Bay Journal

May 2002 - Volume 12 - Number 3

Bay Program narrows range for nutrient reductions

Bay Program officials can’t yet pinpoint the exact amount of sediment and nutrient reductions needed to clean up the Chesapeake.

But they narrowed the range for the ultimate answer.

Recent computer model estimates suggest that the Bay jurisdictions will likely have to slash nitrogen runoff an additional 24 million to 104 million pounds a year. About 285 million pounds now enter the Bay annually. The results suggest a similar level of effort for phosphorus.

Officials generally expect that the level of reductions needed to clean up the Bay will be toward the middle to high end of the range. ...

Warner seeks trash fee to fund environmental programs in Virginia

With the James River as a backdrop, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced a plan to impose a fee on all trash dumped at Virginia landfills.

Warner chose Richmond’s James River Park as the setting for his announcement that money generated by the new fee of $5 a ton on landfill waste will go to a variety of state environmental programs. A portion will also be set aside for grants to local governments for similar purposes.

Warner suggested that the new fee, known as a “tipping fee,” is a way of compensating for Virginia’s role as a major importer of other states’ garbage. He noted that Virginia is the “the No. 2 importer of out-of-state trash” in the United States and that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision precludes the state from simply outlawing the practice.

Bay states’ legislatures enact land conservation, water measures in 2002

This roundup was produced by Brian Feeney, public affairs specialist with Horne Engineering Services, which provides support to the U.S. Army’s Chesapeake Bay Program. It also contains information from the annual Legislative Update produced by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three Bay states. The commission’s full legislative update is available on the internet at

The Maryland and Virginia 2002 general assembly sessions were dominated by budget issues, with both states trimming spending and avoiding expensive new environmental initiatives.

Mutated male organs in frogs blamed on common pesticide

Male frogs exposed to very low doses of a common weed killer can develop multiple sex organs — sometimes both male and female — researchers in California have discovered.

“I was very much surprised,” at the impact of atrazine on developing frogs, said Tyrone B. Hayes of the University of California at Berkeley.

Atrazine is the most commonly used weed killer in North America, he said, and can be found in rainwater, snow runoff and groundwater. It is the second most widely used pesticide in the Bay watershed.

Fire retardant showing up in waterways around the world

A commonly used flame retardant, found in many chair cushions, is turning up everywhere from Virginia fish, to mothers’ breast milk to arctic animals.

Research shows the chemicals in question, brominated diphenyl ethers — or BDEs for short — easily move through the environment and are being found in remote rivers and other far-flung places where there are no obvious sources.

“It is the ultimate nonpoint source pollutant,” said Robert Hale, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Pharmaceuticals passing from humans to water

The nation’s waterways are awash with traces of painkillers, caffeine, antibiotics and other products commonly passed through humans and farm animals, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Among the 95 substances detected in waterways as part of the study were contraceptives, insect repellents, perfumes and nicotine — substances which generally go untreated at wastewater treatment plants but may pose threats to the aquatic environment.

The USGS found at least one of the compounds in 80 percent of the 139 stream sites sampled nationwide. The sampling sites included a half dozen locations in the Bay watershed.

Bay Program targets fish advisories as part of toxics strategy

When conducting “stakeholder” meetings two years ago to identify top toxic pollution issues for the Chesapeake, Bay Program officials hit upon something they had never dealt with: fish advisories.

At the time, 21 watershed sites had warnings about eating locally caught fish.

“The stakeholders said that was not acceptable, and the fish should be safe for consumption by everybody,” said Kelly Shenk, nonpoint source coordinator with the EPA’s Bay Program Office.

Potential storm damage to ‘Ghost Fleet’ creates haunting scenario

Two rusty cargo ships anchored side-by-side in the James River Reserve Fleet rip open in a major storm. More than 282,000 gallons of heavy oil pour into the James.

Within 48 hours, a black blanket of petroleum washes north onto Jamestown Island, a national landmark. Across the river, the sticky oil laps against an intake pipe that draws cooling water for the Surry nuclear power plant.

The spill also rolls south to the tip of Newport News and Portsmouth. Along the way, it soils sandy beaches, state wildlife sanctuaries, a historical park, prime bird and duck habitat, scenic waterfront properties, oyster seed grounds, clam beds, inland creeks and tidal marshes.

EPA announces program, sets goals to restore Great Lakes

Senior Great Lakes region officials recently announced a new plan to clean up and restore the world’s largest freshwater system, setting specific goals and calling for all levels of government to work more closely together.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the Great Lakes Strategy 2002 addresses the most serious problems facing the five lakes, including sediment contamination, the proliferation of nonnative species, loss of habitat and the production of fish unsafe for eating.

Maryland program to control mute swan population gets approval

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a Maryland program to “addle” mute swan eggs to help slow the population growth of the foreign waterfowl.

The Service approved a plan from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to spray vegetable oil on eggs in up to 350 nests in the state, which kills the embryos inside.

The service also approved a program proposed by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission to control mute swans on federal lands in and around Washington, D.C.

USF&WS makes it easier to target ‘resident’ Canada geese

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may give states more leeway to control mushrooming populations of “resident” Canada geese, which are increasingly becoming a nuisance at parks, farms, golf courses and other open spaces.

The service has released a draft environmental impact statement that would make it easier for states to undertake new population control strategies such as nest and egg destruction, trapping and culling programs, and expanded hunting opportunities.

Resident Canada geese are distinct from the migratory birds that spend their summers near Hudson Bay and winters around the Chesapeake. The migratory birds — probably the waterfowl most closely identified with the Bay — tend to shy away from humans and are usually found only in sparsely populated areas during the winter.

Oyster census finds billions of bivalves, but most aren’t big

The Bay’s oyster population may have been devastated by disease, but it is in no jeopardy of disappearing — there are still billions of the bivalves in the Chesapeake, according to preliminary results from the first-ever oyster census.

The oyster count, being carried out by scientists in both Virginia and Maryland, is necessary for the Bay Program to gauge progress toward its Chesapeake 2000 agreement goal of attaining a tenfold oyster increase by 2010.

“When the commitment came out, we knew we needed some idea of where the population stands now,” said Derek Orner, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office, which is funding the work along with the EPA’s Bay Program Office. “We have to have something to measure against.”

USF&WS seeks moratorium on ariakensis until study is done

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called for a moratorium on any further work with nonnative Crassostrea ariakensis oysters in the Chesapeake, citing the lack of information about its potential risks to the Bay.

The letter, sent by Mamie Parker, director of the service’s Northeast Region which includes the Bay states, is at odds with a resolution passed by the Virginia General Assembly that encourages further work with the Asian oyster.

In the letter, sent to state and federal resource agencies along the East Coast, Parker called for a voluntary moratorium on the deployment of ariakensis oysters in open waters “until a full biological and ecological risk assessment is completed, evaluated and discussed.”

Proposal calls for 1 million foreign oysters in the Bay

Saying the potential for an oyster native to southeast Asia is “limitless” in the Chesapeake, the Virginia Seafood Council has proposed placing 1 million of the foreign species in the Bay, its tributaries and nearby coastal waters this summer.

The proposal, submitted to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in April, represents a 16-fold increase from last year in the number of the sterilized nonnative Crassostrea ariakensis oysters that would be used in aquaculture.

Was 40 Percent Right?

The leaders who signed off on the original 40 percent nutrient reduction goal in the 1987 Bay Agreement may turn out to have been closer to the mark than anyone realized.

The 40 percent goal was based on what was the best guess at the time of what it would take to clean up the Chesapeake.

Shortly after the 1987 agreement was signed, though, the 40 percent goal was significantly changed as officials added the word “controllable” to the goal. Subsequently, many of the nutrients reaching the Bay were written off as “uncontrollable,” including those originating from headwater states such as New York, West Virginia and Delaware, as well as from air pollution and a variety of other sources.

Behind the Tiers

Tier 1
Status Quo. This assumes all jurisdictions maintain current level of effort in nutrient and sediment control programs. Programs and regulations that are already scheduled to go into effect before 2010 are included. It assumes that funding levels for programs remain unchanged. No new programs are introduced.

Tier 2
Once called the “maximum feasible” level of effort, it assumes the current mix of regulatory and voluntary programs are taken to maximum implementation levels (usually considered to be about 80 percent participation). Additional participation in voluntary programs would be motivated by increased incentives. It assumes nonpoint source control programs have unlimited funding to encourage participation, and that there is no limit on the cost-share amount given to individuals. Point source programs are also provided with incentives.

Pulling Out All the Stops

If the Bay states were to pull out all of the stops and get everyone to implement every nutrient control practice they know how to do, everywhere possible, they could achieve dramatic nutrient reductions.

It would not restore the Bay to the condition that Capt. John Smith may have seen when the entire watershed was forested, but it would slash the amount of nitrogen entering by two-thirds from mid-1980s levels, when efforts to clean up the Bay began.

Similarly, it would reduce phosphorus to about 60 percent of its estimated 1985 level.

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