Bay Journal

September 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 6

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.

PA legislator’s bill to privatize cleanup gets mixed review

A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants Keystone state municipalities struggling with Chesapeake Bay mandates to let private industry take care of it. He says for-profit companies can get the job done more cheaply and better than government; others, though, are not so sure.

State Sen. Richard Alloway II, a member of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, introduced the Clean Water Procurement Program bill in June. It would require 850 municipalities under orders to reduce their stormwater pollution to pay $500 million over 10 years into a state-managed fund. That fund would be used to pay private entities for making nutrient reductions to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the federal “pollution diet” for the estuary.

Holy smoke! Sometimes a fire is just what a forest needs

On a bright spring morning, in the Mills Creek area of the George Washington National Forest, flames crept slowly up the far end of a mountain ridge.

The whitish smoke grew in volume and depth as the unseen fire, pushed by a slow but steady breeze, climbed steadily skyward.

U.S. Forest Service personnel watched the billowing smoke, but made no move to quell the spreading blaze — because the people who normally fight forest fires had set this one.

With no sign of recovery, VA to halt stocking shad in James

With little to show for more than two decades of effort, Virginia officials next year plan to suspend shad stocking efforts in the James River, conceding defeat for now in restoring what had once been a major spawning ground for the migratory fish.

“We’re not going to fund work next year to continue what we’ve been doing,” said Bob Greenlee, who oversees the program for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Boesch navigated Bay’s stormier days, helped put cleanup on course

When Donald Boesch came to Maryland 27 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort was struggling to make real progress. The research institution he’d come to lead faced challenges, too, just to survive intact.

Now, as Boesch prepares to step down this month as president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Bay’s health appears to be improving, though it’s far from saved. And his institution has not only survived, but generated a growing body of research that’s helped guide the recovery.

Family farm suffers from upstream trailer park’s discharge

In the 1950s, newlyweds Mildred and Alan Quidas lucked into buying what seemed to be one of the best pieces of farmland in Maryland’s Caroline County: more than 300 acres of sandy loam backing to a creek that feeds into the Choptank River. They planted cucumbers, tomatoes and peas, and hoped to leave the place to their grandchildren.

Now, more than two decades after Alan died, Mildred and her daughter, Arlene Stevens, worry their land is becoming less valuable because of a sewage treatment plant built with state approval at a mobile home park just upstream. Prettyman Manor’s permit allows it to discharge up to 20,000 gallons of treated wastewater daily into Little Creek, a tributary lined with wildflowers that flows past the pond used to irrigate crops on the Quidas land.

Trump official’s flounder ruling clouds Atlantic coast fish conservation

No one considers summer flounder an iconic Bay species. But fishery managers and conservationists say the ripple effect of a controversial Trump administration decision to let more “fluke” be caught in New Jersey may impact how important species such as striped bass and menhaden are managed in the Chesapeake.

In the wake of an unprecedented decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce, some in Maryland are already calling on fishery managers to challenge how coastwide fishing restrictions are implemented in the Bay.

Scientists on the trail of a soft-crab killer

Patient Number 133 looked sturdy. Male. Blue. Admitted with all limbs.

On a warm July afternoon in a makeshift phlebotomy lab on Maryland's Tilghman Island, molecular biologist Eric Schott pressed a needle into 133’s squirming body, extracting a blood sample that he then placed into an ethanol solution. The blood would go back to his lab in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. And patient 133, Callinectes sapidus, otherwise known as the blue crab, was returned to his shedding tank.

Patient 133 is part of Schott’s decade-long quest to learn more about a virus that is killing “peelers,” the term for crabs that are about to shed their hard, outer shell and become some lucky diner’s delicious soft-shell crab meal.

Overhaul being weighed in Atlantic coast menhaden management

A major overhaul could be coming in how menhaden are managed along the East Coast — one that might, for the first time, try to account for the ecological role of the small and oily fish.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees migratory fish along the coast, is preparing to update its menhaden management plan this fall. It’s looking to revisit how the catch is distributed among states and fisheries and may adjust the catch limit for the Chesapeake.

New federal regulation of blue catfish may be eased

Chesapeake Bay watermen and processors who handle blue catfish — an invader eating its way through the Potomac and several other major river systems — may face a less burdensome federal inspection process than they expected when a long-anticipated regulation goes into effect.

As of Sept. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for inspecting all catfish. The regulation covers both the wild-caught marauder menacing the Chesapeake’s tributaries and the farm-raised varieties grown in Mississippi River ponds and imported from China and Vietnam.

VA town tries to move on 40 years after Kepone disaster

In the summer of 1975, the Vietnam War had just ended, the movie Jaws was hitting the big screen — and an environmental catastrophe was unfolding in Hopewell, VA, that would linger for decades in Chesapeake Bay waters.

More than two dozen workers at a plant producing a powdery, white insecticide called Kepone were hospitalized for involuntary tremors, later known as “the Kepone shakes.” These were the first of many troubling symptoms linked to heavy exposure to the chemical, including at least temporary sterility. It has since been classified as a likely carcinogen.

Pilot project planned to dredge Conowingo sediments

Declaring the sediment buildup behind Conowingo Dam a growing threat to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday a pilot project to dredge up a tiny portion of the accumulated silt and sand.

Speaking at a press conference at the dam, Hogan said the state later this month would issue a request for proposals to dredge 25,000 cubic yards of sediment by next spring from the reservoir upstream of the hydroelectric facility on the Susquehanna River.

The intent, he said, is to pin down what it would cost to dredge massive quantities of sediment from the Conowingo “pond,” as the reservoir is called, and to find out if there are viable markets for reusing the material. He said that he hoped the project would help the state determine whether large-scale dredging is feasible - even though an ealier study concluded that dredging the built-up sediment would be costly and provide little overall benefit to the Bay.

Want a piece of the Potomac? He’s got an island (or 3) to sell to you

No man is an island. But, for less than $175,000, a man (or woman) could buy three of them in the Potomac River — if he or she acts fast.

Real estate agent Buzz Mackintosh said the islands, about seven miles upstream of Williamsport, MD, have garnered interest from a handful of prospective buyers since going on the market earlier this year, but no one has taken the leap. Now, the state of Maryland, which already owns and manages several nearby islands, is weighing purchasing them.

This chain of islands is not particularly rare; there are nearly 100 islands of varying sizes in the Potomac River, more than three-quarters of them named. But few of those islands are privately owned, and rarely do they change hands or come up for sale.

Teachers get hands wet to whet students’ interest in Bay

School’s out for the summer — unless you’re a teacher tasked with educating students about the Chesapeake Bay. Almost as soon as classes let out, 19 educators from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia volunteered for a weeklong summer session that would bring them up to speed on their backyard watershed.

This program, led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was one of many environmental summer sessions offered to teachers by organizations in the Chesapeake region. For this group, it entailed boating on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers during a gorgeous day, testing the water they’ve been told is so dirty and touching some of the local fish described in their textbooks.

“We all chose to come,” said Dawn Buskey of John Champe High School in Loudoun County, VA.

Opposition grows to seismic testing for offshore oil reserves

Scientists are worried that an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year that seeks to open large portions of the mid-Atlantic and other coastal areas to oil and gas exploration would harm the endangered North Atlantic right whale and other species that occasionally visit the Chesapeake Bay.

Trump’s order, issued April 28, would reverse a 2016 policy from the Obama administration that closed federal waters off portions of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to drilling as part of the administration’s effort to boost domestic energy production. The order also instructed federal agencies to streamline the permitting process to speed approval of seismic testing to locate oil and gas reserves in those areas.

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