Bay Journal

May 2003 - Volume 13 - Number 3

A Sunnier Future

By the end of this decade, the Bay Program hopes to see more than twice as many acres of lush, underwater grass beds covering the Chesapeake’s bottom than what exists today. The state-federal partnership has adopted a new 185,000-acre restoration goal for the underwater meadows, which provide essential habitat for juvenile fish, blue crabs, waterfowl and other Chesapeake creatures.

That’s more than double the 85,000 acres estimated to have been in the Bay during 2001, the highest number since annual surveys began in the mid-1980s. And it’s more than anyone has seen in the Chesapeake for decades as the Bay’s increasingly murky waters have blotted the sunlight from above. ...

2003 Maryland and Virginia Legislative Roundups

Prepared by the staff of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Although budget shortfalls dominated this year’s General Assembly, lawmakers in both Maryland and Virginia dealt with a number of environmental bills. Both states approved new measures to help control the spread of nonnative species, and Virginia is seeking to promote low impact development to reduce runoff, while Maryland is promoting energy efficiency and alternative fuels to reduce pollution. ...

Nitrogen, phosphorus goals set for major Bay tributaries

The figures above present the nitrogen and phosphorus goals that the Bay Program has set for each major Bay tributary, and the individual state goals within each tributary.

It also presents the estimated nutrient loads for 1985, the original baseline for measuring nutrient reductions, and loads for 2000. (Some columns may not add up due to rounding.)

The Clear Skies reduction is the estimated benefit to the Bay if Congress passes the Bush administration’s Clear Skies legislation, which would require steep reductions in certain power plant emissions. If the bill does not pass, the 8 million pound reduction would have to be made up by additional reductions within the rivers. ...

Congress passes 5-year plan to combat wetland-chomping nutria

Congress has passed a $30 million, five-year plan to fight nutria, a large South American relative of the muskrat blamed for destroying thousands of acres of marshes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Louisiana.

The Nutria Eradication and Control Act, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, authorizes Congress to spend up to $6 million a year, starting in the fiscal year that begins this October, for a coalition of state and federal agencies to battle the rodents. If funded, Maryland would get $4 million a year, and Louisiana $2 million. ...

MD DNR plans to shoot 1,500 mute swans on Eastern Shore

Maryland natural resources officials plan to shoot 1,500 mute swans—almost half of the state’s population of the nonnative bird—to protect underwater grass beds and native species.

The swans, imported from Asia and Europe in the 1800s, weigh up to 25 pounds and annually eat about 10.5 million pounds of Bay grasses, which are the target of major restoration efforts in the Chesapeake.

The Department of Natural Resources has received a federal permit to shoot up to 1,500 of the estimated 3,600 swans. The hunt is planned for the Eastern Shore counties, where most of the birds live, by the end of the year. ...

7 communities honored for efforts to help Bay

EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh recently designated seven municipalities in the Bay region as 2003 Chesapeake Bay Partner Communities.

Gold winners are: Annapolis, MD; James County, VA; Fauquier County, VA; Lexington, Va; and Adams County, PA. Silver winners are: Highland Beach, MD, and Howard County, MD.

“Local governments are vital to achieving Bay restoration goals. By promoting Bay-friendly activities, from planting streamside buffers to preserving open space, local governments can help us bring back the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers,” Welsh said. ...

Freshwater flows to Bay up in March, could bring worse water quality

Freshwater flows surged into the Bay at the highest level in five years during March, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, perhaps signaling a return to poorer water quality in the Chesapeake after four drier-than-normal years.

Fueled by rain and snowmelt, the average flow into the Bay during March was 222,400 cubic feet per second, according to the USGS. That was 49 percent above average for the month, and the highest freshwater flow into the Bay since March 1998, when flows averaged 223,100 cfs, according to USGS figures. ...

Budget may pose long-term threats to conservation spending

The 10-year budget bill passed by Congress last month may force Congress to make steep cuts in conservation programs in the coming years.

Congress in April passed a budget resolution that permits it to cut taxes by $1.3 trillion through 2013. The budget resolution also seeks to balance the federal budget by 2012 and increase defense spending by $208 billion between the 2004 fiscal year, which begins in October, and 2013.

That will force appropriators to cut spending for domestic programs, including funds for federal environmental agencies like the EPA and the Department of the Interior, by $168 billion from previous projections over the next 10 years, according to budget experts. ...

Anacostia selected for administration’s urban rivers restoration initiative

Federal and local officials gathered on the shores of the Anacostia River April 21 to announce its selection as one of eight urban river restoration pilot projects that constitute the Bush administration’s Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative.

The initiative is designed as a collaborative effort by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to promote urban river cleanup and restoration nationwide.

The Anacostia River, which flows through the District of Columbia and Maryland, is one of the nation’s most polluted rivers, contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, heavy metals, and raw sewage discharges from combined sewer overflows. ...

Senators back bills to increase funds for Bay restoration goals

A legislative package that would boost funding for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and Bay-related education efforts, as well as step up restoration efforts throughout the watershed was introduced by Bay region senators in April.

Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes called the five-bill package a “blueprint for the Bay’s future” which would increase the federal commitment to the 20-year-old cleanup effort. “While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the historic Chesapeake Bay agreement that launched the historic federal-state Bay cleanup effort, the job of restoring the Bay to levels of quality and productivity that existed decades ago is far from complete,” Sarbanes said. ...

Decision on King William reservoir permit delayed until May

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission postponed until May 14 any action on a permit needed for a controversial 1,500-acre reservoir after its staff joined scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in recommending against the project because of its potential impact on American shad.

Hundreds of opponents filled a school auditorium April 22 urging the commission to reject a permit that would allow up to 75 million gallons a day to be drawn from a critical shad spawning area in the Mattaponi River to fill the proposed King William Reservoir. ...

Administration move could lessen seniors’ value in environmental calculations

The Bush administration is telling agencies that they should consider whether a senior citizen’s life has a different value than that of the rest of the population when calculating the worth of environmental programs.

The move, which would be part of the cost-benefit analysis done while weighing the worth of new environmental programs against the cost, has some seniors and environmental groups accusing the administration of discrimination.

Opponents said the practice could result in a lesser value being placed on an initiative’s benefit to seniors compared to the rest of the population because they may have fewer years to live. ...

Blue crab harvest up in 2002, but still well below historic levels

The Baywide blue crab harvest increased last year, but remained well below the Chesapeake’s historic average, figures compiled by the states show.

The total Chesapeake Bay harvest was 55.6 million pounds in 2002, up from 53.6 million in 2001, but well below levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when annual harvests often topped 90 million pounds.

The breakdown, by jurisdiction:

  •  Maryland’s 2002 harvest was 25 million pounds, up from 24.5 million the previous year.
  • Virginia’s 2002 harvest was 28.2 million pounds, up from 26.7 million.
  • The Potomac River harvest was 2.45 million pounds, up from 2.36 million.

Blue crabs are the Bay’s most valuable remaining fishery, but surveys in recent years have suggested that the population is near historic lows. ...

New goal may seek 1 million urban trees for Bay watershed

For the past six years, the Bay Program has worked to plant trees along barren streambanks with the aim of curbing nutrient runoff and improving stream habitat.

Now, it’s looking at increasing the number of trees along barren city streets and sidewalks, as well as other developed areas, to improve the health of urban waterways.

The Forestry Workgroup has been gathering opinions about setting a new goal for the Bay Program’s riparian forest buffer restoration effort. It could include the first “urban forest” restoration goals which, among other things, might call for planting 1 million trees in metropolitan areas throughout the watershed by 2010. ...

Sediment goals set, aimed at SAV comeback

The Bay Program has set its first-ever sediment reduction goals aimed at keeping sand, silt and dirt on the watershed—and along shorelines—so it doesn’t kill grass beds by muddying the Chesapeake’s water.

The sediment goals are aimed at helping the Bay Program meet its new 185,000-acre underwater grass goal by clearing the water in places where nutrient control alone may not be enough to do the job.

Officials acknowledge there is less certainty about the sediment goals than those for nutrients, which were set in March. This is because scientists are far from clear about how sediment moves through the Bay and affects its water clarity. ...

John Smith’s Bay may have had less grass than once thought

For years, many have thought that a pristine Chesapeake was carpeted with grass beds that may have covered roughly 640,000 acres of the estuary’s bottom.

In fact, the Bay Program in 1993 set a long-term target of restoring roughly that amount of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay. The number was based on the approximate amount of potential underwater grass habitat in areas of the Bay less than 2 meters deep.

But new work calls into question whether that amount of grass ever existed in the Chesapeake—even when Capt. John Smith explored the “faire bay” in 1608. ...

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