Bay Journal

April 2000 - Volume 10 - Number 2

Virginia begins to regulate nontidal wetlands

Virginia’s recent spate of wetland losses may soon be coming to an end. The General Assembly, after considerable debate, overwhelming approved legislation creating a state regulatory program that would require anyone disturbing nontidal wetlands to get a permit from the Department of Environ mental Quality.

Even before those regulations take full effect next year, the legislation would move to quickly close a loophole in federal law that resulted in widespread wetland draining last year. ...

Toad-ally dedicated volunteers sought for Frogwatch USA

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Frogwatch USA program is looking for volunteer monitors. This USGS educational program provides children and adults with an opportunity to learn about the environment while collecting valuable information about local frogs and toads.

According to scientists, amphibians are declining worldwide; several species already have gone extinct, and other, once-thriving, species have diminished in numbers.

“Understanding the decline of amphibians is crucial to uncovering how society’s activities affect water quality, wildlife habitat and the overall health of the environment,” said Sam Droege, a wildlife biologist and amphibian researcher with the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD. “Over time, the information that is collected by volunteers will contribute to the growing body of knowledge regarding the status and health of amphibians in the United States.” ...

Bald eagle recovery in watershed on track; nests, eaglets up in ’99

The bald eagle recovery in the Bay watershed — an area with one of the highest concentrations of eagles in the United States — remained on track in 1999.

Surveys indicate the Maryland, Pennsyl vania and Virginia portions of the watershed had 486 active nests (nests with young) last year, up from 449 in 1998. In addition, there were 513 nesting adult pairs.

The count also shows an increasing number of young. The watershed last year had 706 eaglets in active nests — up from 614 the year before. The gain stems from significant increases in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The number of eaglets nearly doubled in the Susquehanna River basin of Pennsylvania, while the number increased by 25 percent in Maryland. ...

Legislators skeptical about TMDL proposal from EPA

Members of Congress continued to express skepticism in March over whether the EPA has the legal authority to impose its proposed new rules for cleaning up the nation’s polluted waterways.

The controversy is swirling around the EPA’s planned rules to guide the development of future Total Maximum Daily Loads — cleanup plans for waterbodies that still fail to meet water quality standards 28 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act.

Through mid-March, the rules had been the subject of five mostly hostile hearings, and more were planned. In addition, the TMDL rules drew questioning of EPA Administrator Carol Browner during appropriations hearings for the agency. ...

Bacteria abundance in Bay unprecedented, raising cleanup concerns

Once legendary for its production of fish and shellfish, the Chesapeake Bay today is churning out huge quantities of something most people can’t even see: bacteria.

In fact, the Bay appears to produce more bacteria than any other estuary. Overabundance of the tiny microbes, which is the primary cause of oxygen depletion of in the water, could make the job of cleaning the Chesapeake much harder than anyone presently thinks.

“The thing that is most out of whack in the Chesapeake Bay is this bacterial component,” said Robert Jonas, a microbiologist with George Mason University. ...

Scientists working to improve Bay water model

Teams of scientists have begun working with Bay Program officials to review and improve the model used to predict how the Chesapeake will respond to nutrient and sediment reductions.

The goal is to have an improved water quality model, recently the subject of a critical review, ready early next year as a tool to help state and federal officials decide the magnitude of nutrient and sediment reductions needed to achieve a “clean” Bay by 2010.

An academic review team selected by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee issued a report late last year that found fault with several key parts of the model, which is considered to be one of the most sophisticated and complex of its type in the world. ...

Gateways Themes

To give visitors a context in which to understand the Bay, the Draft Gateways Framework envisions organizing sites around three overarching Bay themes that link all sites:

  • Interconnectedness: These are the links between water, place and nature that have influenced sites and events over time.

  • Interdependence: For centuries, human well-being has depended on the Bay’s abundance; today, the Bay’s well-being is dependent on human decisions and actions. ...

Network of Chesapeake Bay ‘Gateways’ just down the road

Within the next few months, Bay region visitors and residents will see the first signs — literally — of new “gateways” that will lead them to the places, and tell them the stories, that make the Chesapeake unique.

The National Park Service recently unveiled a vision for its Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Initiative, a network of linked natural, cultural and historic sites to help people learn about, and gain access to, the Bay.

A draft framework for the network was distributed at a Feb. 28 conference that attracted more than 200 people, most of whom were representatives of sites that may join the network, local groups interested in developing water trails, or state and local government resource and tourism officials. ...

Virginia signs $91 million pact with USDA conservation program

A new state-federal program will pay Virginia farmers to restore and protect thousands of acres of wetlands, stream buffers and other sensitive lands in the Chesapeake watershed.

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore on March 8 signed a $91 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at improving wildlife habitat and reducing nutrient and sediment runoff into the water.

“The program has been eagerly anticipated by farmers and landowners across Virginia,” Gilmore said. “Today’s agreement is very good news for the commonwealth.” ...

Lands bill gets overwhelming support in House, awaits vote

Legislation that would give the Bay states unprecedented amounts of money for land acquisition, wildlife conservation and habitat restoration has secured overwhelming support in the U.S. House.

As of mid-March, 317 of the 435 House members had signed as co-sponsors of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, and identical legislation had been introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support.

“A historic wildlife and conservation victory is within our grasp this year in Congress,” Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said at a March 1 rally for the legislation at the Capitol. ...

Drinking water top priority of local watershed groups

The Bay Program’s top priority — cleaning the Chesapeake — is not the top priority of most local watershed groups in the region.

While more than half of the groups in a recent survey said cleaning and restoring the Bay was important, the survey found that the top local concern was protecting drinking water. The Bay ranked eighth.

Still, the first-ever survey of watershed organizations in the Chesapeake basin found that the Bay Program and local watershed groups share many goals, such as restoring rivers and streams, improving habitat for fish and wildlife and conserving open spaces. ...

Shortage of shells hampers efforts to reconstruct oyster reefs

The Bay has too few oysters. But it also has a shortage of what is needed to bring them back: oyster shells. And that will make the job of rebuilding the oyster population more difficult — though not insurmountable.

In the Bay, oyster shells are critical for oyster reproduction because larvae — or “spat” — require a solid surface to latch onto and grow. Historically, that has been old oyster shells on and around reefs.

But over the past few centuries, reefs have been knocked down by harvesting practices. Shells have been used for a host of other purposes instead of going back into the water. ...

All sides agree sanctuaries key to oysters’ recovery

Nearly 50,000 acres of the Bay’s bottom — an area slightly larger than Washington, D.C. — may eventually be permanently zoned as a safe harbor for oysters.

Setting aside 10 percent of the Chesapeake’s historic oyster beds as permanent sanctuaries was one of the key areas of agreement reached among scientists, managers, watermen and environmentalists from Maryland and Virginia during a recent workshop.

Ultimately, the sanctuaries would become the focus of oyster restoration efforts in the Bay, where reefs would be built, and oysters would be allowed to grow old, large and — hopefully — disease tolerant. As they reproduce, those protected oysters would form the base of the Bay’s future oyster population and support a growing harvest in areas outside the sanctuaries. ...

Corps replaces controversial wetlands permit with more stringent one

After years of debate and review, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced new, more stringent regulations to protect wetlands.

The Corps is replacing its controversial Nationwide Permit 26, which had often allowed up to three acres of wetlands to be destroyed with minimal review, with a new permit program that will cover actions affecting more than a half-acre of wetlands.

Nationwide Permit 26 had long been criticized by environmentalists as a loophole allowing too many wetlands to be lost too easily. Unlike individual permits, which require site-by-site review, NWP 26 was a “general permit” allowing projects to be quickly approved with minimal oversight. ...

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