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July 2012

Clean up the Streams, Clean Up the Bay

How do you get folks living hundreds of miles away from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay excited about restoring America’s largest estuary?

They say all politics is local, and so it is with pollution. If we can all pitch in and clean up the hundreds of small, local creeks and rivers that feed into the Bay, we’ll not only boost local water quality, local fishing and swimming, local business, and local quality of life, but at the end of the day (and at end of the river) we’ll wind up with a clean Chesapeake  Bay as well.
Now that Virginia and the other Bay drainage states have created state cleanup plans for restoring the Bay, the challenge now falls to local governments, local businesses, neighborhood farmers, and individual homeowners. Since we all live somewhere “local,” we all have to figure out the most efficient, cost-effective ways to reduce pollution going into our backyard waterways.

Most people care deeply about such local places – their special fishing spot, favorite swimming hole, scenic paddling stretch, or just a place to go with the kids to hike, wade, and enjoy the outdoors.

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Maryland To Hold Public Hearings on Pollution Reduction Plan

Chesapeake glittering in sunsetHow to allow economic growth and still reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay?
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is holding a series of public hearings over the next two months on the state’s proposed plan for managing pollution from new residential and commercial developments while still meeting new pollution limits for the Bay created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2010. 
These limits call for a roughly 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution into the estuary by 2025.  Maryland and the other Bay states have written up plans for meeting these limits that are like blueprints for saving the Bay.
“Restoring Chesapeake Bay requires not only that we reduce the current amount of pollution entering the Bay, but that we hold the line against new pollution,” MDE says in its draft plan for managing growth within its cleanup blueprint. “Because population growth and new development add (pollution) to what is already entering the Bay from development-related sources, the (state’s blueprint) also requires that the new or increased loads be offset by reductions elsewhere, so there is no net increase the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay.”

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On the Hunt for Giant Blue Predators in the Potomac River

Blue catfish photo by Shawn Wetzel of Orrtana, Pa., on DNR websiteAs a rising sun burned mist from the Potomac River, and seagulls wheeled overhead, a group of scientists launched a strange-looking research vessel in pursuit of giant, exotic predators.

The biologists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists were on the hunt for blue catfish. Native to the Mississippi River, blue catfish owe their name to their steely blue skin color. They have long whiskers, wide mouths, milky bellies, and can grow up to 140 pounds and four and a half feet long. That's at least twice the size of any native Chesapeake catfish.
Electrofishing boatMary Groves, a southern regional fisheries manager with the state agency, piloted an electrofishing boat on an expedition to look for the blue giants near Fort Washington, about four miles south of Washington, DC. The motorboat was 18 feet long and sported what looked like a pair of metal arms dangling oversized egg beaters from the bow into the gray-green water.
“This puts a pulsed DC current into the water -- just enough to cause the blue catfish to be temporarily stunned, and rise up to the top of the water so we can net them,” Groves explained, motoring past an osprey guarding a nest atop a channel marker.  “Blue catfish are an invasive species. They don’t belong here. But over the last 10 or 15 years the population has exploded. And so we are trying to learn as much as we can about the fish, so we can come up with a management plan for them.”

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Oysters Can Help Clean the Bay, Can't Fix the Bay

One of the keys to restoring the Chesapeake Bay to good health is restoring the Bay’s native oyster population to good health.

Why? Beyond being one of the Bay’s most iconic cultural and economic critters, oysters are what’s called a keystone species, an animal critical to a balanced, properly functioning ecosystem. Oysters Mound of shell.1naturally clump together to create reefs beneath the water’s surface, over time forming large mounds of gnarly shells that provide food and shelter for an array of other Bay creatures. Ask anglers where the best fishing in the Bay is and likely they’ll point to an oyster “rock” or reef area.  

And just by eating and respiring, oysters help filter and clear Bay waters, removing algae and sediments that cloud the water and cause big Bay problems. One adult oyster can clear about 50 gallons of water a day. Scientists estimate that in pre-Colonial times, there were enough oysters in the Bay to filter the entire quantity of water in the Chesapeake in just a few days.

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Pollution-Hunting Robot to Prowl Chesapeake Bay

Remus-600-500x148You’ve heard about government drones hunting terrorists?  Well, a more low-key drone is headed our way –- one that will search for pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

A new underwater robot, to be launched early next year, will help researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science diagnose the health of the Chesapeake Bay and be available as a shared resource for scientists to use in coastal environments around the world, according to the university's press office.

Shaped like a torpedo, the Kongsberg-Hydroid REMUS 600 is a 16-foot-long underwater robot with a propeller that follows preset commands to seek out and collect information underwater. The robot will serve as a window to the sea for scientists, school children, teachers and the general public. It will be delivered to the Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, in March 2013, according to the university.

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Drought's Impact on the Chesapeake Bay

DroughtmapThe near-record drought that is hammering the Midwest and West this summer is also causing moderate drought conditions for farmers in parts of Maryland and Virginia, while much of Pennsylvania is experiencing relatively normal amounts of rainfall, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
You can check out this online map to see which sections of the Chesapeake Bay watershed -– including parts of Southern Maryland and  the Eastern Shore -- are parched. Nationally, about 55 percent of the lower 48 states are experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to NOAA. 

DustbowlLast week, the Agriculture Department declared more than 1,000 counties in 26 states as natural-disaster areas, The Washington Post reports.  It’s been more than a half century since a drought this extensive has hit the U.S., breaking records back to 1958, although the dry weather still does not compare to the dust bowl conditions of the 1930’s (as shown in the NOAA image at right).

Interestingly, however, conditions that are hard on farms, gardens, and lawns are not necessarily bad for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The lack of rainfall this year has meant less water flushing over suburban parking lots, urban streets, and farm fields, washing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution into streams that lead to the Bay.

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Community Effort Saves a Waterfront Jewel

Exciting news from Virginia’s Hampton Roads region this week: after years of community effort to preserve the last large track of undeveloped property on the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, Pleasure House Point has now been officially saved from future development.

PleasureHousePoint_Cropped (2)Ownership of this 100-plus acre peninsula of marsh, dunes, and trees formally transferred to the City of Virginia Beach this week, capping a partnership effort by Virginia Beach, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to acquire and conserve the property for the community.

The transfer culminates an effort that the community and passionate citizens of Virginia Beach began years ago and represents a classic case of dark clouds and silver linings. Just five years ago, this scenic property was owned by commercial developers and slated to become “Indigo Dunes,” an intensive development of more than 1,000 high-rise condos and individual homes.

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Virginia and Maryland Meet Majority of Two-Year Bay Cleanup Targets

Chesapeake bay workboatPart of what makes the current effort to save the Bay more promising than earlier efforts is an increased level of accountability.  A little more than two years ago, the Chesapeake region states were required to create incremental two-year pollution reduction goals and then report on the progress they made in reaching those targets.

The first progress reports are in, and they contain some good news. According to an analysis by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and an environmental coalition called Choose Clean Water, every state made gains. Virginia and Maryland achieved a majority of their recent two-year pollution reduction goals for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.  Pennsylvania met four of its 10 "milestone” goals.  
"The state... milestones lay out a clear roadmap to restoring the Bay, and the rivers and streams that feed it," said CBF President William C. Baker. "We have begun the journey, and need to take stock on a regular basis of both the progress made and the course corrections necessary to ensure we reach the destination as promised by 2025.”

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You Think Kids Have All The Summer Fun?

Summertime, and the living is easy. Fish are jumping, and the teachers are high -- on the Chesapeake Bay and water quality and marshes and crabs and oysters.

With apologies to George Gershwin, Bay Daily welcomes the start last week of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) summer teacher education program, a series of outdoor field experiences for teachers and principals around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The field experiences offer five-day, Seining.CEpeshands-on, get-wet-and-dirty outdoor excursions led by professional CBF educators and scientists, augmented by outside experts and resources, all designed to engage and inspire teachers in outdoor education.

The summer programs cover lots of ground and water, but a fundamental objective is to demonstrate how educators can incorporate the outdoors into their schools and classrooms. Why? Studies show that getting kids outdoors to learn about the natural environment in hands-on ways improves their focus, motivation, behavior, and achievement. Students also develop a new appreciation and stewardship of the natural world, especially the natural resources in their own backyard neighborhoods.

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