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April 2009

A Good Sign for Bay: Underwater Grasses Grow by 18 Percent

Grasses The grass really is greener.

Underwater grasses that are vital to the health of the Chesapeake Bay grew by nearly 12,000 acres last year, an 18 percent increase, according to data released this morning by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program.

This means more habitat for blue crabs and fish, and a better filtration system for the Bay’s waters.  Clearer waters allows more light to penetrate, which encourages more grasses to grow on the bottom – providing a positive feedback loop.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Bill Goldsborough, director of fisheries for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  “Grasses are a prominent indicator of the Bay’s resilience, and given half a chance, they will bounce back.”

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Fight Erupts Over Housing Density On Maryland's Eastern Shore

Kalbird1 An explosive debate over sprawl has erupted on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Wicomico County is proposing to change the zoning laws to allow fewer homes to be built per acre in rural areas.

The Salisbury/Wicomico County Planning and Zoning Commission, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Wicomico Young Farmers and Ranchers, and others are pushing for the new standard of one house per 10 or 15 acres. That would replace a current standard of allowing clusters of one home per three acres in some areas, according to an article in this morning’s (Salisbury, MD) Daily Times

Bulldozer Fewer new homes popping up out of farm fields would mean less runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, less burden on the county’s schools and roads, and more protection for the Eastern Shore’s beautiful landscape of farms and forests. 

Opponents of the bill, including many landowners, are protesting loudly that the zoning change will decrease their property values, in case they want to sell their properties to developers.  They claim this will hurt rural families and farmers.

 

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Environmental Education Road Trip

Kalbird10 Often we learn the most about home by going far away.

One of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s top educators went on a road trip recently to Eastern Europe, where he taught students in Macedonia about environmental issues as part of a program run by the U.S. State Department.

Jeff Rogge, senior manager in CBF’s education department, taught about nitrogen runoff pollution  and the troubles faced by Chesapeake Bay and waters around the world.  He  demonstrated runoff by creating a classroom watershed model out of a shower curtain, using plastic toys to create a landscape, and then spraying a water bottle over coffee grounds and food coloring to simulate rain and create streaks of different colored “pollutants” running downstream.

Roggepicture Rogge, from Pasadena, Md.,  appeared on live television on a children’s show with a giant fluffy dog named Miri in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.  (The interview was in Albanian, but he had a translator). He visited lakes, rivers and schools across the country.

One obvious difference between the U.S. and Macedonia is the extent of poverty and unemployment, he said, with the average income in the former Yugoslavian state a tiny fraction of average American income.  In this context, Rogge said he was most struck by a question about the Chesapeake Bay posed by a student.

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'Poisoned Waters' To Air Tonight at 9 p.m.

Kalbird4 Here’s a reminder for Earth Day eve.  Be sure to watch PBS tonight (Tuesday, April 21) at 9 p.m. to catch Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith’s Frontline documentary, “Poisoned Waters.”

It’s an in-depth look at invisible but chronic problem of water pollution in the U.S., focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound.  For more, click here.

David Fahrenthold, who covers the Bay for The Washington Post, wrote a review of the documentary in today’s paper

He muses that perhaps it would be better if the Chesapeake Bay caught on fire.  After all, it was a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland in 1969 that helped to spark the outrage that led to the first Earth Day in 1970 and the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

“The Chesapeake, sick as it is, has never been flammable. And it has never been fixed,” Fahrenthold writes.

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43 Percent Rise in Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs

Basketofcrabs Here's some good news for the Chesapeake Bay's troubled blue crabs. The most recent dredge survey found 43 percent more in the Bay this past winter than a year earlier, a sign that the harvest restrictions put in place last year by Virginia and Maryland have begun to work.

The restrictions had the unfortunate short-term side effect of hurting watermen. So a natural impulse might be to immediately lift the limits. But that would be premature.

First, there's the big picture. Blue crab populations tend to vary widely year to year, so a one-year increase doesn't mean that the long-term problems have been solved.

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A Carnival of Earth Day Events Planned for Tomorrow

Kalbird12 Earth Day is coming, and to celebrate, a green abundance of festivals, concerts and events are planned for tomorrow (Saturday, April 18).

Maybe your thing is an outdoor concert on the Mall in Washington DC. Or perhaps it's rocking out to Caleb Stine at the EcoFest in Baltimore.  Or maybe you'd like browsing the booths at the Richmond Earth Day Festival or partying at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis. Whatever you enjoy, there’s plenty going on.

The biggest event in our region is planned for America’s front lawn, the National Mall in Washington DC.  Take public transportation downtown to the Earth Day festival from Noon to 6 p.m. on the Mall, between 4th and 7th streets. It will feature performances by Los Lobos, the Flaming Lips, DJ Spooky, and others.  For more info, click here.

During the event, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will give a speech.  If you go, bring a sign demanding  action now to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  Words are great, but we need results.  After the celebration, follow through by writing a letter to Administrator Jackson. Click here for tips.

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Clouds Pregnant With Salamanders

EggsCheck out this photo.  What is it?

The upper right hand corner looks like trees reaching up into puffy white clouds.  But the bottom left hand corner breaks the illusion.  That's a hand in a pond holding frog eggs.  The clouds soaring above the tree tops are actually the brain-shaped egg masses of spotted salamanders, with the shadow of tree branches falling across the water.

It's an image of our ambiguous spring.  If you have any photos of springtime life you'd like to share and see published in Bay Daily, send them to me at tpelton@cbf.org.

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EPA Bay Cleanup Czar Pledges "Locked-In Accountability"

Foxandbaker Chuck Fox, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Chesapeake Bay czar, pledged today to bring more accountability to the EPA’s failed Chesapeake Bay cleanup program.

During a press conference at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Fox said it has been clear for a while that the federal and state Bay cleanup effort will not meet pollution reduction goals set for the year 2010.

“I think really the challenge at this point is charting a new course forward…that has locked-in accountability and performance for the Chesapeake Bay Program,” said Fox (at left in photo). “We have 25 years of history to suggest that the accountability has been lacking and the performance has been lacking and we need to change that.”

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Cash for Clunkers to Rev Up the Economy

Kalbird11 Would cash for clunkers help the Chesapeake Bay?

Exhaust from cars and trucks is a little-discussed source of pollution in the nation’s largest estuary, with nitrogen oxides pouring out of tailpipes and contributing to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay.

Traffic Germany and France are trying to give a spark to their economies by offering “cash for clunkers” programs, in which the government offers consumers cash incentives to turn in older vehicles that pollute more and instead buy newer, cleaner cars. The idea is to get the worst sources of pollution off the road – while boosting the revenues of automakers and dealers.

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