Bay Journal

July-August 2001 - Volume 11 - Number 5

Bay Program unveils draft criteria for clean Bay

When Bernie Fowler and about 80 companions locked arms and walked in the lower Patuxent River this June, they didn’t lose their footing, although they quickly lost their feet.

At a depth of 31 inches, the water was so murky they could no longer see their shoes. After a decade of slow improvements, water clarity during Fowler’s annual “wade-in” has declined for the second straight year since reaching its peak of 44 inches.

At that point, Fowler had seen signs of recovery: Underwater grasses were beginning to come back. Since then, the grasses have faded away, along with the water quality. ...

Maryland may intervene in some local land use decisions

Land use decisions made by Maryland local governments could soon be fought by the state if they run counter to Smart Growth principles, Gov. Parris Glendening recently announced.

The governor said that the state’s Department of Planning would begin using authority granted under a 1974 law to challenge land use actions that encourage sprawl, possibly by suing local governments.

“The people of Maryland have called upon the state to be more aggressive in fighting sprawl,” Glendening said. “Starting now, the Department of Planning will use the full extent of its authority to do just that by becoming more involved in key, precedent-setting, land use decisions.” ...

Welsh named Region III administrator

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has appointed Donald Welsh of the Pennsylvania Department of Environ mental Protection to be administrator for EPA Region III, which includes the Bay watershed.

Welsh has been the DEP’s deputy secretary for state/federal relations since August 1997 and served as special assistant to the secretary for two years before that.

As deputy secretary, he has been responsible for working with the EPA on federally delegated programs, tackling Pennsylvania’s federal legislative priorities and working with the Environmental Council of the States on the development of new regulatory approaches and measures for environmental program effectiveness. ...

Pennsylvania DEP closes Big Spring trout hatchery

One of Pennsylvania’s largest trout hatcheries will be closed later this year for polluting one of the state’s most prized trout streams.

The state Department of Environmental Protection in June ordered the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to stop discharges from its Big Spring Fish Culture Station in Cumberland County after the commission failed to submit an “acceptable” plan to reduce pollution and restore the stream.

After a meeting with commission officials, though, the DEP withdrew its original order that discharges end July 1 to give the commission time to move out the hatchery’s 730,000 trout — something that could take until November. ...

Study predicts rapid growth for MD unless sprawl is contained

Unless its smart growth programs successfully contain sprawl, Maryland would develop an additional 301,000 acres of land — about 940 square miles — by 2020, according to a new study by the state Department of Planning to be released this summer.

That development would result in the loss of about 170,000 acres of forests and 131,000 acres of farmland, according to the analysis.

The projection was based on 1997 county zoning and land use policies, and therefore does not reflect the impact of the state’s Smart Growth legislation, which encourages counties to steer development into designated growth areas and reduce the size of lots. ...

Bay states at odds over definition of sprawl, how to measure it

A year after agreeing to curb the rate of “harmful sprawl” development by 30 percent, Bay Program officials have yet to determine exactly what they meant — and how to measure it.

The Chesapeake 2000 Agreement’s sprawl goal was hailed as the region’s first effort to rein in development, which is blamed for degrading streams and increasing Bay pollution — both from runoff and air pollution from people driving ever-greater distances.

Forging the sprawl language was also the agreement’s biggest sticking point. ...

Patuxent Sojourn spotlights restoration, watershed stewardship

The Joseph Leidy lay anchor near an oyster bar just south of where Route 231 crosses the Patuxent River.

The Academy of Natural Sciences research vessel’s captain, Bill Yates, was looking for boats, not the fishing craft that typically speed around the area, but a flotilla of kayaks and canoes.

The paddlers were participants in the inaugural Patuxent Sojourn — a weeklong trip down Maryland’s largest intrastate waterway.

When they finally arrived, the paddlers dumped Yates’ 100 bags of oyster shell overboard in an effort to create a suitable substrate for larval oysters. ...

Strong fun of ‘peelers’ clouds discussion on blue crab harvest

When they talk about blue crabs, it’s almost as if watermen and scientists are looking at two different waterbodies, rather than a single Chesapeake Bay.

At the June meeting of the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee, scientists presented their latest analysis, which suggests the crab stock remains low and appears to be declining. And, they predict another year of below-average harvest.

But watermen said this spring had the strongest run of “peeler” crabs — young crabs just about to molt — in years, especially around Tangier Island. ...

BNR uses bacteria to reduce nutrients

While there are a number of ways to reduce nutrients in effluent, the main technology used is biological nutrient removal.

All wastewater treatment plants remove some nitrogen; the average concentration at a typical plant after normal treatment is about 18 milligrams per liter of water.

BNR improves nitrogen removal by modifying plants to enhance the growth of certain kinds of bacteria.

To do that, ammonia (a form of nitrogen) in wastewater must first be converted to nitrate. That’s done by extending the aeration time — usually by expanding aeration basins at treatment plants — to allow bacteria to perform the conversion. ...

Caps, not upgrades, are plants’ greatest concern

The main concern about “limit of technology” nutrient controls for wastewater treatment plant operators may not be the upgrade, but what happens after reductions are achieved.

The Bay Program has indicated that once additional nutrient reductions needed for a “clean” Chesapeake are achieved, nutrients will have to be capped at that reduced level to maintain the improved water quality.

But if a treatment plant is at the “limit of technology” and has its total nitrogen discharge capped, it would have no way to accommodate new growth as people move into an area, said Paul Calamita, counsel to wastewater treatment plant associations in Maryland and Virginia. ...

Bill would offer federal aid to wastewater plants

Maryland and Virginia senators have united to push legislation that would spend $660 million over 5 years to help wastewater treatment plants upgrade to state-of-the-art nutrient control technology.

The legislation would reimburse municipal wastewater plants in the watershed for up to 55 percent of the cost of installing technologies that can remove up to 85 percent of the nitrogen from effluent.

That bill would pay the federal share of the estimated $1.2 billion to upgrade all 287 major wastewater plants in the watershed to provide “limit of technology” treatment. ...

Dissolved Oxygen Criteria

Migratory Spawning & Nursery Areas

6 mg/l averaged over 7 days with a 5mg/l 1-day minimum from mid-May to mid-June.

This is intended to protect larval and early juvenile stages of freshwater species in upper tributaries and the Upper Chesapeake Bay. The early life stages are often more sensitive to low oxygen levels than adult fish

Shallow Open Water Areas

5mg/l as a 30-day average, with a 7-day average of 4mg/l & a 1-day minimum of 3.5 mg/l ...

Chlorophyll a

Chlorophyll is the pigment that allows plants (including algae) to convert sunlight into organic compounds (photosynthesis). Of the several kinds of chlorophyll, chlorophyll a is the predominant type in algae.

Measuring chlorophyll concentrations in water is a surrogate for an actual measurement of algae biomass, which is far more expensive and time consuming.

Excessive amounts of chlorophyll indicate the presence of blooms. Blooms usually consist of a single species of algae, typically one that is not desirable for consumption by fish and other predators. Unconsumed algae sink to the bottom and decay, depleting deeper water of oxygen. ...

Living Resource Designated Uses for the Chesapeake Bay & Tidal Tributary Waters

Migratory Spawning & Nursery

Designated Use: Promote the growth of balanced native populations of ecologically, recreationally and commercially important anadromous and semi-anadromous fish species.

Boundary: From the upper extent of tidal waters to the lower reach of existing spawning and nursery habitats, and from the water surface to the bottom or to the pycnocline where it exists.

Representative Species/Life Stages: Adult spawning, egg, larval and juvenile life stages of striped bass, American shad, hickory shad, alewife, blueback herring, white perch and yellow perch and other migratory species not listed here. ...

Nutrients, Sediment Root of Most Water Quality Problems in Bay

While the new water quality criteria change the cleanup goal for the Bay, the route to getting there remains the same: the reduction of nutrients and sediment, which are the root of most water quality problems in the Chesapeake.

Excess nutrients spur algae blooms which, along with sediment, cloud the water, preventing sunlight from reaching underwater grass beds that provide food for waterfowl and shelter for juvenile blue crabs and fish. They also help to pump oxygen into the water and buffer shorelines from erosion. ...

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