Bay Journal

March 2003 - Volume 13 - Number 1

Is it time for a trade for the Bay?

With the looming Bay cleanup expected to cost billions of dollars, some believe it may be time to go shopping at the farmers market.

But the visitors won’t be looking for lettuce or tomatoes. In the market some envision, the shoppers will be wastewater treatment plant operators, industries — or even cities with lots of stormwater runoff.

Faced with stiff — and likely expensive — nutrient reduction requirements, those dischargers may find it cheaper to meet their obligations by purchasing pollution “credits” from a farmer who has planted a grass buffer or restored a wetland. ...

Free to good home(owners): dwellings that will light up your life

Check this out: Three-story living space in a 19th-century beauty, privacy assured, water view on all sides. Cast-iron construction. They don't build ’em like that anymore.

Nor do they want to.

The Newport News Middleground Lighthouse is up for adoption because its owner — the U.S. Coast Guard — can’t afford the upkeep on the Victorian-era structure. It’s the only lighthouse in Virginia on the adoption list, and it has some great selling points.

It’s free to a good home. It’s lovely. It’s round. Its inside is wood-framed and its outside is deep primer red, tip to toe. It also has a down side with a weirdly negative cast on that old real estate adage: ...

Global warming cited for increase in severe flooding, droughts

The world has experienced unusually extreme weather in recent decades, and economic losses from storms and other catastrophes have increased tenfold, an independent research group reported in February.

The World Water Council said more intense rainy seasons, longer dry seasons, stronger storms and rising sea levels had helped cause an increasing number of disastrous floods and droughts.

Global warming is causing the changes in weather patterns, while growing populations and migration to vulnerable areas is increasing the cost of each disaster, said William Cosgrove, vice president of the World Water Council. “The forecast is that it’s going to continue to get worse unless we start to take actions to mitigate global warming,” he said. ...

Watershed’s wet fall, winter helped to offset summer’s drought

While the region plunged into one of its worst periods of drought on record in 2002, final figures from the U.S. Geological Survey show that freshwater flows into the Bay actually ended up being better than expected.

That’s because the unusually dry first nine months of the year were partly offset by a wetter than normal fall, according to the USGS.

As a result, the mean flow into the Bay during 2002 was 57,900 cubic feet per second — higher than either 2001 or 1999, but well below the long-term average of nearly 78,000 cubic feet per second. ...

Patuxent projects designed to compensate for damages from oil spill

When 140,000 gallons of oil burst from a ruptured pipeline and into the Patuxent River in April 2000, it was considered one of Maryland’s worst-ever environmental disasters.

That disaster, though, is now producing new wetlands, oyster reefs and beaches and recreational facilities for the damaged river.

State and federal agencies in December announced plans for $2.7 million in restoration efforts aimed at replacing natural resources damaged by the spill.

“Through the restoration process, we will create and protect critical habitat, such as oyster reefs, wetlands and waterfowl nesting areas, benefiting the natural resources of the Patuxent River,” said John Wolflin, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office. “These projects also move us toward the larger goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.” ...

VA legislators stall bills allowing local officials to control sprawl

Virginians believe that sprawl is the primary reason for a decline in the quality of life in their state, and overwhelmingly support laws that would give local governments more authority to manage growth, according to a new poll.

Nonetheless, state lawmakers this year postponed until 2004 any action on a series of growth management bills.

Three bills would have allowed cities and counties to defer approving new subdivisions if such basic needs as water and sewer service, roads, schools and fire protection were inadequate. A Senate committee dispatched those measures to a commission for a yearlong study.

Bay funding boosts this year may become busts in 2004

Acting four months after the 2003 fiscal year began, Congress in February approved substantially increased funding for many Bay-related activities including oyster restoration, education, watershed grants and the EPA’s Bay Program Office.

But some of those gains could be erased by the 2004 budget proposed by the Bush administration, which — as is typical of most administration budgets — would scrap many of the items added by Congress in favor of its own priorities.

Some worry that environmental cuts proposed in the 2004 spending plan — including reductions in funds for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and smaller-than-expected hikes in farm conservation programs — could hinder Bay cleanup efforts. ...

MD enacts emergency legislation to allow power dredging

Facing the state’s worst oyster harvest on record, Maryland enacted an emergency regulation in late January allowing watermen to use power dredging to harvest oysters in certain Chesapeake tributaries.

The action drew fire from some for increasing harvest pressure at a time when the population was at an all-time low due to disease. But a state official said the oyster situation was so bleak that fewer than expected watermen were taking advantage of the new regulation.

“It wasn’t a huge massive fleet that some people envisioned,” said Chris Judy, who oversees the Department of Natural Resources Shellfish Division. “The oyster population is sparse. It’s a lot of hard work. Many boats have gone home.” ...

VMRC approves plan to put 1 million Asian oysters in Bay

Plans to place 1 million sterile foreign oysters into the Bay and nearby waters won approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in February, despite the misgivings of two panels of scientists who reviewed the issue.

By a 5-1 vote, the commission approved a request by the Virginia Seafood Council to allow a large-scale experiment to see if the fast-growing, disease resistant oysters can be profitably grown in aquaculture, processed and sold.

Two previous tests have been done with the oysters, Crassostrea ariakensis, but at much smaller scales: The largest only used 60,000 oysters. But the results showed the native of Southeast Asia could survive the diseases that kill native oysters, and they won favorable reviews in taste tests. ...

Officials ponder whether cleanup deadline should be extended

State and federal Bay officials are weighing whether to change their deadline for cleaning up the Chesapeake.

No decision has been reached, but in recent meetings, many have acknowledged there is little likelihood that the 2010 deadline set for removing the Bay from the EPA’s list of impaired waters can be met because of the need to achieve steep nutrient and sediment reductions.

Some people have worried that sticking with a 2010 deadline would lead to a weakening of proposed new water quality standards for the Bay and its tidal tributaries before they are adopted by states. Time frames suggested for a new deadline range from 2015 to 2020. ...

Concerns raised that criteria might not help sturgeon

When settlers arrived at Jamestown, the first “cash crop” they sent back to England was caviar harvested from Chesapeake Bay sturgeon.

The giant fish — the largest, longest-lived species native to the Bay — have a long and colorful history here: Early settlers reported that natives would test their bravery by lassoing a sturgeon by the tail and trying to hang on until the fish was tired.

During the Revolutionary War, an American soldier was killed while rowing across the Potomac when a giant sturgeon jumped out of the water and landed in his boat. ...

Money could grow on trees under credit plan

Someday, a farmer may scoff at the idea of taking government money to tackle nutrient runoff from his fields.

Instead, he may take a swath of streamside land out of production and plant trees — not because he’s paid to do it by a government program, but because he can turn a profit.

He’ll be able to add up the pounds of nutrients that he kept out of the stream and sell those “credits” to the local wastewater treatment plant which has to slash discharges to comply with its permit. ...

EPA releases guideline for water quality trading policy

After years of interest but scant activity, the EPA is trying to kick-start water quality trading programs with a new policy that sets the framework for states to develop their own trading initiatives.

In January, it released a “Water Quality Trading Policy,” which sets out a guidelines under which states are free to develop trading programs that could win EPA approval.

“Our new Water Quality Trading Policy will result in cleaner water, at less cost, and in less time,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “It provides the flexibility needed to meet local challenges while demanding accountability to ensure that water quality does improve.” ...

Fundamental Principles of Nutrient Trading

From 1999 through early 2001, a team representing diverse interests throughout the Bay watershed met to set broad guidelines for the development of nutrient trading programs in the region. As part of that effort, they adopted a set of “fundamental principles” to serve as a foundation for its guidelines and for all nutrient trading in the watershed. The principles are:

1. Trades must not produce water quality effects locally, downstream or Baywide that:

o violate water quality standards or criteria;
o do not protect designated uses; or
o adversely impact living resources and habitat.

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