Bay Journal

October 2009 - Volume 19 - Number 7

7 reports direct federal agencies to take lead in Bay cleanup

From the potential creation of new national parks and wildlife refuges to the possible regulation of septic systems, animal feedlots and suburban stormwater, federal agencies are looking to use their authority like never before.

In a series of seven reports responding to an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in May, federal agencies provided their thoughts about how to clean up the Bay by 2025, protect important habitats and landscapes throughout its watershed, and even how to prepare for impacts of climate change. ...

PA budget slashes conservation programs, opens state forests to drilling

Pennsylvania, the last state in the nation to adopt a budget, appears to have produced one with sharp cuts to conservation programs and opens tens of thousands of acres of state forests to drilling.

Legislators and Gov. Ed Rendell reached the compromise Sept. 18, although details were still being worked out.

State environmental agencies appeared headed for steep cuts. Funding for numerous conservation programs were also in line for sharp cuts or elimination, many of which were important for Bay-related programs, including funding for conservation districts, incentive programs for farmers and other water programs. ...

Corn acreage down, but watershed land devoted to crops still at high levels

The amount of corn planted in the Bay watershed this year returned to levels planted before the recent ethanal "boom" dramatically inflated prices, but the overall amount of all row crops planted remains near the highs of the last two years.

Corn acreage in the watershed dropped to about 1.89 million acres, down from 2.05 million in 2007, when corn prices peaked amid high demand from other nations and ethanol producers. This year's figure was slightly below the 1.91 million acres planted in 2006, before the boom. ...

Lawns’ turf the largest of all plantings in Chesapeake region

The largest "crop" in the Bay watershed is no longer corn or soybeans, according to new research, but turf grass. More than 3.8 million acres of grass - or 9.5 percent of the 64,000-square-mile watershed - is made up of lawns or other grass-covered areas such as parks and golf courses, according to a soon-to-be-released paper.

That's slightly more than the amount of land covered by corn, soybeans, wheat and other row crops in the watershed, according to Tom Schueler, coordinator of the nonprofit Chesapeake Stormwater Network, and Peter Claggett, a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, who independently analyzed different sets of data but came up with similar figures. ...

Cardin proposes bill to increase Bay funds, make cleanup legally binding

Legislation that would require states to restore the Bay by 2020, ban commercial menhaden fishing in the estuary and dramatically ramp up funding for Chesapeake programs has been proposed in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, in September released a wide-ranging draft bill to reauthorize the EPA's Bay Program Office that would dramatically overhaul management.

It would also make President Barack Obama's executive order requiring increased action by federal agencies on Chesapeake legally binding, so it could not be overturned by a future administration. ...

New research finds nitrogen loads to Bay underestimated by 20%

The amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake has been underestimated by nearly 20 percent in the past, meaning the job of cleaning the Bay may be significantly more difficult than previously thought.

The new figures mean government officials and stakeholder groups may need to brace themselves when preliminary nutrient reduction goals are set this fall. The figures are likely to show that most areas have to do as much, or more, than in 2003, the last time nutrient reduction goals were set. ...

Tighter restrictions, monitoring sought for shad harvests

With coastwide American shad populations at their lowest level on record, fishery managers are likely to tighten fishing restrictions and require increased monitoring under a new management plan.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in August released for comment though Oct. 16 an amendment to its shad management plan that seeks to protect shad and restore them to sustainable levels.

The commission, which represents all East Coast states and federal agencies, is responsible for managing species that migrate across state lines. ...

Getting to the bottom of the Bay’s depths

Lt. Michael Davidson took a broad stance near the stern of the Bay Hydro II as the deck opened up at his feet.

"This is the part when some people say, 'Wow, it's like James Bond.'"

There are no super spies aboard the Bay Hydro II. But slick technology does take a star-studded role.

The Bay Hydro II is a new vessel with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, serving the Chesapeake Bay from its home port in Solomons, MD.

From the upper deck, a small, T-shaped device descends at the base of what looks like a giant motorized rudder. The entire unit plunges through the open hatch into the water below. ...

States to be held more accountable for nutrient pollution

States could be halted from issuing new discharge permits, while farmers, local governments-and even lawn owners-could be affected under a new federal plan to crack down on Bay pollution.

The draft plan, prepared in response to an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in May, details how the EPA could use its authority to ensure that actions needed to clean up the Bay are completed by 2025.

"This is a new era of federal leadership in restoring and protecting the country's largest estuary and its 64,000-square-mile watershed," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. ...

Treasured landscape initiative would preserve what makes Chesapeake unique

The federal government should launch a "treasured landscape initiative" that would promote public and private efforts to preserve the most ecologically and culturally unique lands from development pressure, a new report suggests.

The effort would seek to steer more federal land protection funds to the watershed and could eventually lead to a new national park, national forest, wildlife refuge, marine sanctuary or other federally protected areas around the Bay.

Federal agencies would also assist land conservation organizations with their efforts, and provide incentives to landowners and state and local governments to protect priority lands and create new opportunities for public access. ...

Order for improved habitats goes beyond better water quality

When people think about species important to the health of the Bay, hellbenders are not typically one that comes to mind. The giant salamander can reach lengths of more than 2 feet, but hardly anyone sees one because it is nocturnal and lives under large rocks on the bottom of streams and small rivers.

It also requires clean, clear water-something that makes it a good indicator of stream health.

So, they-along with brook trout, American eels, the Louisiana waterthrush, black ducks, eelgrass, blue crabs and about three dozen other species-are listed as "critical living resources" in a report responding to a call in President Barack Obama's executive order for coordinated habitat and research activities that protect flora and fauna, as well as water quality, throughout the Bay and its watershed. ...

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