Bay Journal

December 2004 - Volume 14 - Number 9

As soon as we build roads, wildlife hits the highway

Turning forests into farmland or—even worse—housing tracts, parking lots or shopping centers is bad news for a host of Bay dwellers, from tiny juvenile crabs living in rivers to some of the birds flying overhead.

While development in the watershed has long been pegged as one of the Bay’s many woes, new research by a team of scientists working around the Chesapeake provides some of the clearest links yet to its impacts on estuarine habitat.

Researchers are still analyzing piles of data they’ve collected in recent years, but some trends are already clear. Among their findings: ...

Auditors find Virginia not performing needed farm inspections

State auditors say Virginia officials frequently did not perform required annual inspections on the state’s poultry and livestock farms, undercutting efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

General Assembly auditors also found that when inspectors from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality did perform the inspections, they generally relied on information provided by farmers rather than checking firsthand. Few fines were imposed, even for repeat offenders, the auditors said. ...

Region destined to lose ground to sea level rise at an increasing rate

The Chesapeake has been losing ground to the sea for 10,000 years, but the pace of sea level rise during the past century—and the projected rise in the coming 100 years— threatens to wash more than just dirt into the Bay.

Water levels have risen about a foot in the past 100 years, wiping some islands off the map, eroding shorelines and washing away ecologically valuable marshes. Sediment from that erosion clouds the water, contributing to the loss of underwater grasses.

But water levels in the coming century are expected to rise two to three times as fast, threatening not only coastal ecology, but also human development, which is moving to the waterfront. ...

Russian ratification of climate treaty renews call for U.S. action

Russia’s ratification of the controversial Kyoto Protocol has renewed calls for U.S. officials to endorse the landmark climate treaty.

Ratification by Russia—one of more than 120 countries to endorse the treaty—means that the global climate agreement reached in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 will come into effect early next year.

To become effective, the treaty had to be ratified by at least 55 industrialized nations accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. ...

ASMFC calls for more menhaden study

A regional fisheries agency has called for stepped-up research to assess whether the Chesapeake’s ecology is being affected by the menhaden catch taken from the Bay.

Menhaden are a major food for striped bass and an important water-clearing, filter feeder. But their numbers have declined in the Chesapeake, although the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages migratory fish, says the coastwide menhaden stock is healthy.

Fishermen blame the lack of menhaden for an abundance of thin rockfish in the Bay, and a recently formed coalition of environmental and fishing groups, called Menhaden Matter, is pushing for caps on the Bay harvest. Menhaden support, by far, the largest commercial Bay fishery. ...

Oysters will help trigger Bay cleanup, but are no silver bullet

A tenfold increase in the Bay’s oyster population would boost efforts to bring back underwater grass beds, according to a recent computer modeling analysis.

But the powerful filter feeders would not significantly reduce the size of the summertime oxygen-depleted “dead zone” that keeps deep portions of the Chesapeake off-limits to fish and shellfish, the analysis concluded.

The modeling exercise suggests that oysters would help to meet some of the Bay’s water quality goals, but are not a magic bullet for the Chesapeake cleanup that would offset the need for sharp nutrient reductions throughout the watershed. ...

CBF files suit against EPA over Clean Water Act enforcement

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation in November filed suit against the EPA for failing to respond to its petition from last year that called for stronger measures to clean up the Bay.

In its petition, the environmental group called for several regulatory actions, including enforceable nitrogen limits in discharge permits for wastewater treatment plants and industries in the watershed.

EPA officials say they plan to announce nitrogen permit requirements for treatment plants by the end of the year, although it’s not certain whether those permits will go as far as the CBF had demanded. ...

Ehrlich asks Leavitt to help speed up ariakensis research

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich has sought to bypass concerns of scientists and federal officials about his plan to introduce foreign oysters into the Chesapeake by asking the head of the EPA “to help move forward on this matter.”

In an Oct. 14 letter to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt, the governor said that Maryland’s drive to make a decision on the issue by March “is meeting some resistance” from the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office, as well as the state-federal Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. ...

Congress allocates funds for Bay-related programs

Funding for most federal Bay-related programs will remain relatively stable for the coming year under the $388 billion spending bill approved by Congress in November.

The funding includes $2 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue research on the possible introduction of the nonnative oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, into the Bay. It also includes $8 million in new funding, proposed in the Bush administration’s budget, to support innovative programs to control nutrient runoff in the watershed. ...

Executive Council set to act on finance panel report

The Chesapeake Executive Council last year asked for high-powered help about how to pay for the costly Chesapeake cleanup effort.

In October, it got its response: A recommendation for a regional finance authority that would collect money from all jurisdictions in the watershed and from the federal government—$15 billion in all—and redistribute it throughout the region for nutrient and sediment control projects.

When the Executive Council gets together for its annual meeting Dec. 13, it will decide what to do with the findings of the Blue Ribbon Finance Panel, which it appointed earlier this year. ...

Water Quality Criteria

The state-federal Bay Program last year adopted new water quality criteria for the Chesapeake aimed at improving conditions for fish, shellfish, underwater grasses and other resources throughout the Chesapeake.

To attain those criteria, computer models indicate the region’s needs to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the Bay, estimated at 278 million pounds in 2002, to 175 million pounds. Phosphorus must be reduced from 19.5 million pounds to 12.8 million pounds, and sediment from 5.05 million tons to 4.15 million tons. ...

6 Most Cost Effective Ways To Reduce Nutrients

Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades - Potential Reductions:

  • Nitrogen: 35 million pounds at $8.56 per pound
  • Phosphorus: 3 million pounds at $74 per pound
  • Sediment: None

The estimates assume that most, but not all, major wastewater treatment plants in the watershed would control nitrogen concentrations in effluent to 3 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water as an annual average. The figures include $3.2 billion in construction costs, plus annual operation and maintenance expenses, over a 20-year project period, which works out to an annualized cost of $8.56 per pound of nitrogen. Reducing phosphorus by 3 million pounds would require an additional $1.2 billion, at an annualized cost of $74 per pound. Of all of the practices, wastewater treatment plant upgrades have the greatest degree of confidence for consistent, long-term reductions. ...

Report touts less costly ways to clean Bay

The majority of the Bay cleanup can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of fully implementing the tributary strategies completed by the states this year, according to a new report.

By widely using the six most economical nutrient control techniques, 78 percent of the region’s nitrogen reduction goal, 75 percent of its phosphorus goal and all of its sediment goal can be accomplished for $623 million a year, according to the report by the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

That is about 20 percent of the current $4.8 billion-a-year estimate for implementing the river-specific nutrient and sediment control plans, known as tributary strategies, which were written by the states. ...

Development near wetlands creates tide of birds moving out

When lawns, roads and buildings begin moving closer to tidal marshes, it means many of the birds living in those areas will soon be moving out.

New research, which examined marshes from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the head of the Bay, revealed a clear link between even small levels of development in areas surrounding tidal wetlands and the loss of many marsh-dwelling birds.

The study suggests that, from a bird’s point of view, simply protecting a wetland is not enough—protecting a buffer zone around the marsh from intrusion is just as important. ...

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