Bay Journal

January 2007 - Volume 16 - Number 10

Report: Agencies must do more to control farm runoff

The Bay region is unlikely to meet its cleanup goals by 2010—and may not for decades—because of a failure to substantially promote and fund pollution control efforts by farmers, a federal report concludes.

The report, an unusual combined effort by the inspector generals of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that efforts to engage the agricultural community in Chesapeake cleanup activities have been hampered by the failure of the two agencies to work together and a lack of funding. ...

Loads to the Chesapeake Bay

The actual amount of nitrogen entering the Bay in 2005 was close to 370 million pounds. That figure is about 200 million pounds more than the 175 million pound goal for nitrogen.

It was also close to the average nitrogen “load” to the Bay since 1990—which signals that nutrient reduction efforts still have a long ways to go.

A similar estimate for phosphorus showed that about 26.1 million pounds entered the Bay in 2005 compared with an average of 21.8 million pounds since 1990. ...

Water Quality Monitoring

While model estimates show a steady, if slow, decline in the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Bay, water quality monitoring in rivers shows a more complex story.

The actual amount of nutrients and sediments—or “loads”—has shown little significant trend since a coordinated monitoring program began in 1985.

Scientists have cited a number of reasons that contribute to the lack of change:

  • Lag Time: It often takes years or decades for the full impact of actions on the land to show up in the Bay. Some nitrogen travels through slow-moving groundwater, and much of the phosphorus is bound to slow-moving particles of sediment. Also, nutrient control practices, such as tree plantings, often take years to become fully effective.
  • Location of Monitoring Sites: Most of the river monitoring takes place at or above the “fall line” which is near the demarcation between free-flowing nontidal rivers and tidal waters. Monitoring nutrient loads in tidal waters, which move back and forth, is difficult. But much of the population lives in large urban areas at or below the fall line, and a disproportionate amount of wastewater treatment plant upgrades have taken place in those areas.
  • Lack of Effectiveness: Many nutrient reduction practices implemented on the ground may not be as effective as thought, or properly maintained. The effectiveness assigned to best management practices is often based on site-specific research projects and may not achieve the same benefits in all situations. Also, the Bay Program assumes that all plans, such as nutrient reduction plans on farms, are fully implemented.
  • River Flows: The amount of nutrients sent into the rivers is greatly influenced by rainfall. More rain washes more nutrients off the land and flushes them into the Bay. A number of unusually wet years the last two decades have sent huge slugs of nutrients into the Chesapeake. Those spikes had the effect of canceling out any downward trend in loads that existed.

Of all those factors, river flows is the most important in affecting year-to-year nutrient and sediment loads entering the Chesapeake Bay. ...

Nutrient Loads to Bay Monitored at 32 Sites in Watershed

Nutrient trends in the Bay watershed are monitored at a network of 32 nontidal river sites—basically areas west and north of Interstate 95—by the U.S. Geological Survey and the states. Sampling is done during “normal” flow conditions every month. Sampling protocols also call for capturing at least eight high-flow storm events each year, including at least one per season.

Technicians find themselves standing on windy bridges in midwinter storms collecting samples with hands frozen in thin nitrile gloves—they can’t wear insulated gloves because the fibers can cause contamination. ...

Terms and Trends

The accompanying river watershed pages—Susquehanna, Potomac, James, Eastern Shore, Western Shore, Rappahannock, York & Patuxent—present model estimates of the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that will reach the Bay when actions under way are fully effective.

To understand these figures, readers need to understand three basic concepts: modeling, nutrient sources and best management practices (BMPs).

Figures and charts on these pages show model-estimated changes from 1985, the baseline for measuring nutrient reductions. ...

Chesapeake Cleanup Update: Reductions in nutrient, sediment loads need to be accelerated

This is the fourth in a series of annual reports that present the most recent estimates (through 2005) about the status of nutrient and sediment reduction efforts aimed at achieving Chesapeake Bay water quality goals.

Most of the information in this report comes from data provided by the states to the Bay Program about their progress in implementing a variety of nutrient control efforts. Those figures are used by a computer model to predict how those actions will affect the amount of nutrients and sediment entering the Bay from each Bay tributary. ...

PCBs, PAHs top Bay Program’s updated toxics of concern list

PCBs, which are responsible for most fish consumption advisories in the Chesapeake region, and PAHs, which have been linked to fish tumors, top the latest version of the Bay Program’s latest “toxics of concern” list.

It was the first revision to the list since 1999, and is intended to identify the organic toxic contaminants of greatest concern based on their potential to affect fish and other Bay resources.

In the analysis, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) topped the list, followed by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), organophosphate pesticides and organochlorine pesticides, with five substances that did not fit into any of those groups rounding out the list. ...

Hundreds of dead northern hogsuckers found in Shenandoah River

Scientists baffled by massive spring fish kills on the Shenandoah River over several years now have additional confusing information: several hundred dead fish in December.

An environmentalist counted at least 300 dead northern hogsuckers on a 10-mile stretch of the main branch of the Shenandoah in Clarke and Warren counties in early December, said Don Kain, a state Department of Environmental Quality biologist. An accurate count was impossible because many had sunk the bottom, DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said. ...

D.C. first major U.S. city to pass green rules for private development

Waterless urinals and recycled carpet could become common building features in the nation’s capital under green construction legislation passed in December by the District of Columbia Council.

The bill, which was signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, made the District of Columbia the first major city to require private developers to adhere to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. Even before the legislation, the district was already on track to open the nation’s first green-certified stadium. ...

VA governor seeks $250 million in bonds to upgrade sewage plants in watershed

Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine announced in December that he would introduce legislation authorizing $250 million in bonds to help upgrade sewage-treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Under the measure, which has to be approved by the General Assembly, the Virginia Public Building Authority would issue the bonds to provide funds to help localities install technology upgrades at municipal plants that would reduce nutrient pollution discharges into state waters.

“Through this partnership with our local governments, we will be able to accomplish with this $250 million bond package what few have thought possible: We will have the resources to meet the sewage treatment-plant discharge requirements of the Chesapeake Bay agreement,’’ Kaine said in a statement. ...

Environmentally important underwater grass beds facing global crisis

Often out of sight and out of mind for both the public and resource managers, underwater grass beds face a “global crisis” as their coastal habitats are dramatically altered by human activities, a new study says.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers from the Chesapeake Bay, said the reported cases of seagrass losses—sometimes over huge areas—have increased tenfold worldwide over the last 40 years in an article, “A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems,” which appeared in the December issue of the journal Bioscience. ...

Tilghman Island arrowheads may point to Bay’s earliest visitors

When he was growing up on Tilghman Island, Darrin Lowery often walked the local beaches looking for arrowheads, spearheads and other artifacts dropped by Native Americans who once inhabited the area.

Little did he suspect that when some of those arrowheads were dropped, Tilghman wasn’t an island, and the Chesapeake did not exist. The beach Lowery walked along was, in fact, an ancient bluff that overlooked the Susquehanna River, which flowed through a valley in the distance.

Lowery began to understand that change around 1979, when he and his father were watching “Search for the First Americans,” a program about the peopling of North America on public television. An expert from the Smithsonian Institution was describing Clovis points—a distinct type of spearhead used by hunters during the last ice age—which came from New Mexico. ...

Small Watershed Grants may not be so small in the future

Grants made through the Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants Program may get a bit bigger in the future.

A recently completed evaluation of the grants program by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which administers it for the Bay Program, concluded that larger grants would help organizations complete more effective projects.

The upcoming changes to the program, which will distribute about $3 million to local organizations and communities this year, aim to help groups monitor and maintain projects for longer periods of time to improve the likelihood of success. ...

Capacity building key to success for watershed groups

Four decades ago, advocates for the Rappahannock River banded together to battle a proposed dam that would have flooded part of the waterway. They scored a victory.

But 20 years later, some of the same people found themselves working on a new threat to the river—rapid growth and development. This time, it was the rivers’ defenders, the Friends of the Rappahannock, who found themselves flooded with work.

The volunteer-driven effort that worked well during the dam crisis, struggled to grapple with a changing landscape as the Rappahannock watershed became one of the fastest growing parts of Virginia. ...

Congress adjourns with Gateways Network in limbo

The fate of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network remained uncertain in December as Congress adjourned without funding the National Park Service program.

The Gateways Network has been unfunded since the new federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, a victim of Congress’ failure to pass appropriations bills for most federal departments.

Instead, Congress has funded most government operations through a series of “continuing resolutions.” Those resolutions have funded agencies and programs at the lower level of the 2006 appropriation, or the House-passed appropriation for 2007. ...

Congress creates water trail marking Smith’s Bay journey

Capt. John Smith and his crew had been out of Jamestown for less than two weeks in their exploration of the great, but largely unknown Chesapeake Bay.

But they had been battered by storms, much of their bread had been soaked and his crew was demoralized and ready to turn back.

Smith urged the crew to “abandon those childish fears for worse than is past cannot happen, and there is as much danger to return, as to proceed forward. Regain therefore your old spirits. for return I will not … til I have seen the Massawomeekes, found Patowomeck, or the head of this great water you conceit to be endless.” ...

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