Bay Journal

January 2018 - Volume 27 - Number 10
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Conowingo, growth, climate may threaten Bay cleanup deadline

The Chesapeake cleanup effort is facing major headwinds that threaten the region’s longstanding goal to implement by 2025 all of the actions needed to restore the Bay’s health.

Draft figures presented to state and federal officials in December show that the combined impact of growth, climate change and the filling of the Conowingo Dam reservoir offset much of the nitrogen reduction efforts undertaken since 2010, when the most recent Bay pollution control plan was put into place.

As a result, officials left the December meeting agreeing that they would write plans to offset the increased nutrient loads, but did not clearly commit to fully implementing those actions, at least for Conowingo and climate change, by the original 2025 cleanup deadline.

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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.

Farm, its customers know the price of organic meat, produce

It’s not always easy to be the “most famous farmer in America,” a title bestowed on Joel Salatin by the Washington Post in 2013.

Salatin’s Polyface Farm, set amid the trundling hills of Shenandoah Valley’s Augusta County in Virginia, has for many years been a magnet for discerning buyers of pricey organic farm-to-table produce.

He’s written 11 books and been featured in such condemnations of factory farming as Michael Pollan’s 2006 bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the 2008 documentary, Food, Inc. He regularly travels the country and abroad to proselytize his green, nonchemical farming techniques. If you’re in the Bay region and are serious about tracing the environmental lineage of the steak sizzling on your grill or the eggs you fry for breakfast, you’ve likely heard of Joel Salatin, who calls himself a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer.”

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.

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. 

Historic DC cemetery digs up pavement to curb stormwater pollution

A gravesite at the historic Mount Olivet Cemetery, overlooking national monuments in the District of Columbia, is prime real estate, only available to families that already own plots on the 160-year-old grounds.

But the cemetery’s costliest asset has become its network of paved roads winding between gravesites. Covering more than 10 acres in all, the roads have triggered a large annual fee, collected as part of the District’s stormwater management program. The fee is scaled to the amount of hardened surfaces on a property that allows stormwater to wash pollution into creeks and rivers.

The fee on Mount Olivet’s water bill, which had been less than $7,000 before the fee was added in 2009, rose to nearly $140,000 in 2017.

Cow Knob salamander fended off pipeline; can it beat climate change?

The little Cow Knob salamander, with its wide eyes and gentle grin, stared down a giant energy company and forced it to detour its proposed natural gas pipeline around the creature’s home turf in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia.

But the shy amphibian with the Mona Lisa smile still faces an uncertain future from an even more relentless foe — climate change.

Named for a high point of Shenandoah Mountain in the George Washington National Forest where it was first seen in the 1960s, the Cow Knob salamander is so scarce that its habitat has been protected by a federal conservation agreement.

Invasive spotted lanternfly threatens Chesapeake’s crops, hardwoods

They are asleep for the winter in ugly little egg cases that look like splotches of dried mud plastered on all manner of smooth outdoor surfaces. They are found on trees, park benches, decks, walls, cars and rocks.

Experts believe that the latter, stone shipped from somewhere in its native China, was the vehicle on which the invasive spotted lanternfly first hitched a ride to Pennsylvania a little more than three years ago.

Since the lanternfly’s arrival, agricultural agencies and extension offices have been sounding the alarm and asking for help in reporting it and killing it, hoping to stave off its spread to other states in the Bay watershed. Important crops in the region at risk include apples, peaches and grape vines, as well as hardwoods such as maples, walnuts and some pine.

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. 

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.

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.

MD advances plan for market to buy, sell pollution credits

Maryland is moving ahead with plans to allow the buying and selling of “credits” for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution, though some environmental groups contend the state’s proposed regulations are seriously flawed.

The state Department of the Environment on Dec. 8 formally proposed regulations for its water-quality trading program. The rules, published in the Maryland Register, come after years of study and debate over enlisting private enterprise in the long-running effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. 

Four Bay tributaries chosen for oyster restoration, await funding

Four more Chesapeake Bay tributaries have been chosen for large-scale oyster restoration efforts — if and when money becomes available.

In Maryland, Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton announced in mid-December that he’s recommending two Potomac River tributaries — Breton Bay and the upper St. Mary’s River — as the fourth and fifth Chesapeake tributaries where the state would work with federal agencies to try to restore oyster populations. 

In Virginia, state and federal officials have selected the Great Wicomico and the Lower York rivers as the next two tributaries in that part of the Bay to be the focus of restoration effort

State lawmakers face continuing Bay debates in 2018

As they return to their chambers this month, state legislators across the Chesapeake watershed face some of the same Bay-centric environmental issues they’ve seen before.

In Maryland, they’ll debate what more, if anything, should be done to conserve the state’s forestland from development and whether air pollution from chicken houses deserves a closer look. In Virginia, lawmakers will revisit what should be done with vast quantities of potentially toxic coal ash now stored in unlined pits at power plants. And in Pennsylvania, a proposal to regulate lawn fertilizer use to keep it from fouling local streams and the Bay is likely to rear its head again.

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