Bay Journal

June 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 4

Bay grasses decline 10%

The Chesapeake’s underwater meadows, often cited as the best indicator of how the Bay is doing, took a beating last year.

The overall acreage of Bay grasses declined by 10 percent — to 63,597 acres — in 1998, according to an annual aerial survey by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Although grasses gained ground in some areas, overall coverage was set back to 1991 levels.

The lack of a sustained recovery for grass beds is a blow to Bay Program hopes of achieving 114,000 acres of “submerged aquatic vegetation” by 2005. And some say it is a sign that, if grass beds are to be restored, cleanup efforts may have to be stepped up. ...

April flows into Bay 32% below average

River flows into the Chesapeake, which has been below average since August, remained lower than normal in April, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Average April flows into the Bay are 93.4 billion gallons a day, but this year’s flow was only 63.8 bgd, or 32 percent below the long-term average measured by USGS since 1951.

Historically, low flows are good news for water quality because they wash fewer nutrients and sediments into the Bay. The nutrients fuel algae blooms, which eventually die and sink to the bottom, depleting the water of oxygen. Algae and sediment also cloud the water, blocking sunlight to underwater grass beds that provide important habitat for juvenile fish, blue crabs, clams and waterfowl. ...

Metro areas seek bigger say in the Bay decisions

Concerned about the mounting costs of nutrient control efforts, large metropolitan areas of the Chesapeake watershed want a bigger say in the Bay Program’s decisions.

In a recent meeting with top officials from the Bay jurisdictions, representatives from the region’s largest metropolitan areas said they often pick up the tab for Chesapeake cleanup efforts — such as wastewater treatment plant upgrades — but have no voice in setting policies or goals.

“This is part of a legitimate effort to play a part in what is going on,” said Jack Anderson, of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, who said the plan was consistent with efforts to involve more stakeholders in the Bay’s decision-making process. ...

Loophole leads to widescale wetland draining in Virginia

Developers in the southeastern corner of Virginia have begun draining more than three square miles of wetlands since a court ruling created a loophole in federal regulations last summer.

In addition to the 2,000 acres where drainage has begun, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 5,500 additional acres of wetlands are likely to be ditched and drained in the coming months — bringing the total potential loss to more than 10 square miles.

“In this area, I suspect we haven’t seen impacts of this magnitude for at least a generation,” said Steve Martin, an environmental scientist with the Corps’ Norfolk District. ...

Pennsylvania public forums to seek input on ‘sound land use’

Pennsylvania is in the midst of an aggressive grassroots “sound land use” outreach program, and state agencies want to hear the views of citizens, local government officials, planners, developers, environmentalists and members of the business and agriculture communities.

To this end, the state is presenting 50 forums to help gain a better understanding of the rural, urban and suburban perspectives on land use. These views will aid the state as it implements the Growing Greener Initiative, which will shift dollars from the state to communities, conservation districts, watershed groups and authorities. The goal is to change the focus of environmental protection efforts to watersheds, invest in restoring public lands, and offer incentives to municipalities to do sound land use planning as recommend by the 21st Century Environment Commission. ...

Bill would provide $315 million to restore nation’s estuaries

Legislation aimed at restoring one million acres of estuarine habitats, such as wetlands, underwater grass beds, oyster bars and other critical areas over the next decade has been introduced in Congress.

The “Estuary Habitat Restoration Partnership Act” would make $315 million available over the next five years to fund restoration projects by nonprofit organizations, schools, state and local governments, and others across the nation.

The money would help the Chesapeake Bay and other coastal areas to reverse the often-dramatic declines in habitat. ...

Federal, local officials commit to cleaning up Anacostia River

On a perfect spring day with clear blue skies above and the capitol dome rising in the background, the Anacostia River looked like the environmental gem regional government officials say it can and should be.

On May 10, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening joined other federal and local officials in signing an agreement committing themselves to a campaign to clean up the river and make it a showplace of the nation’s capital.

Over the next decade, they will work toward six goals that include reducing pollutants flowing into the river, restoring fish populations, expanding forest cover and increasing wetlands in the watershed. ...

NOAA’s advice is glad tidings for Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

The Bay was a comfortable 67 degrees. The Coast Guard, kayakers and power boaters were standing by to pluck any luckless swimmers out of the water.

The crowd of more than 500 anxious swimmers who had gathered at Maryland’s Sandy Point State Park last June 8 grew suddenly quiet as Derek Orner stepped up to the microphone to give them the most important information for their 4.4-mile trip across the Bay.

It was the latest word about the tides. “If we get you in here at Sandy Point at slack tide, you’ll be pretty much swimming with that slack tide all the way across the Bay,” said Orner, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office. ...

Tributary teams plan June wade-ins to promote water quality awareness

Inspired by former Maryland Sen. Bernie Fowler, who serves on the Patuxent Tributary Team, eight of Maryland’s other tributary teams plan to hold “wade-ins” or similar events to promote water quality awareness in June.

The events are tailored to local conditions — the Upper Potomac Team, for example, decided not to wade into the fast-flowing river, but will sponsor a fishing derby at Rocky Gap State Park. The Patapsco/Back Team plans a secchi disk “dip in” to Baltimore Harbor. Other teams plan to take the plunge and see how far they can go and still see their feet. ...

Gilchrest will ask Congress to fund menhaden study

Amid growing concern about the health of the Atlantic menhaden stock, the coastal agency responsible for the oily fish will launch a series of public meetings this summer as part of an effort to overhaul the fishes’ management.

And a Maryland congressman said he would soon introduce legislation calling for a federal study to examine the health of the menhaden stock, much as the federal government supported research on striped bass when its population went into a tailspin nearly two decades ago. That study ultimately led to the efforts credited with striped bass recovery in the Bay and along the coast. ...

Survey finds crab population fully exploited

New surveys conclude that the Bay’s blue crab population is “fully exploited” and the overall size of the spawning stock remains below its long-term average.

It’s the second straight year that surveys have shown that the harvest of crabs, the Chesapeake’s most valuable commercial species, has reached its maximum threshold without risking the stock. And, according to a new advisory report from the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, that is too close for comfort.

“Those are the ceilings that we don’t want to cross, and we’ve been kind of bumping our heads against that ceiling,” said Derek Orner, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who is the CBSAC’s acting chair. ...

Fish clear last big hurdle on James

The last time fish could swim up the James River past Richmond, Andrew Jackson was president, the first American clipper was being launched in Baltimore and the government was at war with the Black Hawk Indians in Wisconsin.

But after 167 years of closure, migrating fish this spring were able to pass Boshers Dam — the last remaining obstacle to fish between the mouth of the James and Lynchburg.

The $1.4 million passage reopens hundreds of miles of spawning habitat to migratory fish such as American shad, which is the focus of major restoration efforts throughout the Bay. ...

Book bridges gap between Bay, backseat

Families heading to ocean resorts this summer will again have a chance to learn about their connections to the Chesapeake by playing Maryland’s latest edition of the award-winning “Bay Game.”

Now in its third year, the “Bay Game” is designed to be played from the back seat of the car by anyone 3 years or older. It includes pictures to color, quizzes, games and colored stickers.

The game, designed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, increases children’s awareness of how things they see on the trip relate to the Chesapeake. They are challenged to find such Bay-related items as osprey nests, wetlands, farm fields and forest buffers. ...

Appeals Court blocks tougher air quality standards

A federal appeals court blocked the EPA on May 14 from imposing tougher air quality requirements that the agency says are needed to protect children and people with respiratory problems.

The 2-1 ruling on a lawsuit by a number of industry groups was a major defeat for the Clinton administration, which has viewed the air regulations as one of its top environmental accomplishments.

The EPA said it intends to appeal the decision, and has instructed states to move forward with pollution control plans that meet its July 1997 standards, which dramatically reduced the amount of ground-level ozone —or smog — and microscopic soot allowed in the air. ...

EPA seeks steep cut in car, SUV emissions

The EPA has proposed sharp cuts in emissions from cars and increasingly popular sport utility vehicles that could significantly drive down the amount of pollution entering the Bay.

For the first time, the new standards would force vans, light trucks and other sport utility vehicles — which account for almost half of all vehicles sold — to eventually meet the same emission requirements as cars.

The new standards proposed in May would be phased in over a period of five years beginning in 2004. Larger sport utility vehicles would be given more time to meet the standards, but would have to meet a series of increasingly tighter standards in the interim. ...

EPA action in VA raises question about voluntary nutrient reductions

Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay is officially polluted, at least according to the EPA.

It’s not that the water is any dirtier than in past years, but the EPA’s Region III office in May determined that much of the Bay must be included on the state’s “dirty waters list” because it does not meet state water quality standards.

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for Virginia and other Bay states: It raises questions about the future of voluntary nutrient reduction efforts which have been the cornerstone of the Bay Program for more than a decade. ...

Wetlands goal: How many acres are enough?

Long before he led the war against the British, George Washington helped wage a campaign to drain the Great Dismal Swamp on the southern edge of the Bay watershed.

While Washington’s 1763 plan proved to be a failure, many others in the past two centuries were devastatingly effective: Since the 1780s, nearly 2 million acres of marshes, swamps and other wetlands have vanished from the Bay’s drainage basin. Today, only about 1.3 million acres remain.

Now, officials are asking, how many wetlands should the watershed have in the future? ...

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