green groups’ top priorities during the 90-day General Assembly session that began Jan. 10.

“We’re going to make us the most environmentally friendly state in America,” House Speaker Michael Busch declared, to enthusiastic applause. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller voiced similar sentiment, predicting that amid upcoming debates over taxes, spending and other tough issues, “the one thing we’re going to agree on is the environment.”

Save the date(s) for 2018!

Celebrate the Chesapeake year-round! Get out your 2018 calendar and save these dates that mark activities and resources to help you get the most out of living near the Bay.

EPA lifts ban on pesticide known to cause brain damage in children

Science tells us that nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are the systemic pollutants of the Bay and its tributaries. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint seeks to reduce those pollutants to sustainable levels.

It is working. Water quality is improving, dead zones are diminishing and underwater grasses are at levels not seen in 30 years.

But these are not the only pollutants of concern. A recent decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reverse a prior agency decision to ban the use of a chemical pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is acutely toxic to Bay life and has been found to cause brain damage in children.

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Is organic farming good for the Chesapeake?

Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the food industry in the United States, and its footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is growing in kind.

The brand of agriculture that eschews the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients now makes up 20 percent of Perdue Farms’ poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the company is headquartered.

Smaller poultry producers in the region also are growing their organic operations at a steady clip: Bell & Evans, which is based in Fredericksburg, PA, and sells its chicken meat to high-end retailers such as Whole Foods Market, launched its line of organic products in 2009 and opened a certified organic hatchery this year. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Organic opened its first processing facility in Harrisonburg in 2014, providing contract growers interested in making the switch with an alternative buyer in that region.

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How big was last year’s dead zone? It depends on when you ask

It was quite a surprise: Two reports on Chesapeake Bay dissolved oxygen levels in 2017 came to starkly different conclusions. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported improvements and a vastly reduced dead zone. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science found oxygen conditions at their worst since 2014.

Scientists at both organizations were caught off guard last fall when the seemingly contradictory findings were released within a few weeks of each other and sent them scrambling to analyze the cause. 

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Trauma center provides creature comforts for injured, ailing animals

Tucked away on the outskirts of sleepy Waynesboro, VA, there’s a bustling trauma center for sick and injured wildlife. Think “M*A*S*H” with feathers and fur, featuring the tough triage decisions doctors have to make upon admitting new patients. But here, the patient list is wildly diverse: On any given day, the Wildlife Center of Virginia might see a listless bear cub brought in sick from eating rat poison, a bald eagle dying from ingesting lead bullet fragments in a deer carcass, and a king snake run over by a lawnmower. And that’s just before noon.

Resolve to do the best you can to advance clean water in 2018

As we start to turn the page on 2017, I wanted to brainstorm some ideas for resolutions we can share as a community for 2018.

The new year is a time to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished in the past year and to commit to new habits and practices moving forward. The start of a new year is a time of transition and an opportunity for intentionality. In this list of resolutions, I offer some thoughts on opportunities that we, as the community focused on improving the Chesapeake region, have together in 2018.

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Hogan announces MD will join state coalition to fight climate change

Declaring that the need for states to work together to fight climate change “grows stronger every day,” Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that Maryland would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a mostly Democratic coalition of states committed to reducing greenhouse gases.

The move, disclosed in a letter released by Hogan’s office, represents a shift for the Republican governor, who had remained noncommittal to pleas last year for Maryland to join the alliance, saying he wasn’t sure what the group’s intentions were.

In the letter to the alliance, Hogan recalled that he had publicly disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord reached by nearly 200 nations, including the United States.

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PA fishing fee politics could close shad hatchery on the Juniata

Since it began rearing shad 41 years ago, Pennsylvania’s Van Dyke Research Station has released more than 227 million tiny fish into the Susquehanna River basin.

But this might be the last year that the hatchery — located along the Juniata River, one of the Susquehanna’s main tributaries — rears and releases the migratory fish. The operation may fall victim to a budget dispute between lawmakers and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

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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