Bay Journal

September 2018 - Volume 28 - Number 6
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Washed away? Torrential rains threaten Bay restoration gains

Up to her chest in muddy water, Cassie Gurbisz had a clear realization.

“When I just went down, it was pitch-black at the bottom,” said Gurbisz, a coastal ecologist with Maryland’s St. Mary’s College, as she prepared for another dive into the Upper Bay. “I’ve never been in water this murky before.”

The chocolate-colored water was caused by an unusual summertime deluge that dumped a foot or more of rain in parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania over a five-day span beginning July 21. Just as water levels began falling, a smaller sequel roared into northern Pennsylvania and southern New York, adding another 2–6 inches of rainfall.

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MD county took on runoff challenge, still fell short

There’s a price to be paid, sometimes, for being at the head of the pack. In the case of Montgomery County MD, the price is $300,000. That’s the penalty the Washington, DC, suburb agreed earlier this year to pay for its failure to curb pollution sufficiently from its streets, sidewalks, parking lots and buildings.

Under a municipal stormwater permit issued by the state in 2010, Montgomery was the first of nine counties in Maryland required to capture or treat runoff from 20 percent of its pavement and buildings. 

But in April, Montgomery County signed a consent decree with the Maryland Department of the Environment acknowledging it had fallen far short of the 20 percent goal.

Chesapeake tributary flows free in wake of dam removal

Maryland’s Bloede Dam is no more. Fish and people alike have wasted little time taking advantage of the newly liberated 8.4-mile stretch of the Patapsco River, which now flows unhindered for the first time in more than a century.

State and federal officials and the nonprofit American Rivers announced in August that the weather-challenged project to remove the 112-year-old dam is officially complete, and the riverside trail in Patapsco Valley State Park that had been closed for the demolition has reopened to a steady stream of hikers and bicyclists.

“The Patapsco River is free, after years of hard work by so many,” said Serena McClain, river restoration director for American Rivers and manager of the dam removal project. “It’s wonderful to see the Patapsco rushing back to life and to watch park visitors discover and enjoy the free-flowing river.”

PA officials delay plan to shut largest shad hatchery in watershed

Pennsylvania fishery officials have put on hold, at least for now, plans to close the Chesapeake Bay region’s largest remaining shad hatchery as part of a budget-cutting move.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at its July meeting deferred the decision it made last year to cut $2 million from its budget for this year.

That cut would have closed three hatcheries, including its Van Dyke Research Station along the Juniata River, which has reared more than 281 million American shad and released them in the Susquehanna River over the last 42 years.

Invasive snakeheads found in Susquehanna tributary

Pennsylvania angler Mark Mabry knew he had something big on his line while fishing the Lancaster County section of Octoraro Creek this summer.

He didn’t expect to reel in a 25-inch northern snakehead — a notorious invasive species with a big appetite and the ability to shuffle short distances on land.

“I was a little shocked,” he said. “They’re fun to catch, but it’s not what I want to see.”

Mabry’s catch was the first snakehead confirmed in the Pennsylvania portion of the Octoraro Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River.

Shad runs approach record highs in some rivers, lows in others

This year’s shad run was a study in contrasts for Chesapeake Bay tributaries, as some saw the strongest spawning migrations in recent decades while others hit or approached record lows.

Scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science were surprised by the unusual disparity in the three rivers they monitor, with the Rappahannock producing the strongest shad run since its monitoring began in 1998, while the runs at the James and York were among their worst.

Batiuk, the boy, knew Bay was his destiny; as a man he helped change its fate

When he was a teenager packing for a family vacation in the Maine woods, Rich Batiuk brought along some light reading.

Among the stack were William Warner’s epic blue crab story, Beautiful Swimmers; Rachel Carson’s wake-up call about pesticides, Silent Spring; and James Michener’s classic, Chesapeake — nearly 2,000 pages of reading in all, mostly describing a waterbody hundreds of miles from his home in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, during rainy days, he would perch in the cabin’s loft, flipping pages.

VA gets a year to comply with menhaden limits or face moratorium

East Coast fishery managers have decided to give Virginia until next year to adopt regulations that limit catches of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay rather than seek an immediate moratorium on harvests.

Conservation groups and the fishing industry have been engaged in a long-running battle over how many menhaden can be caught without ecological consequences.

Chesapeake crab industry pinched by work visa shortage

At Lindy’s Seafood, workers receive $4.50 per pound of crab meat they pick. That adds up to roughly $12–$16 per hour — about the same pay as a home health aide or preschool teacher.

Dorchester County may have one of the highest unemployment rates in Maryland, but Lindy’s and other crab processors in the remote southern half of the county still struggle to find local takers for their jobs. If the repetitive nature of the work doesn’t repel them, the seasonal schedule usually does, said sales manager Aubrey Vincent.

Groups fighting for coal ash regulation balk at new rules

​Power companies could soon have more flexibility in how they handle the ash that remains from a legacy of burning coal for power, but not if environmental groups have any say in the matter. Several facilities located near Chesapeake Bay rivers are in the process of closing pits where coal ash and water have comingled for decades amid changing regulations at the federal and state level.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July finalized its first batch of significant changes to standards imposed in 2015 by the Obama administration that required companies to begin closing certain inactive coal ash storage facilities. The rollback of those rules will take effect at the end of August, though they are likely to face legal challenges.

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