The Election and the Bay
Undermining the Bay Cleanup: Funk & Bolton's Dirty Water Team

Bay Rebounds from Sandy

11-5-12 NASA Sat 250
While folks in New Jersey and New York continue to struggle with the massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, it looks like the Chesapeake Bay is starting to rebound from the storm.

Sandy actually dumped less rainfall in the Bay watershed than was predicted, and consequently there has been less flooding and polluted runoff flowing into the Bay over the past two weeks than after, say, last year’s big blows, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Still, the “Frankenstorm” washed plenty of pollution into Bay rivers and streams, and it seems to have been responsible for several raw sewage spills. As Bay Daily reported earlier, Sandy knocked out a sewage treatment facility in Savage, Md., causing a spill of about 20 million gallons of sewage and rainwater to gush into the Little Patuxent River. That was one of about 19 sewage spills reported across Maryland during the storm.

In Virginia, the storm was blamed for a break in a sewer line in Suffolk that sent more than 18 million gallons of raw sewage into a tributary of the Nansemond River near the mouth of the Bay. Officials with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District reported yesterday (Nov. 8) that they finally had capped Patapsco Riverthe broken pipe and halted what eyewitnesses described as a geyser of untreated sewage spraying 50 feet in the air. All this polluted runoff, debris, and sewage flushed into the Bay prompted an emergency order from the Virginia Department of Health last week that closed Virginia’s entire portion of the Chesapeake Bay to harvesting oysters and other shellfish. “Due to potential microbiological and chemical pollution hazards, shellfish taken from areas affected by the emergency closure are currently unacceptable for consumption,” health officials said. “Ingesting shellfish taken from the closed areas at this time could cause gastrointestinal illnesses including norovirus, hepatitis A and shigellosis.”

(The Virginia Health Department points out that only shellfish such as oysters and clams are affected by the closure, not crabs or fish.)

Then on Nov. 1, just in time for the annual Urbanna Oyster Festival last weekend, the Health Department eased restrictions and reopened portions of the lower Rappahannock River, Mobjack Bay, and the lower York River. Yesterday, additional Virginia waterways got a clean bill of health, including the Poquoson River, Back River, and part of the upper James River.

Others remain closed, however -- the Nansemond, the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, and the lower portion of the James River in Hampton Roads.

And so the Bay region slowly recovers from yet another nasty storm event that dumped more pollution into our waterways. Some might argue that there is no fighting Mother Nature, that there is little anyone can do to avoid these events and the resulting pollution. That’s not true.

Certainly mankind cannot halt hurricanes or rainstorms, but most experts agree that increasingly frequent and intense storms -- the wacky weather being seen worldwide -- are the result of global warming exacerbated by excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from manmade sources. (Watch this recent explanation by a climate expert.)

RichmondbasinIn the long term, reducing greenhouse gas emissions through less reliance on fossil fuels and greater use of renewable energy will help moderate our weather, reducing flooding and runoff.

In the short term, solutions are already at hand in the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state-local plans to reduce pollution and restore clean water to the Bay watershed.

The plans call for implementing scores of proven, cost-effective practices that will reduce pollution and the runoff that fouls rivers and streams -– restoring and protecting wetlands; replanting stream banks with trees and shrubs; increasing soil and water conservation practices on farms; reducing pavement and other hard surfaces in our cities; Stream buffer increasing porous greenscapes in our yards, schools, and businesses; using rain barrels, rain gardens, and green roofs; slowing and filtering street runoff; and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

As CBF President Will Baker told CBF members last week, “Sandy—like Irene and Lee—can teach all of us a lesson. Nature will deal us blows. Our job is to re-establish a balanced ecosystem that can handle weather extremes. Here on the Chesapeake, that means forested buffers, abundant wetlands, well-managed urban and agricultural stormwater. And, that is what the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is all about.

“The Chesapeake was lucky this year. Let’s finish restoring the Bay so we are better prepared for future storms.”

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photos: Top, NASA; others, CBF.


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