Bay Journal

October 2004 - Volume 14 - Number 7

Panel seeks to revamp ocean, coast policies

In coastal waters around the nation, harmful algae blooms are on the rise, oxygen levels are on the decline and seagrass beds have been rapidly disappearing. Valuable habitats are fragmented, degraded or vanishing—coastal Louisiana alone is losing roughly 25 square miles of wetlands a year.

Some fish stocks that once seemed inexhaustible are now in short supply—more than a quarter of the world’s fish stocks suffer from overharvesting—and many valued marine species are near extinction. ...

Bay’s improved oxygen levels in 2004 puzzling for scientists

Although large amounts of the Bay suffered from low-oxygen conditions this year, the situation for most of the summer was greatly improved from 2003, with August showing the best oxygen conditions on record.

Last year, with river flows into the Bay approaching record levels—and carrying large amounts of nutrients—dissolved oxygen conditions were worse than normal for much of the summer. July 2003 rivaled some of the worst conditions ever seen as nearly 40 percent of the Chesapeake suffered from hypoxia—low oxygen. ...

Dissolved oxygen’s status depends on how it is defined

A recent scientific paper has raised questions over whether dissolved oxygen conditions in the Bay have been getting better, worse—or stayed pretty much the same—in recent years. The answer, it seems, depends on how one looks at the data, and how one defines low oxygen—or hypoxic—conditions.

Since the mid-1980s when a comprehensive Baywide monitoring network was established, the state-federal Bay Program says hypoxia has stayed about the same, or has slightly improved.

But the Bay Program considers any water that has less than 5 milligrams of oxygen per liter of water as hypoxic. (By contrast, surface waters can have as much as 14 milligrams of oxygen per liter of water.) ...

Study reveals long-term decline in Bay’s oxygen

Oxygen-starved areas of the Chesapeake Bay appear to have grown steadily since the 1950s, and the situation has not improved in the last decade despite efforts to control nutrient inputs, according to a new scientific study.

The paper, which has been well-received in the Bay scientific community, shows that low oxygen conditions became more severe and affected more of the Chesapeake as nutrient inputs sharply rose after the late 1960s.

But in a surprise finding, the study also found that the largest areas of severe hypoxia—low oxygen—occurred since 1990, even as nutrient loads into the Bay have leveled off or decreased. ...

Louisiana’s vanishing delta wetlands creating flood of problems

The U.S. homeland is under attack—from the ocean.

Every 30 minutes, the Gulf of Mexico washes away a football field of coastal wetlands from the Mississippi River’s coastal delta in Louisiana. Over the course of a year, about 24 square miles of these brackish wetlands are lost.

If nothing is done, about 700 square miles of wetlands—or an area roughly the size of Delaware—will erode into the Gulf by 2050.

The devastating losses facing coastal Louisiana are one item on a growing list of costly environmental restoration projects—along with the Chesapeake—vying for attention and money from Congress to repair damage caused by humans. ...

Rendell says legislature’s failing to act on Growing Greener puts cleanup efforts at risk

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell recently warned regional lawmakers that his state would soon lag in environmental cleanup efforts unless legislative leaders this fall agree to put his Growing Greener II initiative on the spring primary ballot.

Until new funding is found for the program, “Pennsylvania is closed for business when it comes to protecting the environment and protecting our waterways,” the governor told the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures, at its September meeting. ...

VA board endorses wastewater discharge limits to clean up Bay

Virginia’s State Water Control Board has endorsed a far-reaching proposal to help clean up the Chesapeake by setting nutrient discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants in the watershed.

The board is expected to give its final approval to rules that would officially implement the new policy, which is expected to cost about $1.1 billion, by the end of next year.

“It’s a very, very ambitious initiative,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy. He added that restoring the Bay’s water quality is “critically important” to the state’s economy. ...

Federal agencies seek 3 years of research for ariakensis

Federal agencies have developed a three-year research plan aimed at answering key questions before any final decision about using a fast-growing Asian oyster in the Chesapeake.

Some of the research projects would take until the end of 2007 to complete—more than two and a half years past the time frame Maryland and Virginia have established for a decision.

But the plan, which was requested by Congressional staff members, still sets a faster pace than research outlines put forth by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee and by the National Research Council, which called for at least five years of study. ...

Whether a fish has a hot spawning season may depend on weather

When striped bass rebounded from record low numbers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fishery managers took the credit, saying their controversial harvest limits had helped to save the stock.

But a recent study suggests they may need to share that credit with someone else: Mother Nature.

Similarly, fishery agencies have been drawing fire in recent years for not cutting commercial menhaden harvests which many anglers blame for reduced levels of this important food source—a favorite of many predators—in the Chesapeake. ...

Floodwaters from Hurrican Ivan trash upper Chesapeake Bay

Floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan sent tree branches, road barricades and tires—and a potentially large load of sediment—down the Susquehanna River and into the upper Chesapeake, creating hazards for boaters and raising concerns about environmental impacts.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, river flows on Sept. 19 and 20 were strong enough to scour sediments stored behind the Conowingo Dam and flush them into the Bay—the first time that has happened since 1996. USGS scientists said river flow reached a peak of 606,000 cubic feet per second and remained above 400,000 cfs from about two full days. ...

$3 million awarded in small grants for 93 restoration projects

A Shenandoah River dam will be removed, many Maryland churchgoers will get water action guides, and invasive purple loosestrife will be ripped up in Delaware, thanks to the latest round of Small Watershed Grants.

The annual grants, awarded by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Program, were announced in September for 93 Bay and river restoration projects throughout the watershed.

The $3 million in grants were awarded to community-based organizations and local governments to create rain gardens that reduce polluted runoff; plant streamside forest buffers that prevent erosion and soak up nutrients; restore underwater grasses that provide critical habitat for Bay dwellers; and undertake a host of other activities beneficial to the Chesapeake. ...

Bay cleanup costs could top $30 billion

The Bay cleanup tab could exceed $30 billion in the coming years if states were to fully implement the nutrient and sediment control strategies they developed this year.

That estimate was produced by the EPA’s Bay Program Office for a special Blue Ribbon Finance Panel that is to make recommendations by mid-October about how to pay for the steep nutrient and sediment reductions agreed upon last year to restore the Bay.

Using figures derived from river cleanup plans being devised by the states, the figures showed the cleanup would require $29.3 billion in capital costs, including upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff controls, the installation of forest buffer strips and other long-term investments. ...

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