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December 2013

Federal Government is Failing to Meet Bay Cleanup Promises

Capitol building WHITE HOUSE PICTUREThe federal government is falling short of its promises to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by reducing farm and urban runoff pollution, as well as air pollution, according to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation analysis.

"Restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will only be achieved when all the partners do their fair share," said Dr. Beth McGee, CBF Senior Water Quality Scientist. "The federal government must step up its oversight and clearly define the actions it will take over the next two years to ensure progress.”

In the area of agricultural pollution, the federal government is not providing enough financial and technical support to encourage farmers to plant strips of trees along streams to filter the runoff of fertilizer and sediment.  In 2012, farmers in the Bay region states planted only 2,600 acres of these forest buffers, less than 20 percent of the 14,200 acres per year needed to meet targets in a federal and state Bay cleanup plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

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‘Tis the Season for Some Good Clean Water News

Schlyer-cbr-8502.stormwaterSome good news to report this week from Virginia, thanks in part to hundreds of clean water advocates who contacted state officials and urged them to make important changes to reduce pollution.

This week, Virginia’s State Water Control Board, the citizen board overseeing water pollution rules and regulations in the Commonwealth, approved two permits that should help reduce polluted runoff going into Chesapeake Bay streams and rivers.

One permit is aimed at reducing dirt and other pollution running off construction sites. If you’ve ever seen dirt tracked off a construction lot or mud running off a building site after a heavy rain, you understand why it’s important to control this pollution. Muddy construction runoff can quickly foul local streams and rivers, smothering fish, clams, oysters, underwater plants, and other aquatic life. The dirty water also increases the cost of treating drinking water for localities downstream.

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A Comeback for the "Founding Fish" in the Nation's River

Shad.SCDNRAmerican shad are fish that played a whale-sized role in the economy and diet of the American colonies.

They have a nickname, “the founding fish." The name comes from a story:

A school of these migratory, schooling fish came swarming up Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River in the spring of 1778 just in time to feed General Washington’s starving army at Valley Forge.

The ragged patriots waded into the river, beat the silvery tide with their swords -– and feasted on the shad to regain their strength and eventually beat the British.

Jim CumminsIt’s a well-known tale, and almost true, according to Jim Cummins, a biologist and Director of the Living Resources Section with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. 

The real story about the founding fish was more interesting, Cummins said.

“The British occupied Philadelphia and  Washington’s troops at Valley Forge were camped out northwest of Philadelphia,” Cummins said.  “The British had actually put block nets across the bridges in Philadelphia, knowing that shad could come up and feed the troops.  This was sort of biological warfare, at the time.  So the British put up block nets. But Washington, he had shad ordered from the Potomac River, and they arrived by wagon.  Shad did come and save the troops.  But they arrived by wagons from Baltimore.”

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Coal Plant Closures May Signal National Trend

Chalk point UMCESThe skies may be clearing as coal retreats.    A Houston-based power company recently announced plans to close large coal-fired power plants on Chesapeake Bay tributaries, the Patuxent and Potomac rivers in Maryland.

David Gaier, spokesman for Houston-based NRG Energy Inc., said today (Dec. 17) that the company has notified power grid operators that NRG will deactivate in May 2017 the coal-burning generators at the Chalk Point power plant in Prince George’s County (shown above), and the Dickerson plant in Montgomery County. The Chalk Point plant (formerly owned by Mirant) has a notorious history that includes numerous air pollution violations and an oil spill into the Patuxent River.

“The reason is pretty simple.  Maryland recently announced it would implement more stringent environmental regulations for coal fired power plants, for emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide” air pollutants, Gaier said. “For those coal-fired units to comply with those new standards would require us to invest in significant capital expenses” for air pollution control equipment. “We can’t justify the investments.”

In June, the Maryland Department of the Environment filed a federal lawsuit against NRG, alleging that the Chalk Point and Dickerson plants discharged more nitrogen pollution into the Potomac and Patuxent rivers than permitted.  Gaier said the plans to shut down the plants had nothing to do with the federal lawsuit.

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Living with the Bay’s Lag Time

DSC_0120We are becoming an increasingly impatient society, what with the Internet, portable computers, smart phones, Apps, and other instant communications.

Mother Nature, however, hasn’t logged on.

Case in point: Recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey reveals it can sometimes take decades for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts to pay off in cleaner, healthier water in streams, rivers, and the Bay.

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Some Sobering Facts for Tomorrow's Meeting of Bay Region Leaders

Chesapeake bay program posterThe governors of Chesapeake Bay region states and other top officials are meeting in Washington D.C. tomorrow (Dec. 12) to discuss the state of the nation’s largest estuary. Here are some facts they should read as a wake-up call:

 Seventy-one percent of the Bay and its tributaries are failing water quality standards, according to a report issued by the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program last week.  Fewer than half (45 percent) of the 467 sewage treatment plants in the region have permits that meet water quality standards to protect the Bay, according to the report, called Bay Barometer. Seventy-four percent of the tidal waterways examined by researchers are contaminated with chemical pollutants.

“This report is a sobering reminder that although we have made progress in reducing pollution, we still have a long way to go to restore local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Senior Water Quality Scientist Beth McGee.

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Stormwater Taxes Family's Wallet and Psyche

Jonathan and Elizabeth Stoltzfus examine sinkholeA hard rain fell all night in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. Just before 7 a.m., Elizabeth Stoltzfus woke and trudged downstairs in her pajamas to prepare her five children for school.

That’s when she noticed flashing lights through her window.  Nudging aside the curtain, she saw people on her sidewalk stretching yellow tape in front of her house. The tape warned: “POLICE LINE -- DO NOT CROSS.”

 “I stuck my head out the door and people started yelling at me to get my shoes on and come outside,” Elizabeth recalled.  “When I stepped out, all I saw was a big hole in front of my house. It went down all the way to the foundation.  I yelled ‘Oh my God!’ and freaked out.”

Jonathan examines sinkholeA sinkhole, 16 feet deep and 10 feet wide, suddenly had opened in front of her house, yawning like a mouth big enough to swallow a car. The sinkhole was one of three that undermined houses on her block during the rain storm on October 11, forcing the evacuation of nine families, according to town officials.

Sink holes are an example of the damage that uncontrolled stormwater runoff can cause to homes, businesses, and roads through flooding and erosion, experts say.

Across the U.S., flooding causes over $3 billion in property damage and 150 deaths a year, according to the Federal  Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).  But about a quarter of the economic damage (or roughly $750 million a year) is not from hurricanes or rising rivers, but from uncontrolled suburban and urban rainwater runoff, FEMA reports.

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