Bay Journal

April 2019 - Volume 29 - Number 2
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Localities challenged to meet stormwater reductions

Stormwater pollution is proving to be one tough nut to crack in restoring the Chesapeake Bay. To understand how tough, just look at how Maryland’s largest city and the state’s biggest suburbs have struggled with it.

A year ago, despite having spent more than $100 million on a slew of projects, Montgomery County failed to meet state requirements for reducing polluted runoff from its streets, parking lots and rooftops. In a consent agreement with state regulators, it pledged to catch up and pay a $300,000 fine — or spend a like amount on an extra stormwater management project.

Officials in the city of Baltimore and Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties said they’ve managed to avoid a similar fate. But they only did so with help from the Maryland Department of the Environment, which approved ways of complying with its mandates that critics find questionable.

Otsego bass: the fish that didn’t go away, thanks to some help

Scientists around Cooperstown, NY, are celebrating a rare victory: the slow return of a native species in Otsego Lake. There, in the upstate lake that spawns the Susquehanna River headwaters, the whitefish known as “Otsego bass” are making a comeback after having been decimated by predation and poor water quality.

The decline of the Otsego bass was so severe that a local outdoors columnist in 2012 pronounced the fishery dead, mourning the tradition of trolling for the popular fish.

Rick Middleton, founder of Charlottesville-based SELC, retires

Rick Middleton didn’t fancy himself an environmental lawyer when he graduated from Yale Law School in 1971. That category didn’t exist.

The United States had only just commemorated its first Earth Day, and the future founder of the Southern Environmental Law Center still felt like a fish out of water in New England’s semi-industrial corridor, pining for the bucolic valleys around his Alabama hometown of Birmingham. But during those years, he began to realize two things: The South had something worth saving, and no one else was doing it.

Coal ash contaminated groundwater at almost all monitored sites

Just after Virginia legislators voted to end the storage of coal ash in pits where it could leach into groundwater and rivers, a report released in March revealed widespread coal-ash contamination in 39 states — and at more than 91 percent of the power plants monitored. They include sites in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The report by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project relies on monitoring data from coal-fired power plants that an Obama era regulation required them to release for the first time in 2018. Of the 265 power plants that were impacted by the requirement, the report found that groundwater near 242 of them contained “unsafe levels” of one or more pollutants from coal ash. It also cited a coal ash landfill in Maryland’s Patuxent River watershed as one of the 10 worst coal ash contamination cases in the country.

Conditions in James River lead to proposal for new chlorophyll levels

​The James River poses one of the most perplexing cleanup challenges in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to researchers who have attempted to unravel its mysteries.

Its tidal waters range from nearly as salty as any ocean to as fresh as any inland lake. Its many twists and turns slow downstream flow to a crawl, providing a potential breeding ground for harmful algae blooms. And its shallowness only ensures that those blooms are never far from the sunlight they need to explode.

“It’s like a perfect storm there for algae,” said Tish Robertson, an assessment coordinator with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Court overturns permits for transmission line built over James

Mere days after Dominion Energy powered up its new transmission line across the James River from Surry to Jamestown, VA, a ruling by a federal court of appeals cast the controversial infrastructure’s future in doubt.

On March 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an opinion overturning the project’s key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the grounds that the agency did not meet its obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act and directing the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement on the 17-tower, 500-kilovolt line.

CREP program interruptions hinder streamside tree planting efforts

Israel Creek meanders through rolling pastureland on Steve and Ruth Ann Derrenbacher’s farm in Frederick County, MD. A fence keeps their sheep away from the clear, cold water as it flows toward the Monocacy River.

Alder, willow and sycamore saplings in plastic tubes line a portion of the stream. Steve Derrenbacher, a veterinarian and third-generation farmer, said they’d like to add more streamside trees and even permanently preserve the entire 148 acres their family has owned since 1942.

“We intend to pass it on the way we found it — in fact, better than we found it,” Derrenbacher said.

Trump, Congress make Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund — which has supported dozens of projects in the Chesapeake Bay region — was made permanent on March 12, when President Trump signed the bipartisan bill doing so into law.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has existed since 1965, but until now had to be periodically reauthorized by Congress. The new law makes those votes unnecessary but has no impact on how much funding the LWCF will receive in the future.

New data from VIMS finds sea-level rise is accelerating in Bay

As sea-level rise increasingly becomes part of public discourse and the public agenda, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences is ramping up efforts to provide reliable data for policy makers seeking to combat the changing circumstances.

“There’s a lot of resiliency planning going on looking at sea-level-rise projections, and we feel it’s important to know when we’re doing this planning how the data match up with the projections,” said Molly Mitchell, a marine scientist with VIMS’ Center for Coastal Resource Management.

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