Bay Journal

May 2000 - Volume 10 - Number 3

In survey, stream dwellers decide what’s healthy

Carrying electrofishing gear on their backs and wearing rubber waders on their feet, Scott Stranko and Tony Prochaska waded into Parkers Creek.

Their aim was to stun and identify every fish, frog and stream dweller in a 75-meter stretch of the stream on Maryland’s Western Shore. Quickly, the two Department of Natural Resources biologists had their first unique find: Prochaska pulled a 4-inch fish from the stream.

“That’s pretty much a record-size eastern mudminnow,” he declared. “They don’t get very big. That’s a wall-hanger for a mudminnow.” ...

Development heating up brook trout’s battle to survive

The brook trout is the most abundant sport fish found in Maryland’s freshwater streams. But it might not have much of a future in many parts of the state.

The Maryland Biological Stream Survey estimated that about 318,000 brook trout live in state streams today. But that may be only about a tenth of the number found a few centuries ago.

Trout require cold, clean, undisturbed streams. Much of their habitat has been lost since Colonial days.

Today, according to the survey, streams with good habitat conditions average 599 brook trout per mile. If that number were multiplied by the nearly 5,000 miles of streams in the Piedmont and mountain portions of the state — which historically would have been suitable for brook trout — Maryland streams would have once contained nearly 3 million brook trout, according to an estimate by Paul Kazyak, a Department of Natural Resources biologist. ...

Maryland/Virginia 2000 Legislative Update

The Virginia General Assembly approved landmark legislation that launches a regulatory wetland protection program within the state. But outside that, the 2000 General Assembly sessions did not see passage of major environmental initiatives. In Maryland, a proposal from Gov. Parris Glendening to require more efficient septic systems in sensitive areas failed to win approval.

Here are some of the Maryland and Virginia legislative highlights (The Pennsylvania assembly meets year-round.) drawn from a summary produced by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel that represents the General Assemblies of all three states. ...

Judge: SRBC can limit water use

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission can regulate the amount of water Baltimore draws from the Conowingo pool, a federal judge has ruled.

The city filed the case two years ago in response to a 1998 commission action, and the issue arose again during last summer’s drought when Baltimore pumped 100 million gallons of water a day from the pool just above the Conowingo dam.

The commission granted the city emergency approval to draw the water. But the city contended it did not need any approval, insisting it is entitled to draw as much as 250 million gallons a day from the river. ...

PA bill allowing municipalities to control sprawl moves to House floor

Pennsylvania municipalities would be able to jointly formulate plans designed to control sprawling development under a bill approved in March by a House of Representatives committee.

The bill, combined with another measure approved by the House Local Government Committee, would offer tools that municipalities could use on a voluntary basis.

“If we want municipalities to plan and work together, we have to give them incentives,” said Rep. David J. Steil, R-Bucks, the sponsor of the bills. ...

Wastewater plants urge panel to acknowledge menhaden’s filterer ro

Virginia wastewater treatment plant operators have injected themselves into a fishery management debate, saying the panel that oversees Atlantic menhaden needs to account for the fish’s role in the Bay ecosystem.

The Virginia Association of Municipal Wastewater Agencies hailed a February action by the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission to restructure its Menhaden Management Board by reducing the influence of the fishing industry as an “excellent opportunity to re-evaluate the management of this important species.” ...

Patuxent oil spill cleanup could take weeks

Officials estimate that it could take weeks to clean up a several-mile long ribbon of oil that spilled into the Patuxent River after a pipeline was discovered leaking April 7. And, they said, it could take months to restore surrounding marsh land.

In the worst spill in the Bay in years, an estimated 111,000 gallons of oil spewed into the river after a rupture in an underground pipeline that supplied fuel to the Potomac Electric Power Company’s Chalk Point Generating Station, the state’s largest power plant. ...

Judge affirms EPA’s authority to set limits on runoff to waterways

For the first time, a federal judge has upheld the EPA’s authority to set pollution limits for rivers and other waterbodies that are polluted by runoff sources of pollution such as agriculture or forestry.

In ruling on a California case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the EPA’s limits for such nonpoint sources of pollution were not binding, but that states would risk losing federal grant money if they did not enact regulations and other land management actions that control runoff and meet water quality goals. ...

Bill to restore 1 million acres of estuarine habitat near approval

Legislation to restore 1 million acres of habitat in the Bay and other estuaries over the next decade has cleared the U.S. Senate and could win House approval by early June.

The Estuary Habitat Restoration Partnership Act calls for spending $315 million over the next five years to fund on the ground — and in the water — restoration projects by nonprofit organizations, schools, state and local governments, and others in coastal areas.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure in late March. Similar legislation was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in March and was awaiting consideration by the Resources Committee in early May before going to the floor for a vote. ...

Other states criticize Virginia’s refusal to lower horseshoe crab catch

An effort to protect horseshoe crabs from overfishing along the Atlantic coast has gotten, well, downright crabby.

Virginia has refused to lower its catch under an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan that orders states from Florida to Maine to devise methods by May 1 to cut their catch and to compile data needed to assess the health of the species.

Virginia’s refusal to lower its catch by 25 percent could wipe out the conservation efforts of Maryland, New Jersey and other coastal states that have agreed to slash their harvests, fisheries officials say. “Everybody on the Atlantic coast is outraged,” said Peter Himchack, a New Jersey marine resources supervisor. ...

Congress approves extension for Bay Program, funding increase

A bill that officially extends the federal-state Bay cleanup partnership for six years and calls for increased funding for the Chesapeake restoration effort, was overwhelmingly approved by Congress.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act authorizes the continued operation of the state-federal Bay Program through 2005 and calls for giving it up to $30 million a year — nearly $12 million more than it now receives.

In addition, the bill requires federal agencies to adhere to the Bay Program’s nutrient reduction and other goals when managing land in the watershed. ...

Beauty & the Beast: Foreign swan poses management questions for Bay

The big, beautiful mute swan inspired Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” They are associated with the postcard-perfect images of the River Thames and Lake Geneva.

But some wildlife biologists worry that the native of Eurasia doesn’t make such a perfect match with the Chesapeake Bay.

Recent surveys show their population is skyrocketing. Biologists fear the mute swan is competing for food and habitat with native waterfowl, such as the tundra swan, and that large flocks of mutes are scaring other birds away. ...

Looking at biology, not chemistry is more cost-effective for restoring streams

The goal of the 1972 Clean Water Act was to “restore and maintain the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s water.”

In reality, most of the effort in the past three decades has focused on the chemical aspect of the act, not whether streams were capable of supporting healthy biological communities.

And while chemical pollution in waterways has been reduced, largely because of restrictions on industrial discharges, biological communities often continue to suffer. ...

The River Continuum Concept

Streams are organic machines that use raw energy and turn it into different products — or organisms — as it flows downstream. Streams begin in the hills or mountains as rainfall seeks low areas and groundwater seeps to the surface. Headwater streams are ƒften too small to have fish — the Maryland Biological Stream Survey rarely finds fish in drainage basins of less than 300 acres.

Frequently, these streams are totally shaded by the riparian forest canopy, which limits the growth of algae. Groundwater often keeps temperatures stable. Inhabitants — mainly insects — rely on twigs, leaves and other organic matter for fuel, which they break down into finer particles. ...

Features of Good Streams

To provide good habitat, rivers and streams need a mix of deep and shallow areas, known as pools and riffles. These provide different habitats for insects and fish. Many insects live their entire lives in a specific site, such as a riffle. Fish may use different habitats during different life stages, and depend on different types of insects during various life stages.

Good Substrate

All streams need some solid material such as cobble, submerged logs or snags to provide habitat for certain insects, as well as a spawning area for some fish species. Generally, small streams need more substrate as a percentage of stream bottom than larger waterways. ...

3 centuries of settlement take toll on water quality

When Lord Calvert arrived in 1634, Maryland was 95 percent forested. Today it is only about 44 percent forested, with only about 80 acres of virgin “old growth” left, half of it in the Bay watershed. Regrown forests are often managed for timber production, which causes subtle but substantial adverse effects on streams by altering temperature, erosion rates and hydrology.

Also, because forestry management has historically viewed dead trees as wasteful and potentially harmful to forest health, streams today lack an abundance of large woody debris such as tree trunks.This debris provides habitat, alters channel morphology and bank erosion rates, and helps to delay the downstream passage of nutrients. The loss of woody debris has been, and continues to be, a major influence on stream conditions in Maryland. ...

Findings of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey

Capt. John Smith described the Chesapeake watershed as a “delightsome land with clear rivers and brookes running to a faire Bay.”

He didn’t do any scientific monitoring of those streams. But it’s a safe bet that today’s waterways have been dramatically altered from what the Bay’s first explorer saw.

In fact, the Department of Natural Resources’ Maryland Biological Stream Survey concluded in a report summarizing its comprehensive, three-year, stream review that “no truly pristine streams exist in Maryland today.” ...

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