Bay Journal

November 2002 - Volume 12 - Number 8

Corps reverses dam decision for reservoir

In an unusual reversal, the Army Corps of Engineers has overruled the recommendation of its Norfolk District and may allow the construction of a 1,526-acre reservoir in one of the least developed tributaries on Virginia’s Western Shore.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Rhoades, commander of the Corps’ North Atlantic Division, ordered that work resume on the permit process after concluding the proposed King William Reservoir was the “least damaging practicable alternative” to meet the long-term water needs of the Newport News area. ...

Scientists isolate toxin from fish-killing algae in watershed

When Maryland biologists responded to a report of dead and dying fish on Fishing Creek this June, they quickly found evidence that pointed to a microscopic killer.

Most fish kills are the result of suffocation when oxygen is depleted from the water. In this case, tests showed oxygen levels were high enough to suggest that the 1,700 dead menhaden — along with a handful of other species floating in the water — should have been able to escape.

But investigators of the June 17 incident noticed that the water in the slow-moving creek near Chesapeake Beach was stained with a reddish tinge caused by dense algae populations. ...

Environmental group files request for details on pfiesteria grants

An environmental group has filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act for details about how agencies decided who would get millions of dollars of pfiesteria-related research grants.

But the group’s action has raised a stir among many in scientific community who believe the broad request threatens the traditional scientific peer-review process, which is usually kept behind a cloak of secrecy.

Others see it as an attempt to impede the work of laboratories that have questioned previous pfiesteria research. ...

Funds approved to scrap James River ‘ghost fleet’

The federal government is expected to spend $20 million to begin scrapping a fleet of rusting ships on Virginia’s James River that could pose environmental hazards.

The money, included in the $355.4 billion Defense Appropriations Bill recently passed by Congress, is expected to cover the cleaning and dismantling of at least six decaying vessels. The approximately 100 ships in the James River Reserve Fleet, nicknamed the “Ghost Fleet,” are moored near Fort Eustis.

“We are only a hurricane or tropical storm away from a real environmental disaster, and this funding will enable us to begin eliminating that risk,” said Virginia Sen. John Warner. ...

Mysterious disease threatens VA commercial clam farms

Clam farming, an increasingly popular business in coastal Virginia, is facing a threat with similarities to a parasite that devastated the state’s oyster industry.

A mysterious disease known as QPX has spread to 10 seaside farms stretching the length of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, with the potential to kill 90 percent of the hard clams it infects, scientists said.

“We take this very, very seriously,” said Bill Pruitt, executive director of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates seafood and coastal ecosystems. “We do not want an environmental tragedy here.” ...

Losses offset gains; CBF index unchanged in 2002

Drought-related water quality improvements were offset by increased concerns about blue crabs and new data showing increased toxics discharges, causing the Bay’s overall condition to remain unchanged in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual assessment.

The score of 27 on a 100-point scale is the same ranking the environmental group gave the Bay five years ago when it began issuing its “state of the Bay” report.

“The inescapable conclusion when you read the science is that the Bay hasn’t changed,” said CBF President Will Baker, who called on the Bay states to step up efforts to control nutrients. “A lot of what apparently are being called improvements in the Bay are simply model projections,” he said. “But in terms of the real time data, the monitoring data, there is really not much change.” ...

Drought offers a glimpse of what a restored Bay could be

In many ways, 2002 was a year that offered a glimpse of what a restored Chesapeake Bay might look like.

Algae blooms were scarce. Its oxygen- depleted “dead zone” shrunk in size. And grass beds appear to have continued the expansion begun last year.

“In a way,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Chuck Fox said recently, “this is what we are trying to achieve.”

But he and many others acknowledge that this year’s Bay was more the result of intervention by Mother Nature than by human actions. ...

17 Harmful Species Found in Bay

The discovery of Karlodinium micrum in the Chesapeake brings to at least 17 the number of harmful algae species present in the Bay that have shown toxic effects someplace in the world.

As recently as 1996, a survey by Harold Marshall, a phytoplankton expert at Old Dominion University, found only a dozen potentially toxic phytoplankton species in the Bay — and none were known to produce toxins in the Chesapeake.

Not only has the number of potentially harmful species grown, but at least four — K. micrum, Pfiesteria piscicida and Dinophysis acuminata and the blue-green algae Mycrosistis aeruginosa — have shown signs of toxicity in the Bay. ...

Principles of Good Development

The Chesapeake 2000 agreement called for reducing the rate of sprawl by 30 percent, but that still means that tens of thousands of acres of land would continue to be developed annually, reducing the amount of forests and farmland in the region, and increasing runoff to local waterways.

To help reduce the impact of that new development, the Bay Program’s Land, Growth and Stewardship Subcommittee has worked to write “principles of good development” that Bay jurisdictions are to promote. ...

Bay program to count all sprawl as ‘harmful’ in setting goal

After more than two years of debate, officials from the Bay region have concluded that they will consider all sprawl as “harmful,” although it will be next summer before they know how much of it is taking place in the watershed.

The Chesapeake 2000 agreement called for a 30 percent reduction in the rate of “harmful sprawl,” which is blamed for degrading streams and intensified Bay pollution because of the increased runoff from streets and parking lots, and air pollution from people driving ever-greater distances. ...

Comprehensive Baywide plan developed for oyster fishery, habitat

Much has changed since the Native Americans called the Chesapeake, “Tschiswapeki,” or “Great Shellfish Bay.”

Heavy fishing pressure and habitat destruction dating to the 1860s drove the population down through the 1900s. Only about a tenth of the Bay’s historic oyster grounds still provide suitable habitat.

Then, oyster diseases hammered the remaining population. By some estimates, the number of oysters in the Great Shellfish Bay is at an all-time low, as consecutive years of drought have allowed diseases to thrive. ...

States, feds to coordinate study of striped bass infections in Bay

Scientists in November will begin testing striped bass from four major Chesapeake tributaries, hoping to gain new clues as to why so many of the Bay’s rockfish are sick with a disease rarely seen in the wild.

For the first time, scientists from Maryland, Virginia and the federal government will be using identical procedures in catching striped bass and testing them for mycobacteriosis, a disease that past studies suggest may infect anywhere from 40–70 percent of the Bay’s most popular recreational fish. ...

SAV sprouts up to record levels in the Bay

The drought that devastated crops and forced water restrictions throughout the region has resulted in a bumper crop of Bay grasses, one of the most important habitats in the Chesapeake.

Aerial surveys of the Bay last year have revealed the greatest amount of “submerged aquatic vegetation” — and the strongest single-year increase — measured since the surveys began in 1983.

Because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, pilots were blocked from flying over and photographing roughly 15 percent of the Chesapeake. Nonetheless, recently produced figures documented 77,805 acres of the underwater meadows in the areas that could be surveyed. ...

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