Bay Journal

March 2004 - Volume 14 - Number 1

Efforts Must Increase Threefold To Meet Needs

New figures from the Bay Program reveal that the region will have to increase the pace of its cleanup by more than threefold from now through the end of the decade if it is to clean up the Chesapeake.

Although officials have known they have a steep climb ahead to meet their 2010 cleanup deadline, the just-released figures—updating cleanup progress through 2002—offer the clearest picture of the magnitude of the job ahead.

If achieved, the goals would slash the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Bay by roughly 50 percent from mid-1980s levels, when the Chesapeake was at its worst. ...

PA land conference scheduled in April

The 2004 Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference will take place April 2–3 at the Historic Strasburg Inn in Lancaster County.

The conference will feature four intensive, daylong and half-day seminars, field trips, 17 workshops, roundtables in three concurrent sessions, and a reception and dinner with Ed McMahon of the Conservation Fund.

The plenary speaker is Mike DiBerardinis, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The conference is Pennsylvania’s annual training and networking event for those involved with public and private land conservation efforts, and brings together land trust professionals and volunteers; municipal officials; state agency staff; attorneys; planners; and other conservation professionals. ...

2003 river flows to the Bay third highest on record

River flows into the Chesapeake Bay during 2003 were the third highest since the U.S. Geological Survey began keeping records in 1937.

The average flow into the Bay last year was 86.4 billion gallons a day, only 2.3 bgd below the record set in 1972, according to the USGS.

Flows into the Bay were higher than average from March through the rest of the year, dramatically ending four years of drier than normal conditions.

Precipitation in Baltimore last year was 62.66 inches, more than 20 inches above normal and the wettest year on record since 1889. ...

CBF names educator, conservationists of the year for 2003

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently named John Flood and Charles Stek winners of its Conservationist of the Year Award, which recognizes individuals for superlative service and commitment to the restoration and protection of the Bay watershed.

Montgomery County teacher Jay H. Foster was named Environmental Educator of the Year, an award that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the understanding of the Bay ecosystem through an academic program.

John Flood, of Annapolis, has worked to protect and restore the Bay’s oysters. As a volunteer, he has organized multiple shoreline restoration projects on both the South and Severn rivers and is a board member on those rivers’ commissions. He is a founding member of the South River Federation and key organizer of its Riverkeeper program. He set up the Harness Creek Project, securing a 30-acre oyster sanctuary lease, raising funds and donating his services to help the CBF build reefs while energizing waterfront property owners to grow oysters to stock the reefs. With his help, property owners on a nearby creek replicated the project. He has served on Anne Arundel County’s Parole Growth Management Committee for more than 10 years. ...

2005 federal budget cuts funding for Bay-related programs

Congress stepped up spending for Bay-related activities when it approved funding for the current year in January, including more funds for oyster restoration and the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.

But funding may be more problematic next year, as the Bush administration would sharply reduce spending for some Chesapeake activities in its $2.4 trillion 2005 budget, which was released in February.

While it’s not unusual for an administration to propose less funding than Congress ultimately approves, the administration is seeking strict caps on most domestic spending programs as it seeks to rein in a staggering federal deficit expected to top $500 billion. ...

Bay states governors seek new ways to fund environmental efforts

All three Bay states have trimmed spending on environmental programs in recent years, even as various estimates show that billions of additional dollars are needed to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

This year, the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania are turning to new fees and taxes to stem recent funding declines for environmental programs. Many of the proposals, if approved by general assemblies—and, in Pennsylvania, by voters—would directly aid in the Bay’s cleanup effort. ...

Once endangered, bald eagles now occupy 760 nests in watershed

Populations of the bald eagle continued to make a comeback across the Bay watershed last year, as biologists counted 760 nests occupied by the once-endangered bird.

The figures, released by the Bay Program, showed a tenfold increase from the record low of 74 nests counted in 1977, when the population hit its all-time low.

Last year, 396 nesting pairs were counted in Virginia’s portion of the watershed, 338 pairs in Maryland’s portion, 25 in Pennsylvania, and one in the District of Columbia. ...

2nd strain of Bonamia parasite found, may pose threat to ariakensis

Scientists have identified a second parasite that may have been involved in massive die-offs of Asian oysters during experiments off the North Carolina coast last summer.

The discovery by Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers further complicates the question of whether the parasites could hinder the prospect of using the foreign oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, to revive the region’s seafood industry.

Last December, VIMS scientists found a previously unknown species of the parasite Bonamia infecting C. ariakensis oysters being grown in North Carolina’s Bogue Sound as part of an aquaculture experiment. A Bonamia species is known to have killed C. ariakensis in France, and the discovery was made after two massive oysters die-offs in Bogue Sound earlier in the year. ...

Scientists concerned about inbreeding in stocking of ariakensis

Scientists say a proposal by Maryland and Virginia officials to populate the Chesapeake Bay with the “Oregon strain” of Asian oysters faces a key problem: There aren’t enough of those oysters to do the job.

Only a handful of the so-called “Oregon strain” of the foreign Crassostrea ariakensis oysters are available to begin rearing the millions—if not billions—of oysters that would be needed to repopulate the Chesapeake, according to a report by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. ...

Scientists urge officials to proceed slowly with ariakensis

Saying it is impossible to predict whether Asian oysters would be a boon or a bane to the Bay, scientists from around the region and the country are urging officials to put the brakes on plans to begin establishing a Chesapeake population of the species next year.

They say it would take about five years of research to fill “critical gaps” in current knowledge about the poorly studied Crassostrea ariakensis oyster to predict how it would act in the Bay—or even to predict whether an introduction would likely succeed. ...

Storming the Bay: Sudden snow melt could create surge of nutrients

In the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, Jim Lynch this winter resorted to something he has never done in the nearly four decades he has monitored streams in small, forested watersheds.

He had to hire a plow so he could get to the streams.

Usually, snow chains on a truck will do the job. But not when storm after storm has piled more than 3 feet of snow on the ground, as was the case by mid-February.

“It’s impossible to work in,” said Lynch, a professor of forest hydrology with Pennsylvania State University. “You can’t even walk on it. It’s up to my belt.” ...

Technologies To Control Flow Of Nutrients Into Chesapeake Already Exist

If cleaning up the Bay depended only on nutrient control practices that have been used in the past, the restoration would be difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, many nutrient control techniques and new technologies make the restoration well within the realm of possibility, according to a report last year by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee.

The “Chesapeake Futures” report cautioned against “blind faith that inventions around the corner will solve all of our problems.” After all, a healthy ecosystem requires more than just nutrient reductions—it also requires land development, efforts to maintain vanishing tidal marshes, the restoration of lost grass beds, improved fisheries management and other non-nutrient actions. ...

Cost Of Cleaning Up Bay May Not Be As High As First Estimated

What will be the tab for a restored Chesapeake? No one really knows how much the nutrient and sediment reductions will cost, but several estimates have been made.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, produced a report in 2003, “The Cost of a Clean Bay,” which estimated that it would cost slightly more than $10 billion to achieve current water quality goals by 2010.

The Bay Program has made a similar estimate—suggesting it could take about $1.1 billion a year from now through the end of the decade to achieve the goals. ...

Monitoring Finds Downward Trend

For many years, the nutrient reductions predicted by computer models were not seen in actual water quality monitoring. Instead, monitoring stations in the nontidal rivers that feed the Bay showed little improvement in the total amount of nutrients exported.

That has begun to change. In 2002, data showed downward trends in nitrogen and phosphorus at 18 long-term monitoring sites in nontidal rivers, while nine showed no change, and two had an increasing trend. [Not all sites are shown in adjacent maps.] ...

Take 5! Improved Watershed Model On Deck

The Bay Program is undertaking a wholesale update of its Watershed Model. Known as Phase 5, the revised model is expected to provide the most accurate predictions yet of the amount of nutrients entering the Bay, and where they are coming from.

The Watershed Model has been the yardstick by which the Bay Program has measured nutrient reductions since the 1980s. Although it has undergone a number of refinements over time, its results in the past have often differed from observed water quality monitoring. ...

Improved Nutrient Accounting More Accurately Reflects Effectiveness

In the past two years, state and federal officials undertook an extensive review of common nutrient reduction practices around the watershed.

The result: New scientific data showed some were not as effective as previously thought. Others were doing better than earlier believed.

As a result, sharp-eyed readers who saved a similar report from the January-February 2001 Bay Journal may notice some unexpected changes.

Runoff from urban areas, which had been increasing in the earlier figures, now show no change for nitrogen and a decline for phosphorus. Agricultural figures show overall increases for phosphorus since the earlier report, and increases for nitrogen in many basins. ...

What If Cleanup Effort Had Never Taken Place?

While cleanup efforts remain far short of the 2010 goals, actions taken to date have not only reduced nutrient loads entering the Bay, they have offset the impacts of a population that has grown from 13 million people to 16 million since 1985.

If no nutrient reduction efforts had taken place, according to Bay Program estimates, the amount of nitrogen entering the Bay would be increasing—not decreasing—and would hit 364 million pounds a year by 2010.

The phosphorus increase would be even more dramatic: rising from 26.5 million pounds to 41.3 million pounds by the end of the decade. ...

What Are BMPs?

Tributary strategies outline a mix of activities, known as best management practices, to reduce runoff.

Best management practices include dozens of actions—from implementing a nutrient management plan on a farm to building a stormwater detention pond in a suburb. Each practice gets credit for a certain amount of nutrient reductions (usually measured per acre) based on the effectiveness of the practice, and where it is implemented.

The optimal mix of best management practices may vary by watershed, depending on what kinds of activities take place. The tributary strategies ultimately must identify what types, and how many, best management practices are needed to meet nutrient reduction goals. ...

Sediment Goals Set For Chesapeake, Tributaries

Cleaning up the Bay means more than just curbing nutrient inputs. It now means keeping dirt out as well.

The Bay Program last year set its first-ever sediment reduction goals aimed at keeping silt and dirt on the watershed—and along shorelines—so it doesn’t kill grass beds by muddying the Chesapeake’s water. Dirt, like algae blooms, clouds the water, blocking sunlight from reaching important underwater grass beds.

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. Sediment also smothers habitats for oysters and other bottom-dwelling creatures and can clog the gills of fish. ...

Understanding These Tables

These two pages present the estimated amount of nitrogen and phosphorus reaching the Bay (also called “loads”) from various land uses by major river basin and by political jurisdiction within each basin.

The figures also show the amount of change from 1985, the baseline for measuring nutrient reductions. Negative percentages represent decreases, positive percentages represent increases.

These estimates come from the Bay Program’s Watershed Model, the tool used to measure progress toward meeting nutrient goals. Like a giant accounting program, the model tracks changes in land use, which may increase or decrease nutrient loads, and credits implementation of actions which reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff and discharges. ...

The Watershed Model

Estimates of the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Chesapeake are made by the Bay Program’s Watershed Model. It is a computer model that can be thought of as a giant accounting program: It keeps track of nutrient reduction efforts taking place throughout the watershed and measures their progress.

The model divides the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed into more than 94 segments. Using information about land use in each segment, it calculates the amount of nutrients likely to enter rivers or groundwater. ...

How Close Is Bay To Meeting Cleanup Goals

Despite nutrient reductions in recent years, the Bay is still a long way from attaining its new water quality criteria. This chart (based on computer models) shows that about half of the Bay’s water today does not meet the new criteria.

Part of the lack of progress comes from the way water quality attainment is determined, which is a black-and-white issue. Either an area meets its criteria, or it does not. Models suggest that reduced nutrients have improved water quality in many areas—but not enough to bring them into attainment. ...

Air Pollution & The Bay

Huge amounts of nitrogen are deposited on the watershed as the result of air pollution. Much of it is taken up by plants, but a sizable amount still runs off the land and enters the Bay. Estimates vary, but somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the nitrogen entering the Bay stems from air pollution.

It arrives in two main forms. About two-thirds is the result of nitrogen oxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, including such sources as cars, power plants, industries, trucks, boats, tractors, lawn mowers and almost anything that burns oil or coal. ...

How Allocations Were Made

Setting science-based water quality criteria and designated uses is one thing; figuring out how to actually meet those goals in the water is another.

To do that, the Bay Program turned to computer models. Using its Watershed Model, which estimates the amount of nutrients flushed out of the Chesapeake’s drainage basin and into the Bay, officials calculated the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus reductions that might be achieved under various levels of action.

The results were fed into the Bay Program’s Water Quality Model, a complex computer program that simulates how nutrients affect dissolved oxygen levels (as well as other water quality characteristics) throughout the Bay. ...

Criteria Designed To Meet Needs Of Bay’s Resources

The goal of the Chesapeake restoration effort is a clean Bay—one that meets its water quality standards.

For years, though, the Bay has had water quality standards that were neither attainable, nor protective of the creatures living in it.

During the past three years, scientists and state and federal officials have worked to develop new water quality criteria for the Chesapeake that are designed to ensure that different types of fish, shellfish, underwater grasses and other organisms have the water conditions they need in the right places, and at the right time of the year. ...

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