Bay Journal

October 2019 - Volume 29 - Number 7

Bay scientists studying environmental, economic uses for hemp

A Gold Rush mentality has erupted across Chesapeake Bay states as the lacy fan-shaped leaves of more than 50,000 acres of industrial hemp spring from the landscape for the first time since World War II.

Bay states and the federal government are removing barriers to growing the misunderstood plant, which was a staple crop from Colonial times and then banned for little more than its likeness to a mind-altering cousin, marijuana.

Now, hemp is again being embraced amid bold claims that include a possible economic life preserver for struggling farmers and an environmentally friendly cash crop that could help reduce nutrient pollution in the Bay. Nearly 2,800 farmers and entrepreneurs had hemp in the ground this summer in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New York.

Outreach strategies cropping up to help growing number of female farmers

One of the biggest changes to the face of agriculture and forestry these days in Chesapeake Bay states is women. That new demographic is leading some environmental groups and government agencies to launch new strategies for engaging female decision makers in projects that help water quality.

The unprecedented numbers tell part of the tale. Approximately 59% of farmland in Maryland is now owned or co-owned by women, or a woman makes decisions on the farm. Women hold those roles on 54% of farmland in Virginia; 55% in Pennsylvania, 53% in West Virginia and 60% in New York, according to the federal 2017 Census of Agriculture.

During the 5-year survey period, the number of male farmers declined by 1.7% nationwide while female ag producers leaped by 27%.

Court rules that DC’s daily E. coli limit is inadequate

How much E. coli can an urban waterway contain and still be considered “clean”?

A federal court ruled in August that the limits the District of Columbia set for E. coli in its waterways didn’t adequately answer that question.

E. coli is a type of bacteria often found in fecal matter that can indicate the presence of other pathogens. Some strains of E. coli infection can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting.

The decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia gives regulators about a year to craft new limits for the Anacostia and Potomac river systems running through the nation’s capital.

Deluge of development spurs call for Rappahannock research

Fredericksburg, VA, faces a “coming storm.”

That’s how Henry “Buck” Cox describes the new homes, office parks and businesses forecast to pelt down on his boyhood hometown in the coming decades.

The population of Fredericksburg and the four counties that border the Rappahannock River in the region — Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford — have swollen by more than 50% since 2000, census figures show. That number is projected to grow another 30% by 2040, creating a sprawling metropolitan area of almost 500,000 people within a few dozen miles of the bucolic waterway, according to University of Virginia demographers.

Low salinity wallops oysters in Chesapeake

The rains have finally let up, but they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters — and to the people who make a living harvesting, cultivating or restoring them.

Oysters need at least a little salt in their environment to live and a bit more to thrive. The record-setting downpours that began last year and continued through the first half of this year flushed so much freshwater into the Chesapeake that salinity sank to abnormally low levels.

“What a rough beast of a year that was,” said Martin Gary, executive secretary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. “Everybody got hammered by it.”

Queen Anne’s is first MD county to let go of balloon releases

When Jay Falstad tells of the cluster of balloons that landed on Unicorn Lake near his home in Queen Anne’s County, MD, it sounds like he’s beginning a children’s tale. Instead, it begins the story of the first county-based balloon ban in the state.

The balloons Falstad spotted near his home on the Eastern Shore came with an “if found” phone number to call written on them with a Sharpie pen. When he dialed it, the person who answered was nearly 500 miles away in Dayton, OH, and had released the balloons from there four days before.

Falstad found it hard to believe that helium-filled latex balloons could travel so far. Then he started noticing them everywhere.

Opponents fear case has already been built for Bay Bridge option

After three years of high-stakes analysis and sometimes-clamorous rhetoric over environmental and community impacts, four possible courses of action remain on the table for dealing with heavy traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.

The Maryland Transportation Authority in August proposed three possible routes for a new span, which would be the third to cross the Bay in the state. The agency also included a so-called “no-build” option — managing the congestion without constructing a new bridge.

Citizens and conservation organizations have reacted with concern over how a new bridge could affect the landscape wherever it touches down.

Path to a clean Chesapeake poses problems for key Bay states

Must Chesapeake Bay states achieve the impossible to reach Bay cleanup goals by 2025? That’s unclear. But their work must certainly achieve the unprecedented.

Most of the latest state cleanup plans, released in August, call for levels of action to reduce pollution from the hardest-to-control sources — agriculture and stormwater — that greatly exceed what states have so far demonstrated they can accomplish.

Much of the attention has focused on Pennsylvania, whose pollution control shortfall is more of a chasm than a gap. But a review of the latest state watershed implementation plans and supporting documentation reveals that other key states — Maryland and Virginia — face a steep climb as well.

Chesapeake restoration goals a greater challenge for PA

Perhaps it was fitting that on a morning when he felt an illness coming on, and a marching band was creating an unrelenting din outside the window, Pat McDonnell sat down to explain Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.

After all, nothing about the state’s Bay involvement has been easy. The state doesn’t touch the Chesapeake, but is its largest polluter. Half of its landmass drains into the Bay, but less than a third of the state’s population lives there.

Nonetheless, when asked how much of his time the Chesapeake consumes, McDonnell, the state’s environment secretary, replied: “A lot.”

Groups work to stop brook trout from being the fish that got away

About 100 days a year, you will find Michael Garrigan by himself with a fly rod, sneaking along small mountain streams hoping to catch and hold, just for a few seconds, a small trout widely revered as the jewel of freshwater fish.

It’s not just the haloed dots, shadings and multi-hued colors of the wild brook trout that enthrall anglers like Garrigan, of Marietta, PA, though that would be reason enough. “They’re wild and they’re native. There’s something innately beautiful about that,” Garrigan said. “There’s a special allure finding water that has brook trout in it. It’s usually the most remote and close to wild you can be in Pennsylvania. There’s that connection to something that is of that place.”

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