Bay Journal

June 2006 - Volume 16 - Number 4

Shortnose Sturgeon Found in Potomac

John Smith once observed that “no place affords more plenty of sturgeon” than the Chesapeake, but biologists this spring saw something even the famed explorer never witnessed—a spawning run by a shortnose sturgeon.

Biologists in April tracked an egg-filled shortnose that had been captured and tagged in the lower Potomac River last fall to a spawning area near Washington where it remained for nearly a week.

Whether the fish actually released eggs into the water is uncertain. Nonetheless, they said it was the first recorded effort of a shortnose sturgeon—listed as an endangered species—to spawn in the Chesapeake. ...

Legislative Highlights from the 2006 General Assembly Sessions

There were many hightlights from the 2006 General Assembly sessions.  These include:


  • Power Plant Emissions Reductions: The Healthy Air Act requires reductions in emissions of the four major air pollutants that come from power plants. It will require emissions reductions of 75 percent for nitrogen oxides, 85 percent for sulfur dioxide, 90 percent for mercury and 10 percent for carbon dioxide from seven coal-fired power plants. Another plant is subject to separate provisions depending upon its impact on grid reliability. The bill requires major sources of mercury emissions to install best available technology and to demonstrate compliance through direct monitoring. It requires Maryland to participate in a regional global warming agreement with seven other East Coast states. If Maryland’s participation ceases for any reason, the governor must submit an alternative emissions reduction plan. Carbon dioxide reductions can be met through efficiency improvements, fuel switching and carbon sequestration offsets (e.g., forest buffers).
  • Land Use & Local Government Planning: Several changes were made through HB 1141 as to how local jurisdictions plan for and manage development, including their plans for growth, annexation and water use. Counties and cities will be required to revise their comprehensive plans to include projections of future growth, including the land area and public services required to sustain growth, and the impact on sensitive areas. Comprehensive plans must also include city annexations of county land, as well as water quality and quantity elements. Zoning changes are prohibited unless the developer can demonstrate that adequate water exists to serve proposed new development
  • Agricultural Stewardship: The Agricultural Stewardship Act implements the recommendations of the General Assembly’s Agricultural Stewardship Commission. The bill establishes the intent of the General Assembly that the governor increase funding for several existing programs, a number of which support agricultural best management practices. The recommended funding levels represent an increase of $37.6 million to $71.8 million over the fiscal year period 2007-2011, compared to fiscal year 2006 appropriations. The fiscal 2007 budget includes approximately $3.5 million of that increase. The bill also includes a mandatory increase in fiscal 2007 of $0.5 million for county Soil Conservation Districts. In addition, priority preservation areas will be added to county agricultural land preservation programs to target key resource lands. A task force is to be established to recommend improvements to the tax structure related to farmers.
  • Land Conservation Funding: Program Open Space received all of the money collected through the real estate transfer tax this year, after three years of funding diversions that removed $191 million from land conservation programs for budget balancing purposes. This year, the program generated a record $361 million, of which about $115 million will go toward agricultural land preservation.
  • Mercury Thermostats: This bill bans the sale and manufacture of thermostats that contain mercury. When disposed of improperly, mercury thermostats are often incinerated, releasing mercury into the environment. In Maryland, there are approximately 2.7 million mercury thermostats in homes today, containing 18,000 pounds of mercury. Banning the sale of new mercury thermostats and educating the public about the proper disposal of existing mercury thermostats will accelerate efforts to reduce exposure to this toxic pollutant via air and water.
  • Private Fertilizer Use: This legislation requires that retailers post signs near all bags of fertilizer of 50 pounds or larger warning purchasers that the overuse of fertilizer damages the Bay and advising them to get a chemical soil analysis before applying fertilizer to their lawn or garden.


10 projects throughout watershed get grants to test innovative cleanup efforts

Efforts to reduce nutrient runoff from Amish farms in Pennsylvania, from dairy herds in Maryland and through nutrient trading initiatives in Virginia were among the projects supported by the first-ever targeted watershed grants announced for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A total of $7.7 million, primarily from the EPA, but with additional funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, will help to pay for 10 projects throughout the watershed aimed at testing innovative nutrient and sediment control efforts. ...

Congress considers bill increasing role of local governments in Bay cleanup

Local governments throughout the Bay watershed would get more responsibilities—but also more funding—to help meet Chesapeake cleanup goals under legislation that was the subject of a House hearing in May.

The Chesapeake Restoration Enhancement Act would reauthorize and increase funding for the EPA’s Bay Program Office through 2011. But it also calls for the agency to set “measureable goals for local governments” to achieve the Bay Program’s nutrient and sediment reduction goals. The goals would be established within 120 days of the legislation’s passage. ...

Commission gives Virginia time to act on menhaden

Regional fisheries managers have decided to wait until August until taking action that could lead to a closure of Virginia’s commercial menhaden fishery, giving Gov. Tim Kaine more time to bring the state into compliance with new catch limits.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, at its May meeting, could have begun the process of finding the state out of compliance with requirements adopted last year that cap commercial menhaden harvests in the Bay at just less than 106,000 metric tons a year, the average of the past five years. ...

Scientists predict smaller dead zone for Bay this summer

After having been whipsawed between unusually good—and extremely bad—water quality conditions over the past decade, scientists say the Bay is in for something different this summer: moderation.

While an oxygen-starved “dead zone” will appear, it shouldn’t be as bad as last year’s, which was the fourth worst on record. That, at least, is what scientists saw when they peered into their crystal ball to come up the Bay Program’s second annual Chesapeake summer forecast.

This year, they predict a dead zone covering 1.17 cubic kilometers, or about 2.3 percent of the mainstem of the Chesapeake. ...

Dam removal programs may get big boost from initiative

Efforts to remove dams may get a big boost as Congress considers record-setting appropriations for national programs that promote the removal of aging structures to improve fish passage.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed $6 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s new “Open Rivers Initiative,” a grant program unveiled last year as the government’s first-ever program specifically aimed at supporting dam removals.

In a lesser-noticed move, the administration in its proposed 2007 budget also sought an additional $10 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP), which would be specifically targeted to support dam removal and fish passage projects. ...

Virginia tax credit spurring land easement donations boom

Like many farm owners in the woodsy hills of Middleburg, VA, Dorothy A. Smithwick has land as far as the eye can see. Her cash, on the other hand, isn’t as far-reaching.

But when she got the chance to sell a chunk of the property, a historied strip worth as much as $20 million, she didn’t take the money and run. Instead, she put the land into an easement, joining an increasing number of property owners from the District of Columbia out to the Piedmont who are protecting their land from development using a little-known state tax credit. ...

2 liquefied natural gas proposals in MD ignite debate over safety

The proposed construction of a new liquefied natural gas terminal in Baltimore Harbor and the proposed expansion of an existing terminal near Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland have ignited a fiery debate over the risks that such facilities pose to people and the environment.

AES Corp. has asked federal regulators for permission to convert the former Sparrows Point Shipyard in Dundalk into to a new LNG terminal. In addition, Dominion Resources has asked regulators for permission to expand the existing the Cove Point LNG plant to include two new storage tanks and to expand pipelines in Maryland and Pennsylvania. ...

SAV acreage increased 7% in 2005 before eelgrass die-off

Underwater grass beds covered an estimated 78,260 acres of the Chesapeake last year, expanding their area by 7 percent over levels observed in 2004. The coverage was 42 percent of the state-federal Bay Program’s 2010 restoration goal for underwater grass beds, considered one of the Bay’s most critical habitats.

But the 2005 aerial survey figures, released by the Bay Program in May, need an asterisk. That’s because a massive die-off of eelgrass, the dominant species in high salinity areas, took place after the survey was conducted in those areas. ...

Poorly planned development lands Shenandoah on endangered rivers list

Rapid, poorly planned development on the land is such a serious threat to the Shenandoah’s water that it has become the fifth most endangered river in the nation.

That conclusion, made by American Rivers in its annual Most Endangered Rivers report released in April, underscored growing concern about the health of the river, which has been plagued by a series of unexplained fish kills in recent years.

“Poorly planned development is marching like a marauding army through the Shenandoah Valley, threatening this fabled river’s priceless recreation, rich heritage, and green vistas,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “It’s OK for counties to put out the welcome mat, but they shouldn’t be doormats for developers.” ...

Critical Areas Act not working well, report concludes

A new report from the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic confirms what many Bay advocates in Maryland have concluded from years of personal observation: The two-decade-old Critical Area Act, one of the first major pieces of legislation to protect the Bay, isn’t working very well.

The report concluded that “There are problems with both the way the law is written, as well as the way it is enforced.”

Passed in 1984, the Critical Area Act is supposed to protect all shoreline areas within 1,000 feet of tidal waters in Maryland from the cumulative effects of unlimited development, while conserving habitat for fish, plants and wildlife. ...

CBF honors 4 for their efforts to preserve Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently honored Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship and Bern Sweeney, director of the Stroud Water Research Center in Chester County, PA, with Lifetime Achievement Awards. The foundation also gave Bill Bechtel, Selinsgrove, PA, high school environmental science teacher, its 2006 Educator of the Year Award; and the Sayre family of Waffle Hill Farm in Harford County, MD, its 2006 Conservationist of the Year Award

“These awardees are truly examples of individuals who make a difference in the lives of others,” CBF President William C. Baker said. “We honor them for their substantial contributions toward improving the quality of our environment.” ...

Blankenship gets CBF Lifetime Achievement Award

When I think of the great attributes of the Chesapeake Bay, I think of its diversity, nearly 3,200 of species of plants and animals. I think of its shallowness, guaranteeing its amazing productivity. I think of its bountiful fisheries, extensive forests and vast marshes. I think of the amazing cast of characters who have assembled to protect it. That is when I think of Karl Blankenship and the Bay Journal.

And I am not alone, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently honored Blankenship with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the environmental field.(To read about the recipients of other CBF awards this year, see “CBF honors 4 for their effort to protect Bay.” ...

Sick stripers’ fate remains a mystery

Mug shots of fish captured from Virginia’s Rappahannock River may provide important clues for scientists trying to resolve one of the the Bay’s most perplexing mysteries: What happens to the plethora of sick striped bass swimming in the Chesapeake?

Last fall, researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science tagged, extensively photographed, and then released 1,811 fish captured in the river. Some fish seemed healthy, others had the ugly skin lesions that have become common on many rockfish in recent years. ...

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