Bay Journal

June 2004 - Volume 14 - Number 4

Bay’s SAV fell off almost 30% in 2003

Last year’s poor water quality, driven by near-record river flows, wiped nearly a third of the Chesapeake’s underwater grass beds from the map, more than offsetting the large gains observed during the proceeding four years of drought.

Overall, the amount of Bay grasses decreased almost 30 percent last year, from 89,659 acres in 2002 to 64,709 acres. It was the largest single-year decline since annual aerial surveys of the grass beds began in 1984.

Scientists blamed the die-off on the higher than normal precipitation which drove huge amounts of nutrients and sediment into the Bay, blotting out the sunlight crucial to the plants. ...

7 communities get Bay partner awards

Federal and state Bay restoration leaders recognized seven local governments for their leadership and dedication to protecting and restoring their part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The communities receiving the Gold Partners designation are Anne Arundel County, MD; Frederick County, MD; Prince William County County, VA; and City of Salisbury, MD.

The Silver Partners are Loyalsock Township, PA; Town of Purcellville, VA; and Town of Rock Hall, MD.

“With more than 1,650 local governments making decisions about how we manage the land in the Bay watershed, it’s critical that we commend those leading the way,” said Chesapeake Bay Program Director Rebecca Hanmer. ...

Grace Brush first woman to receive Mathias Medal

Grace Brush, a scientist well-known for her work on the pre-Colonial ecology of the Chesapeake Bay, recently received the prestigious Mathias Medal.

Named for former Maryland Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias—who is widely credited with launching a federal-state partnership to restore the Bay— the medal is presented to scientists whose work has had a significant impact on policies affecting the Chesapeake. It has been awarded only four times since its creation in 1990. ...

PA drafting feedlot regulations that go beyond federal CAFO rules

Pennsylvania is finalizing new regulations for animal feedlots that officials say go beyond federal requirements to protect streams from agricultural pollution.

The regulations, drafted to ensure compliance with federal regulations approved in late 2002 for large confined animal feeding operations—or CAFOs—were released for a 90-day public comment period in late April.

The huge amount of manure generated by large animal operations is considered to be a major threat to local water quality and is a significant source of nutrient pollution. ...

Rendell’s Growing Greener initiative hits snag in PA senate

Pennsylvania’s proposed Growing Greener bond could help add a touch of green to the banks of the state’s rivers and streams while growing some of the key programs that curb nutrient pollution from the state.

The initiative, proposed in Gov. Ed Rendell’s budget earlier this year, calls for $800 million in bond-financed spending over four years to clean up rivers, protect farm and forest lands, and incorporate nutrient control technology at wastewater treatment plants. ...

Bay states’ general assemblies increase funding for Bay cleanup

With the new actions needed to clean up the Bay expected to cost billions of dollars, legislation that would increase spending on the Chesapeake and other environmental programs took center stage in the general assemblies of three Bay states this year.

A new Virginia budget that emerged after weeks of debate will result in $30 million of increased spending over the next two years. Gov. Mark Warner called it “the largest infusion of funds for natural resource programs in Virginia history.” ...

Bay Commission seeks ‘national treasure’ status for Bay

Lawmakers from the Bay states went to the White House in May to make their case that the Chesapeake should be designated a “national treasure” that would get special treatment during the budget process.

Members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission asked that President Bush issue an executive order that would recognize the Bay as an “extraordinary ecological, cultural, economic and recreational resource” and instruct all federal agencies to aid in its restoration. ...

Report says VA could treat wastewater for half of early estimate

By tapping into unused waste-treatment capacities, Virginia could clean the Bay for less than half of the $1.2 billion it had estimated it would cost to rid the Bay of pollution by 2010, according to a new report.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said a report from an expert in nutrient removal technologies at Virginia Tech provides a plan for meeting the deadline and shows that state and industry officials have inflated cleanup costs.

Clifford W. Randall’s study, paid for by the CBF, said “fairly minor upgrades” and funding such as a “flush tax” similar to one enacted in Maryland could lead to cheaper and faster means of cutting the amount of nutrients released at Virginia’s sewage-treatment plants, the source of about one-third of the state’s pollution to waterways. ...

4 snakeheads caught near Potomac; MD, VA issue alerts

When Virginia biologists identified a fearsome-looking fish snagged in a tributary of the Potomac River as a snakehead, they wrote it off as a castoff from someone’s aquarium.

But when the fish kept turning up, on both the Maryland and Virginia side of the river, they began to fear the worse: The so-called “Frankenfish”—a voracious predator which biologist fear could alter local ecosystems—has found a new home.

Four fish were caught in or near the Potomac from late April to mid-May—two in Virginia and two in Maryland. ...

Heavy rains poured nutrients, sediment into Chesapeake

Last year’s near-record rainfall left the Bay awash with the greatest amount of nutrients and sediment since 1996, according to figures from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Recent figures from the USGS show that 2003 flows were 1.7 times greater than the long-term average.

Nitrogen loads were also 1.7 times higher than the average from 1990-2003, while phosphorus loads were 2.5 times greater and sediment loads 2.3 times greater.

Overall, nutrient and sediment loads from the nontidal portions of the Bay’s nine major tributaries were the second highest since the watershedwide monitoring program began in 1990. ...

Progress in Adopting New Water Quality Standards

All of the jurisdictions bordering the Bay’s tidal waters are on track to adopt new water quality standards that will drive the Chesapeake cleanup effort.

Although the Bay Program completed the development of complex new water quality criteria last year aimed at protecting the Bay’s aquatic life, the criteria only serve as guidance. It is the state water quality standards that have enforceable regulatory power.

The standards spell out the amount of dissolved oxygen, water clarity and chlorophyll a (a measure of algae) that specific areas of the Bay (known as designated uses) need to support the types of plants, fish and shellfish that live in those areas. ...

Sturgeon should get along with new criteria just swimmingly

The Chesapeake has been certified as sturgeon safe—at least if the region meets its goals to clean up the Bay’s water.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service this spring issued its official “biological opinion” that new Chesapeake water quality criteria published by the EPA last year would not likely harm the recovery of the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

The approval is significant because it means that states can move forward with adopting the criteria for dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll a (a measure of algae) and water clarity as enforceable state water quality standards without worrying that their actions could violate the federal Endangered Species Act. ...

Maryland begins ariakensis oyster research in 3 rivers

The first experiment with nonnative oysters in Maryland water was launched in late April, as scientists lowered trays containing thousands of sterile Crassostrea ariakensis to the bottom of three rivers.

Over the next year and a half, scientists will watch the oysters to see if they survive as well in the state’s lower salinity water—and grow as fast—as the Asian oysters have in Virginia tests.

“Maryland waters are fundamentally different from Virginia waters,” said Kennedy Paynter, of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, who is conducting the study. “We hope that this study will help to provide important insight into the population potential for the Asian oyster in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.” ...

Draft tributary strategies seek unprecedented efforts

After more than a year of work, officials from the Bay states know how they are going to clean up the Chesapeake. At least on paper.

River-specific cleanup plans, called tributary strategies, are being finalized by all seven jurisdictions that are part of the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed.

While most of those strategies, which had been due April 30, were still works in progress in mid-May, they spell out the huge level of effort needed to turn back the clock on Bay water quality to achieve conditions not seen since the 1950s. ...

Mycobacteriosis infection rate in Bay’s striped bass increasing

Seven years after it was first observed in the Bay’s striped bass, scientists say the mycobacteriosis infection rate appears to be increasing, with well more than half of the fish suffering from the chronic disease.

Surveys conducted in four Bay tributaries last fall showed the infection rate appeared to climb in each river from the previous year, exceeding 80 percent in the Potomac. And a new survey of the Bay’s mainstem found widespread infections among fish from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the Susquehanna flats, with the disease rates getting progressively higher as the fish get older. ...

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