Bay Journal

September 2002 - Volume 12 - Number 6

Deadline to set nutrient goals delayed again

The Bay Program won’t be able to set river– and state-specific nutrient reduction goals until next spring, further delaying a process that was already nine months behind schedule.

Officials blamed the postponement on technical issues related to the establishment of complex new water quality standards aimed at restoring grass beds and expanding fish habitat in the Chesapeake.

Meeting the standards will almost certainly require nutrient reductions far beyond those that have already taken place in the watershed — and likely cost billions of dollars. Many involved in the process insist such reductions must be defensible, both scientifically and legally. ...

Youth representatives sought to advise citizens committee

The Citizens Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council is seeking three youths, one each from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to offer their perspectives on restoring and preserving the Chesapeake Bay.

The CAC is a 25-member committee with residents from each of the Bay states and the District of Columbia. It advises the governors and mayor of these jurisdictions, the EPA administrator and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission on the activities, progress and priorities of the Bay Program.

PA’s growing greener program extended, given funding for next 10 years

Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener environmental program was extended through 2012 and provided a dedicated source of funding in a budget signed by Gov. Mark Schweiker in July.

Originally, the $135 million-a-year program was to last only five years when former Gov. Tom Ridge signed legislation creating it in 1999.

Under the new legislation, Growing Greener will get $1.3 billion over the next 10 years, with most of the money coming from a new $4 a ton tipping fee charged waste haulers for dumping trash at landfills.

Region’s first habitat conservation plan rejected after violations found

A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it approved a plan to protect the Delmarva fox squirrel at an Eastern Shore development site without adequate opportunity for public review.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington agreed with environmentalists that the service, in approving a “habitat conservation plan” for the squirrel, failed to make critical information available to the public, and issued a permit allowing the accidental killing of the endangered animal without conducting the needed review.

Expert panel ready to take up review of using ariakensis in Bay

A panel of outside scientists was to begin in September its review of the potential use of foreign oysters in the Chesapeake and is planning to host an open forum this fall to get public input on the subject.

The Ocean Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences in August named 11 experts, most of whom are from other regions of the country, to head a panel to examine the ecological and socioeconomic risks and benefits of open water aquaculture — or direct introduction — of the non-native oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, into the Bay.

PA officials concerned huge catfish could take over Susquehanna

Huge flathead catfish could eventually take over the Susquehanna River and disrupt its ecosystem, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Commission officials in July confirmed that the species recently entered the Susquehanna River. And officials are worried the predatory fish, which can reach more than 100 pounds, could cause problems for other species.

The agency is looking for the help of anglers to help control the growth of the species, which is not native to the river.

Maryland tries to stop snakehead threat

Early on a Sunday morning in August, Maryland biologists began the task of poisoning a pond to save it from the snakehead.

First they applied an herbicide which slowly began killing the vegetation. By Wednesday, the lily pads had begun to turn brown in the 4-acre pond behind a strip mall in Crofton. As the plants began decomposing, they would begin starving the water of oxygen.

After the heavy vegetation died back, biologists planned to deliver the coup de grace: a fish poison called Rotenone, which was expected to kill all of the fish in the pond.

Zebras, quaggas muscling their way into Chesapeake watershed

Zebra mussels, the ecosystem-altering invader blamed for billions of dollars of damage in the Great Lakes, is inching closer to the Chesapeake Bay.

Scientists this summer found the zebra mussel at a second lake within the New York portion of the Susquehanna watershed. Meanwhile, a close relative, the quagga mussel, turned up in a gravel pit just a few miles outside the watershed in central Pennsylvania.

In response, Bay officials are scrambling to assemble a task force that will try to come up with ways to stem the spread of the mollusks. ...

Permit applications for Bay cable withdrawn

Plans to lay more than 300 miles of fiber optic cable on the floor of the Chesapeake Bay are on hold now that a California company has pulled its permit applications after criticism from an environmental group and elected officials.

ClearStream Communications Inc., of Sacramento, CA, said it was still interested in building the underwater network from Baltimore to Norfolk, VA.
Henning Ottsen, ClearStream’s vice president of engineering, said the company discovered it did not include updated information about oyster seeding and commercial fishing areas.

Legislation introduced to provide students with ‘Bay or stream experience’

Schools and nonprofit groups would be eligible for $6 million a year in grants to promote Bay-related educational programs within the watershed, under legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The money would be used to design programs and train teachers in elementary and secondary schools to provide students with hands-on Chesapeake Bay or stream outdoor experiences to help foster a sense of stewardship.

“There is a growing consensus that a major commitment to education, to promoting an ethic of responsible stewardship and citizenship among the nearly 16 million people who live in the watershed, is necessary if all of the other efforts to ‘save the Bay’ are to succeed,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who introduced the bill in July.

Watershed grants go to 66 projects

Farmers will restore habitat for the threatened bog turtle in Maryland this year, while a pilot nutrient trading program will be launched in part of Pennsylvania, and riparian wildlife corridors will be protected in Virginia’s Piedmont.

Those are among 66 projects supported by this year’s Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants, which seek to help the Bay and its rivers by providing funds to local groups and communities for restoration efforts in their part of the watershed.

“The Small Watershed Grants Program rallies local communities around the restoration and protection of their part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “By focusing restoration efforts on the watershed level, these communities have the ability to become true stewards of the Bay and its rivers.”

Survey to examine MD anglers’ fishing, consumption practices

In an effort to collect more accurate fish consumption estimates and better public information about toxic fish advisories and other fishing issues, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Maryland Department of the Environment have begun surveying thousands of Maryland anglers about their fishing and fish consumption practices.

The surveys are being mailed to 3,000 individuals randomly selected from a list of all licensed anglers from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources. ...

Report says MD must control number of adult mute swans

Maryland’s mushrooming mute swan population will have to be controlled through hunting or other lethal means to keep them from overrunning the Bay’s underwater grass beds as well as other bird species, according to a draft Maryland report.

A draft statewide management plan released by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources this summer warns that, left unchecked, populations of the nonnative species — which now numbers about 4,000 — would mushroom by the end of the decade, potentially numbering 13,500 or more by 2010.

Bay states seek federal support for pilot programs to curb ag runoff

The Bay states are seeking $20 million annually from the federal government to test four new farm practices which — if successful — could slash agricultural runoff by half.

If the pilot programs became widely applied, they could dramatically boost cleanup efforts not only for the Bay, but also other coastal areas around the nation.

“I firmly believe that if this proposal is funded and these technologies are tested, it will have national implications that will change agriculture forever,” said Ann Swanson, director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents Bay state legislatures and has spearheaded efforts to win support for the proposal.

Watershed facilities compliance with water permits better than national average

Nearly 30 percent of the nation’s largest industrial, municipal and federal facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at least once during a recent 15-month period, according to a report from an environmental group.

But during the same period, only about 8 percent of the wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake watershed were in “significant noncompliance” with their discharge permit, according to figures from the Bay Program.

The report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group reviewed records of major dischargers — those releasing more than 1 million gallons a day — between January 2000 and March 2001.

Study links crabs’ decline to loss of marsh grass

A researcher is exploring a previously unknown connection between blue crabs and salt marshes that suggests the decline in blue crabs is contributing to the loss of coastal marshes.

“No sky is falling, but this is a yellow light for caution,” said Brian Silliman, a Brown University doctoral student who began his research on Hog Island off Virginia’s Eastern Shore two years ago and is working on a barrier island off Georgia this summer.

Simply put, Silliman says blue crabs control the populations of a marine snail that damages marsh grass as it feeds.

Corps of Engineers may get more restoration projects, scrutiny

The Army Corps of Engineers may soon dramatically accelerate its restoration of islands, wetlands and oyster bars in the Bay region — one part of an effort to overhaul an agency long associated with building ports, levees and dams.

In a sense, not much has changed since Robert E. Lee was the commander of the agency’s Baltimore district — the vast majority of the Corps’ $4 billion annual budget is still dedicated to building and maintaining water projects.

But, the agency’s impact on the Bay is substantial: The Corps built and operates 14 dams on Bay tributaries, constructed scores of flood control projects in the watershed and stabilizes hundreds of miles of riverbanks and shoreline.

New study suggests oysters could reduce nutrient levels in Bay

An abundant oyster population could improve Bay water quality by spurring microbial processes that permanently removing large amounts of nitrogen from the Bay, according to a new study.

While it has long been recognized that oysters were powerful filterers of algae in the water, it is the first study to show that they could also help to remove nutrients in the process, rather than recycling them back into the water as many thought.

A newly published paper by Roger Newell and colleagues at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), suggests that bacteria in the sediment around oyster bars biologically remove at least 20 percent of the nitrogen in oyster wastes through the same process used in modern wastewater treatment plants.

Study to consider creating national park for Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is often called a national treasure, but a new study will explore whether it might end up in the same league as such gems as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

The National Park Service is launching a study that will recommend by next spring whether some form of national park or related designation should be created to highlight the Bay and its natural and cultural history.

Park Service officials are seeking views from the public, beginning with a series of workshops in September, about what a Chesapeake Bay unit of the National Park System might look like, and what types of resources or places might be included in such a park — if one were created.

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