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March 2009

Bill to Require Septic System Improvements Advances

Kalbird4 An unsavory problem might soon get the flush in Maryland.

And that problem is the thousands of homes built along Chesapeake Bay tributaries with septic systems that lack any kind of technology to remove nitrogen pollution, which causes algae blooms and “dead zones.”

The Maryland Senate yesterday, by a vote of 24-23, narrowly approved a bill that would require state-of-the-art nitrogen removal equipment in all new or replacement septic systems for homes in environmentally critical areas near tidal waterways.  That’s very good news for the Bay.

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Federal Stimulus Money Flows to Stop Flow of Sewage

Kalbird13 So where the heck is all this federal stimulus money going? As a taxpayer, you may have wondered if the billions in the Obama Administration’s economic recovery act was for something useful. As it turns out, at least in Maryland and Virginia, a lot of money is going to clean water.

Among several other projects, $12 million from the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going in federal grants and loans to add state-of-the-art nitrogen pollution removal equipment to one of the largest sewage plants in the region, Baltimore’s Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant. Another $6 million is being used to upgrade the Cumberland Wastewater Treatment Plant in western Maryland, and more money is being spent to fix up leaky old sewage lines and aging dams across the state.

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Vanishing Nature Vocabulary, Growing Tech Talk

Kalbird10 We may have a new kind of endangered species: words about nature.  In a new children’s dictionary, terms like moss, fern, magpie, otter, acorn, and clover, are being crowded out by technology-based words such as blog, Blackberry, MP3 player, voicemail and broadband.

A recent edition of the Oxford University Press children’s dictionary caused an uproar by editing out some of these older terms about nature (and some words specific to Christianity) in part because kids are going outside less and attending church less, according to a story in the London Telegraph.

The blogosphere has been ablaze, with greens claiming the redactions are a nail in the coffin of children learning about nature and therefore caring about environmental issues.

“If you can't name things, how can you love them?” conservationist Robert Bateman said on the Children and Nature Network web site. “And if you don't love them, then you're not going to care a hoot about protecting them or voting for issues that would protect them."

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Critical Vote on Controlling Sprawl May Come Tomorrow

Kalbird1 It’s crunch time in the Maryland General Assembly. And that means it’s time for all you who care about controlling the sprawl that is devouring our cherished Chesapeake forests and farms to step up and shout out to your lawmakers.

Let them know it’s critical that they vote in favor of the Smart Growth accountability bill (House Bill 295 as amended and its companion Senate Bill 878.) Let your representatives hear how much you care about saving our wetlands from the rivers of blacktop that are driving our natural world into the ditch.

Don’t know who your state delegates and senators are?  Bay Daily to the rescue!  Just go to this website, type in your address, and it will show you who your state lawmakers are. Click on your representative's name, and it will show his or her email address. WRITE AN EMAIL TODAY! (Sorry readers in other states, today is a Maryland-centric news day...We'll talk about your state legislative battles soon).

Here’s the breaking news. Yesterday, the Maryland House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee voted 10-8 in favor of a crucial amendment to a growth control bill. The measure would strengthen Maryland’s toothless Smart Growth Act of 1997 by requiring accountability of local governments. The bill would direct local governments to limit sprawl by working towards the goal of having 80 percent of all future growth in designated growth areas, including towns and cities. The bill would also allow the Maryland Department of the Environment to deny or amend permits for large development projects in counties that allow construction to spread out chaotically over fields and forests.

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Seafood Industry Group Abandons Asian Oyster Trials

Kalbird12The tide may have turned for the Asian oyster.
A seafood industry organization called the Virginia Seafood Council that has been testing the cultivation of non-native oysters in Chesapeake Bay tributaries announced yesterday that the group is abandoning the effort, the Newport News Daily Press is reporting

For the last eight years, the seafood group has been raising Asian oysters that are mostly sterile in underwater farms. But scientists, advocates and many Bay area residents have expressed concerns that some will reproduce and proliferate to crowd out the remaining native Chesapeake oysters and perhaps introduce exotic parasites.

Yesterday, the Seafood Council had been expected to testify before a hearing of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News, Virginia, to ask for permission to introduce 1.1 million more Asian oysters into the Chesapeake Bay starting in June.

But instead, the organization’s executive director, Frances Porter, withdrew the application. "Unless someone else in the state has the political will to do it, we're finished," said Frances W. Porter, the council's executive director.

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EPA Bay Czar Praises CBF Lawsuit, Promises More Leadership

Kalbird1 Lawsuits may be good for your health.  Or at least the Bay’s health.  So go ahead.  Sue me.

The EPA’s new Chesapeake Bay cleanup czar, Chuck Fox, recently praised the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s decision to sue his own agency in January for failing to keep its promises to reduce pollution. The lawsuit was filed before he was hired as the EPA’s senior advisor to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

 “I certainly understand the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s  frustrations with the actions of the past administration,” Fox told WYPR 88.1 FM public radio host Sheilah Kast on her Maryland Morning program yesterday. “I am not sure I would have recommended that they do anything less than that…I view this action on their part as a good step. It’s one that helps us all have a constructive dialogue as to what is the best way forward to save the bay.”

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The Global Weirding That Follows Global Warming

Kalbird5 Global warming, then global weirding.

A fourth-generation waterman in the Northern Neck of Virginia recently recalled how his grandfather’s boat used to get stuck for weeks at a time in the ice of the Potomac River, which used to freeze in the winter.

No more. His section of the Potomac near Hague, Va., hasn’t frozen overin years. Similar stories of vanishing ice are told by watermen around Smith Island in the southern Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, strange creatures are moving in.  Brown pelicans, a tropical bird normally found in Florida, have been heading north and multiplying in the Chesapeake Bay, and are now moving up toward New Jersey.  Other southern birds, including the white ibis and glossy ibis, are also proliferating in a warmer Chesapeake that never before supported these species.

These local observations fit into a larger picture of “global weirding” that biology professor and  author John Waldman describes on the environmental news blog Yale 360

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Dog-sized 'Goldfish' Wrestled from Potomac River

Kalbird10The carp was so massive and orange, it looked like a dog-sized goldfish captured from the depths of the Potomac River.

The 25 urban students on board the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's educational boat Susquehanna -- some of whom had never been on a boat before -- screamed and scrambled when the carp escaped from its tub and started tail-slapping its way across across the deck toward them.

Carp "The kids were very excited. They thought it was like the 'Crocodile Hunter' when the crocks came after them," recalled Captain Eric Marshall (pictured at right wrestling the Beast of the Potomac into submission). "When the carp startled jumping around on the deck, the first kid in the line tried to move back, but he couldn’t go back, so he fell right down on the floor." 

After a struggle, Marshall wrangled the carp back into its bin, but it was a slippery job. The carp was the biggest fish -- over three feet long and more than 20 pounds -- that the educational vessel had ever captured in its net during Marshall's 14 years as captain. The Susquehanna drags a trawling net to catch fish and then release them, after showing students what the Potomac River's life looks and feels like.

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84 Percent of the Chesapeake Bay Low on Oxygen Last Summer

Kalbird1 Life is tough without oxygen. Only 16 percent of the Chesapeake Bay met federal and state standards for healthy amounts of dissolved oxygen last summer. Sixteen percent!  I was never an ace with math, but that means something like 84 percent of the Bay was blue in the face last summer.

That's the number that jumped out at me when I read the EPA  Chesapeake Bay Program’s new report card for the state of the nation’s largest estuary, which was released this morning. Overall, the Bay’s health did not improve in the “Bay Barometer 2008” report.

My other gut reaction was that we've got to stop the malling the Bay.  My gut told me we've got a serious cul-de-sac infection.  We can’t do anything to save the Chesapeake if we keep allowing developers to cash in by bulldozing Chesapeake forests and farms to create Chesapeake Estates.

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Smart Growth, Mattawoman Creek and the Concrete Jungle

Kalbird8 (To hear a radio version of this story, click here, or listen at 9:36 a.m. today to WYPR 88.1 FM in Baltimore, WYPF 88.1 FM in Frederick and the Washington suburbs, or WYPO 106.9 on Maryland's Eastern Shore.)

Standing beside the street in the Southern Maryland community of Waldorf, it’s hard to tell if you’re in a town or some kind of universal no-man’s land between Denny’s and McDonalds.

This is the commercial heart of Charles County, and there are bank branches here, a Home Depot, Nissan car dealership--but no homes anywhere to be seen. And no trees or sidewalks or even any way to cross the street to get your Lumberjack Slam breakfast at Denny’s without a car.

Sprawltieger  “This is not pedestrian friendly, and it’s not bicycle friendly. It’s not a community street,” said Joe Tieger, a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who is now an activist in a group called the Smarter Growth Alliance of Charles County.
He’s among those trying to push the county – and the state of Maryland – to re-think this kind of suburban sprawl.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Smarter Growth Alliance, and several other conservation, housing and faith-based groups are backing legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to strengthen a toothless anti-sprawl law passed in 1997 called the Smart Growth Act.

Continue reading "Smart Growth, Mattawoman Creek and the Concrete Jungle" »