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April 2013

Oh Oysters, Oh Volunteers, Oh Shenandoah!

Some great things happening around the Chesapeake Bay watershed this week, and Bay Daily gives a shout-out to a few of them today.

This week, a pair of Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) oyster restoration boats placed hundreds of Reefballs
concrete reef balls in the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va., part of a partnership effort to help restore native oysters to this historic river near the mouth of the Bay.

While the Bay’s oyster population generally remains seriously depressed, earlier surveys in the Lafayette indicate a relatively robust oyster population there, despite the river’s overall troubled health. Harvesting oysters has been banned in the Lafayette since the 1920s due to contamination associated with industrial activities and stormwater runoff.

But in 2011, CBF, the Elizabeth River Project, and more than 100 community partners announced a plan to bring the Lafayette back to health, including opening the river to safe shellfish harvesting by 2020.

DSC_0103To help nurture the river’s oyster population, CBF this week placed 275 reef balls on state-protected sanctuary reefs and along designated shorelines. The reef balls, domed concrete structures full of nooks and crannies, are designed to attract baby oysters and help protect them from natural predators. To tackle the reef ball job, CBF called upon its two uniquely designed oyster restoration vessels, the Patricia Campbell from Maryland and Chesapeake Gold from Gloucester, Va.

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"Perfect Storm" of Pollution and Parasites Threatens Popular Sportfish

Smallmouth bass in Susquehanna River A “perfect storm” of pollution, parasites, warming water temperatures, and endocrine disrupting chemicals is threatening one of the Chesapeake Bay region’s most popular sport fish, smallmouth bass, according to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report.

“Smallmouth bass is one of the great sport fisheries,” said CBF President Will Baker.  “But in the Susquehanna and other rivers in the region, smallmouth bass are in serious trouble.  The good news is that implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint can make a difference.”

Reducing phosphorus and nitrogen pollution to meet the Blueprint and EPA pollution limits will reduce stress on smallmouth bass as it improves water quality, according to the CBF report, Angling for Healthier Rivers, which you can read by clicking here

Fishing for smallmouth is important for the region’s economy, responsible for about 5,700 jobs and $630 million annually in sales of boats, fishing gear, and other goods in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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Bay Crabs Take a Hit

Worrisome news today about blue crabs, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most iconic critters and object of the Bay’s most profitable commercial fishery.

The crab population in the Bay is down dramatically from a year ago, according to Virginia and Maryland fisheries managers. Total crab numbers dropped from about 765 million last year to about 300 million, largely because the number of juvenile crabs fell from nearly 600 million last year – a record high -- to 111 million in 2013, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) said.

What happened to all the baby crabs? Scientists think most of them became dinner for predators. Over the last year or two, the Bay has seen a huge increase in juvenile red drum, a fish with a voracious appetite. Scientists believe great numbers of “puppy drum” ate great numbers of “puppy crabs.”

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Bay Grasses Decline to Lowest Levels in More than a Quarter Century

Bay grassesUnderwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay declined last year to the lowest levels in more than a quarter century, in part because of storms in 2011 that flushed runoff pollution into the estuary, according to scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Program. Global warming is also cooking a temperature-sensitive species of grass in the southern Bay.

Bay grasses declined 21 percent, to 48,191 acres, between 2011 and 2012, Dr. Robert Orth, an aquatic vegetation expert and Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said during a press conference this morning.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker said the decline is a sobering reminder that extreme weather can set back recovery of the Bay. He said it is also a reminder that we need to focus on the elements we can control, especially reducing pollution to the Bay.

“In 2012, underwater grasses suffered a one-two punch,” Baker said. “Extreme heat in 2010 led to a significant decline in grasses in the lower Bay in 2011. And 2011 was a very wet year, beginning with heavy spring rains and ending with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, creating poor conditions for growth in 2012.”

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The Truth about the "Tax on Rain"

Stormwater grateA “tax on rain?”   Try: “investments in local health and jobs.”

Local governments across Maryland are voting to create new stormwater pollution control fees, as required by a 2012 state law and EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties approved fees yesterday.

Some critics have mocked the fees as a “tax on rain” or a “driveway tax” because they are often based on how many square feet of blacktop and other hard surfaces exist on a property. The more blacktop, the more toxic stormwater rushes off a property during rain storms to pollute nearby streams and Chesapeake Bay.

But instead of only focusing on the costs of stormwater pollution control projects, we should also look at the benefits –- such as better health for fish, oysters, crabs, and even people.  In many areas of Maryland, public health officials warn everyone not to swim 48 hours after a rain, because stormwater flushes bacteria from dog waste, failing septic tanks, and many other sources into local swimming beaches.  With better stormwater pollution control systems, our children won’t risk an upset stomach or trip to the doctor’s office just for playing in the water at the wrong time.

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Happy Farmer, Happy Cows, Happy Contractor, Happy River

DSC_0002Eliza Evans’ family has owned farmland in southern Albemarle County, Va., for multiple generations. They currently own a 200-acre spread that is home to some 30 head of beef cattle, which for years drank water directly from a farm creek, a tributary of the nearby Hardware River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Livestock clambering up and down stream banks causes serious erosion problems, and their manure not only pollutes water for downstream users but also creates unhealthy drinking water for the animals themselves. Reducing this kind of agricultural pollution is among the key goals of Virginia’s Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the health of the Bay.

Eliza Evans (above right) knows all this, and recently consulted with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District to find a better way to water the cattle and protect the farm stream. The district’s plan called for fencing off the stream banks, drilling a well, and piping water to five troughs in newly fenced pastures. She also learned about the variety of federal, state, and private cost-share programs that would help pay for such a project. In her case, she could practically break even on expenses.

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Important Stormwater Control Law Survives Attack in General Assembly

State houseIn the waning hours of the Maryland General Assembly last night, leaders of the House of Delegates stood strong for the Chesapeake Bay. Lawmakers deserve praise for refusing to approve a bad bill that would have delayed by two years municipal fees to pay for important stormwater pollution control systems.

That was just one bit of good news from the 2013 session.  The state also approved a record $31.5 million for runoff pollution control projects through an innovative program called the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund (compared to $25 million, last year).  And (despite fiscally lean times) the state budgeted $395 million for stormwater control systems to filter runoff from state highways and roads that would otherwise contaminate streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

“This session was about rolling up our collective sleeves, getting to the nitty-gritty of turning policies into practices,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “We succeeded. In neighborhoods around the state we should see construction projects and new jobs as we upgrade stormwater systems. We’ll see more trees planted along farm streams, more oyster shells collected to enlarge reefs, and more winter crops planted on fields.”

On the clean energy front, lawmakers backed Governor Martin O’Malley’s legislation to help subsidize the construction of what could be America’s first offshore wind farm, east of Ocean City.  The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 creates a mechanism to incentivize the development of a 200 MW offshore wind facility that will support almost 850 manufacturing and construction jobs and 160 ongoing jobs, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

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Stormwater Pollution Control Law Under Attack in Maryland

StormwaterChesapeakeBayProgramImportant stormwater pollution control legislation is under attack in the final hours of this year’s Maryland General Assembly session. The Maryland Senate is considering amendments to House Bill  508 that would halt the state’s progress in creating municipal stormwater pollution control fees. These fees are used to build pollution control systems that filter polluted runoff from our streets, parking lots, and urban and suburban areas. These projects also stimulate jobs for construction workers and engineers.

UPDATE:  Thanks to the leadership in the Maryland House, the bad bill did not pass or even come up for a vote in the final hours of the General Assembly session last night (Monday, April 8).

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Innovative Partners Helping Save the Bay

You may have heard Chesapeake Bay experts describe the Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state-local plan to restore the Chesapeake by 2025, as the Bay’s best and perhaps last chance for restoration.

The challenge, of course, is to implement the plan so pollution is reduced in the right amounts from the right sources at the right times. Success will depend upon many factors, but local innovation and partnerships will be critical. Today, Bay Daily salutes two such efforts.

According to the Chesterfield (Va.) Observer this week, Chesterfield County’s Fleet Management Division has changed its system for washing the scores of cars and trucks owned by the county in order to reduce local water pollution. Chesterfield, a populous, fast-growing county just south and west of Richmond, drains into the James and Appomattox river watersheds, both significant Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

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