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September 2011

Bay Cleanup Creates Local Angst – But Let’s Take Another Look

Sunrise Just as the federal-state Chesapeake Bay cleanup initiative is getting under way -– an effort that many regard as the Bay’s best and perhaps last chance for real recovery -- come disturbing reports that some localities around the Bay watershed are balking.

Local officials are variously complaining that the Bay pollution diet (the total maximum daily load, or TMDL) that limits the amount of pollution allowed in the Bay is too costly, or unfair, or scientifically unsound.

Newspapers report that officials in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are even exploring litigation to halt the pollution diet, echoing legal action already under way against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by national agriculture and home builder groups trying to torpedo the Bay cleanup.

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Bite Boom: Rains Spur Biggest Mosquito Population in Three Decades

Mosquito This is the kind of buzz you don’t want.

In addition to stirring up water pollution, the recent heavy rains across the Chesapeake Bay region also triggered a near-record mosquito population boom.

Mike Cantwell, chief of the mosquito control section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said mosquito populations on Maryland’s western shore are the highest he’s seen in his 30 years of studying and trying to control the insects.

“Normally, at this time of the year, with the cooling temperatures, we are seeing a decline in mosquito populations,” Cantwell said.  “But due to the large amount of rainfall that we’ve had, we’ve actually had an increase at this time of the year. And so far the weather isn’t getting cold enough, fast enough to dramatically reduce these mosquito populations, or their biting.”

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How to Defuse a Water Quality Time Bomb?

Conowingodam Tropical Storm Lee stirred up about four million tons of sediment that had been trapped behind the Conowingo Dam and in the lower Susquehanna River and flushed this pollution into Chesapeake Bay, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The result of the storm was a huge brown stain on the Bay that could be seen in NASA satellite photos running nearly the length of Maryland.

As startling as that figure of four million tons may sound, it could get worse in the future, the state agency warns. The Susquehanna River is the largest source of fresh water to the Bay. And the massive Conowingo hydroelectric dam in northeastern Maryland has been trapping about two thirds of the dirt, sand, and fine particles (sediment) mixed with other pollutants (including nitrogen and phosphorus) that flows down the river from Pennsylvania and New York toward the Bay.

However, the reservoir behind the dam is filling up with this muck, and dam’s capacity to store more sediment will be exceeded in 15 to 20 years, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. After that, storms could stir up huge increases in sediment gushing into the Bay.

That makes the Conowingo a time bomb for water quality.

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Chesapeake Lobbying War Over Exemption for Agriculture. Ag Out-Spends Clean Water Advocates on Lobbying 3 X 1

Farmtractor EPA's pollution "diet" for the Chesapeake Bay has provoked a backlash. National agriculture industry groups are afraid of these pollution limits. Why? One word: accountability.

The secret of the ag industry is that it enjoys a sweet deal from taxpayers and the federal government today. The industry receives more than $17 billion a year in federal subsidies, but has little or no responsibility to control the runoff pollution that is fouling the nation’s waterways. They get money from us taxpayers, but are not accountable to us taxpayers to keep our water clean.

Ever since Congress amended the federal Clean Water Act in 1987, most agricultural runoff pollution has been exempt from federal regulation, with an exception for concentrated animal feeding operations.

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Ag Industry Slam of 'Bad Science' is Bad Science

Cows in creek 012 Should we delay Bay cleanup because of agriculture industry allegations of bad science?  Absolutely not, because the industry’s claims are themselves bad science.

An independent panel of scientific experts has concluded, in a report released this morning, that an agricultural industry study that sought to delay EPA’s Chesapeake Bay pollution “diet” is of “poor scientific merit” and full of errors.

“It was an effort to mislead the public, the farm community, and Congress, using flawed science,"  CBF Senior Water Quality Scientist Dr. Beth McGee said. "The (agriculture industry) report was but one part of a coordinated attempt by national agribusiness lobbying groups to block implementation the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet and to delay efforts to clean up the region’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.”

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Living Shoreline to Irene: Is That All You Got?!

One of the key tools we can all employ to help protect and improve the Chesapeake Bay is restoration – of wetlands, of forests, of shorelines, of oysters, of wildlife habitat, of our own back yards and school grounds.

For some waterfront property owners, erosion and loss of property from storms and high water present major problems. Restoration can help solve them. For example, rather than highly engineered bulkheads, seawalls, or other hardened structures, restored “living shorelines” of oysters, sand, grasses, and trees can often better reduce storm and water damage and at the same time provide important wildlife habitat and create aesthetically pleasing vistas.

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Chicken Power: Are Poultry Waste Incinerators Green?

Chickens What to do with poultry waste? That may not sound like a burning question. But the answer may be incendiary.

A Pennsylvania company, Fibrowatt, is exploring the possibility of building power plants that would incinerate poultry waste on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. For the last four years, Fibrowatt has been running an electricity generator that burns turkey litter in Benson, Minnesota.

The goal of building similar plants in the Chesapeake Bay region would be to reduce runoff pollution into the estuary from manure and help meet EPA’s new pollution “diet” (pollution limits) for the Chesapeake Bay.  Such plants could be an innovative way to recycle waste while lighting homes and businesses.

But the Staunton (Va.) News Leader reports that the Minnesota Fibrowatt plant has pluses and minuses, with the latter including air pollution. 

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Name the Critter Contest

Lookingup"Hey, I wonder what's up there, beyond the silvery waves?" "Nothing you'd want to share a rock with, Hun." The first reader to identify what species this skygazing couple belongs to will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation T-shirt.  To compete, enter your guesses as comments below.  Ready, set, go! 

UPDATE:  They are, in fact, lizardfish. And the first reader to guess correctly was Bill Smith, who wins the prize.

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500 Million Gallons of Sewage Overflows So Far in Maryland This Year

Danger polluted water keep out sign 014 Maryland is on pace this year to have the most sewage overflows in at least six years, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Roughly 500 million gallons of sewage mixed with rainwater had overflowed into Chesapeake Bay tributaries as of last week. 

That surpassed the approximately 400 million gallons that overflowed in all of last year, and approaches the 560 million gallons released in 2005, according to an analysis by Mark Trice of DNR’s Resource Assessment Service.  A full accounting of overflows from Tropical Storm Lee and the remaining three months of 2011 will probably mean that 2011 year will likely exceed 2005, Trice said in an email. 

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"The Most Anti-Environmental U.S. House in History"

Cantor Since the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives changed hands last November, the House has voted 125 times to undermine environmental laws -– including 50 votes to curb the authority of EPA, 16 votes to dismantle the federal Clean Water Act, and one vote to cut funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup, according to a new online database.

The votes have been led in part by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia (pictured above), a former real-estate developer.

"This is the most anti-environment House in history," said U.S.  Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose office compiled the database.   "The House has voted to block action to address climate change, to stop actions to prevent air and water pollution, to undermine protections for public lands and coastal areas, and to weaken the protection of the environment in dozens of other ways."

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