Bay Journal

December 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 9

You know spring is around the corner when…

Although the vernal equinox — the official first day of spring — occurs on March 20, changes in our natural world are already heralding the end of winter. These changes are erupting on the land, in the sky and in waterways, as quiet, gray days begin to burst with color and song.

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Norfolk’s Lafayette River close to meeting oyster restoration goal

Kalie Johnson didn’t plan it this way, but she’s helping to restore oysters in one of the most challenging places in Virginia.

[Kalie Johnson (left), owner of Colonial Oyster Company, Jackie Shannon of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and volunteer Clark Dewing knock oysters off overgrown cages retrieved from mouth of York River. (Dave Harp)] Three years ago, the Williamsburg native launched her own aquaculture business, Colonial Oyster Company, which raises hatchery-bred bivalves at the mouth of the York River. It’s been a good spot for cultivating shellfish, but shortly after she started, nature threw her a curve. Eighteen of her 250 cages became so heavily overgrown with wild-spawned oysters that she couldn’t get them aboard her skiff to clean off the hitchhikers.

Figuring that portion of her stock was lost, the 27-year-old oyster grower offered to donate everything in and on those cages to the Lafayette River in Norfolk, if she could only get help salvaging her gear.

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Virginia lawmakers keep coal ash recycling on the table, feds try to loosen regs

Virginia requirements for the disposal of ash produced by coal-burning power plants could soon be more stringent than rules set by the federal government.

The General Assembly approved a bill at the end of session last week that requires companies with coal ash pits in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to take another step toward recycling their contents, though the measure stopped short of requiring recycling. The bill forces companies such as Dominion Energy, which maintains nearly a dozen coal ash pits in the state, to seek proposals from contractors to recycle coal ash into concrete or other construction materials and to compile the costs into a report for lawmakers to consider by the end of the year.

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A growing respect: Plain Sect become more involved in Bay conversation

A small stream flows out of the mountains in Lancaster County, PA, near the Berks County border, with water as clear as a freshly wiped window pane. It winds through woods and over stones, shaded by trees and embraced by undeveloped land.

Downstream, where the trees give way to farmland, the stream flows through an enclave of Amish farms, first through Benuel Zook’s pasture and then through Raymond King’s.

As recently as 2012, the stream ran brown once it hit pasture. It was often lined with up to 250 cows, from the first pasture to the last, about 40 from each farm. Their manure, combined with soil from eroding banks, entered the stream.

But then farmers began to make some changes — and delivered a chain of conservation actions with collective results.

Project Clean Stream collects future stewards as well as trash

Every year between March and the first week of June, tens of thousands of volunteers come together to clean up their local communities as a part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream — the largest trash cleanup initiative in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

For more than 15 years, the support provided by project has sustained the cleanup efforts of volunteers and groups, both big and small, throughout the watershed. Cleanup events receive support with free gloves, trash bags, first aid kits, safety vests, signage and assistance coordinating the project’s logistics.

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How close to perfect must Bay water quality be to achieve goal?

States in the Chesapeake Bay region are spending billions of dollars to stem the flow of nutrients that foul the Bay’s water — but just how “clean” must the Bay be to declare victory?

The answer is a complex mix involving a lot of science topped off with some policy decisions, as well as one that could be subject to debate in coming months. 

In fact, a handful of places around the Bay were always likely to fall short of prescribed cleanup goals even if all of the actions to support the Bay’s “pollution diet” were fully enacted. Those places were given variances that allowed their dissolved oxygen levels, at specific times and locations, to fall short of established minimum levels.

New computer model projections show that some of those areas may no longer need such variances if current pollution reduction goals are met. But the deepest area in Maryland’s portion of the Bay, between the Bay Bridge and the mouth of the Patuxent River — a segment known as “CB4” — may be even more problematic.

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Congress faces deadline for Bay funding, EPA authority decisions

Congress faces deadlines this month to determine how much authority the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to enforce Bay cleanup efforts — and how much money it will have to spend on that work during this fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

A year ago, President Trump proposed eliminating funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates regional restoration efforts, monitoring and computer modeling programs, as well as makes grants to states and local governments to help cleanup efforts.

Congress isn’t planning to go along with Trump, but the actual amount the Bay Program will receive has been in limbo for months as lawmakers have passed a series of short-term continuing resolutions rather than a full-year spending plan. 

MDE must rethink lease of 46 years for Conowingo

The Maryland Department of the Environment public comment period for the Conowingo Dam Water Quality Certification renewal closed on Jan 15. The MDE certification is mandatory before Exelon reapplies for federal relicensing. (They have requested a 46-year lease term without any significant changes in how they operate.) This will set a precedent for the federal relicensing process. Here are our concerns:

We own and operate commercial oyster aquaculture operations in the Upper and Middle Bay regions, respectively. Through careful record-keeping, and discussions with those most knowledgeable with the dam’s operation, we feel its openings and closures have a direct and profound effect on our businesses and the aquaculture industry, as well as the public oyster fishery.

Waterfowl break winter silence at VA wildlife refuge

Laid bare of its sound-absorbing foliage, the forest of lanky hardwoods becomes a cacophony of sound. On this cool morning, the leaves crunch underfoot and rustle nearby as a squirrel digs for hidden treasure. 

The din of a waterfowl gathering in the Great Marsh, though still a hundred yards away, swells quickly as we walk toward the Potomac River through the woody peninsula. From a sturdy overlook, the geese, swans and ducks come into view. Their quacking, honking and flapping are all we can hear. 

Oysters starting to show signs of resistance to Dermo, MSX

Oysters come to the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory for a checkup. But they never go home, even if they’re in peak health. They’ve sacrificed their goopy gray bodies to science.

The federal-state lab in the former fishing village of Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is where government scientists examine oysters and other fish for parasites, diseases and any other maladies that may be afflicting populations in the wild.

Fall wild oyster survey: ‘It’s been a nutty year’

A waterman tonged for oysters nearby as the diesel-powered Miss Kay chugged out from Oxford to join him in searching for shellfish in Maryland’s Tred Avon River. The first drag of the vessel’s dredge across the bottom came up brimming with shells, which the crew quickly began picking through.

These oysters weren’t destined for a raw bar, though, or a shucking house — the entire catch was part of an annual oyster “bed check” by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. In the course of the morning, 30 bivalves would be kept as a sacrifice to science back on shore. The rest, after being counted, measured and recorded, would go back in the water.

VA farmer raising row crops, cattle, turkeys – and fuel

Glenn Rodes was born and raised on an 860-acre turkey farm in Port Republic, VA, just south of Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley. Four generations of his family live there still, raising turkeys, cattle and row crops. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance; some of the trees look as old as the state itself.

But while Riverhill Farms may seem unchanged by time, Rodes and his family are looking to the future. They have been experimenting with turning manure into energy for several years. Rodes even calls himself a “fuel farmer” in his email address.

The Rodes farm has a Bio-Burner, a biomass heating system that uses a portion of the manure from the 280,000 turkeys they raise each year to produce heat for their poultry houses and save thousands of dollars annually in propane costs.

If you see a sea turtle in the Chesapeake, consider yourself very lucky

Sea turtles, large and lovable to their fans, have endured a long decline around the world and in the Chesapeake Bay. But a team of international scientists has delivered a bit of good news, at least on a global scale.

The results of their study, published in the September issue of Science Advances, show that some species of sea turtles, after years of decline from harvesting practices and lost habitat, are beginning a modest rebound on a global basis.

Whether or not that rebound extends to the Chesapeake remains to be seen.

MD trailer park sewage facility’s zoning violation upheld

A Maryland mobile home park operator whose wastewater discharge is causing problems for a farmer downstream violated local zoning laws by building his sewage treatment facility too close to the stream, an appeals board has ruled. It’s not clear, though, what the remedy is — or if there is to be one at all.

The Caroline County Board of Zoning Appeals has upheld a local official’s ruling that Frank Prettyman built the wastewater treatment plant for Prettyman Manor in the wrong location.

But the unanimous decision doesn’t get the Eastern Shore county any closer to declaring what to do about the problem created in 2016 when Prettyman constructed the treatment plant by Little Creek, a tributary to the Choptank River.

Biologist fighting uphill battle to get eelways built on Potomac dams

Decades ago, as Ed Enamait and other biologists surveyed the Potomac River for walleye, smallmouth bass, muskie and other freshwater game fish, they discovered a disturbing trend.

Every year during the 1980s and ’90s, their electroshocking gear brought fewer stunned eels to the surface. “It was troubling,” said Enamait, then a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “And it just kept going down.”

Enamait voiced his concern about the decline within the department, and when two small hydroelectric dams on the Potomac were up for relicensing in 2002, the DNR weighed in to help the eels. They asked that special passages be built for them at Dams No. 4 and No. 5, which are, respectively, about 23 and 45 miles northwest of the river’s confluence with the Shenandoah River at Harper's Ferry.

MD pays steep price for Hallowing Point site with access to the Patuxent

A one-time mobile home park in such poor condition that many of its dwellings violated livability codes is slated to be transformed into one of Maryland’s newest waterfront parks as well as offices for the Department of Natural Resources.

But some are questioning whether the state paid too much for a tract with marginal ecological value that had little chance of ever being developed.

Over the last three years, the DNR has used Program Open Space funding to buy three Calvert County parcels totaling nine acres at Hallowing Point on the Patuxent River. State and county officials plan to turn it into a waterfront park with a boat ramp, fulfilling a long-neglected need for more public access to the water.

‘I’ll never leave this place, and I hope this place will never leave me’

Like most high school seniors, Cameron Evans is at the edge of change. He’s anxious about whether to major in photography or politics, annoyed about having to go to the dentist, animated when talking about the Yankees, his favorite team.

But most seniors don’t worry if they’ll be able to go home after leaving for college; or if they’ll have a home at all after the next hurricane. Evans does; he lives on Tangier Island, or what’s left of it, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

With no organized after-school sports to play at the Virginia island’s small combined school, and no girls to date because he’s known them all since kindergarten, Evans heads out most afternoons in a small skiff toward what remains of the Uppards, part of the Tangier settlement that was abandoned in the 1920s.

Industrial runoff in MD fouls Bay, threatens communities, report says

Unbeknownst to most Marylanders, many industrial facilities are polluting state waters and the Chesapeake Bay with their stormwater runoff, while also threatening the health of neighboring communities, says a new report by a pair of environmental groups. The groups blame weak state controls and lax enforcement.

More than one-third of the Maryland facilities that reported their stormwater discharges from 2014 to March of this year exceeded pollution limits for potentially harmful chemicals, according to records reviewed by the Center for Progressive Reform and the Environmental Integrity Project, both Washington-based nonprofits.

MD’s veteran sprawl fighter leaves the ring

Dru Schmidt-Perkins figured she’d put two years into launching a new nonprofit in Maryland dedicated to fighting suburban sprawl.

Nineteen years later, she’s finally left the helm of 1000 Friends of Maryland. Sprawl hasn’t been defeated, by any means, but it’s been slowed and even halted for the time being in some places.

Schmidt-Perkins doesn’t claim sole credit for that — the Great Recession that began a decade ago dampened development pressure considerably — but she does believe her group has played a key role in steering Maryland’s growth.

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