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September 2012

Virginia Is for (Sturgeon) Lovers

Yes, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in particular the James River, has become somewhat of a hotbed for rapturous Atlantic sturgeon.

Several six- to seven-foot specimens of this ancient fish -- they’ve been around since the dinosaurs –- were spotted this week swimming below bridges in downtown Richmond. Scientists strongly suspect the giant fish are spawning in the waters just below the rapids that mark the fall line of the James.

If so, it’s cause for scientific and restoration celebration.

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The Jekyll and Hyde of the Marsh

PhragmitesPhragmites, an invasive species of reed introduced to North America from England, is often seen as a monster because the grass stalks grow up to 18 feet tall and drive out native plants and wildlife.

But some scientists suggest the plant is more of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because while it is bad for plant and wildlife diversity it may be good at protecting shorelines from erosion caused by rising sea levels and climate change.

Patrick Megonigal, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, is studying the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on marshland plants, including phragmites.

“On the one hand, phragmites is very poor habitat for a lot of animals –- birds, and even fish.  But on the other hand, it is a champion soil builder,” Megonigal said among the reeds and measuring equipment at his wetlands research site, outside Edgewater, Maryland.  “And so we find places where the plant is dominant that the soil elevation rises very rapidly, and that could be a good thing from the point of view of preventing these marshes from drowning due to sea level rise.”

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"It's Now Time for the Tough Medicine"

Donald boeschAlthough efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay have been continuing for more than four decades, we are really at a unique turning point in the history of the nation’s largest estuary, where we can either take advantage of new EPA pollution limits…or lose our best chance for saving the Bay.

Dr. Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of CBF’s Board of Trustees, explained “the moment in time” in an editorial published recently in the Annapolis Capital.

It is required reading for everyone who cares about the Bay:


By Donald Boesch

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is developing a strategy to ensure that the Bay restoration goals are fully met by the 2025 deadline. It’s being called “A Moment in Time.” During discussions among CBF trustees, I made the point that we are not just facing a moment in time, but what I believe to be the moment in time, because I don’t think we will get another chance if we fail.

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Good News on the Local Clean Water Front

Fluvanna County, a largely rural locality in Central Virginia and home to long stretches of the Rivanna and James rivers (two important Chesapeake Bay tributaries), last month adopted measures to better protect the health of county streams.

A new county law requires that all future subdivisions of six or more lots and all site plans for new commercial, industrial, and multifamily developments leave at least a 50-foot natural buffer of vegetation on either side of county stream banks (and at least 100 feet along both sides of the James, Rivanna, and Hardware rivers).

The trees, shrubs, and grass in such riparian buffers trap and filter stormwater runoff before it washes dirt and other pollutants into the waterways. The vegetation also reduces erosion and provides food and shelter for wildlife.

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East Coast Waters Hottest on Record in First Half of 2012

BarracudaNOAAIf you’re a fish, you might need a cool drink.

Water temperatures along the East Coast in the first half of 2012 were the hottest ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The unusually warm waters meant that spring algal blooms started at the earliest date yet –- in some areas, as early as February –- and were intense and long-lasting, the federal agency reports.

“Warming was pervasive showing above average temperatures in all parts of the ecosystem,” NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center wrote in an advisory.

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With Gridlock in D.C., Farm Pollution Control Program to Expire on Sept. 30

FarmwithvultureChesapeakeBayProgramHere is an update about an issue of critical importance for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

With time running out September 30 on a federal program that provides $50 million this year for pollution reduction projects on farms in the Bay region, the U.S. House leadership has now cancelled most of the remaining voting sessions before election day on November 6.

That means there is “little hope” that the federal Farm Bill will be renewed before the elections, the online environmental news journal E & E reports.  If that happens, it will mark the first time in decades that this major source of funding for farms and food programs nationally (which Congress must re-approve every four years) has run out without any good prospects of a political compromise to keep it operating.  Heatedly anti-government rhetoric in the House is partly to blame.

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Virginia Runoff Permits a Bit Leaky?

Sewer with rain by Schlyer RAVE ilcp
After years of delay, Virginia regulatory officials have issued an official draft of the first of new water pollution permits for Virginia’s 11 largest cities.

The permits are for managing the cities’ stormwater runoff, the rain water that washes off thousands of acres of urban streets, parking lots, and lawns and sweeps harmful pollutants -– nutrients, oil, grease, and dirt -- into Virginia streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

The required permits typically are for five-year periods, but all 11 of these big-city permits expired years ago, some as early as 2006. That means Virginia’s largest urban areas have continued to operate stormwater runoff systems under the rules of their old, expired permits. EPA’s concern – and that of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) – is that those old permits contain none of the specific pollution reduction requirements Virginia pledged to meet as part of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay clean water blueprint.

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With Farm Bill in Limbo, Bay Cleanup Funds Are at Risk

FarmfieldfloodedChesapeakeBayProgramThe clock is ticking for an important clean water program.

Federal legislation is scheduled to expire at the end of this month that provides money for farm runoff pollution control projects that are critical to the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

But the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been locked in disagreement over how long to continue and how much to cut federal Farm Bill, which provides this funding (with the costs shared by farmers) for these erosion control efforts, according to an article in the Bay Journal.

A few hundred farmers rallied outside the Capitol on Wednesday to protest the inability of lawmakers to agree on a new Farm Bill.

 “Whether Congress passes a short-term extension, or ultimately passes a full five-year-bill, the stakes for the Bay region are huge,” Karl Blankenship wrote in the Bay Journal. “Agriculture is the largest single source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake, and the Farm Bill has historically been the largest funding source to help farmers install stream buffers, build manure storage facilities, plant cover crops and take other actions that help keep nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from reaching waterways.”

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EPA Penalizes Virginia $1.2 Million for Inadequate Stormwater Controls

StormwaterChesapeakeBayProgramVirginia is paying a price for not doing enough to clean up the Bay.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is withholding $1.2 million in federal aid from the commonwealth.  Why? Because Virginia is not doing enough to meet new federal Bay pollution limits by reducing runoff pollution from urban and suburban streets and parking lots, the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot is reporting.  The state has been slow to issue new stormwater control permits to 11 municipalities across Virginia, including six in Hampton Roads.

"There's been a reluctance by the state and local governments to commit to steps that are significant" in reducing stormwater runoff pollution, said Peggy Sanner, a senior attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "EPA wants to see strong and enforceable permits that are going to mean something."

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