Bay Journal

July-August 2019 - Volume 29 - Number 5
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Chesapeake states grapple with ‘forever chemical’ contaminating drinking water

Not long ago, Nathan Volpi began wondering about the safety of the tap water that he, his wife and two young children had been drinking for years.

Volpi, a lawyer, had heard worrisome stories from friends and relatives in southeastern Pennsylvania about tainted drinking water found near military bases there. The same contaminants had turned up in wells serving Harrisburg International Airport just across the Susquehanna River from his home in Newberry Township, and he knew of defense facilities in the general area.

“Seeing all these red flags,” Volpi recalled, “I decided to get my water tested to see how it came out.”

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Snakeheads may be wreaking ecological harm, after all

Something was pulling his fishing pole into the water — something big. So, Dustin Stem ran over and grabbed the pole just as it was about to disappear into the drainage pond’s murky waters.

The 10-year-old was soon joined in the fight by his 11-year-old brother, Ryan. The final heave onto land fell to an adult who had been fishing nearby. What they discovered at the end of the line was a monster: 10.68 pounds of leopard-print scales, triangular teeth and a face only Frankenstein could love.

One northern snakehead down, countless more to go.

Brown trout’s survival in Anacostia tributary an upstream struggle

As the story goes, the first person to spot a trout rising in Paint Branch in the 1970s — a Maryland stream that already passed under a half-dozen highway ramps on its way to the Anacostia River — could hardly believe it. And despite increased development in the surrounding landscape since then, the trout have continued to persevere and reproduce in a Paint Branch tributary called Good Hope.

But they may soon be little more than urban legend.

Manure injection passes the smell test as a best management practice

For centuries across the Chesapeake Bay region, farmers have spread manure on their fields to boost crop growth and dispose of animal waste.

Now, after decades of experimentation and false starts, injecting liquid manure into the ground, rather than on top of it, is gaining traction among mainstream farmers. The method can prevent runoff, make crops grow better and spare neighbors from unpleasant odors.

Ellicott City unveils flood plan to weather increasingly severe storms

Ravaged twice in two years by killer flash floods, Ellicott City, MD, is embarking on an ambitious and costly race against time to shield the historic mill town from severe storms that appear to be striking with increasing frequency.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball unveiled a flood mitigation plan in May that aims to keep Ellicott City “safe and sound.” It proposes boring a tunnel to siphon floodwaters away from the quaint shops and restaurants lining Main Street and building or expanding stormwater retention ponds and culverts farther up the watershed.

Ruth Patrick’s stream research broke ground – and a glass ceiling or two

In World War II, the U.S. Navy captured a German submarine off the East Coast. But where in the world was the sub base that posed such an alarming threat to the country?

Military officials didn’t have a clue, but they scraped the crusted gunk off the bottom of the vessel and took it to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, which had an extensive collection of microscopic organisms that live in water. Was there an expert on staff who could take a look?

Yes, there was. Dr. Ruth Patrick, an algae scientist who had excelled in obscurity at the illustrious academy for eight years, was working as a volunteer because no one hired female scientists at the time.

Septic system failures expected to increase in coastal Virginia

As sea level rise accelerates along the Chesapeake coast, an old threat to Virginia’s water quality may be rearing its head.

Failing septic systems have been a perennial problem in the commonwealth — one that led a soil scientist working on the Middle Peninsula to once christen Virginia the “septic repair capital of the East Coast.”

And when septic systems fail, pollution follows. Leaks can send sewage into groundwater and surface water, creating risks for human health and pollution in the Bay and its rivers.

Scientists see early success in breeding effort to help save Chesapeake logperch

In a mad dash to keep the Chesapeake logperch from being placed on the federal endangered species list, the tiny fish is certainly doing its part.

In an underwater roundup of sorts, 28 logperch were netted in late March from three tributaries to the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, PA, just north of the Maryland line. In an experiment with plenty of doubts, those 28 have multiplied to about 1,500 in propagation fish tanks in Tennessee and at Penn State University.

Elizabeth River chemical cleanup continues to make progress

For almost 70 years, the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, VA, was the final destination for multiple streams of the oily, tarlike liquid known as creosote. A key ingredient used in wood preservation, the toxic chemical was as much a part of life in Norfolk as the industry that once relied on it to function: shipbuilding.

And nowhere was it found in greater concentrations than at the former Atlantic Wood Industries site, an old wood-processing center that began operating in 1926 and backed directly up to the river’s southern branch.

Bacterial monitoring goes mobile in and around the District

When Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks speaks to groups about his work, he often fields a question that, until now, he hasn’t been able to answer: “Is it safe to go in the river?”

“I’ve been very uncomfortable answering that question because we never had data,” Naujoks said, looking out across the Potomac from a dock at Maryland’s National Harbor. “This area had almost zero bacterial monitoring.”

Now, that’s beginning to change.

Oyster hatcheries struggling as lower Bay salinity hampers production

Producing billions of baby oysters is technical stuff. At the Horn Point Lab oyster hatchery, it takes thousands of parent oysters, massive water tanks, an algae greenhouse, computer-controlled feeding equipment and a brigade of interns.

By February of this year, everything was in place for another fruitful spawning season. Everything, that is, except for one of the most basic ingredients: salt.

Oysters require a bit of brine — about 10 parts per thousand will do — to survive and reproduce.

States’ latest Bay cleanup plans found lacking by EPA

The draft Bay cleanup plans drawn up by watershed states fall short of ensuring the region will finally achieve its longstanding goal of delivering a healthy Chesapeake by 2025, federal officials have concluded.

Reviews by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirm that drafts submitted by two states, Pennsylvania and New York, fail to achieve nutrient reduction goals set for those jurisdictions. That would ensure the region’s overall goal would be missed unless the shortfall is addressed in final plans due in August.

But even in states where plans appeared to achieve their goals on paper, the EPA said the drafts lacked details showing they had adequate funding, programs, regulations — and in some cases legislation — to ensure there would be enough on-the-ground action to reach the Bay’s clean water goals.

Continued high river flows having mixed impacts on Bay and its resources

The downpours that soaked 2018 have spilled into this year, with three of the first five months reporting higher-than-normal freshwater flows into the Chesapeake.

That will likely mean worse-than-normal oxygen conditions in the Bay. Scientists are predicting the fourth largest summertime dead zone in the last two decades.

Still, the often record-setting rains that commenced a year ago have not been a total washout for the estuary.

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