Bay Journal

June 2010 - Volume 20 - Number 4

New federal Bay strategy promises unprecedented effort

From restoring brook trout habitat in headwater streams to rebuilding oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries, the Obama administration has set forth a sweeping vision for a revived Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding watershed.

The vision foresees permanently preserving large landscapes, widely engaging citizens in restoration programs such as restoring 180,000 acres of wetlands, and it even hints at a new national park.

At the heart of the federal strategy, released May 12, is a commitment to finish clearing the Chesapeake's murky water by 2025. ...

Paradise Lost? Proposed road threatens Mattawoman Creek

Physicist Jim Long fell in love with the Mattawoman at first sight.

Who wouldn't? The Southern Maryland creek is like a chameleon. In the shallower parts, it looks like an enchanted forest-with a canopy of river birch and willow oaks. Ferns, flowers and shrubs, like the fragrant pawpaw, sprout from the ground. Where the sun peaks through, the water is clear enough to count the river herring.

Offshore oil drilling plans put on hold; Shell buys Marcellus holdings

The Obama administration in May reversed course and said it would suspend plans for exploration drilling off the coasts of Virginia and Alaska and on 33 wells under way in the Gulf of Mexico.

In late March, the administration announced that it would open select offshore areas, including areas off the Virginia coast, to oil and gas exploration as part of an effort to woo lawmakers to support climate change legislation.

The Interior Department would have conducted the first offshore oil and gas lease sale in the Atlantic Ocean in more than two decades in November 2011. The sale would have covered about 3 million acres in a triangular area 50 miles off the Virginia coast. ...

Volunteer water monitoring program celebrates 25 years of success

The year 2010 is a benchmark for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. RiverTrends-our volunteer water monitoring program-celebrates its 25th anniversary.

As the oldest, continuous volunteer water-monitoring program in Virginia and one of the oldest in the nation, it is appropriate to reflect on not only our successes, but also to recognize how volunteer water-monitoring as a whole has evolved during this time period.

RiverTrends was originally envisioned as a way to engage citizens in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort and to produce high-quality data that can be used by local, state and regional partners. This goal has not only been achieved, but exceeded. This is particularly true in Virginia. ...

Temporary pools are a permanent part of amphibian life cycle

It was a noisy spring in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Record amounts of snowmelt, combined with generous spring rains, revived countless shallow pools in dry depressions across the landscape. With them came those tiny frogs with operatic lungs: the spring peepers.

Every spring, peepers gather at temporary pools to breed. Their chorus of high-pitched calls ring through the air-a signature sound of the season. But while spring peepers are the noisiest creatures at the pools, they certainly aren't alone. ...

Real benefit of switchgrass is its ability to suck up excess nitrogen

It's easy to see why everyone is excited about the prospect of biofuels.

After all, getting oil from foreign countries hasn't worked out that well for the United States. And domestic means of extraction are problematic, too. Natural gas drilling is fraught with problems known and unknown. Coal-fired power plants are major polluters. And offshore drilling has more than lost its luster as an oil spill of epic proportions threatens Gulf Coast marine life and its habitat.

No wonder burning cornstalks and switchgrass is starting to look pretty good. ...

PA officials move to regulate natural gas drilling; impose tax

Several agencies and legislators in Pennsylvania appear to be stepping up their efforts to regulate and tax the natural gas industry that developed in the state as companies moved in to exploit the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich rock formation that extends across much of the Appalachian Basin.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which regulates water withdrawals from the river system and issues permits for the massive withdrawals necessary for the drilling process, opened an office in Sayre, PA, to be closer to the action. With the new office in place in northern Pennsylvania, SRBC inspectors will not have to travel all the way from Harrisburg and will be more efficient. ...

VA to keeps restrictions on blue crab harvests

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has decided to keep most of the restrictions that have helped to revive blue crabs in the Bay. The commission unanimously passed regulations in May for the 2010 crabbing season that would maintain the ban on winter crab dredging and the freeze on new crabbing licenses.

Crab stocks have surged from 255 million in 2007-the year before a series of new regulations were enacted, which included the ban on winter crab dredging-to 659 million today.

Scientists and managers say that increase has a lot to do with measures that both Virginia and Maryland put into place two years ago, when the population looked like it was crashing. It has taken two years for them to see the fruits of the restrictions, which watermen on both sides of the Bay lamented would hurt their business. ...

EPA, CBF settle suit

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the EPA in May announced a settlement of the environmental group's 2009 lawsuit against the agency, which had contended that the EPA failed to enforce the Clean Water Act to restore the Bay.

In the written agreement, the EPA committed to fulfill the promises it has outlined over the past year to guide cleanup efforts. For instance, the agency will complete a new Bay cleanup plan by the end of this year and require states to write plans showing how they will meet new pollution reduction goals, which the EPA will enforce. ...

Scientists give Bay’s health a C, up from last year

Scientists grading the Bay's health for 2009 reported there were modest improvements in parts of the Chesapeake, and they gave the Bay an overall grade of C, up from a C minus in 2008.

Overall, 11 of the 16 regions improved, with improvement primarily in the middle regions of the Bay that include the mainstem, Choptank, Potomac and Rappahannock rivers.

Declines were noted in Upper Western Shore rivers, the Patapsco and Back rivers, the James and the Elizabeth.

Once again, the heavily industrialized Patapsco and Back Rivers in Baltimore and the Elizabeth in Norfolk, failed their annual stress test. ...

MD to increase number, quality of oyster sanctuaries

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced new regulations in May to increase the number and quality of oyster sanctuaries in state waters as well as to make it easier for watermen and other interested parties to get into the aquaculture business.

The regulations, which are expected to take effect before oyster season begins in the fall, have been in the works for several months as various scientific studies have shed new light on the state of the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population, which remains at historic lows. Harvests, once measured in the millions of bushels, barely top 100,000 bushels most seasons. ...

Volunteers collect 222 tons of trash in Potomac cleanup

More than 12,000 volunteers hauled tires, plastic bags and even a Canadian flag-with the pole still attached-out of the Potomac River this spring.

The effort was part of the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, which aims to have the Chesapeake Bay's second largest tributary free of litter by 2013.

Judging by what volunteers found during this cleanup, they have a long way to go. Volunteers picked up 1,844 tires, 21,000 plastic bags and a whopping 190,000 beverage containers, many from 7-Eleven and McDonald's. ...

Bay Program director accepts new post at EPA Office of Water

The EPA in late April announced that Jeffrey Lape, director of the agency's Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, has accepted a position as deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology in the EPA's Office of Water in Washington, D.C.

"EPA and our Bay partners have undertaken significant initiatives to restore the Bay, including following through on the president's Executive Order," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin. "In leading our efforts, Jeff has shown unparalleled focus, energy and a sense of purpose." ...

Menhaden study suggests overfishing may have taken place

A new review of the Atlantic menhaden stock confirms that the population continues to exist at a low level and-for the first time-suggests that overfishing has taken place in a number of recent years.

But the assessment stops short of blaming the commercial fishery for the ongoing low abundance of fish, especially juveniles, noting that there has been little correlation between the amount of menhaden harvested and reproduction.

Nonetheless, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the multistate agency responsible for managing the species along the East Coast, directed its technical advisers to begin exploring new management options, with an eye toward recommending changes by the end of this year. ...

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