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October 2012

Superstorm Sandy Not as Harmful to Chesapeake Bay as Past Storms

HurricaneSandy-NASA-lgSuperstorm Sandy devastated New York City and New Jersey and left millions of people without power. But the storm will likely cause less harm to the Chesapeake Bay than past major storms, like Hurricane Agnes in 1972, or last year’s Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, whose rains flushed vast quantities of mud, debris, and other pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay, according to Dr. Beth McGee, Senior Scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Sandy dumped less rain than these previous storms upstream from the Bay in Pennsylvania, in the watershed of the Susquehanna River, the Chesapeake's largest tributary. At the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River this week, water levels hit 19 feet. That was  significantly lower than flood stage, which is 23 feet, and also lower than the 32 feet the waters hit during Hurricane Irene last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey.

“There was a lot less runoff this year,” said Dr. McGee. “We don’t expect to see much of an effect on the Chesapeake Bay proper. But we might see a lot of erosion on the smaller streams and low lands on the Eastern Shore.”

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Arlington: More Green, Less Stormwater

Chesapeake Bay restoration experts know that one of the biggest threats to clean water in the Bay and its rivers is stormwater runoff -– the rainwater that runs off all the rooftops, streets, parking lots, and lawns in the Bay watershed’s six-state region, washing toxic pollution directly into local streams, rivers, and ultimately the Bay.

In fact, the sheer volume of stormwater runoff and its toxic brew of oil, grease, bacteria, fertilizer, dirt, and grime threaten to overwhelm the pollution reductions made over the years by farmers, wastewater treatment plants, and other Bay pollution sources. Pollution from these other sources is gradually getting better; stormwater runoff pollution is getting worse.

That’s why Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay clean water blueprint -- the state’s plan to reduce pollution and restore the Bay by 2025 -- puts an emphasis on better managing polluted runoff from Virginia’s cities and towns. And that’s why localities across Virginia are grappling with how to capture, slow, treat, or otherwise reduce the stormwater runoff in their communities.

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Rare and Romantic Seahorses Threatened by Pollution and Fishing

SeahorsephotoNATIONALAQUARIUMSeahorses are among the most rare and romantic creatures in the Chesapeake Bay. But their continued existence in bays and oceans around the world is threatened by destructive fishing techniques and pollution, according to Dr. Amanda Vincent, a zoologist and expert on seahorses with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Seahorses live in the world’s most important most threatened marine habitats, like seagrasses, mangroves, coral reefs, and estuaries.  Those are all in trouble, and seahorses with them,” said Dr. Vincent, who also serves as Director of Project Seahorse at the University of British Columbia.

The reproductive cycle of seahorses is remarkable.  Males and females pair off and dance, often wrapping their tails around each other. They circle, as they change colors and make clicking sounds at each other with their skulls until they click in unison.

When they mate, the male gets pregnant. The female extends a tube from her ovary to inject eggs into the male. The male fertilizes the eggs in his pouch, nourishes and carries the embryos, and gives birth to hundreds of seahorse fry.

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Study: Farms Can Profit While Reducing Use of Chemicals by 80 Percent

FarmCBFLarge amounts of herbicides and chemical nitrogen fertilizers are not necessary for a profitable modern farm.  Going back to the future by rotating crops more and grazing cattle in pastures instead of confining them in buildings can also mean less water pollution.

These are the conclusions of research conducted by scientists at Iowa State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published recently in the scientific journal PloS One.  From 2003 to 2011, the researchers examined a farm in Boone County, Iowa, called the Marsden Farm. They found that increasing the diversity of crops in rotation on a farm (adding, for example, alfalfa and clover to the usual annual rotation of corn and soybeans) and using the manure from grazing cattle can reduce the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer required by 80 percent and cut the amount of herbicides needed to keep weeds down by 88 percent.  Moreover, the levels of herbicides in nearby waterways were 200 times lower, according to Iowa State.

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Aquaponics: Can We Feed the World By Recycling Waste?

Dave Love with aquaponicsFish farming is a potential solution to the overharvesting of wild fish around the world.  But there is a problem with some aquaculture businesses: Fish raised in cages in the ocean, or in tanks on land, often create high densities of waste.

An answer to this challenge, however, is now bubbling to the surface.

At a greenhouse in a Baltimore nature preserve called the Cylburn Arboretum, Dr. David Love, a Program Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, is growing 500 fish.  They are tilapia, a species of plant-eating freshwater fish that grow to about a foot in length, and they swim in four plastic tanks.

Pipes from these 250 gallon fish tanks send waste from the fish to a pair of pools, in which Styrofoam islands float.  On these islands are plants growing without soil. The lettuce, spinach, eggplant and other vegetables thrive with their roots dangling into the water.

Dr. Love explains that the system is called “aquaponics.”

“Aquaponics is essentially a recirculating system where we are growing both fish and plants together, using the fish waste to fertilize the plants,” he said.

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Advocates Call for Stronger Stormwater Pollution Control Permit

StormwaterChesapeakeBayProgramThe Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed a stormwater pollution control permit for Baltimore that may serve as a model for other cities and towns across the state.

But many clean water advocates say the proposed permit for Baltimore is too weak –- and misses an historic opportunity because it will not force local governments to meet new EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay.

Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay, said in a letter to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that the proposed permit is better than the one issued for the city in 2005, but still fails (among other things) to require that Baltimore’s releases of stormwater meet the requirements of state clean water laws.

“Despite the clear mandate of the statue, the tentative permit does not contain a prohibition against discharge violations or a requirement that discharges must be in compliance with…water quality standards,”  Prost wrote.

Jay Sakai, Director of the Water Management Administration at the Maryland Department of the Environment, disagreed with the claims that the permit is weak and will fail to make the city meet EPA pollution limits.

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Drop in Young Striped Bass Caused By Weather

Bass graphA scientific estimate of the number of young striped bass in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay earlier this year was the lowest on record. But the drop -– following a near-record high last year -– was likely caused by poor weather conditions this spring, and is not a sign of worsening pollution or a crisis in the population of the popular game fish, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

StripedbassNOAA“Generally, warm winters and dry springs are unfavorable conditions for fish that return to freshwater to spawn,” said DNR Striped Bass Survey Project Leader Eric Durell in a written statement.

Striped bass, which spawn in the Bay’s rivers, often experience erratic spikes and drops in their populations as spring temperatures and the amount of rainfall determine how many of the fertilized eggs hatch and how many of the young survive.   Low rainfall in the spring means that Bay tributaries have saltier water, which can kill the larvae of striped bass.

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Big Day at Pleasure House Point

What a celebration!

On a sunny, blue-sky day overlooking the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, a festive gathering of government, conservation, business, and community leaders cut the ribbon Friday, formally opening Pleasure House Point Natural Area.

Pleasure House Point, a quiet 118-acre peninsula of marsh, sandy beaches, and trees, was saved from intense private development by an impassioned community effort to preserve it for conservation and recreation. The effort, led by Virginia Beach, The Trust for Public Land, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, came to successful fruition this summer with the purchase of the property by the city in July.

Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms hailed the collaborative success to save Pleasure House Point as great news for the Hampton Roads community.

“This is one of the most breathtaking spots in all of Virginia Beach,” he told some 250 onlookers at Friday’s ribbon cutting. “And now it’s ours!”

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Baltimore Plants Seeds and Urban Farms Flourish

Hidden harvest farmUrban farming is a productive and creative way to recycle abandoned lots, while providing fresh produce in “food deserts” where city residents lack access to supermarkets.  They also cut down on the burning of fossil fuels and pollution generated transporting food long distances.

But in the past, this kind of farming has been challenging, in part because cities like Baltimore had zoning and health regulations that discourage it.

Recently, however, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration announced that it is trying to encourage more urban farms by leasing out city land for farming, and by relaxing the city’s rules for livestock.

This spring, the city’s Health Department changed its regulations to allow goats for the first time, and up to 10 chickens, according to Abby Cocke, a planner in the mayor’s office of sustainability.   Ten farms are now operating in Baltimore.

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