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Water Trails, Hydro-Fracking, and Bay Grasses

New National Water Trails Connect to Bay

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar designated four new national water trails this week, all in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and each connecting the existing Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail to additional natural, cultural, and historic sites.

The newly designated trails include:

• The Susquehanna River, a 552-mile system of water trails along the main stem and West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. The southern end of this trail links directly with the John Smith National Historic Trail at Conowingo, Md.
• The Chester River, a 46-mile system that connects to the John Smith Trail at its mouth just south of RockTrailvoyage Hall, Md.
• The Upper Nanticoke River, an existing state water trail of approximately 23 miles that links directly with the John Smith Trail.
• The Upper James River, a 220-mile water trail that crosses nine counties and connects to the John Smith Historic Trail at the fall line of the James in Richmond, Va.

“These river trails, totaling 841 miles in length, are closely associated with John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the American Indian towns and cultures of the 17th-century Chesapeake that he encountered,” Salazar said in a news release. “Incorporating these river segments into the national historic trail will increase public access, provide important recreation and tourism opportunities, and enrich exploration of the water routes in the entire Chesapeake watershed.”

Vermont Bans Fracking
Vermont became the first state in the nation this week to ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to mine oil and natural gas.

In signing the legislation Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin said, "This bill will ensure we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy. It is a big moment. I hope other states will DSC_0078.JPGfollow us. The science on fracking is uncertain at best. Let the other states be the guinea pigs. Let the Green Mountain State preserve its clean water, its lakes, its rivers, and its quality of life."

Fracking involves drilling deep into underground Marcellus shale formations, a type of rock that underlies some parts of the country, including portions New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The process calls for drilling a mile or more into the earth, then drilling horizontally into the shale, pumping a mix of sand, water, and chemicals under high pressure to crack the rock and force natural gas to the surface. 

Areas around the country where fracking has been done extensively report a host of unsettling problems and concerns -- contamination of drinking water wells, pollution of surface waters, mishandling of drilling wastewater, runoff pollution, air pollution, forest fragmentation, unsustainable truck traffic, and the industrialization of once quiet, rural areas.

As a result, the U.S. EPA, states, and localities around the nation are taking a harder look at fracking and how better to ensure that local interests and the environment are protected as mining companies seek to exploit  this new and potentially large sources of natural gas.

Underwater Grasses Going into the Bay
And in Virginia, scores of citizen volunteers for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) who’ve been growing underwater grass at their homes, schools, and businesses are now wading into the shallows of Bay rivers to plant their grass shoots. DSC_0019

The families and individual volunteers have been raising the grasses since February in small tubs as part of CBF’s volunteer “Grasses for the Masses” restoration program. Now that the grasses have established roots and leaves, it’s time to transplant them from the tubs into the rivers. Volunteers will be planting grasses this weekend in the Potomac River at Mason Neck State Park and next week in the James River below Richmond.

It’s all in attempt to help re-establish underwater grass beds in the Chesapeake watershed and to engage and educate citizens in the importance of reducing pollution. Underwater grasses are vital to the health of the Bay and its rivers. They provide oxygen to the DSC_0038water, trap sediment, reduce erosion, and provide food and shelter for fish, shellfish, crabs, and waterfowl.

Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of the Bay’s original 400,000 acres of underwater grasses remains, largely because of cloudy, polluted water. By reducing pollution as called for by the federal-state blueprint to clean up the Bay and with continued restoration efforts, scientists hope underwater grasses will once again return to the Bay.

If you’re interested in volunteering for Grasses for the Masses, click here.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay foundation

Photos: map, shallop, National Park Service; drilling, Tom Pelton/CBF; grass planting, Chuck Epes/CBF.


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