Bay Journal

June 1997 - Volume 7 - Number 4

Scientists set to search for pfiesteria to determine if it’s a problem here

It sounds like something that belongs in a old B-movie: The Flesh-Eating Algae. But it's off the drive-in screen and in the Bay.

"It" is Pfiesteria piscicida, an alga discovered in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound a few years ago which paralyzes fish and then eats their flesh. In fact, it's name - piscicida - means "fish killer."

Pfiesteria, as it is often called for short, has been associated in recent years with massive fish kills involving millions of fish in and near several of North Carolina's nutrient-saturated rivers. ...

Calling all Bay-related web sites

The Bay Journal plans to publish a directory of Bay-related sites on the World Wide Web in an upcoming issue.

The directory will provide an opportunity for local, state and federal government agencies; colleges and research institutions; and citizen, watershed and environmental organizations to publicize their web site and what information they have to offer users.

To be included, here is the information we need:

  • Name of the organization, agency, or institution
  • A 25-50 word description of the organization, agency or institution and its Bay-related activities.
  • A 50-75 word description of the type of information that is available at the web site.
  • The web site address
  • The phone number and e-mail address of the person responsible for maintaining the web site.


Pa. developing system of environmental reporting

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is developing a reporting system that will, for the first time, give the public immediate access to information on whether individuals, businesses and local governments are complying with environmental laws and regulations.

DEP Executive Secretary David E. Hess recently outlined the proposed reporting system to the DEP's Citizen Advisory Council and said the department is seeking help from council, advisory committees and public in designing the final system. ...

Bill would create Bay gateways at sites of interest in watershed

Legislation that would link the Chesapeake Bay with points of historical and cultural significance that are spread through its six-state watershed was recently introduced in Congress.

The Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Act would create a network of scenic drives, byways and canoe trails that link the region's settlement, cultural development and natural history to the Bay.

"Imagine a series of selected Chesapeake Bay natural, historic, cultural and recreational sites from the Susquehanna River in the north, to historic Williamsburg, Va., in the south, and unique locations along the way throughout Maryland - from Annapolis to Solomons to Point Lookout and from Havre de Grace to Cambridge to Crisfield," said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who introduced the legislation in the Senate. ...

Susquehanna board moves to protect water

The agency that manages the Susquehanna River has a message for anyone who comes looking for its water: Tighten your belt.

A draft policy aimed at discouraging others from seeking water from the Bay's largest tributary is being developed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a state-federal compact with the authority to regulate water use within the 27,510-square-mile watershed.

The policy, expected to be finalized in November, was developed in anticipation of increased demand for water from the Susquehanna basin. ...

Mattaponi tribe, Sierra Club opposed to reservoir plan

A battle for water has erupted in Southeast Virginia, pitting environmentalists and local Indians against a proposed 13-billion-gallon reservoir intended to meet the water needs of Newport News and its surrounding area through 2040.

The proposal from a group lead by the Newport News Waterworks calls for creating a 6-mile-long reservoir in the Mattaponi River watershed that would run diagonally across King William County.

The project, which would be built on Cohoke Creek, would flood 524 acres of wetlands and 1,457 acres of upland forest. ...

Nutrient runoff degrading bays off Md. coast

Nutrients washing into tidal waters from poultry farms and agricultural land are degrading Maryland's coastal bays, particularly those near the Delaware border, according to a new report.

Maryland's Coastal Bays Program looked at data from research done on the bays separating Ocean City and Assateague Island from the mainland and found higher levels of habitat loss and other environmental impacts in bays north of the Ocean City Inlet.

Southern bays, such as Sinepuxent, Chincoteague and Johnson, where there has been less development, appeared healthier with more abundant sea grasses, but officials with the program worry that future development could cause problems there as well. ...

Altered hormone levels found in fish

Pollution may be altering levels of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone in fish found in U.S. waterways, including two in the Bay watershed, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, which examined fish in 25 streams nationwide.

The national "reconnaissance study" is the broadest investigation to date of the potential for endocrine disruption in fish. The endocrine system produces hormones which regulate important bodily functions, such as growth, development, reproduction and behavior. ...

Tougher auto emissions test required in Maryland

Citing benefits to public health and the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening announced that the state will require the use of sophisticated treadmill-like devices for vehicle emission tests.

The governor on May 19 vetoed a bill passed by the General Assembly that attempted to block the state from requiring the test. The action means the test will become mandatory Oct. 1.

"One of the best things we can do to continue to preserve Maryland's environment, and to make our air cleaner and healthier, is to have a solid vehicle emissions inspection program," Glendening said in vetoing the bill. ...

Alliance elects officers, 5 new board members

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay recently elected five new board members during its annual meeting in Alexandria, Va. The new members are:

  • William F. X. Band, a Bay pilot for 23 years who serves on Maryland's State Board of Pilots. He is a graduate of the State University of New York Maritime College. He is also a former board member and was vice president for Maryland.

  • Thomas Blackburn, executive vice president of Chesapeake Paper Products Company/Chesapeake Forest Products Company of West Point, Va. He is a graduate of Clemson University, and is active in professional and community organizations, inc luding the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Governor's Economic Council. He is also a member of the VIMS Marine Science Development Council.


Panel reiterates need for linked water, air policies

It has become apparent the last few years that everyday actions by humans can have profound effects that were not even thought possible a few decades ago.

A case in point, according to Donald Boesch, director of the the University of Maryland's Center for Estuarine and Environmental Studies, is nitrogen.

Though Boesch noted that "nitrogen is our friend" - it's the most common element in the air and a component of all living things - excess amounts of the wrong forms of nitrogen can cause problems.

Not only does it contribute to nutrient pollution in coastal waters where it causes algae blooms, but it can overfertilize the landscape causing some plant species to thrive at the expense of others. Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere - a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion - is a major air pollutant.

"It's a triple threat," said Boesch, who moderated a panel discussion on air pollution and the Bay at the annual meeting of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay which took place in Alexandria, Va. on May 9.

Boesch, the former president of the Alliance, cited four major sources for excess nitrogen entering the region: increased use of "nitrogen fixing" plants such as soybeans, which "fix" nitrogen from the air into the soil; fertilizers; food imports from other parts of the country; and air pollution.

"If you want to deal with excess nitrogen entering the coastal waters and the Chesapeake Bay, you can't ignore any of these," he said. "They all have to be dealt with."

The realization that air must be dealt with has become evident in recent years as the Bay states struggle to achieve - and maintain - a 40 percent reduction in the amounts of two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, that enter the Chesapeake.

About a quarter of all the nitrogen entering the Bay results from air pollution, most of which stems from the emissions of nitrogen oxides. About a third of NOx emissions comes from power plants, another third from motor vehicles and the rest from a variety of other sources.

Beyond the Bay, the issue of NOx control is taking center stage in Washington, where the EPA has proposed tougher air quality standards for ground level ozone - the key component of summertime smog - and fine particulates to protect human health. Because NOx contributes to both those problems, the standards would also benefit the Chesapeake.

The standards have drawn sharp criticism from affected industries - largely in Midwestern states - and many members of Congress.

A final proposal from the EPA was expected to be delivered to the White House for review in late May or early June, with a final decision expected by mid-July.

Controlling NOx has been a formidable task. In fact, while emissions of many air pollutants have declined in the past two decades, NOx emissions rose 14 percent nationwide from 1970 through 1995. Further complicating the problem is that NOx emissions can travel hundreds of miles.

Many power plants have escaped NOx controls aimed at reducing ozone pollution because they are located in areas that meet the EPA's air quality standards.

In fact, a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 82 percent of all utility NOx emissions are in areas that attain the ozone standard. The same study found that 80 percent of all utility emissions are within 200 miles of a nonattainment area.

"They are close enough to be influencing the air quality in these nonattainment areas," said David Hawkins, NRDC senior attorney.

Because of that, the NRDC report found that many of the most polluting power plants were concentrated in the Midwest - just upwind of the Bay watershed.

"As a result of this Balkanized nonattainment system, it's not surprising that if you look at the emission rates by electric utility companies, you see some pretty dramatic differences," Hawkins said. "Tighter air quality standards [for ozone and particulates] will mean more nonattainment areas on the map, which means more areas that will need to focus on their homegrown sources and bring about reductions."

Elizabeth Bauereis, of the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and a longtime member of the Bay Program's Citizens Advisory Committee, acknowledged that utilities contribute to the problem but noted power plants have made major strides to reduce emissions.

Under acid rain rules contained in the 1990 Clean Air Act, many of the largest power plants have already installed "low NOx burners" which reduce NOx emissions by about 35 percent. EPA figures show a drop in NOx emissions from power plants - but not other sources - between 1994 and 1995, which Bauereis said could be an "early sign" that the acid rain rule is having an effect.

In addition, power plants within the Northeast Ozone Transport Region, which stretches from Northern Virginia through Maine, will be reducing NOx emissions by another 65 percent to help reduce the chronic ozone pollution problem that runs along the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington through Maine.

Ultimately, Bauereis said that addressing pollution from vehicles along that corridor will also be critical, noting that emissions from cars in major coastal metropolitan areas are more likely to be deposited directly on the Bay while emissions from power plants are more likely to land in the watershed, where much of the nitrogen is absorbed before reaching the Bay.

"I'm not saying we're not part of the problem," she said. "We are part of the problem. But we may be talking about a major source in the transportation sector - a third of the problem - that may be much tougher to get at than stationary sources."

Indeed, EPA data show that NOx emissions from motor vehicles has remained steady for more than two decades, despite tougher pollution control requirements. The chief reasons are that older, higher- polluting cars are slow to come off the highway and people are driving more than ever, largely offsetting the effectiveness of pollution controls on new cars. Also, the popularity of sport utility vehicles, classified as trucks and therefore subject to less stringent emissions controls, are helping to cause emissions levels to increase.

"It does not have an easy solution," said Bill Matuszeski, director of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office. "We have pushed the technology on automobiles and we can push it some more. But if you push beyond a certain point, you begin to run into two things: One is people's love of the internal combustion engine, and two is people's love of driving in general."

Trying to control the amount that people drive, he said, is "a major challenge, one that I'm not sure the Bay Program is capable and ready to take on."

Matuszeski said education about the issue is critical not only for the public, but also for bureaucrats working at state and federal levels to implement clean air policy.

For example, he said, cutting NOx emissions to reduce ozone pollution will have limited benefit to the Bay and other coastal water bodies if those reductions take place only during the summer, when ozone is a problem. Nitrogen enters water bodies from the sky all year, he said, so controls are needed during all seasons.

"We do have some issues that are our issues, and the air folks - if left to their own devices - will not deal with them," Matuszeski said.

Robert Perciasepe, the EPA assistant administrator for water, agreed that "there are significant institutional barriers" involved in merging air pollution control policies with water quality issues.

But, he added that, "I'm very optimistic that not only is the science growing, but the institutional barriers are weakening."

Perciasepe also said that it is unclear what legal means exist that allow air pollution to be regulated to benefit water quality. The Clean Air Act is written to protect human health, not water bodies.

The issue shows that pollution problems need to be dealt with more holistically, he said, rather than being viewed as air issues or water issues.

The issue is important not only for nitrogen deposition on coastal water, he said, but also for the air deposition of toxics in water bodies across the nation.

"We have many, many lakes in the United States that have fish advisories for mercury and there are no known sources of mercury discharges into those lakes," Perciasepe said. "The only real source is out of the air. And that is almost a global situation." ...

Dining, dancing with dolphins? Don’t!

People who feed or swim with wild dolphins are in danger of harmin the dolphins and themselves - and those who feed or harass dolphins risk being fined for violating federal laws protecting dolphins, warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Feeding wild dolphins has become an increasing and ongoing problem since the late 1980s. Additionally, people are swimming with wild dolphins, which may harass the animals. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to feed or harass wild dolphins. Over the past several years, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has posted warning signs, distributed educational materials and produced a public service announcement to help educate the public and commercial operators about the harmful consequences of interactions with dolphins. ...

Some suggest adding all watershed states to Program

With evidence suggesting the Bay states will not achieve their turn-of-the-century nutrient reduction goal, some officials are beginning to look in new directions for help.

Specifically, to the North, East and West.

Although portions of Delaware, West Virginia and New York fall within the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed, they have never been included in the Bay Program or its nutrient reduction efforts.

Some think it may be time to ask them.

"The only effective way to manage water resources is with a whole-basin approach," said Keith Gentzler, of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "To exclude major portions of the basin based on political boundaries is almost certain to create situations where priority water quality problems can not be addressed." ...

Findings of the Blue Crab Stock Assessment

The Bay blue crabs population has been relatively stable for decades while the juvenile population has been increasing in recent years, despite a dramatic increase in commercial fishing effort.

Those are some of the findings of the first comprehensive Baywide blue crab stock assessment, completed for the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), a state-federal group coordinated and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office.

The assessment's overall conclusions, which drew on a variety of research, monitoring and computer modeling data, include: ...

Life Stages of a Blue Crab

Fecundity: A female may have 750,000 to 8 million eggs per spawn, and can spawn two to three times in a year.

Longevity: Typical lifespan is about 3 years. Maximum life span may be 5 to 8 years.

Spawning season: May through September

Spawning area: Spawning rarely occurs in Maryland waters and is limited between the mouth of the Potomac River and Wolf Trap Light where salinities are 15-20 parts per thousand. Most spawning takes place in the lower Bay and the mouths of the Bay's southern rivers. ...

Crab plan cites need for grassbeds

Maintaining a healthy population of blue crabs, the Bay's most economically valuable species, means more than just regulating the crab catch. It means maintaining a healthy habitat, too.

That is the message in the Bay Program's new Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan, which stresses for the first time that improving habitat - particularly the amount of grassbeds - is critical to the species.

The goal of fishery management plans is to maintain the stock at levels that optimize harvests while assuring that the overall health of the population, and its ecological role, are maintained. ...

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