Bay Journal

October 1998 - Volume 8 - Number 7

Water demands may leave rivers high and dry

On an average day, about 24 billion gallons of water flow down the Susquehanna River past John McSparron’s office — enough water to cover a square mile 115 feet deep.

But increasingly, McSparron, whose office is in the Susquehanna River Basin Commission building in Harrisburg, is worried that future dry summers will leave the the East Coast’s largest river as little more than a trickle.

Historically, the Susquehanna has been more notorious for floods than droughts, but as more users have tapped into what seems an inexhaustible water supply, that situation is changing. ...

Details behind ASMFC shad assessment a bit fishy

The September issue of the Bay Journal described the decision of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to include a five-year phase-out of the ocean fishery in its new management plan for American shad. This is a landmark decision that will give a boost to shad restoration in the Bay, but a few additional points should be made to prevent the reader from having a misimpression of the ASMFC decision.

It was stated in the article that a recent ASMFC shad stock assessment found no evidence that ocean shad fishing was “harming” the shad populations in any of the seven rivers studied. Citing this “lack of evidence,” a state official suggested that capping the fishery would be a better option, because it would allow more study to take place. Unstated was the fact that the ASMFC decision allows states to do nothing for three years, effectively allowing three more years of study if a state feels that a better option can be demonstrated. ...

Stressed out fish more likely to fall victim, to diseases

Fish diseases and related fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay have received public attention with the discovery of toxic pfiesteria populations that appear to be linked with lesions and mortality in menhaden. A different type of skin lesion that has become prevalent on striped bass is believed to be caused by a bacterial infection.

While anecdotal information suggests an increase in fish disease problems worldwide, the vast majority of fish in the Chesapeake Bay are healthy. For example, recent surveys in Maryland this spring and summer show that less than 1 percent of the almost 300,000 fish collected appeared to have external health problems such as lesions. ...

Biologists have high hopes for return of migratory trumpeter swans to Bay

A core of trumpeter swans were trucked from Virginia to New York in September in the first leg of a journey that biologists hope will ultimately re-establish a migrating population on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for the first time in almost 200 years.

Later this fall, the plan is for the 20 trumpeter swans to follow an ultralight plane south through Pennsylvania and finally to property owned by the Waterfowl Trust of North America.

“If successful, it will be the first time since circa 1804 that trumpeters have migrated from New York to the Chesapeake,” said William Sladen, director of Environmental Studies at Airlie, VA, which is heading the project. ...

Peregrines’ return proves endangered list is no flight of fancy

The world’s fastest bird has pulled out of a dive toward extinction and once again is soaring.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has proposed removing the peregrine falcon, which had once been wiped out in the Chesapeake region as well as most of the Eastern United States, from the Endangered Species list.

“Every American should be proud,” Babbitt said. “In 25 years, the people of the United States have rescued this awesome raptor from the brink of extinction. We have proved that a strong Endangered Species Act can make a difference. We don't have to stand idly by and watch our wildlife go extinct. We can bring species back. We have proved it with the peregrine falcon.” ...

Coordinated effort urged to resolve mystery of sick rockfish

For months, scientists have debated — with little consensus — what is behind the apparent increase in the number of sick and seemingly malnourished striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay.

An effort to find defensible answers may soon be under way.

After meeting with scientists from government agencies and universities in September, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, said he planned to meet with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, as well as members of Congress, to push for a coordinated research program to examine the problem. ...

Highlights of CBF’s State of the Chesapeake Report

Wetlands 43

Basis: The value of 43 was based on an authoritative review of historical losses of wetlands in the three Bay states since colonial times and a U.S. Fish & Wildlife study on the annual rate of losses. Assuming that the rate of loss within the watershed was roughly comparable to the statewide losses, these two studies would indicate that the watershed has lost 57 percent of its wetlands since colonial times.

Observations: Wetland restoration efforts have accelerated, but the protection of existing wetlands remains precarious. Recent court rulings and proposed changes in legal and regulatory programs that govern existing regulations threaten existing wetlands. Although the rate of loss of existing wetlands may have slowed somewhat from the 1980s, proposals for large projects that would destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands at a time are being considered. ...

CBF rates Bay’s health at 27 out of 100 in analysis

The Chesapeake Bay is only about a quarter as healthy today as it was when Capt. John Smith and his colleagues settled here nearly four centuries years ago — but it is in better shape than it was only a few years ago, according to a new analysis.

On a scale of 100 — 100 being what John Smith saw — the Bay rates 27, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The number, which the environmental group plans to update annually, is the average of 12 indicators that reflect the health of fish stocks, levels of pollution and conditions of habitats in the Bay. ...

USF&WS rejects request to add Atlantic sturgeon to endangered list

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have rejected a request to list the Atlantic sturgeon — the largest native fish in the Chesapeake Bay — under the Endangered Species Act.

But the decision will almost certainly trigger a legal challenge from the group that petitioned to have the sturgeon, whose populations have plummeted all along the coast during the past 100 years, listed as a threatened species.

“I’d say there’s a 99 percent chance we’re going to challenge them in federal court,” said Jasper Carlton, director of the Colorado-based Biodiversity Legal Foundation. “It’s critically endangered. To say it is not even biologically threatened is incredulous.” ...

U.S. to require polluton discharge permits at large feedlots

The federal government has moved to begin requiring pollution discharge permits — like those issued to wastewater treatment plants and factories — for thousands of large animal feedlots across the nation.

In regulations proposed by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in September, the agencies estimate that between 15,000 and 20,000 “confined animal feeding operations” will need the permits. Only about 2,000 have such permits now.

While the federal and state governments have regulated such facilities in the past, state requirements vary widely. Federal authorities have said a single standard is needed to prevent companies from seeking out lax states and to keep areas equal economically. ...

Signs of ‘growth overfishing’ seen in Bay’s crab population

For the past 30 years, George Abbe has been baiting crab pots with menhaden and dropping them into the Bay near Calvert Cliffs in Maryland and carefully recording what he has caught.

Abbe, a researcher with the Academy of Natural Sciences’ Estuarine Research Center, has seen great years, and bad years, and lots of in-between years as he has examined more than 115,000 crabs caught in nearly 20,000 pots fished.

But one trend has stayed the same: The number of male crabs that he has caught has declined, and their size is getting smaller. ...

Review of surveys finds decrease in number, size of crabs

Scientists say that unless fishing pressure is further reduced on blue crabs, the Chesapeake’s most valuable remaining commercial fishery, the stock could risk a population crash from which it could take years to recover.

The consensus in new round of surveys recently reviewed by a panel of scientists was almost unanimous in indicating that the number of crabs of all ages is decreasing, that mortality caused by fishing is increasing, that the size of crabs is decreasing, and the the population’s spawning stock — those able to reproduce — is below the long-term average. ...

Severe low flows raise concern over salinity levels

In recent years, most of the concern about flows into the Chesapeake have focused on a series of unusually high spring flows that flood the Bay not only with water, but also with high loads of sediment and algae-producing nutrients.

But severe low flows raise their own concerns.

In an estuary such as the Chesapeake Bay, freshwater from rivers mixes with saltwater from the ocean, creating a series of zones with different levels of salinity — areas near the mouth of the Chesapeake have high salinities, while areas up the Bay and its rivers gradually turn fresh. ...

MD only Bay state that regulates water consumption

Of the Bay states, only Maryland has a comprehensive water management policy that allows the regulation of consumptive water use.

The state requires a permit for all surface and groundwater withdrawals and, if necessary, the state can require that consumptive use of water be discontinued — or that provisions be made to replace the water — during times of short supply.

While it’s not a standard permit condition that someone must replace consumptive use water, state officials say they can revisit individual permits and adjust requirements if problems arise. ...

Stream species vulnerable after frequent, prolonged droughts

Three summers ago, David Heicher traveled through the Susquehanna watershed to take a look at the conditions of its rivers and streams during dry conditions.

He found people near access sites dragging their boats around, trying to find water deep enough to float in. He found streamside wetlands that had become totally disconnected from the receding waterways. He found silt and algae building up in areas where fast-flowing water normally scoured the rocky bottom clean.

And in some places, he found no stream at all. “There were some locations in New York state where the only water that was left in the stream was pools,” said Heicher, chief of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s water quality and monitoring program. “Some small streams were totally dry.” ...

Wet winter predicted for upper portion of watershed

Grab the boots and umbrella.

Even as the 1998 freshwater flows into the Chesapeake remained on track to set a record, meteorologists are predicting a wet winter for the upper portions of the Bay watershed.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a slightly wetter than normal winter and early spring for upper portions of the watershed, including most of the Susquehanna River basin, which normally supplies half of all the fresh water reaching the Bay.

It’s all a byproduct of La Nina, a relative of El Nino, which was blamed for bringing so much water — and warm temperatures — last winter and spring. ...

Watch you water consumption

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission offers the following tips on how to conserve water year round, and especially during drought conditions.

Residential Users

  • DO NOT water lawns. Only water recently seeded or planted landscapes or year-old vegetation.
  • Limit vehicle-washing activities. If you must wash a vehicle, use a bucket instead of a hose and go to car washes that re-use the water.
  • Take short showers instead of baths. Collect water in a bucket while waiting for the shower to warm up. Consider bathing children together.
  • Don’t run water while shaving, brushing teeth or washing dishes by hand.
  • Run dishwasher and washing machines only when filled to capacity.
  • Inspect and repair all leaking faucets, pipes, hoses and toilets.
  • Install new shower heads and sink faucets equipped with water-saving devices, such as aerators or spray taps, or retrofit existing showers and faucets with these devices.
  • Replace older toilets that use more water with new, low-consumption toilets. For older toilets requiring five to six gallons per flush, place a water-filled bottle inside the toilet’s tank to use less water.
  • Refrigerate tap water to avoid running the faucet for a long period to get cold water.
  • Sweep sidewalks and driveways — don’t hose them down.
  • Select more drought-tolerant vegetation and plant species for landscaping, and use mulches to retain moisture.
  • Direct downspouts or gutters toward shrubbery or trees, and/or collect the water in a large bucket for use elsewhere (non-potable water).
  • Cover pools and spas when they are unoccupied to reduce evaporation.

Golf Courses & Agricultural Operations Using Irrigation Systems ...

A Bay Journal Film, Nassawango Legacy


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