Bay Journal

March 2018 - Volume 28 - Number 1
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When it rains, it pours in Ellicott City

Beth Woodruff keeps a “go” bag packed in her home — spare clothing and essentials in case she has to flee at a moment’s notice. 

“Every time the weather radio goes off,” Woodruff said recently, “we start watching the river to see if it’s time to go.”

Woodruff doesn’t live along the Atlantic Coast, and it’s not hurricanes that put her on edge. She’s a resident of Ellicott City, MD, at least 120 miles from the ocean and a dozen or more miles from the Chesapeake Bay. It’s sudden, severe downpours that worry her because in just a few minutes they can turn the stream in front of her house into a raging torrent, rising out of its banks to wash over her driveway and prevent escape by vehicle.

Stream mapping helps to identify most cost-effective restoration sites

When Joseph Sweeney purchased farmland in Lancaster County, PA, in 2001, its fairly level pastures were typical of a traditional local farm — so were the steep, failing banks that strangled the stream as it ran through the property. 

“I could jump across any part of our stream when we first bought the property,” Sweeney said.

About 10 years later, after a major stream restoration project involving government agencies, university researchers and consultants, things had changed.

James spinymussel population approaching rock bottom

Mussels. Aside from some marine species appearing occasionally on menus, what do we really know about them? Freshwater members of this group of bivalves are perhaps the most obscure members of the Chesapeake Bay area’s waterways: camouflaged filter feeders dependent on whatever flows their way.

Logging trucks and even casual hikers unknowingly crush them as they splash over shallow streams. Mussels look just like rocks and generally behave as such. Immobile and silent, they are as much a part of the streambed as the cold stones they resemble, but their critical ecological role is often overlooked. And they’re increasingly endangered by our own actions.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Counting chickens: Poultry farms on VA Shore breed resistance

One frigid evening this winter, 170 people crowded into a high school auditorium in Onley, a small town on Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore. They didn’t come to see a student theater production or watch a basketball game between rival schools — but to talk about chickens. Many came to ply state regulators with concerns about local water quality and their health amid the poultry industry’s rapid growth on their stretch of the Delmarva Peninsula.

EPA to restore Bay Journal grant funds

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced plans to restore grant funding to the Bay Journal, ending a six-month controversy over its abrupt decision last fall to terminate the paper’s support.

“We are pleased that the EPA has recognized the contribution the Bay Journal has made for more than 27 years in informing the public about the Chesapeake Bay,” said Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship.

The publication had received agency funding through the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program office since its inception in 1991 to help inform the public about issues related to the Bay.

“The outpouring of support we have received over the last six months from across the political spectrum speaks to the credibility of our work,” Blankenship said. “We look forward to being able to return our full attention to doing just that — covering the issues that affect the Chesapeake and its resources.”

Coalition aims to put 10 billion more oysters in the Chesapeake Bay

Looking to build on the progress already made in restoring the Chesapeake’s depleted oyster population, a coalition of more than 20 nonprofit groups, businesses and educational institutions has set a new goal of putting another 10 billion bivalves in the Bay by 2025.

“Enormous benefits can accrue to the Bay by bringing the health of oysters back,” William Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation president, said in announcing the campaign Monday. “There’s been a good start over the last several years, but we want to set a very ambitious stretch goal and see if we can all work together to achieve it.”

University of Maryland Law


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