Bay Journal

October 2018 - Volume 28 - Number 7
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Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers

Oysters are in many ways the restoration darlings of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. Touted for multiple benefits — as edible, water-filtering moneymakers — oysters attract both enthusiasm and funding to promote their recovery.

But the popularity of oysters often overshadows the water-cleansing role of other filter feeders such as mussels. A growing group of mussel advocates think it’s high time that the bivalves share the spotlight as clean-water workhorses that can carry the message farther upstream.

Restored stream lures trout and threatened logperch

A small fish that once lived in freshwater streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed got a lucky break in a Pennsylvania creek this year. When Donegal Trout Unlimited restored the Lancaster County creek to protect trout and other sport fish, the rarely seen Chesapeake logperch showed up for the party.

“We build it and they come,” said Greg Wilson, a longtime member of Donegal Trout Unlimited. “When they electrofished the creek after restoration, there were lots of trout and lots of logperch.”

Conservationist looks back on a Shenandoah that nearly vanished

Faye Crawford Cooper didn’t lose her childhood all at once. But she knows how it started.

She grew up on a farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, catching turtles, chasing snakes, scooping up tadpoles by the handful, overturning rocks to spot skinks and scouring the countryside for signs of deer.

Then came word that a new highway was slated to blaze its way down the middle of her family’s 140 acres of rolling terrain. After that portion of Interstate 81 opened in 1963, life in and around the farm was never the same.

Will dunes project be Deal Islanders’ line in sand against flooding?

The sand dunes that used to line the western shoreline of Deal Island are almost all gone. So are the trees that stood behind them on this low-lying patch of land jutting into Tangier Sound on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. All that remains now are stumps poking up out of the waves, which wash over a narrow, sandy beach and up into a grassy marsh stretching far inland.

“See the tree in the water?” asked SueKay Ford, pointing to a barren snag just offshore. “That used to be standing on the shoreline,” she said, when she moved to the neighborhood 14 years ago. “It used to have an eagle’s nest.”

Pipeline proposals to test Delmarva’s appetite for natural gas

The Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore is shaping up to be the next battleground over the expansion of natural gas pipelines in the Bay region.

Two firms are competing to construct miles of new pipeline through Eastern Shore counties in Maryland and Virginia, projects they say are needed to meet the region’s growing energy demands and boost reliability of service. 

But environmental groups say that construction of the pipelines would potentially contaminate the many rivers in their paths and bisect lands set aside for preservation. 

PA power plant accused of illegal discharges into Susquehanna tributary

A Pennsylvania power plant — accused of being one of the most polluting plants in the nation and the recipient of several fines for fish kills — is facing legal challenges once again. The Brunner Island power plant, located along the Susquehanna River just south of Harrisburg, may be the target of a lawsuit alleging that the plant is illegally discharging contaminants from coal ash into a Susquehanna tributary. 

‘In another decade or two, we’ll see a different Chesapeake’

More than three decades after it started, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort still has a long way to go. In its latest water quality assessment, the state-federal Bay Program partnership found that just 40 percent of the Bay's tidal waters met agreed-upon goals for clarity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll.

That’s the best status report since the cleanup effort began, but still far from attaining water quality standards.

So how long will it take to get there?

“Decades,” said Rich Batiuk, the retired associate director for science with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office. “But I think, in another decade or two, we’ll see a different Chesapeake out there.”

Success of Chesapeake’s restoration tied to PA, which lags far behind

Across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, controlling runoff from agriculture and stormwater has proven difficult for decades.

Nowhere is the problem greater than in Pennsylvania, which has more of both than any other state in the Bay region — and where efforts to control them are the farthest off track.

Whether that trajectory changes may ultimately determine whether the latest Bay cleanup plan — the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or “pollution diet” — is deemed a success.

New nutrient reduction goals reflect updated science, data, computer modeling

The state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program partnership recently revised its nutrient reduction goals for 2025 based on improved information, new science and updated computer modeling.

States are updating their cleanup plans to address the revised goals. These watershed implementation plans, drafts of which are due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by April 12, 2019, are supposed to demonstrate that states have realistic plans to meet their new goals, as well as adequate programs, regulations and funding to get the job done.

Chesapeake cleanup may lose race to 2025 goal, but presses on

As the Chesapeake Bay region enters what was supposed to be the final stretch of a decades-long effort to clean up the nation’s largest estuary, it — once again — faces a cleanup goal it appears likely to be missed.

Progress has been made — and Bay water quality has improved — but the region is significantly off track to meet its 2025 cleanup goals. In fact, updated pollution control targets approved by the state-federal Bay Program in July show that the shortfall is greater than previously thought.

PA coalition spells out key conservation issues before election

Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates have some explaining to do if they want the support of environmentally minded voters in November. Both Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, are presumably in receipt of the Pennsylvania Common Conservation Agenda, a 20-page document identifying the state’s most pressing environmental problems and suggesting policy solutions.

Authored by the advocacy group PennFuture in collaboration with 26 conservation organizations, the agenda is part of the “Green in 18” campaign — PennFuture’s effort to bring environmental issues to the fore in the upcoming election.

VA poultry groundwater fight escalates as crackdown looms

​Large poultry farms on Virginia’s Eastern Shore have been pumping groundwater from the region’s fragile aquifer for years with no oversight from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is charged with protecting drinking water supplies.

Now the agency is taking steps to regulate the withdrawals, issuing orders to 57 poultry operations. The orders approved by the State Water Control Board in September would allow those farms to continue tapping into the Shore’s primary drinking water reservoir until final permits are issued.

Growing tension marks simultaneous uptick of clam dredging, Bay grasses

The soft shell clam’s meek return to Maryland waters is a bright spot on the Chesapeake Bay landscape. But an increase in the number of watermen going after them has renewed some fears that the nascent fishery could choke itself off before reaching its full potential.

Also called white clams, manos, longnecks and steamers, soft shell clams had all but disappeared from Bay waters, where they had been the source of a thriving fishery in the 1950s and ’60s. After decades of little-to-no soft shells in most areas, the clams have rallied the last five years, particularly in Maryland’s Eastern Shore rivers. And the number of clammers dredging for them has risen, too.

Abnormally wet summer will challenge latest gains in Chesapeake’s health

Summer ended much as it began across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, drenched in rain that swelled rivers and streams. The abnormal run of chronically wet weather that continued into late September posed further challenges for maintaining recent gains in the Bay’s health.

Freshwater flows into the Bay in August were the highest recorded for that month by a wide margin, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. And although Hurricane Florence didn’t bring nearly as much rain to the Bay watershed in September as it dumped on the Carolinas, it produced enough to make Conowingo Dam open some of its floodgates yet again.

Bloede Dam removal blasts off

The demolition of Bloede Dam finally got under way Tuesday, as explosives blew a hole in the long-dormant hydroelectric facility blocking the Patapsco River west of Baltimore.

Kiewit, the Nebraska-based contractor handling the removal of the state-owned dam, had been waiting for the river’s rain-swollen flow to subside before triggering the blast to make it easier for heavy equipment to work in the channel.

But Hurricane Florence’s imminent East Coast landfall prompted a decision to get on with it, according to Amy Kober, spokeswoman for the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. 

Virginia pipeline construction to continue with ‘aggressive’ monitoring

Will existing environmental rules be enough to protect Virginia streams from the potentially damaging side effects of two pipeline projects? Citizens and environmental groups cry no, but the State Water Control Board says its hands are tied.

The seven-member board decided at a contentious Aug. 21 meeting to continue allowing two natural gas pipelines — the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline — to be constructed across the state, under additional oversight.

Both pipelines will carry natural gas, extracted from underground shale formations using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Pipeline construction entails disrupting wetlands, crossing streams, removing trees and exposing bare soil, sometimes on steep slopes.

MD changes plans, picks Manokin River for oyster restoration effort

Maryland is switching the focus of its oyster restoration efforts to a river on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore known for its relative abundance of bivalves from a Western Shore waterway where they’re said to be lacking.

The state Department of Natural Resources announced the Manokin River Wednesday as its new candidate for large-scale restoration, saying recent surveys of Breton Bay’s muddy and sandy bottom found no oysters, dead or alive. Low amounts of oxygen in the water and a lack of suitable bottom habitat cast further doubt on the prospects for successful restoration, officials said.

Costly Maryland oyster project pays off in pollution reductions, study finds

​The massive — and massively expensive — oyster restoration project in Maryland’s Harris Creek is yielding some pretty big pollution reductions, according to a new report.

Using a computer model to calculate the project’s water-quality impacts, researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science estimate that Harris Creek’s restored reefs are soaking up about 100,000 pounds of nitrogen annually that otherwise would be adding to the Bay’s pollution woes.

Migration study suggests cownose rays could be vulnerable to localized depletion

New research shows that the Chesapeake Bay’s cownose rays spend their winters off Cape Canaveral with other East Coast rays before returning to the Bay each spring to bear their young and mate.

The research, published August 23 in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, sheds fresh light on the migration patterns of the kite-shaped creatures, which are beloved by nature lovers but reviled by oyster farmers and many watermen because they feed on shellfish.

The study’s authors say their findings suggest that cownose rays, so named because of their cowlike snouts, could be depleted in a given area by fishing or other human activity if not careful. 

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