Bay Journal

October 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 7

Grasses make it clear where water quality is best

For 71 years, Daniel Harrison sailed Tangier Sound and the surrounding area in his skipjack, making his living off the Bay’s bounty. But when the 86-year-old Smith Island resident looks at the murky water that surrounds the island today, it bears little resemblance to what he saw as a youth.

“The grasses were everywhere then,” he recalled. In those days, Harrison said, the water was so clear a waterman could see crabs swimming along the bottom in 18 feet of water. “You couldn’t catch them, because you couldn’t reach them.” ...

Environmentalists say overdevelopment worsened effects of PA floods

From the biggest cities to the smallest towns, Pennsylvania communities still recovering from Hurricane Floyd can place partial blame for the region’s disastrous flooding on sprawl and poor planning, environmentalists charged.

Building in flood plains and near waterways, paving over wide expanses of land so it cannot absorb rain and tearing out water-absorbing trees all exacerbate flooding problems. Cities, suburbs and “exurbs” — communities even farther beyond traditional suburban areas — are all vulnerable, environmentalists say. ...

Highlights of CBF’s 1999 State of the Chesapeake Report

Below are some of the highlights from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 1999 State of the Chesapeake Report.


Wetlands 42 [-1 from 1998]

In 1998, wetlands covered about 43 percent of their acreage before European settlement. Thousands of wetland acres have been destroyed in Virginia since last fall as a result of a court ruling (the “Tulloch” decision) that reopened a loophole allowing the ditching and draining of wetlands. The ditching has erased encouraging restoration gains, reducing the index to 42. ...

Bay’s health improves slightly in ’99 CBF index

The health of the Chesapeake has improved slightly since last year, although only part of the credit for the change goes to management actions, according to the annual “State of the Bay” report compiled by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

On a 100-point scale, the environmental group this year put the Bay’s health at 28, one point better than it awarded the Chesapeake last year.

The score was based on an average of 13 different indicators, which paint a mixed picture for the Bay. While efforts to bring back the striped bass have been successful, and oyster restoration efforts are being stepped up, trouble looms for wetlands and blue crabs. ...

National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to handle watershed grants

The EPA has selected the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., to administer the Small Watershed Grants Program in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The popular program, now in its second year, provides financial assistance and support to local governments and watershed groups undertaking a variety of watershed improvement projects.

“Rivers and streams are the lifeblood of the Chesapeake Bay and of thousands of communities in our region,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who worked to secure $750,000 for the program in each of the past two years. ...

Phosphorus in manure drops as chickens eat hybrid corn

Flocks of chickens fed a hybrid strain of corn produced manure with 41 percent less phosphorus than normal in an experiment conducted by the University of Delaware.

The findings have significant meaning for farmers, who are under pressure to reduce the amount of phosphorus, a vital soil nutrient, spread as fertilizer. Phosphorus runoff is widely blamed for water pollution, fish kills and outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microorganism.

Several grain companies have licensed the gene needed to make the new variety of corn, which might be on the market within six months. ...

Scientist says clamming takes toll on Maryland grass beds

The Virginia scientist who conducts the annual survey of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake says this year’s aerial photography continues to show extensive damage to Maryland grass beds that appear to be the result of fishing activities.

Bob Orth, a professor of biological sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said in a letter to Maryland Depart-ment of Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers that some previously dense grass beds were being “reduced to scattered, small pockets.” ...

Survey queried watershed residents on lawn fertilizer, dogs, septic systems

The Center for Watershed Protection surveyed 750 residents, divided equally between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, on three easily modified behaviors that can influence water quality: lawn fertilization, cleaning up dog wastes, and septic system maintenance.

Dense urban areas, such as Washington and Baltimore, were not surveyed, because they lack of septic systems, have smaller or no yards, and surveys have shown that yards in urban areas have lower fertilization rates than those in suburban areas. ...

Watershed message needs to hit home a little harder

A new survey suggests that many of the Bay’s 15 million watershed “stewards” have little idea that their actions affect the Bay. And many routinely do things that can result in increased water pollution.

Some findings:

  • More than a third of dog walkers admitted that they never bother to pick up Fido’s doo-doo.

  • A full 25 percent of homeowners appear to overfertilize their yards each year — and only 1 in 10 bothered to have a soil test done to determine whether any fertilizer was even needed.


Scientists offer mixed review for depositing dredge spoil at Site 104

Plans to dispose of 18 million cubic yards of dredged material in a deep part of the Bay is not likely to result in the serious long-term harm suggested by some of the project’s critics, according to a review by a team of university scientists.

But it would also not produce some environmental benefits claimed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its draft environmental impact statement, the scientists said.

“It’s not as rosy as the draft impact statement would suggest,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “The assertions about environmental improvements are speculative at best and have to be further demonstrated. ...

Floyd quenches drought in eastern part of watershed; west still thirsty

The drought for much of the watershed ended with a deluge from Hurricane Floyd, which dumped a foot and a half of rain on some areas.

But Floyd’s fury was largely felt in Eastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Western parts of the watershed got little rain, and drought — or near drought — conditions remain.

The deluge was a sharp contrast for the Bay, which had seen record — or near record — low flows from its tributaries almost every month since last fall. ...

Group files suit over conservation plan for Delmarva fox squirrel

The region’s first endangered species “Habitat Conservation Plan” is a danger to the Delmarva fox squirrel it is supposed to protect — and a bad model for future plans — say environmentalists who have filed suit on the issue.

The suit was filed in September by Ned Gerber, a wildlife biologist who lives adjacent to the planned development, and an environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife. It seeks to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to revoke the habitat plan it approved for the 16-house Homeport development in Maryland’s Queen Anne’s County. ...

Total Maximum Daily Loads Demystified

Portions of hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams in the Bay watershed fail to meet their water quality standards. Under the Clean Water Act, the states are required to write detailed cleanup plans, known as TMDLs, for each of those impaired waterways.

In addition, the Bay itself is considered impaired, and will need an enforceable TMDL unless it is “cleaned up” before 2011. Here — adapted from EPA fact sheets — is an overview of the TMDL program, and proposed revisions to the program in question and answer form. ...

Under TMDLs, polluters must clean up their act, and then some

One might call it the “less than zero rule.” For at least the next decade, it may be impossible to open a new — or significantly expand an existing — wastewater treatment plant anywhere in the Bay watershed unless the owners can find a way to totally offset all new nutrient discharges.

And then, the owners will likely have to cut nutrient discharges another 50 percent beyond that.

The same is true for animal feedlots, industries or any other activity requiring a discharge permit under the Clean Water Act. ...

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