Bay Journal

November 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 8
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Endangered sturgeon’s return to James River could be hurdle for industry

In the James River south of Richmond, endangered Atlantic sturgeon have become so common that observant spring and fall boaters are nearly guaranteed to see one breach. It’s hard to miss — a 6– or 7-foot fish exploding out of the water, as if shot from a cannon, wiggling for a split second in midair, then belly-flopping back into the river with a theatrical splash.

Long-lived and enormous — in its 60-year lifespan it can grow to 14 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds — the Atlantic sturgeon was harvested to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. But after a century of marginal existence, this prehistoric-looking fish, with its flat snout and rows of bony plates covering its back, is staging a steady but still fragile comeback in the Chesapeake Bay.

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No man’s land is ideal habitat for animals

“Please Straddle Turtles.” The curious sign, on a lonesome dirt road that winds through marshes and forests along the northern Chesapeake Bay, shows a military Humvee taking care to keep a spotted turtle between its wheels.

The turtle in question, classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is a small reptile with a dark head and shell with bright yellow polka dots, reminiscent of the starry night sky.

One wouldn’t expect it to be surviving here at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a giant military facility near its namesake town in Maryland, where every weapon a soldier fires, up to the biggest tanks and artillery, has been thundering away since the United States entered World War I a century ago this year.

Growth projections to be used to adjust 2025 Bay pollution goals

For state and local governments in the Bay watershed, 2025 may get here sooner than anyone thought.

In what may be a significant change for some areas, the state-federal Bay Program is looking to use projections of 2025 growth in human population, farm animal numbers and land use changes when it updates nutrient and sediment reduction goals next year.

Since the end of 2010, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Bay pollution diet — or total maximum daily load (TMDL) — states have worked to control the amount of nutrients and sediment that wash off the landscape and ultimately into the Chesapeake, where they contribute to murky water, algae blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones.

DC Water leader’s initiatives cleaned up utility’s reputation as well as runoff

George Hawkins doesn’t need a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the hurdles he faced when he took the helm of DC Water in 2009.

He just needs his fist.

“This is what I felt was coming at us,” Hawkins said in his office at the utility’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District of Columbia. He balled up the fingers of one hand to deliver the symbolic punch that’s been part of his stump speech for the last eight years. “It was going to knock us down.”

One Water interfaith partners spread the good word about controlling stormwater

For years, the Chizuk Amuno Congregation in suburban Baltimore had a lake it didn’t want on its front lawn.

“Lake Chizzie” was the Baltimore County synagogue’s flooded parking lot, created when rainwater pooled on the low-lying portion of a paved surface large enough to accommodate the 1,200 member families’ cars. On the other side of the main building, near the pre-school, was another parking lot cum lake: a lot that often flooded and, in the winter, created ice hazards for children.

The synagogue leadership knew that the flooding was not only an unattractive and sometimes dangerous nuisance, but also a staging area for polluted stormwater runoff that would eventually find its way to the Chesapeake Bay. They sought ways to fix it, eventually receiving $240,000 in funds and in-kind assistance from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Blue Water Baltimore.

Bay’s oyster aquaculture harvest closing in on wild fishery

More than a century after the first oysters were planted on a Virginia bar, aquaculture has firmly taken hold in the Chesapeake Bay. The value of Virginia’s oyster farms production has eclipsed the public fishery, and many oyster experts believe Maryland is heading in the same direction.

As of last year, 173 Maryland oyster farmers have leased more than 6,000 acres of the Bay and its tributaries, all of which are actively producing oysters. Harvest from those leases yielded almost 65,000 bushels in 2016 — an increase of 1,000 percent since 2012. In the meantime, Maryland’s public oyster harvest, suffering from mediocre to poor reproduction since 2010, saw its harvest drop 42 percent in 2016 to about 224,000 bushels.

After decades of progress, James River earns a B- in latest report

The James River has come a long way in the last 40 years, when it was once so polluted that the state outlawed fishing in its waters. And, in the decade since the James River Association began tracking its progress, recovery has continued for Virginia’s largest source of drinking water and major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Richmond, VA-based nonprofit gave the river a B- in its latest report card, issued at the end of October.

Baltimore scrapyard’s case raises concerns about MD oversight

On a gray, drizzly morning in March 2016, two inspectors from the Maryland Department of the Environment showed up unannounced at Baltimore Scrap Corp., a metal recycling yard just off the city’s busy harbor.

In a report written later, the inspectors described their visit as a routine check of the facility’s stormwater pollution controls. It was anything but routine, though.

Following up on a tip from an environmental group, they ultimately wrote up the company for 11 violations after seeing sediment, oil and possibly other contaminants washing off the cluttered, debris-strewn site into storm drains that eventually reach the Patapsco River just south of Fort McHenry.

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