Bay Journal

March 2001 - Volume 11 - Number 1

Bay Program Zeroes in on Sprawl Goals

When Pat Nielsen first visited her husband’s family farm in the 1970s, it was a quiet, rural Eastern Shore area where small towns were surrounded by farm fields, and the Chester River still had huge beds of underwater grasses.

The Bay Bridge, connecting Kent Island and Queen Anne’s County to Annapolis, had only begun to show its impact. But in the following years, development first trickled — then poured — into the small towns and fishing communities.

Concerned about the change, Nielsen and others formed the Chester River Association in 1986, which launched stream monitoring programs and organized “visioning” efforts so citizens could define the way their communities would grow. ...

EPA rules to require cleaner trucks, diesel fuel

The EPA has approved new rules that would require emissions from heavy-duty trucks and buses to be 95 percent cleaner than those manufactured today.

The rule, issued by the Clinton administration in December, would also require that sulfur in diesel fuel be reduced by 97 percent to help meet the emission target.

The rule would ultimately have the same effect as eliminating air pollution from 13 million of today’s trucks.

“Anyone who has ever driven behind a large truck or bus is familiar with the smell of diesel fuel and the clouds of thick exhaust emissions,” said former EPA Administrator Carol Browner. Because of the new rule, she said, new trucks and buses would run “as cleanly as those running on natural gas.” ...

CBF honors Hughes, St. Pierre, Bowden

Former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, considered by many to be the “father” of the Bay cleanup, recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The group also recognized Richard St. Pierre as its 2000 Conservationist of the Year, and Andrea Bowden as its 2000 Environmental Educator of the Year.

Hughes’ accomplishments as governor include leading a battle to make Maryland the first state in the region to ban phosphates in laundry detergents. He addressed land use issues by targeting the Bay’s “critical area” — the first 1,000 feet back from the tidal line. The Critical Areas Act improved land use and sought to eliminate the practices most destructive to the Bay’s health in those areas. ...

Delaware signs voluntary agreement with chicken processors

Five major poultry companies signed an agreement with Delaware officials in January to voluntarily reduce manure runoff linked to pollution in the state’s inland waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

The “memorandum of understanding,” which was immediately criticized by one environmental group, is a sharp contrast to the regulations in Maryland that require poultry processors to share responsibility and manure disposal costs with poultry growers working under contract with the companies. ...

Proposed poultry waste permits draw ire of MD poulty concerns

Proposed regulations to make Maryland’s poultry processors responsible for helping their growers dispose of excess chicken waste drew fiery opposition from hundreds of farmers in late January and early February.

The state announced in December that it planned to issue five-year “co-permits” that would require the three main Eastern Shore poultry processors — Allen Family Foods, Perdue Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. — to share responsibility with their contract growers for the proper handling and disposal of chicken waste. ...

Bethlehem Steel to reduce pollutants entering Bay

Bethlehem Steel has agreed to cut the amount of pollutants its Baltimore-area plant dumps into a Chesapeake Bay tributary.

The steelmaker’s Sparrows Point plant has been operating for 15 years under a side agreement to a 1985 wastewater discharge permit that allows it to dump thousands of pounds more pollutants a month than the permit allows.

Environmentalists had opposed a five-year state permit proposed in October for the plant, which is one of the largest dischargers in the state. The new permit — drafted after negotiations between the company, environmental groups, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the EPA — calls for reductions that went beyond what was originally proposed. ...

Small Watershed Grants Program accepting applications

The Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants Program is accepting applications for up to $50,000 from organizations working on a local level to protect and improve watersheds in the Chesapeake basin, while building citizen-based resource stewardship.

The purpose of the program is to address the water quality and living resource needs of the Chesapeake ecosystem. It has been designed to encourage the development and sharing of innovative ideas among the many organizations involved in watershed protection activities. ...

Study recommends banning mute swan from sensitive areas

A special task force has recommended that Maryland maintain some population of nonnative mute swans in the Bay, while establishing specific “swan free zones” to protect underwater grass beds, rare species and other sensitive sites,

The task force was appointed two years ago to study the issue after the killing of mute swans to protect the state’s only skimmer nesting site sparked an outcry.

Mute swans are natives of Asia, but the large beautiful birds which inspired Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” were brought to the United States to adorn private ponds. In 1962, five of the black-faced, orange-billed birds escaped from captivity into the Miles River. Since then, their population has grown to about 4,000. ...

Trumpeter swan shot after successful migration

A successful migration by 10 trumpeter swans from New York to the Chesapeake Bay was marred when one of the rare birds was shot and killed a week after completing the flight.

State and federal wildlife agents are investigating the Jan. 28 incident. A local resident spotted the dead swan floating shortly after noon in Cabin Creek near the Horsehead Wetlands Center on Maryland’s Kent Island.

X-rays revealed the swan had been shot with a pellet rifle. “We believe that this was not the act of a hunter, but one of vandalism,” said Donielle Rininger, lead biologist with Environmental Studies at Airlie, which is heading a trumpeter swan reintroduction experiment. ...

Nutrient trends

Water quality monitoring in major watersheds — the Susquehanna, Potomac, James, Rappahannock, Appomattox, York, Patuxent and Choptank — generally found no nutrient trends in nutrient loads between 1985 and 1998. The exception was that nitrogen was up in the Choptank and down in the Patuxent. Also, phosphorus was down in both the Patuxent and the Susquehanna.

When the effects of flow were factored out, the data suggested a downward nitrogen trend in six of nine major basins: the Susquehanna, Patuxent, Rappahannock, Mattaponi (a tributary of the York), James and Appomattox. Phosphorus trends were down in seven of nine basins: the Susquehanna, Choptank, Patuxent, Potomac, Rappahannock, Mattaponi, and James. ...

Stream Flow to Bay in 2000 Reflects Dry Autumn

The average streamflow into the Chesapeake Bay was 42.2 bgd (billion gallons per day) in 2000, which was 16 percent below the long-term average, according to hydrologists at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Although the yearly rainfall was slightly above normal, the fall was drier than normal, according to USGS, resulting in the lower yearly average streamflow into the Chesapeake Bay.

The low flows also continued into 2001, according the USGS. January figures showed that streamflows entering the Bay averaged 23.9 bgd, which was 59 percent below normal. ...

USGS report finds no decline in nutrient loads from most rivers

Despite cleanup efforts, most of the Bay’s major tributaries had seen no reduction in nutrient loads through the late 1990s, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The reason, according to the report, is that many of the recent years have been wetter than normal. That caused more nutrients to be swept off the land surface, join higher than normal river flows, and ultimately increase the total amount of nutrients — or nutrient “load” — entering the Bay.

At the same time, had river flows been near normal, many waterways could have seen nutrient load reductions, according to the report. ...

MD, CBF reach agreement to end open Bay dumping of dredge spoils

The Maryland Port Administration and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have reached agreement on a plan to end the open Bay disposal of material dredged from Maryland’s portion of the Bay and its tributaries.

The agreement, resulting in legislation expected to clear the General Assembly, would allow material dredged from shipping channels to be used to restore wetlands or replace eroding islands, as well as be placed on land or in sites where they are contained.

But it would ban controversial open-water disposal except near Pooles Island, off Harford County, a site that has been used for years. ...

Gulf of Mexico plan to reduce nutrients 30% is finalized

A new state-federal plan calls for slashing the size of the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” by half over the next 15 years, something that would require nutrient reductions from the Mississippi basin that dwarf those the Bay Program has struggled to reach since 1987.

An “action plan” signed by 10 federal agencies, nine states and two Indian tribes was sent to the president and Congress in January. It calls for reducing the amount of nitrogen flowing down the Mississippi River by about 30 percent to slash the size of the oxygen-depleted area. ...

Retired statesmen will discuss history of Bay Program

A prominent group of retired statesmen, led by former U.S. Sen. Charles M. Mathias of Maryland, will gather at 10 a.m. April 7 at Washington College in Chestertown, MD to participate in a dialogue on the origins of the Bay Program.

Mathias, whose efforts in 1975 led to the creation of the Chesapeake Bay Program, will be joined by Harry Hughes, Maryland’s former governor; Joseph Gartlan, former Virginia senator; Tayloe Murphy former Virginia delegate; Bernard Fowler former Maryland senator; and George Wolff, of Pennsylvania, a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. ...

Va sets panel to study growth after builders, counties fail to agree

The Virginia General Assembly has moved toward establishing a new panel to study growth in the state after home builders and rapidly growing counties failed to agree on legislation this year.

Growth has been a contentious issue in parts of the state in recent years as rapid sprawl has overwhelmed some areas, causing counties to seek more power from the state to regulate development.

The legislation, backed by key lawmakers and the Chamber of Commerce, would have a 14-member commission look for solutions. “Everyone has come to the table and said, ‘Let’s see if we can get along and see what we can do,’” said Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, a co-sponsor of the legislation. ...

Group’s plan to restore ‘wild’ to watershed has some teeth in it

If Dave Foreman were looking for signs of a healthy Chesapeake Bay watershed, he would look for cougars and wolves.

Stitch together enough pieces of wild land to support large predators, he argues, and you’ll be protecting enough area to preserve most of the bits and pieces of a region’s biodiversity.

“We know that large carnivores have an umbrella effect,” Foreman said at a recent Pennsylvania conference. “In other words, if you protect adequate secure habitat for wide-ranging species, you are protecting habitats for many other species as well, both plants and animals.” ...

Maryland map seeks to make a ‘green print’ on its landscape

Maryland officials have mapped a 2-million acre plan to save the best remaining examples of “ecologically significant” lands before they are consumed by sprawl.

Dubbed “GreenPrint,” the ambitious program identifies a series of “green hubs” — large intact forests, wetlands and other unique ecosystems — and connects them through a series of wide corridors, called “green links.”

This “green infrastructure,” as the state refers to it, is critical for the long-term survival of native plants and wildlife, maintenance of resource-based industries such as forestry, and the protection of the supply of clean water. ...

Bay states must protect 1.1 million more acres to meet goal

The Bay states will need to protect about 1.1 million acres — an area almost the size of Delaware — in the next decade to meet their goal of permanently preserving one-fifth of the watershed as open space.

That could cost about $1.8 billion, according to a new report from the nonprofit Trust for Public Land and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

“The goal is within reach, but not without a stretch,” stated the report, “Keeping Our Commitment, Preserving Land in the Chesapeake Watershed.” ...

By the Numbers

Of the 37.2 million acres within the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia portions of the Bay watershed, about 4.3 million acres had been developed through 1997, according to the Natural Resources Inventory. That is about 12 percent of all land in their portion of the watershed.

By comparison, in 1982, according to the NRI, about 3 million acres, or about 8 percent of the watershed was developed.

Put another way, nearly a third of all the land development that has taken place in the Bay watershed since Capt. John Smith’s arrival in 1607 happened in the 15 years from 1982 through 1997.

State figures are: ...

Impacts of growth

Dealing with growth has been considered by some to be the “Achilles heel” of the Bay Program.

The 1987 Bay Agreement warned “there is a clear correlation between population growth and associated development and environmental degradation in the Chesapeake Bay system.”

The agreement said state and federal governments “will assert the full measure of their authority to mitigate the potential adverse effects of continued growth.”

A panel of experts was appointed to study the issue, and in 1988 they reported that “unmanaged new growth has the potential to erase any progress made in Bay improvements.” It called for more assertive planning efforts by all three states to control the rate of growth, as well as preserve farms, forests and environmentally sensitive areas.

But it was not until the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, which calls for a 30 percent reduction in the rate of sprawl by 2012, that the Bay Program set a quantifiable goal to deal with the issue. The commitment was teamed with a complementary goal to permanently preserve 20 percent of the watershed by 2010. Together, these commitments were designed to slow the rate of land conversion and ensure that some natural habitat and open space remain forever undeveloped.

The relationship between the Bay and its watershed is critical: While the Chesapeake covers about 4,000 square miles, its drainage basin covers 64,000 square miles — an area 16 times greater than the surface of the Chesapeake. What runs off the land can overwhelm the Bay.

As land is developed, though, its ability to filter water — and remove nutrients and other materials — is reduced. Instead of slowly filtering through the soils and into the groundwater, or slowly flowing through forests toward streams, it is often quickly routed into the nearest waterway.

That reduces the amount of water entering streams through groundwater (an important source of stream water during dry periods) and increases stream flows during rainfall. Wide fluctuations in stream flows stress fish and other stream-dwellers. The increased flow during storms erodes streambanks, smothering important bottom habitats with silt.

yield work by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Biological Stream Survey found brook trout were absent from watersheds in which 2 percent of the land was covered with impervious surfaces such as pavement or buildings. As the amount of impervious surfaces increased, fewer species were found.

Sprawled, low-density development increases the distance people have to drive. That can offset expected air quality improvements from more stringent vehicle emission requirements. Nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel combustion, about a third of which come from vehicles, are a major source of nitrogen entering the Bay. ...

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