Bay Journal

January 1998 - Volume 7 - Number 10

Growing Respect for Grass

Out in the York River, a group of four men were digging the foundation for a strong, Bay ecosystem with their bare fingers. Dressed in scuba gear, they moved along a submerged grid made out of rope and plastic tubing. Every 15 centimeters, along half-meter rows, they worked their fingers into the sediment and stuck in a single sprig of eelgrass, a species of underwater grass.

"This is actually the fastest way we found so far to put the plants in - finger power," Jamie Fishman, a scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, explained while the grass planters took a break. "It works pretty good. You just can't have 30-knot winds." Indeed. Fishman and his colleagues were actually restoring a restoration project. Only a few days before, strong east winds had gusted straight down the river, pushing water aside and uprooting dozens of plants that had taken many tedious hours to put in. ...

Trumpeter Swans Arrive at New Winter Home on Bay

For the first time in two centuries, a group of trumpeter swans - the largest waterfowl in North America - touched down on the Eastern Shore in late December, the first step in an innovative project to bring the birds back to the Bay region.

The swans made their 103-mile experimental migration from Virginia to a farm in Crapo, MD, where they will spend the winter. The three female swans - YoYo, Sid and Isabelle - made the flight Dec. 19 behind an ultralight plane, which they had been trained to follow as if it were a "parent swan," in four-and-a-half hours. ...

Grants to Protect Waterways Available

Watershed groups and local governments who want to act to protect their local waterways may be eligible for support from the Bay Program.

The Bay Program is launching a small watershed grants program to support local education and restoration efforts that advance both local and Chesapeake restoration goals and are likely to achieve relatively quick results.

The money is made available through a special $750,000 appropriation from Congress to provide "seed grants" and technical support to local watershed protection initiatives. ...

Loss of Stream Gauges Worries Scientists

Small buildings that look like outhouses are disappearing from the banks of the nation's rivers, and concern is rising among some scientists that the loss will hamper their ability to monitor rising water levels.

The humble-looking structures house stream gauges, the main instrument for measuring water flows. Several years ago, 11,000 gauges dotted river banks across the nation, but that number has fallen to a little more than 9,000.

"Stream gauges are an endangered species," declared Emery Cleaves, director of the Maryland Geological Survey. In Maryland alone, the number has fallen from 95 in 1985 to 76 in 1996. ...

Conservation Groups Threaten Suit to Protect Delmarva fox Squirrel Habitat

A conservation group in Maryland's Queen Anne's County and a national wildlife organization are threatening to sue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, saying it has failed to protect the habitat of the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.

As required by law, the groups recently filed notification of their intent to sue in U.S. District Court, officials with the Queen Anne's Conservation Association and the national Defenders of Wildlife said. "We're hoping it won't get to that stage [of a court battle]," said Mike Senatore, a lawyer with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington. "We're just trying to get the Service's attention." ...

Rockfish Sores Spur Speculation of Food Web Out-Of-Whack

After management efforts in the last decade rescued the striped bass stock from the brink of collapse, some are now suggesting the recovered stocks have outgrown their food supply and available habitat.

Right now, there is nothing but circumstantial evidence to suggest that is the case. But some scientists and fishermen say the large number of striped bass in the Bay is stressing the population, possibly resulting in the sores seen on a large number of fish last fall.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources' surveys found that about 12 percent of the adult striped bass caught during routine fall surveys had lesions, an unusually high number. ...

Smithfield Fines to go to U.S. Treasury, Not Cleanup Efforts

The Bay cleanup effort won't get a windfall from the company convicted of polluting a Virginia tributary of the Chesapeake.

A judge had wanted the $12.6 million pollution fine she levied against Smithfield Foods Inc. to be used toward the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, but in the end she decided that federal law required the money be paid to the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said in a December ruling that she "reluctantly" agreed with the Justice Department's position that civil penalties owed to the United States must go the Treasury. "Simply depositing civil penalties into the vast reaches of the United States Treasury does not seem to be the most effective way of combating environmental problems caused by a specific polluter," she said in a six-page ruling. "However, it is not the court's role to legislate, but rather to enforce the law Congress has passed." ...

Water Board OKs Plan to Dam Mattaponi Tributary

Virginia's State Water Control Board approved a draft permit for a proposed King William County reservoir that has drawn protests from environmentalists and the Mattaponi Indian tribe, but they left the door open for further review in the future.

Proponents told the board at its Dec. 16 meeting that the $130 million, 1,500-acre reservoir is needed to meet the growing water needs of the Williamsburg-Newport News-Hampton area through the year 2040.

"We all recognize that the future economic viability and quality of life on the Peninsula depends on securing a reliable water supply for the long term," Newport News Mayor Joe Frank told the board. Opponents said the project would violate two 17th century treaties with the Mattaponi and ruin a pristine river that is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including several threatened species. Opponents are trying to raise national recognition of the issue. ...

National Parks in Watershed Looking for Links to Bay

Only a few hundred feet from the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac sits an exhibit that explains how those rivers link a nearby wetland to the Chesapeake Bay.

The exhibit, Wonders of the Harpers Ferry Wetlands, is in a building across the street from an old fire engine house - now known as John Brown's Fort - which highlights the pre-Civil War raid that makes the West Virginia town familiar to most people.

But not everyone at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was pleased when prime, street-front space was devoted not to historical displays, but to a wetland exhibit featuring taxidermied mink, gray fox, great blue heron, American widgeon and other wetland dwellers in a diorama of their natural habitat. ...

Concern Over Ammonia from Agriculture Cropping Up

Dealing with ammonia volatilization could add another layer of complexity to animal waste management, which historically has focused mainly on curbing nutrient runoff that pollutes surface and ground water.

Ultimately, farmers could be asked to control not only what runs off the land, but what goes up in the air.

In some cases, that could prove to be a delicate balancing act as efforts to control one form of pollution sometimes may contribute to another.

Consider the North Carolina example. Ammonium deposition in coastal waters may have increased as a result of efforts to control runoff from industrial hog operations by building large manure storage "lagoons." ...

Ammonia Deposition Raises Concern Over Algae Growth

Ammonia may cause foul smells near farms and wastewater treatment plants, but it does more than stink if it enters the Bay or other coastal waters.

Any form of nitrogen spurs algae growth when it enters salt water. And while algae like nitrogen in general, they love ammonium.

Algae have to convert nitrate - the main form of nitrogen in the water - into ammonium before they can use it. When ammonia hits in the water, it is ready to use. Algae don't have to spend any energy to convert it, so more of the nutrient is used for growth. ...

Ammonia Deposition Raising Concerns in Bay Watershed

Scientists working on North Carolina's Outer Banks have noticed a change in the air in recent years - one that could also have implications for the Chesapeake.

In the past two decades, the amount of ammonia wafting across the coastal bays to their air monitor site has nearly doubled.

In the late 1970s, only about 20 percent to 30 percent of airborne nitrogen collected in their rainfall samples was in the form of ammonium. Now, that percentage has climbed to "the high 40s," says Hans Paerl, a researcher with the University of North Carolina's Institute Of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. ...

Damage from Clamming Raises Debate Over SAV Protection

Each year, a plane takes a long, 12,000-foot-high journey across the Chesapeake and the Atlantic coastal bays of Maryland and Virginia, taking pictures all along the way.

That yields an annual crop of photos that scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science use to determine where beds of submerged aquatic vegetation are expanding - and disappearing. But in the past year, the photos raised an alarm.

It the midst of grass beds in Chincoteague Bay, on the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore, large circles of grasses had completely vanished. ...

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