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February 2012

Cold-Water Kayak Fishing Snags a Mystery

Kayak fishing instructor Jeff Little on the Susquehanna RiverIt was a black and icy morning when we launched our kayaks onto the Susquehanna River.

I was with Juan Veruete and Jeff Little, veteran fishing guides.  We were an hour north of Baltimore, near Harrisburg, on the nearly mile wide-river that is the biggest source of fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay. 

The temperature of the air and water was in the 30’s –- cold enough to kill a kayaker who fell in 10 days earlier.

Out on the rocky river, the stars faded as the sky brightened to red in the east.  Winds whipped up small waves, which reflected the light as the sun rose over leafless trees.

Fishing guides Juan Veruete (left) and Jeff Little (right) seek shelter from wind on the Susquehanna RiverFor nearly 10 hours, we paddled, exposed, in the biting wind, atop flat plastic floats the size of surfboards.  To protect ourselves from hypothermia, we wore waterproof dry suits and layers of fleece.

We cast our rods with our right hands, as we maneuvered with our left in a tricky game of fighting to stay pointed into the wind. At one point, my feet turning numb, I asked Juan why he fishes in such conditions.  He said he’s been fishing since he was five years old –- and can’t keep himself off the river, even in winter.

“It’s almost like a drug, it’s like an adrenaline junky kind of thing, you know?  Except that this is good for you,” Juan said, laughing. “You come out, you get on the river, throw some baits, and you catch some huge smallmouth bass.  It’s a lot of fun.”

Recently, however, fishing for smallmouth bass has become much harder on the Susquehanna –- for everyone, year round.  Catch rates of smallmouth bass have fallen by 80 percent over the last 20 years as a mysterious disease has killed off many young fish, according to scientists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.  A commission briefing to the state legislature suggests a possible link to phosphorus fertilizers or other pollutants, which could be creating low-oxygen conditions that stress young fish and impair their immune systems, making them more susceptible to bacteria that occur naturally in the water and soil.  In truth, however, the cause of the infections remains far from certain.

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Despite Cries of "No Coal Plant," County Votes Yes

ODEC 1About 350 people, many holding signs demanding “NO COAL PLANT!” turned out last night for a public hearing in southeastern, Virginia, on a rezoning for what would be the largest coal-fired power plant ever built in the commonwealth.

Three quarters of the 75 people who spoke declared their opposition to the proposed 1500 megawatt Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) plant in Dendron, about 30 miles west of Hampton Roads.

“Our water, our air!” protesters chanted outside of Surry County High School.

 “I want clean air and clean water for my time and for all these young people that are here,” said Jean Frey, a retired teacher who lives in Surry County.  “I think it’s just a travesty what’s being proposed here.”

Despite the vocal public opinion against the plant, after five hours of testimony, at about 1 a.m. the Surry County Planning Commission voted 10-1 to recommended approval of a rezoning that would allow the plant. The planning commission voted the same way in 2010, but that decision was thrown out by a judge last fall, because the county did not properly advertise the public hearing.

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Virginia’s Bay Cleanup Goes Local

CBF VA County Map5InchHigh credit to Lucidity Information Design
They say all politics is local, and so is Chesapeake Bay restoration. If we’re going to clean up the Bay, we’re going to have to “go local” and clean up the smaller local creeks, streams, and rivers that feed into the Bay.

That’s not exactly rocket-science thinking, and it’s been understood for a long time. Still, much of the focus and publicity surrounding Bay restoration has centered upon federal, regional, and state efforts.  Getting local governments and local residents across the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed truly engaged in cleaning up backyard streams and rivers has been slower to happen. Until now.

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Chesapeake News and Events

As the season gets ready to change, many of our winter waterfowl visitors are getting ready to head back to their summer grounds.  In Quantico, VA, tundra swans gather in Chop Creek to feed on underwater grasses and prepare for the long journey ahead.  These majestic and gregarious birds will soon fly thousands of miles back to Canada and Alaska to mate and raise their young.    

In other Bay news… 

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Return of the Name the Critter Contest

Name that critterYikes! The Bay Daily "Name the Critter Contest" has risen from the deep!  The first reader to correctly name this species (the fish, not the human) in a comment on this blog will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation T-shirt.  Ready, set, go!  UPDATE:  The fish is a muskie, or muskellunge, an aggressive predator native to the Upper Midwest and Canada that has been introduced into rivers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

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Bill Would Ban Spreading of Manure on Farm Fields in Fall and Winter

ChickensLegislation to require better management of farm manure is not the kind of subject that is likely to attract attention from the general public, but it is critical for the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Why? Because in Maryland, for example, farm runoff accounts for 48 percent of the phosphorus polluting entering the Bay, and 37 percent of the nitrogen pollution, according to state statistics.

A bill proposed in Maryland by State Senators Paul Pinsky and Brian Frosh (Senate Bill 594) would prohibit most application of manure or “biosolids” (partially treated human waste from sewage treatment plants) on farm fields during the cold months, from November 1 through March 1. Starting in 2020, the legislation would also ban the spreading of these fertilizers from September 10 through November.

This ban during the fall and winter would be an important step forward in protecting the Bay. Spreading manure on fields that are frozen -– or that lack crops to absorb the nutrients -– allows rain or melting snow to flush pollutants into nearby streams and the Bay.

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The Real 'War on Rural Maryland'

Rich Josephson, Maryland Department of PlanningWhat is the “War on Rural Maryland?”

Opponents of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s efforts to control suburban sprawl use the term to describe his proposed legislation to ban the construction of large subdivisions on septic systems in some rural areas.

But supporters of the governor’s planning efforts say the real “War on Rural Maryland” is something else.  It’s the march of cookie-cutter developments with huge lawns (like the one above) across farmland, forests, and streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

“What a ‘War on Rural Maryland’ really is is having sprawling landscapes that threaten agribusiness, threaten the local rivers and bays, and pull growth out of great towns like Cambridge, Centerville, Salisbury and Berlin,” said Maryland Planning Secretary Richard Hall.  “That’s a war on rural Maryland.”

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Isle of Wight: Coal Plant Is STILL Lousy Idea

That mega coal-fired power plant proposed for the little town of Dendron in Surry County, Va., is back in the news.
Last night, the board of supervisors in neighboring Isle of Wight County voted 3-2 to reaffirm the county's opposition to the massive plant, which if built by Old Dominion Electric Cooperate (ODEC) would be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia.

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Chesapeake News and Events


Dr. Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, argues that the new federal pollution limit, also known as the Bay TMDL, is the Chesapeake’s “moment in time” to meet restoration goals and return to a balanced, healthy, and productive ecosystem.  He believes that we “know what needs to be done” and we can find “effective and more efficient ways to accomplish them.” 


In other Bay news… 

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Flush Light

DC project workerImagine if, every time you flushed your toilet, it generated electricity.

You could read at night by flushlight.  Instead of flattening mountains to extract coal as a power source, you could run your laptop with people power. 

It may sound odd, but a major project to transform human waste into electricity is now under construction at the largest sewage treatment plant in the region, Blue Plains in Washington DC.

Thousands of jobs for engineers, laborers, computer technicians, and others are being created as part of a series of construction projects –- costing a total of more than $3 billion -- at the wastewater treatment plant and in the city’s sewage system.

One of those hired was Antoine Blair, pictured above, a construction worker from Washington DC, who was out of work for two months when before he was hired for the project in August.  “This work came along at just the right time," said Blair, a father of four who works as a laborer for Traylor Skanska Jay Dee Joint Venture. "It’s creating a lot of jobs for people who really need it.”

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