Bay Journal

December 1997 - Volume 7 - Number 9

Survey dredges up good oyster news

As John Hess stuck the long, metal pole into the water, he could feel the oyster bar under the boat. The crunching of shells could be heard through the water.

"There they are," Hess called out. "Eighteen feet."

A metal and rope dredge was lowered by cable from the boat as it drifted along the bar. Hess, a supervisor with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, stuck the pole in the water again. "There they are - 17 feet."

The dredge was now scraping across the oyster bar. Hess stuck the pole in the water again. "There they are - 14 feet." ...

MD calls for greater effort to control nutrients

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening called for increased efforts to control nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake and its tributaries, warning that "never before has the need to do more, and do it faster, been put in such sharp relief."

Glendening was named the new Executive Council chair, replacing EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who served as the chair for the past two years.

Referring to the last summer's pfiesteria outbreak, Glendening said, "we must recognize that our actions on land have resulted in a very unhealthy reaction in the water." ...

PA to hold forum on nonpoint source pollution

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced a Forum on Nonpoint Source Pollution to guide the state's nutrient reduction efforts and meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations.

Speaking at the Executive Council meeting, Ridge said a 14-member blue-ribbon panel with membership from agriculture, environmental, government and other groups will guide the Forum, which is expected to begin meeting in December.

The Forum, to be held with support from The Conservation Fund and the Heinz Endowment, will make recommendations on how Pennsylvania can achieve further pollution reductions from nonpoint sources of nutrients. ...

Allen announces $60 million Bay initiative

Virginia Gov. George Allen an-nounced that he would propose spending $60 million over the next two years to meet a year 2000 nutrient reduction goal in the Potomac River and to speed up pollution control efforts in other Bay tributaries.

Allen, who has often been criticized for his environmental policies and for the slow pace of nutrient control efforts in Virginia, made the announcement while attending his final Executive Council meeting. Virginia governors are not allowed to seek re-election, and his term ends in January. ...

Watershed groups challenge states to take the lead in action

Watershed organizations representing tens of thousands of citizens throughout the Chesapeake region used the Executive Council meeting to send a strong message to leaders of the Bay restoration effort.

That message, in a nutshell, was: "we'll do our part to restore our watersheds but you have to do your part, too."

The Declaration for Our Rivers, signed by 84 watershed and environmental groups, was presented to Council members by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Director Fran Flanigan, Leslie Bowie of the Piankatank Watershed Project, Charlie Conklin of the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, and Patrick Fasano of the Octoraro Watershed Association. ...

‘Seed grants’ to help grassroot efforts take root, grow

Recognizing that the health of the Bay is determined by the health of the 110,000 miles of rivers and streams that flow into it, the Executive Council approved a new directive intended to promote grassroots watershed protection efforts.

Under a new "Community Watershed Initiative," the Council directed the Bay Program to develop a strategy that helps incorporate local restoration activities into overall Chesapeake restoration goals.

"We believe that working community by community, watershed by watershed, restoring habitat, working to control runoff and other forms of pollution, these local efforts can make a huge difference in the quality of water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay," EPA Admin-istrator Carol Browner said at the meeting. "This Executive council can set high standards and set tough goals - and we should, that is part of our responsibility - but when all is said and done, our successes will hinge on people," she said. ...

Directive goes beyond ‘no net loss,’ requires gain in Bay states’ wetlands

The Bay states have agreed to end wetland losses within the Chesapeake watershed and to develop plans - with specific restoration goals - over the next two years to bring back the critical resource.

The Bay Program has had a policy calling for a "no net loss" of wetlands within the watershed since 1989, yet officials say wetlands continue to be lost or degraded, impairing their ability to filter runoff and provide habitat.

"We are fooling ourselves if we are to believe that we can restore the health of this Bay without first reversing this trend," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at the Oct. 30 Executive Council meeting. ...

Bill would put protection of wetlands on firmer ground

Legislation that would strengthen and clarify the federal government's wetlands protection program has been introduced in Congress by a Maryland lawmaker.

Wetland regulation has been an increasingly controversial issue in Congress in recent years, with about 75 bills being introduced annually to either strengthen or weaken federal wetland regulatory programs.

The issue is likely to gain more attention next year when Congress may consider the long-overdue reauthorization of the Clean Water Act; and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, said he hoped his Wetlands and Watershed Management Act of 1997 would help frame debate on the issue. ...

Changes in habitat leave bog turtle nowhere to run

The bog turtle has had a reason to feel threatened for years. Now it's official - it is.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in November classified the reptile, one of North America's smallest turtles, as "threatened" under the federal Endan-gered Species Act.

The number of bog turtles has declined sharply because of the continued loss and degradation of its wetland habitat. That scarcity, in turn, has made it increasingly valuable to poachers who have picked off many of the remaining turtles for illegal sale. The combined effect of illegal collection and dramatic habitat loss has, in effect, made the bog turtle a species with a price on its head and no place to run. ...

Gilmore pledges to protect Bay; reverse Virginia’s loss of wetlands

Virginia Gov.-elect James Gilmore says that he will be "the primary steward of the Chesapeake Bay" in Virginia, and that by the time he leaves office, the state will have reversed its "progressive loss" of wetlands.

Gilmore, a Republican who triumphed in the state's Nov. 4 election, will become the newest member of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the policy-making body that guides the Bay restoration effort. Though the environment was not a major theme in the election, both Gilmore and his Democratic opponent, Donald Beyer, appeared before the Virginia Environmental Assembly in October to discuss environmental policy. ...

MD panel urges range of actions to reduce pfiesteria risk

Saying that actions to stem future outbreaks of pfiesteria are "the responsibility of every Marylander," a special blue-ribbon panel called for speedy implementation of a wide range of nutrient control activities in the state.

The recommendations cover everything from lawn care to sewage treatment, though most of the panel's attention was focused on agriculture, including a call for all farms to have nutrient management plans developed by 2000.

Still, the panel's November report cautioned that the pfiesteria problem was complex and "will not be solved overnight" and that "outbreaks of pfiesteria affecting fish may well occur again next year." ...

Most agree striped bass are stressed; question is why

Striped bass in the Bay may be stressed out, but scientists studying the fish have no clear explanation as to what factor - or combination of factors - is bothering the prized species.

Fall surveys by the Maryland De-partment of Natural Resources found about 11 percent - nearly 500 of about 4,300 adult rockfish caught - had lesions, some of which were unusually extensive.

"It's a concern," said Reginal Harrell, a scientist with the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory. "It's enough to raise flags. Probably yellow flags. I don't think red flags." ...

Accelerating nutrient reductions

Existing nutrient control programs will achieve reduction goals for phosphorus by the turn of the century, but fall short for nitrogen, according to a yearlong Bay Program effort that re-evaluated progress toward meeting nutrient goals.

In an effort to "close the gap" for nitrogen, the Executive Council called for a variety of actions, where feasible:

  • Accelerate nutrient reduction at wastewater plants currently scheduled for improvements after 2000.
  • Implement low-cost modifications at wastewater plants where such accelerated installation is not feasible to obtain near-term partial nutrient reductions.
  • Encourage voluntary efforts to achieve additional interim reductions from major wastewater treatment plants where nutrient reduction technologies are in place or will be by 2000, but where still higher levels of removal can be obtained from process changes or the year-round operation of nutrient control technologies. Also, to support these efforts through innovative federal, state and local cost sharing arrangements.
  • Encourage commitments for additional nutrient reductions from private sector facilities with high loading rates.
  • Prioritize the implementation of point and nonpoint source reductions that will be minimally affected by lag times associated with groundwater nutrient delivery, with particular focus on areas with critical living resource or human health concerns.
  • Encourage the development and use of innovative point source control technologies and new approaches to nonpoint source reductions.
  • Initiate cooperative efforts with the states of Delaware, New York and West Virginia, with the emphasis on New York wastewater treatment plants and on agricultural nonpoint source management in Delaware and West Virginia.
  • Work toward additional reductions of airborne nitrogen delivered to the Bay and its watershed from all sources, including states outside the watershed, and seek an improved understanding of how airborne nitrogen affects the Bay and its tributaries.
  • Develop new partnerships at the community level to engage increasing numbers of citizens residing in the Chesapeake watershed in the cleanup effort.


Nutrient Reduction Scorecard

Here's how nutrient reductions are proceeding, according to the Bay Program's nutrient re-evaluation report. Point sources are facilities that discharge directly into waterways, primarily wastewater treatment plants.

Nonpoint sources are those that contribute nutrients indirectly to waterways, as a result of fertilizer, animal waste or other pollutants that run off from farms, lawns, parking lots and other land uses.

Nitrogen Point Sources

  • As of 1996, nitrogen loads had been reduced by 12.6 million pounds, or by 15 percent of the point source load.
  • By 2000, under present plans, nitrogen loads should be cut by a total of 22.6 million pounds, or a 28 percent reduction.
  • Full implementation of the tributary strategies should reduce nitrogen discharges by 29 million pounds, or 34 percent.


40% goal: what it includes

The 40 percent nitrogen reduction goal the Bay states are struggling to achieve has shrunk since it was set by the Executive Council in 1987.

After setting the reduction goal (measured from a 1985 baseline year), the states and the EPA decided that the agreement meant a reduction only in "controllable" sources of nutrients to the Bay. Natural "background" sources of nutrients were considered "uncontrollable."

So were nutrients originating from portions of New York, West Virginia and Delaware that are within the watershed. Also excluded was nitrogen from air pollution, septic systems and other difficult-to-quantify sources. ...

Review warns 40% goal will not be enough

After a yearlong review, the Bay Program has concluded that its decade-old goal of reducing the amount of nutrients entering the Chesapeake 40 percent by the year 2000 won't happen unless control efforts are accelerated.

Unfortunately, that's not the whole story.

A report summarizing the results of the re-evaluation warns that - at least in some areas - the original 40 percent nutrient reduction goal probably won't be enough to ensure a healthy Bay.

After a year that saw outbreaks of the fish-killing microbe, pfiesteria, in several Bay tributaries, the conclusion that further nutrient reductions are needed was acknowledged by members of the Executive Council when they conducted their annual meeting on Oct. 30. ...

Hatchery-raised oysters showing resistance to disease

In a hatchery located a few dozen yards from the York River, scientists are accomplishing something watermen and biologists have sought for years - a native oyster that can fend off disease. While efforts of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to evaluate the performance of disease-resistant, non-native Japanese oysters in the Bay have received much attention in the media, biologists at the Institute have also been successfully developing disease-resistant strains of the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica using broodstock from various sources. ...

Oysters rescued from VA harvest may return favor

What started last winter as a rescue effort for some of Virginia's largest oysters has brought new hope for the future of the state's oyster population.

Last year, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission agreed to allow oyster harvests in Tangier Sound against the recommendation of its staff and scientists.

The staff had hoped to preserve the large oysters that had survived in that area, despite the onslaught of lethal diseases, during three years of a harvest moratorium.

Several months after the Commission allowed the harvest, it voted to "rescue" the oysters by purchasing 2,300 bushels of the bivalves from watermen and placing them at a manmade reef in the Great Wicomico River. ...

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