Bay Journal

April 1995 - Volume 5 - Number 2

Playing ‘ecological roulette’ Report

At any point in time, tens of thousands of ships are crossing the oceans of the world, carrying goods to hundreds of distant ports.

Tagging along is cargo of a different sort: algae, worms, plants, fish and other aquatic species, sucked into the vessels along with the millions of gallons of "ballast water" used to help stabilize ships at sea.

That water is routinely dumped at destination ports, along with any organisms that have inadvertently hitched a ride.

Coming with these species are unpredictable impacts: a common comb jelly from the Atlantic Coast has nearly wiped out fisheries in the Azov and Black seas; zebra mussels have brought economic and ecological havoc to the Great Lakes; and toxic "red tide" algae blooms have rapidly spread around the world, threatening fish and humans alike. All are known to have been transported by ocean-going ships. ...

Rescission package cuts environmental spending

The House has completed work on a "rescissions" bill that would cut more than $17 billion in spending, including millions of dollars for resource and environmental programs - some impacting the Bay - from the 1995 fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.

The cut could eliminate funding for a six-year, $6 million research project aimed at learning how multiple stresses - toxics, excess nutrients and low dissolved oxygen - affect the food chain and ultimately influences fish and shellfish production. ...

House bills offer sweeping change to regulatory process

The House has passed a sweeping anti-regulation package which would radically change the way the federal government could enact - and enforce - future measures to reduce air and water pollution.

If the legislation became law, it could affect the Bay cleanup effort in several ways: It would immediately hinder full implementation of the Bay Program's new toxics reduction strategy, it would jeopardize efforts to stem the loss of wetlands in the watershed, and it would slow - and perhaps halt - development of new regulations that could reduce pollution to the Chesapeake. ...

Federal agencies move to cut wetland red tape

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service announced in March three new initiatives to "reduce the regulatory burdens" on property owners seeking wetland permits.

The measures include:

A new nationwide general permit that will make it easier to construct or expand a home. The proposal would allow landowners to affect up to one-half acre of wetlands to construct a single-family home and related features, such as a garage and driveway, without a permit. The corps planned to formally propose the nationwide permit in the Federal Register in March. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal before the permit becomes final. ...

Panel to begin work on forest buffer policy

A special Riparian Forest Buffer Panel will begin meeting in April to develop recommendations and set goals for a new Bay Program policy aimed at restoring streamside forests in the watershed.

Streamside, or "riparian," forests are seen as a potentially important long-term tool to improve water quality and habitat along the tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams that supply water to the Bay.

Riparian forests protect water quality by stabilizing river banks and reducing nutrient runoff. They also provide food and shelter for many forms of aquatic life. Forests are the natural streamside environment for almost all of the Bay's drainage basin, as they once covered more than 95 percent of the Chesapeake watershed. Today, about 60 percent of the watershed is forested. ...

Examples of alternative funding mechanisms

Examples of alternative funding mechanisms.

Point source

  • Pool the debt from several small communities to gain lower interest rates from private institutions

  • Use public-private partnerships to finance wastewater treatment plant upgrades

  • Sell municipal utility assets, such as water mains, to the private sector

  • Extend maturity of state revenue bonds from 20 years to 30 years to coincide with the service life of financed facilities and reduce annual debt service payments


Report offers options to fund Md. tributary strategies

Noting that "business as usual will not get us a cleaner Bay," a blue-ribbon panel has outlined options for closing a $60-million-a-year shortfall between what's available to finance Maryland's tributary strategies and what is needed.

The panel's report on "alternative" funding mechanisms listed 35 innovative techniques, ranging from "aquifer impact fees" that could be assessed on new septic tank systems to offering tax breaks for certain types of farm equipment.

The panel's goal was to offer a "menu" of financing ideas that can be"mixed and matched" to meet various needs. "No one idea alone can guarantee the success of our 40 percent reduction goal," the report said. ...

About oyster diseases

Since the early 1980s, diseases have overwhelmed oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay, causing losses of up to 90 percent of stocks in some areas. These heavy mortalities have been linked to the spread and intensification of two parasites: dermo (Perkinsus marinus) and MSX (Haplosporidium nelsoni). Though deadly to the oysters, neither affects humans, whether the oysters are eaten raw or cooked.

Dermo is a disease caused by a single-cell organism (protozoan) that infects oysters, eventually reaching such high numbers within the oyster host that it can no longer maintain its physiological functions, and dies. The exact mechanisms by which the parasite kills the host are not understood. Dermo tends to have its largest impact on oysters about the time they reach market size. ...

Oyster disease research is hit by budget ax

In a blow to Chesapeake Bay restoration, oyster disease research funding was cut by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its proposed 1996 budget, an action that jeopardizes efforts to restore what was once one of the Bay's most important economic - and ecological - species.

The research program, which dates to 1989, has focused on the parasites MSX and dermo, which kill most of the Bay's oysters before they reach market size. The diseases are primarily responsible for record low oyster harvests in recent years. ...

Assemblies act on ballast water resolutions

Resolutions concerning ballast water were approved by the General Assembly in each of the Bay states this year, and will soon be sent to Congress.

The resolutions make a number of recommendations for dealing with ballast water. Among them:

  • The federal government should implement programs and fund research to help prevent the introductions of nonindigenous species via ballast water into the Bay and other at-risk coastal areas.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard, or another designated agency, should implement and widely publicize a national program that sets voluntary ballast water management guidelines for ships arriving in the Chesapeake Bay and other U.S. ports.


Species invasions around the world have brought havoc

At any one time, more than 3,000 species are being transported around the world in the ballast water of large ships. Each hour, an average of 2.5 million gallons of foreign water is being poured into U.S. waters from foreign ships.

Those calculations were made by James T. Carlton, of Williams College in Connecticut, who refers to ballast water transport as a giant "biological conveyor belt" that is responsible for a "flood of irreversible global invasions."

"What nature took millions of years to create - distinctly separate biotas of different species around the world - human activities are homogenizing in tens of years through transport mechanisms that instantaneously transcend the natural barriers of open oceans and continents," Carlton said in his keynote address to a 1993 conference on nonindigenous estuarine and marine organisms that was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ...

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