Bay Journal

July-August 2018 - Volume 28 - Number 5
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Army Corps rejects request to fund Maryland oyster restoration

Oyster restoration in Maryland, which has been beset by disputes and delays the last two years, appears headed for further delays. 

Despite pleas and pressure from the state’s congressional delegation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers left funding for oyster restoration out of its Civil Works work plan for the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. That decision, disclosed Monday, means the Corps’ Baltimore District will have to shelve plans to complete construction of reefs in the Tred Avon River on the Eastern Shore — at least for now.

Bay scientists: Offshore oil drilling would put Chesapeake Bay at risk

After the Trump administration proposed allowing oil and gas exploration off the East Coast in January, the debate has largely focused on the potential harm to the Atlantic Ocean’s water quality and marine life.

That is, after all, where any new oil rigs would sprout if the administration has its way.

But what about impacts to the Chesapeake Bay?

PA bill seeks fraction of a cent fee for largest water users

Pennsylvania could generate up to $500 million annually to help clean polluted streams and the Chesapeake Bay by charging large users of water a fraction of a cent per gallon. That’s the findings of a report released June 6 by a joint committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The bipartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conducted the study to look at the costs and revenues should a new water use fee be enacted.

Three attempts to pass such a water fee bill have failed, but Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster, introduced another such bill during the 2017 budget season.

Baltimore area community looks to dredge up a better park

When Larry Bannerman was a kid, he and his friends used to go crabbing in a cove off Bear Creek, a tidal tributary of the Patapsco River that bordered their Baltimore County neighborhood.

That was more than five decades ago. These days, you almost need a machete to reach the water at Fleming Park in Turner Station, a historically African-American community southeast of the city, just inside the Baltimore Beltway. Other than a pier jutting out into the creek at one spot, the rest of the shoreline is walled off by dense stands of phragmites. The invasive wetlands grass obscures some wooden pilings, all that remains of a boardwalk that once skirted the water.

Environmental group warns PA to protect forests or get sued

An environmental organization that put the teeth in Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment is turning its sights on the state agency that manages 2.2 million acres of public forestland.

A lawyer for the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation sent an “intent to sue” letter to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in early June. The letter states that the foundation will take court action if the agency continues with its process of updating local plans under the current 2016 statewide forest management plan.

Ellicott City officials reflect on how to weather future storms

As repair crews labored to clear mud and debris from Ellicott City’s Main Street in late May, Jonathan Dillow led a team of scientists through the woods searching for clues to quantify the devastating flash flooding that had just ravaged the community for the second time in two years.

Stopping by a tree beside the now-placid Tiber River, Dillow peered at the trunk, then pointed to a green speck clinging to the bark several feet off the ground.

“I think I’m onto something,” he called out. “A little bit of a shred of a leaf.”

Exelon sues MD, calls Conowingo requirements an ‘unfair burden’

The owners of the Conowingo Dam and the state of Maryland have come to legal blows over whether the utility can be forced to pay potentially billions of dollars over the coming decades to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Department of the Environment in late April issued a decision that could require the Chicago-based utility to pay up to $172 million a year to help control nutrient and sediment pollution flowing past the Susquehanna River dam as a condition of it getting a new federal operating license.

In late May, Exelon fired back, saying those conditions imposed an “unfair burden” on the 94-foot-high hydroelectric facility that would cost $7 billion over the course of its requested 50-year operating license — a figure the company said was “orders of magnitude” more than the dam was worth.

Putting roads on a reduced-salt diet also healthy for nearby streams

A creek in Northern Virginia is going on a pollution diet, and residents might feel the belt-tightening this time. That’s because it could lead to limits on a compound that’s as beloved on U.S. roads as it is in our meals: salt.

After spending decades studying Accotink Creek — which drains a 52-square-mile swath of midsize homes and commuter-crowded roads in Fairfax County, VA — scientists couldn’t ignore the impacts that road salts were having on a freshwater creek whose critters weren’t accustomed to the brinier waters.

At the end of May, the state Department of Environmental Quality approved a pair of new pollution limits for the creek, called total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs.

Midpoint assessment for Bay cleanup: only 40% of nitrogen goal met

The Chesapeake Bay region has reached the halfway mark toward its Bay cleanup goal in terms of time — but not in terms of accomplishments.

July 1 marked the midpoint to the 2025 deadline for taking all actions needed to stem the tide of water-fouling nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay, which would ultimately result in clearer water, less algae and an end to its summer oxygen-starved dead zone.

But the region only achieved about 40 percent of its nitrogen reduction through the end of last year. Not only was that short of the halfway mark, it was even further away from the actual goal for the end of the year — a 60 percent reduction.

Scientists scrutinize virus, contaminants in smallmouth bass die-off

For more than a decade, biologists have been picking away at a mystery: What caused a years-long decline of smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River starting more than a decade ago?

Some think they may have finally cracked the case. The results of recently published research, lauded by some as “the smoking gun,” points to a virus once thought not to affect smallmouth bass. In a series of laboratory experiments, scientists from Michigan State University found that largemouth bass virus can indeed be fatal to young smallmouth bass.

Others are not ready to stamp “case closed” on the mysterious die-off.

Public asked to be on the lookout for ‘missing’ mitten crab

You won’t see the Chinese mitten crab’s mugshot on a milk carton, but researchers want you to keep an eye out for it anyway.

The mitten crab gets its name from claws that appear to be clothed in algae. Like dozens of other species that have made their way into the Chesapeake Bay via ballast water or other methods of human introduction, the mitten crab is considered an invasive species earmarked for eradication.

But a renewed campaign to report sightings of the crab this summer isn’t geared at counting their abundance. Instead, scientists are asking the public to help confirm what they are beginning to suspect: that this species has disappeared from the Bay altogether — and possibly from the East and West coasts, too.

Anacostia River gets its first passing grade

​Decades of work to improve the health of the Anacostia River are beginning to pay off, according to a report released Wednesday by the Anacostia Watershed Society.

The river earned a “D-minus” on its annual report card, its first passing grade in the decade since the nonprofit began issuing report cards for the waterway that runs through Maryland and the District of Columbia into the Potomac River. A significant uptick in underwater grasses — from zero acres a few years ago to nearly 25 acres in 2017—pushed it over the threshold from “F” to “D-minus.”

Feds give qualified OK to dredge oyster shells from Man O’ War Shoal

After years of scrutiny, federal regulators have given a qualified green light to a controversial Maryland plan to dredge old oyster shells from an ancient reef near Baltimore — a project intended to enhance oyster habitat elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay, but also to help the sagging commercial fishery.

The Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a provisional permit on May 17 to the state Department of Natural Resources to take up to 5 million bushels of shells from Man O’ War Shoal just outside the mouth of the Patapsco River and use the shell to replenish or rebuild oyster reefs at other Bay locations.

The Corps’ conditional approval comes after nearly three years of effort by the DNR to address questions and concerns raised about the project, which is opposed by environmentalists, recreational anglers and even some watermen.

After judge’s ruling, MD regulators reverse Eastern Shore poultry permit

A decade ago, Maryland’s environmental regulators greatly expanded their scrutiny of densely packed animal farms, including the chicken houses that crowd much of the Eastern Shore’s landscape.

Since then, the Maryland Department of the Environment has approved scores of new industrial-scale operations without ever turning down an applicant.

That has changed, though, since the MDE declined to contest a Maryland administrative law judge’s recent ruling that a permit the agency issued last year violated its own rules.

Debate ensues over role of tree clearing in Fones Cliffs landslide

A landslide on a historically significant stretch of Fones Cliffs in Virginia has sparked debate over whether a developer’s land clearing caused a strip of remaining trees to topple into the water more than 100 feet below.

A swath of the cliffs that form the northeast bank of the Rappahannock River near Warsaw sloughed off into the river early last week after several days of rain. The landslide occurred on the edge of a property where more than 13 acres had been cleared of trees in the fall of 2017 without the required environmental protections in place. Some groups argue that the clearing caused the landslide, but regulators say it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause at a site where several factors contribute to erosion.

Dolphin spotting season begins even earlier in the Chesapeake

This spring, when pods of dolphins crossed the threshold into Chesapeake Bay waters, the scientists were ready for them.

The dolphin tracking website that went online in June 2017 was already up and running for the season, ready to record as early as the end of April that a few Atlantic bottlenose dolphins had arrived near Cove Point.

By mid-May, participants logging onto the Chesapeake Dolphin Watch website, run by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, had reported 16 dolphin sightings in Bay waters in places as far north as Shady Side and Dundalk, MD. Researchers hope to see that number grow throughout the summer as more people become aware of the popular creatures’ presence.

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