Bay Journal

November 1998 - Volume 8 - Number 8

New rules offer downwind states a whiff of fresh air

The Chesapeake may soon be getting a windfall — because of what’s not blowing into the Bay. Recent federal actions to slash nitrogen oxide emissions from cars, power plants and other sources may significantly reduce the amount of algae-feeding nitrogen that reaches the Chesapeake in the future.

When current air pollution control actions are fully implemented — still more than a decade away — they should reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake by more than 10 million pounds annually, according to recent Bay Program estimates.

That is about 3 percent of the total amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake in a typical year. Put another way, it’s a third of what enters the Bay from Maryland’s agricultural-intense Eastern Shore. ...

Executive Council to meet Dec. 8 in Baltimore

The annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting is set for Dec. 8 at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The council members are expected to sign a number of directives to guide future Bay restoration activities, but the main focus of the meeting is expected to be on an education initiative aimed at integrating information about the Bay in classrooms throughout the watershed. As part of the meeting, high school students will ask council members questions.

In addition, the council meeting will start a two-year process to review the past — and future — of the Chesapeake restoration effort, which will culminate in the signing of a new Bay Agreement in 2000. The last agreement was signed in 1987, and has served as the guide for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup ever since, including the setting of the 40 percent nutrient reduction goal. ...

Congress approves Chesapeake Bay Gateways & Watertrails Act

The Chesapeake Bay is on its way to getting a network of hiking trails, scenic drives and water trails that link significant cultural, historic and recreational resources throughout the watershed.

Congress approved the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Act which directs the National Park Service to identify, conserve and restore important resources throughout the watershed that can serve as “gateways” to peoples’ understanding of the Bay.

Eventually, the legislation envisions a watershedwide network of gateway sites that could be connected by designated auto tours, scenic drives and hiking trails. The idea is to help residents and visitors understand how individual sites fit into the Bay’s collective cultural, historical and natural history. ...

Report calls sprawl PA’s biggest challenge

A new report warns that controlling the “reckless, almost random growth” that is blanketing Pennsylvania’s open lands will be the state’s biggest environmental challenge as it enters the next century.

The 21st Century Environmental Commission’s report, sought by Gov. Tom Ridge to help identify future environmental issues, said the state needs to rewrite laws that guide local government planning and rethink ways it spends money as part of efforts to keep new development from sprawling over the countryside. ...

Industries continue to surpass toxics release goal

Industries in the Bay states have continued to surpass their turn-of-the-century goal for reducing the amount of toxics they release, according to new figures from the Bay Program.

A recent analysis of data from the EPA’s 1996 Toxics Release Inventory shows that industries in the Bay watershed have cut their releases of certain toxic chemicals by 67 percent since 1988.

In 1996, according to the figures, the 898 facilities within the watershed required to file TRI reports released 96.5 million pounds of the 182 toxics tracked by the Bay Program. That was a decrease from 292.5 million pounds in 1988, and 100.3 million pounds last year. ...

In the future, scientists may leave industrial site cleanups to poplars

Cleaning up polluted industrial sites may not require billion-dollar government programs. Instead, scientists suggest, plant a poplar tree.

Laboratory-designed hybrids of the fast-growing poplar tree have been found to act like 100-foot straws that suck contamination from soil and groundwater.

In a process known as phytoremediation, the tree either safely stores the chemicals in its tissues or metabolizes them into apparently less volatile compounds. Then the tree releases these byproducts through its leaves as vapor into the atmosphere. ...

Congress OKs funds for 2nd year of Small Watershed Grants

Congress has approved $750,000 for the Bay Program to make a second round of grants to local governments and watershed groups engaged in restoration projects throughout the Chesapeake watershed.

The Small Watershed Grants Program was designed to deliver funds directly to watershed-based citizen organizations and local governments for environmental restoration and protection projects. Grants this year ranged from $500 to $40,000.

“I have always believed that local stewardship is essential if we are to protect the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and its streams,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who sponsored the legislation providing the grants’ funding. “The funding we have provided again this year will help local communities and citizens groups undertake many worthy projects to address the Bay’s water quality and living resource needs.” ...

Bay’s oysters, SAV fall victim to cownose rays’ eating habits

Already reeling from diseases, oysters remaining in the Bay are being picked off by winged predators that flock into the Chesapeake each summer to snack on shellfish.

The creatures are cownose rays, sometimes called flat sharks, which are perhaps better known for their spiny tails — which can inflict a venomous sting — than for their appetite.

“It seems cownose rays are everywhere, and they’re very big shellfish predators,” said James Wesson, who is in charge of oyster restoration efforts for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “They’re a problem that we’re going to have to deal with.” ...

Freshwater flows to Bay fall behind ‘96 for first time this year

Mother Nature turned off the faucet into the Chesapeake in September and — for the first time this year — the total amount of freshwater flowing into the Bay has fallen behind record-setting 1996.

Flows into the Bay from its tributaries averaged 14,100 cubic feet per second during September, less than half the long-term average of 31,500 cfs for the month, according to figures from the U.S. Geological Survey.

In large part, the reduction was caused by the Susquehanna, which normally supplies about half the freshwater into the Bay. In September, though, the Susquehanna supplied only 36 percent of the water entering the Chesapeake. ...

MD, VA rockfish reproduction indices better than average

Juvenile striped bass reproduction in Maryland exceeded the long-term average as rockfish continue their comeback, the state’s annual survey indicates.

Meanwhile, the annual striped bass survey in Virginia showed nearly twice the average reproduction in that part of the Bay.

While the surveys are strong indicators that rockfish — which were the subject of a coastwide fishing moratorium only a decade ago — have recovered, they will likely fuel concerns by some that there is not an adequate food base to support the surging population. ...

Pathologists say fungus may play greater role in fish lesions

Many of the ugly, deep lesions associated with pfiesteria-related fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay are caused by a fungus infection, say fish pathologists who have studied the wounds.

The extensive lesions found in scores of dead fish examined by pathologists were caused by a slow-growing fungus species called Aphanomyces, which the pathologists say had to have afflicted the fish for a week or more before the die-offs took place.

“These menhaden lesions are chronic lesions that are caused by a deeply penetrating fungal agent,” said Wolfgang Vogelbein, a pathologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “It indicates to us that those lesions are older than a few hours or a few days. They’re probably a week or more old.” ...

Bay states’ plans not likely to meet draft strategy

It appears that all the Bay states will have to beef up permit-writing programs for animal feedlots if they are to comply with the draft federal strategy to reduce pollution from those facilities.

Under the draft strategy, permits will be required at all operations with more than 1,000 “animal equivalent units” — about 1,000 beef cattle, or 100,000 chickens — as well as at smaller operations in sensitive watersheds or which pose particularly high threats to water quality.

Overall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA expect that 20,000 farms nationwide will need permits, a tenfold increase from today. It’s unclear what those numbers will mean in the Bay states, but many officials say the number needing permits is sure to grow. ...

Nutrient Management Plan Components

The draft animal feedlot strategy establishes a “national performance expectation” that all feedlot owners will develop and implement technically sound and economically feasible comprehensive nutrient management plans. The plans envisioned in the strategy are much broader than those typically developed in the Bay watershed, which usually focus only on the land application of nutrients The elements of new plans are to include:

Feed Management: Where possible, animal diets and feed should be modified to reduce the amounts of nutrients in manure. ...

Strategy would overhaul nutrient management plants

The proposed federal strategy to reduce pollution from animal feedlots is such a comprehensive approach to dealing with manure problems that none of the Bay states — even the mandatory programs in Maryland and Pennsylvania — would meet its goals without changes.

“It’s scaring the hell out of people,” said one federal agriculture official.

Or, is it a strategy with enough waffle room that little will change?

“EPA and USDA really missed a chance to say, ‘This is what we would like you to do,’” said one environmentalist. ...

EPA orders 22 states to cut summer nitrogen oxide emissions

The EPA has ordered 22 states to slash their summertime nitrogen oxide emissions by 1.1 million tons, or 28 percent, to help reduce the chronic smog problem that blankets many cities.

The EPA said the action would help 138 million people, mostly in Eastern states, breath cleaner air, as well as bring those states closer to attaining the strict, federal standards for ground-level ozone and tiny particulates that were approved last year.

It was the agency’s first action to force air pollution reductions on upwind states to improve downwind air quality, and it is expected to help the Bay. About a quarter of all the nitrogen entering the Chesapeake, or about 75 million pounds, is thought to originate from air pollution. ...

EPA may force sport utility vehicles to meet tighter emission controls

The EPA this year is expected to propose new emission controls for vehicles which are likely to further reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions and force popular “sport utility vehicles” to meet the same emission standards as automobiles.

Those actions will be needed, according to an EPA report recently sent to Congress, to control air pollution in the face of trends toward increased driving and the growing use of large trucks and vans, which spew more pollutants than cars. Motor vehicles produce almost half of all NOx emissions nationwide, and about a third of NOx emissions within the Chesapeake “airshed.” ...

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