Bay Journal

September 2007 - Volume 17 - Number 6

Mining operations’ legacy a mother lode of acid drainage

There are places in the Chesapeake Bay watershed where bright orange streams go largely unnoticed.

No one living among these rural towns and country roads can recall anything else. The rush of pumpkin-colored water, a legacy from long-abandoned coal mines, has washed away any hope of a fishing hole or swimming spot for so long that few people imagine anything different.

The odd color signals a host of problems. The orange hue, and its many variations, comes from the presence of heavy metals that often make the water too acidic for fish and leave the streambed void of important insect life. ...

PA approves tax credits for farms that use conservation practices

Pennsylvania farmers who implement conservation practices on their land will be eligible for up to $150,000 in tax credits under legislation approved in the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ed. Rendell in July.

The Resource Enhancement and Protection Act, or REAP, is aimed at speeding nutrient reduction efforts on farm lands by providing transferable state tax credits to farmers who voluntarily plan and implement effective actions that reduce runoff such as barnyard improvements, the planting of riparian buffers, the erection of stream fencing and other eligible activities. ...

Fate of increased Bay funding in Farm Bill in Senate’s hands

The Senate this fall will consider whether its version of the Farm Bill should contain the sharp increases in Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding that were approved by the House in July.

The House bill includes $212.5 million over five years in conservation funding specifically directed toward curbing nutrient and sediment pollution from farms in the Chesapeake region.

In addition, it boosts spending for other nationwide conservation programs, which could bring tens of millions of additional funds to the region annually. The total value to the Bay over the five-year period covered by the bill could be about $500 million, supporters say. ...

Increase in watershed’s corn acres could offset Bay cleanup efforts

This year's increased corn plantings in the Bay watershed could generate roughly 3 million pounds of additional nitrogen runoff, according to an analysis of recent figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and regional scientists.

The figures show that this year's plantings alone could have the potential to largely offset other Bay-related cleanup efforts. The EPA estimates that the recent pace of nitrogen reductions in the Bay watershed has averaged 3.4 million pounds a year.

Some scientists and officials involved with the Bay cleanup have worried that pressure to grow more corn, spurred by rising corn prices pushed largely by increased ethanol demand, could pose problems for restoration efforts because cornfields tend to lose more nitrogen than other crops. ...

Algae blooms plague Bay, rivers despite favorable dry conditions

Scientists who expected this year's dry conditions to produce clear Bay waters were surprised as much of the Bay and its tidal tributaries were instead choked with algae blooms this summer.

From fish-killing blooms in the Potomac River and Baltimore Harbor to a mid-August bloom that coated the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers, various species of algae have stained the region's tidal creeks, rivers and embayments with hues of red, brown and green while contributing to low-oxygen levels.

Poor water clarity is often associated with high river flow years, when pounding rains flush huge amounts of nutrients into tidal waters, where they fuel algae growth. Along with the nutrients are plumes of sediment, which cloud the water. ...

James River survey turns up 175 sturgeon, including a spawning male

Surveys on the James River turned up 175 sturgeon this spring, the most since a coordinated research program began two years earlier. The catch also included 15 sturgeon more than 5 feet long.

But the most surprising catch may have been a mature male caught on May 30-the last day of the survey-which was releasing sperm into the river.

Chris Hager, a fisheries scientist in the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said biologists thought spawning in the James took place earlier in the spring. ...

Biologists fail to successfully spawn two female Atlantic sturgeon

Plans to rear thousands of young sturgeon for release in Bay tributaries this year were dashed as biologists failed to successfully spawn either of two "ripe" female Atlantic sturgeon this summer.

Nonetheless, they say valuable lessons were learned that may help future efforts to successfully spawn sturgeon-a crucial element of any effort to restore the largest fish native to the Bay.

"I'm disappointed we weren't able to produce anything, but still think we are moving forward," said Brian Richardson, sturgeon project leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "We learned a lot this year. I mean a ton. And we probably have a good idea of where we could have done a better job." ...

Spring shad runs mixed - populations up in most rivers

Biologists around the watershed reported mixed results for this year's American shad run. A quirky cold snap in the middle of the spring spawning run hampered egg collection efforts, so overall stocking was down from last year, although officials reported that they still met stocking goals on most rivers.

The cold snap also put the brakes on fish migration for about three weeks, making it difficult to gauge the strength of this year's spawning run. "It's hard to get a handle on what the run really was like because of that," said Dean Fowler, a fisheries biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. ...

Many schools had to de-emphasize curriculum to focus on subjects covered on standardized tests

Arguing that the leaders of tomorrow need to spend more time outdoors today, some lawmakers and conservation groups are calling for major changes in the nation's approach to environmental education.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-MD, have introduced bills aimed at changing policies set by the No Child Left Behind Act, which is due for reauthorization by Congress later this year.

Their bill, dubbed the "No Child Left Inside Act," would elevate the importance of environmental education and make approximately $100 million available to states that develop comprehensive plans for environmental literacy in public schools. ...

Zebra mussels found in PA lake on Cowanesque River near NY

Zebra mussels have turned up in a northern Pennsylvania reservoir, marking the first time the exotic species has been found within the state's portion of the Susquehanna basin.

Biologists discovered the thumbnail-sized mussels May 17 during routine monitoring at Cowanesque Lake, a reservoir used to supplement downstream water supplies during droughts, near the New York state line. The lake is on the Cowanesque River, which eventually flows into the Susquehanna.

The discovery was later verified by the Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Sea Grant. ...

Panel urges Virginia to double spending on native oyster efforts

A panel of experts is urging Virginia to double its spending and overhaul its management to bolster native oyster restoration efforts in the Bay.

The recommendations, made public in early August, stemmed from a yearlong study by the Blue Ribbon Oyster Panel, which consisted of scientists, seafood merchants, state experts, environmentalists and federal officials.

But they acknowledged that bringing back native oysters, which have been hard hit by diseases, poor water quality and foraging cownose rays, would be a long-term project. ...

Row, row, row your boat

There is only the sound of the six wooden oars slapping the water and the creak of wood in the oarlocks. Some of the crew blow out breath as they pull back on the 25-pound, 16-foot oars, others grimace quietly. I watch the bank and can see that we are barely moving, even as the crew strains. A stiff breeze is blowing against them as they attempt to enter Chesapeake Bay.

"OK crew, we need to row as hard as we can for 15-minute intervals," directed their leader, Capt. Ian Bystrom. "Right now we're making waves. That's a good sign." ...

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