Bay Journal

December 1998 - Volume 8 - Number 9

Buildup behind dams looms over Bay cleanup

The flood of January 1996 bought time for the Bay states to defuse a time bomb that threatens much of the Chesapeake restoration effort, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

The “bomb” is the huge buildup of sediment and phosphorus in reservoirs behind a series of large dams on the lower Susquehanna River.

Those dams trap two-thirds of the sediment and two-fifths of the phosphorus that flow down the river in an average year.

But once the dams filled, all that material will reach the Bay. As a result, according to the USGS, the amount of phosphorus reaching the Bay from its largest tributary could increase by 70 percent, while sediment discharge would jump by 250 percent a year. ...

EPA orders power plants to test for mercury emissions

It won’t be long before people around the country learn how much mercury is coming out of the smokestacks of their local power plant. The EPA has directed utilities to test how much mercury goes into the air through their plants’ smokestacks.

Mercury is a heavy metal that, with high exposure, can cause developmental problems in fetuses and delay walking and talking in children, as well as lowering scores on nervous system function tests.

Mercury is of particular concern because it persists in the environment. Mercury air emissions can end up in waterways through rainfall and runoff and “bioaccumulate,” or build up, in the food chain. It is one of 14 chemicals on the Bay Program’s “Toxics of Concern” list — those substances thought to pose the greatest risk to aquatic life in the Chesapeake. ...

Bay Program honors 16 local governments

Fourteen new local governments were named Chesapeake Bay Partner Communities in 1999, while two counties honored in 1997 upgraded their participation to gold status.

The Chesapeake Bay Program relies on the significant contribution that local governments make to help meet its restoration and protection goals. It created the Chesapeake Bay Partner Communities program to recognize, encourage and support local governments that implement multidimensional projects that protect streams, rivers and the Bay. ...

Phosphorus hotspots may be targeted for control

Phosphorus — which long played second-fiddle to nitrogen in the Bay cleanup — is likely to continue moving closer to center stage in the future, at least for agriculture.

For years, conventional wisdom was that any excess phosphorus applied to the fields would bind to the soils and stay put. As a result, more attention was paid to controlling water-soluble nitrogen, which can be readily washed into streams, sink into groundwater or even volatilize into the air only to land somewhere else. ...

Better maintenance of dirt roads will pave the way to cleaner streams

Something was amiss in “God’s Country.” In the early 1990s, fishermen in Northern Pennsylvania noticed that the clear water in some of Potter County’s trout streams was turning murky.

While members of the God’s Country Chapter of Pennsylvania Trout began looking elsewhere for fish, one of the state group’s leaders, James “Bud” Byron, investigated. The pollution, he soon concluded, wasn’t coming from the end of a pipe — it was from long-established dirt roads, which were literally shedding into the stream, clouding the water with sediment. ...

New generation learns how Bay scientist navigated the way

It was the first-run film with the sequel, all in one.

Seven distinguished scientists, “the old gurus,” gathered to share their experience and advice with a couple dozen aspiring student scientists from universities in the watershed — the “young Turks.”

Call it Chesapeake Bay: the First Generation. And Chesapeake Bay: the Next Generation.

The “old gurus” were the early leaders of Chesapeake science — those who made some of the fundamental discoveries that shape today’s understanding of the nation’s largest estuary which, in turn, led to today’s restoration effort. ...

Bay program effort looks to the skies

The Bay Program is entering the space age.

NASA, on Nov. 5, became the 15th federal agency to become a formal member of the Bay Program, pledging to use its data-gathering satellites, low-level aircraft and the space shuttle to help with water cleanup and pollution-reduction efforts in the Chesapeake and surrounding areas.

Under an agreement signed with the EPA, NASA agreed to share water temperature, pollution runoff, fish population, algae bloom and other data already gathered from space. The agreement covers both current data and historical information from the agency’s archives. ...

Federal government commits itself to more active Bay effort

As one of the largest landowners in the Chesapeake watershed, the federal government wants to set a stewardship example through its actions, both on the land and in the Bay.

To emphasize that point, senior officials from a score of agencies and departments signed the “Federal Agencies Chesapeake Ecosystem Unified Plan” committing them to 50 specific actions to improve the Bay, from restoring wetlands to bringing space-age technology to the cleanup effort.

“Today’s announcement renews the Clinton administration’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries,” EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at a Nov. 5 signing ceremony at Fort McNair in the District of Columbia. “This is a significant cooperative effort aimed at preserving one of our greatest national treasures.” ...

October flows to Bay 59% below long-term average

After drenching the Bay with the greatest amount of fresh water on record during the first six months of this year, the flows have turned to a trickle.

Figures from the U.S. Geological Survey show that during October, flows from the Bay’s tributaries averaged 17, 500 cubic feet per second — about 59 percent below the long-term average of 42,300 cfs that normally flow into the Bay during the month.

From January through June, flows into the Bay had been above average every month. In fact, 1998 had been on track to pass 1996 as the wettest year on record. ...

Lawmaker says proposed moratorium would hurt MD farmers

A proposal by Maryland environmentalists for new regulations on farming — including a moratorium on big, new hog and chicken farms — is “an absolute formula for bankruptcy for many of our farmers,” an Eastern Shore lawmaker said.

Farmers, especially young farmers with big mortgages, are already struggling because of falling prices and regulations placed on them by the state in legislation passed last year to reduce the pollution of waterways by farming operations, said Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. ...

Federal feedlot strategy gets mixed reviews at hearing

The federal government’s first thoughts about how to curb pollution from animal feedlots got decidedly mixed reviews at a special “listening session” aimed at gathering input before a final strategy is released.

Environmentalists berated the draft “Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations” for being vague, weak and taking too long to take effect.

Many called for a moratorium on permitting any new large animal operations until a stronger regulatory program is developed. “If you’re not willing to do that,” said Michael Stibich, chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, “I’m not willing to take your effort seriously. It is a sham.” ...

New NOx rules to keep 8 million pounds of nitrogen out of Bay

The EPA’s recent action to curb nitrogen oxide emissions from 22 states should keep about 8 million pounds of nitrogen a year out of the Bay when the action is fully implemented in 2003, according to a new report.

That’s equal to about 11 percent of the Bay Program’s 71 million pound nitrogen reduction goal.

In an action now being challenged by an industry group and several states, the EPA ordered parceled out specific NOx reductions totaling 1.1 million tons — or 28 percent — to 22 states in late September. ...

Striped bass in trouble? It’s unclear

During Maryland’s striped bass trophy season this spring, John Mayer could guide his clients to plenty of big striped bass that had migrated from the coast into the Bay to spawn.

“It was the best I’ve ever seen,” said the charter boat captain,who is based in Solomons, MD.

Fishing stayed strong through the early summer, he said, then things got “weird.” Fish became more scarce, and those that were left were getting thinner. “It makes me think they were leaving town — there was not enough to eat,” he said. ...

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