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May 2013

Saving the Bay, Kid-Style

Bay Daily frequently talks about the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. My colleague Tom Pelton and I often write about what federal, state, and local governments, businesses, conservation groups, and individual citizens are doing to implement the Blueprint by reducing pollution.

But take a look at what some of the region’s young people are doing to help move the Bay Blueprint along. Herewith a small sampling of recent student conservation efforts:

• Seventh-graders at Fredericksburg (Va.) Academy created a rain garden of native plants to capture and filter runoff water coming off school sidewalks. After being inspired by a school field trip to the Chesapeake Bay, the students designed and planted the garden to help protect the Rappahannock River, a major Chesapeake Bay tributary. Here’s what some of the students told the Free Lance-Star newspaper this week:

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Hurricane Could Have Caused Huge Increase in Fish Populations

Red drum VIMSFishermen reported catching record-breaking numbers of red drum in Virginia and Maryland last year -- 2.7 million, more than thirty times the number the year before, according to state fisheries managers.

The increase in the southern species of fish –- more common in the Carolinas, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico -– could have been played a contributing role in the decline in the number of young blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay last year, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Drum love to eat baby crabs.

But why such a sudden jump in drum populations last year?

Lee Paramore, a biologist with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries who studies red drum, has a theory.  He believes that unusual weather conditions in 2011 spurred a population boom that spread from North Carolina into Virginia and Maryland.

“One thing that happened of interest in 2011 was Hurricane Irene,” Paramore said. “The time that Hurricane Irene passed through was exactly during the peak spawn of red drum, which occurred in late August.”

While you might not think that hurricanes would affect creatures beneath the waves, as it turns out, red drum are highly dependent on favorable winds and currents for their survival, Paramore said. Winds from the East off the Carolinas blow drum eggs and larvae from open waters –- where the fish spawn -- into more protected bays and inlets, where they find shelter. Hurricane Irene these winds in abundance. So the drum survived and grew in abundance, Paramore said.

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Feds Could Flush Bay Cleanup with Cuts to Sewage Funds

Blue Plains construction scenes 015Sewage treatment plants aren’t things that most people like to think about, let alone think about paying for.

As unromantic as they may be, however, modern waste treatment systems are incredibly  effective at cleaning up our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.  Upgrades to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., for example, resulted in the rebound of a  once-dead Potomac River –- with flourishing aquatic vegetation, birds, fish, and fishing tournaments.

Tragically, however, both the Obama Administration and the U.S. House are proposing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to upgrade sewage plants.  The environmental news publication E & E reported recently (Wednesday, May 22) that the Obama administration's proposed fiscal 2014 budget also would slice a combined $472 million from grants from the popular state water revolving funds and drinking water funds. The House is proposing even more draconian cuts.

Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, accused the House of “attempting to overturn environmental safeguards by starving EPA of the funds essential to develop and enforce them," according to E & E.

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What Do Builders – and Va. regulators – Have to Hide?

Schlyer-cbr-8502.stormwaterVirginia is developing a new regulatory tool aimed at reducing dirt and other pollution running off construction sites around the state.

If you’ve ever seen dirt tracked off a construction lot or mud running off a building site after a heavy rain, you can understand why it’s important to control this pollution. Muddy construction runoff can quickly foul local streams and rivers, smothering fish, clams, oysters, underwater plants, and other aquatic life. The dirty water also increases the cost of treating drinking water for localities downstream.

That’s why controlling construction runoff with sturdy erosion fences and other good management practices is so important for water quality. Runoff pollution is one the most serious problems facing Virginia waterways and the Chesapeake Bay; in fact, it’s among the few pollution sources getting worse, not better.

In Virginia, the state requires that builders and developers get what’s called a construction general permit before they begin a construction job. Every five years, Virginia re-issues this permit, ostensibly to update requirements and ensure that builders use the latest, most effective runoff-prevention practices.

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New Oyster Restoration Effort Launched in Chesapeake Bay

Stephanie WestbyIt was a balmy spring day on a river on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with the water glassy and the sun illuminating feathery piles of clouds.

Stephanie Westby, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), cruised in a boat toward a barge a carrying a mountain of baby oysters.

“We are watching about 27 million juvenile oysters being planted into Harris Creek,” Westby said, as a hose blasted the oysters off the deck into the waterway, which is a tributary to the Choptank River and Chesapeake Bay.

The $31 million Harris Creek project is one of the largest and best-protected oyster restoration efforts ever attempted on the East Coast. NOAA is working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and the Oyster Recovery Partnership, to plant about 400 million oysters inside a protected sanctuary.

In this no-harvesting zone, sonar helps the scientists aim the baby oysters on top of reefs re-built with granite and recycled shells.

“The genesis of the large-scale oyster project is trying to bring back the oysters for the ecosystem services that they provide for the Chesapeake Bay,” Westby said, as she picked up some healthy oysters dredged out of the creek earlier that day.”

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Penny Wise and Bay Foolish

FarmfieldfloodedChesapeakeBayProgramLawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are proposing to slash funding needed to reduce runoff pollution from farms into the Chesapeake Bay.
The House Agriculture Committee released released a draft 2013 Farm Bill that would cut money for conservation programs that help farmers pay for the cost of fencing cattle out of streams, plant trees along waterways, and take other steps to create green filters to absorb pollutants.

Today (May 20, 2013) the Senate is scheduled to start debating its own version of the Farm Bill -- which also contains cuts, but not as deep as the House version.
“Bay area farmers throughout the six-state watershed have demonstrated their desire to continue to do their part for clean water,” said Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But to do so, they need the federal government’s commitment to provide adequate resources. Any loss of funding will shortchange our farmers and increase costs for local citizens and governments.”

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Small Town Solving a Big Problem

The little town of Ashland, Va., is trying to do its part to reduce pollution going to the Chesapeake Bay -- by building a better parking lot.

Last month, the town celebrated the completion of a new municipal parking lot with a ribbon cutting, dignitaries, and speeches. As the local newspaper, the Herald-Progress, said, “Call it a watershed moment.”

That’s because the town went the extra mile and spent the extra dollar to create a “soft,” low-impact parking lot that absorbs water and pollution rather than allowing them to run off hard pavement and into nearby Stony Run, a Chesapeake Bay tributary.

P1010006The runoff of rain and snow in cities and towns is among the most serious pollution problems plaguing the Chesapeake Bay and its many streams and rivers. The rain and snow aren’t the problem – it’s the dirt, fertilizers, oil, and grease that get washed off the land and dumped into nearby waterways. The culprit isn’t Mother Nature; it’s man and our inattentiveness to the impacts we have on the natural world.

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Chesapeake Bay Needs Speedy Confirmation of EPA Administrator

Gina_McCarthy_-_EPAAfter repeated delays and political grandstanding, a Senate hearing has been scheduled for noon today on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to become EPA Administrator.
McCarthy, currently EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, is a former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and an environmental advisor to five Massachusetts governors (including Mitt Romney).  But after being nominated by President Obama for EPA’s top post, she drew fire from some conservatives for her efforts at EPA to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

UPDATE at 5:20 p.m.:  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today voted 10-8 in favor of approving Gina McCarthy's nomination to head U.S. EPA, sending the nomination to the Senate floor.  

The position of EPA Administrator is critically important for the future of the Chesapeake Bay. The federal agency over the next 12 years must hold Bay region states accountable for meeting pollution limits for the Chesapeake established by the administration in December 2010.

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CBF Forum Explores Perplexing Problems with Smallmouth Bass

Dr. Vicki BlazerA packed house greeted the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s recent public forum about the causes of dieseases and die-offs of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River and other Bay tributaries. 
Scientists, activists, anglers, reporters, and representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission turned out on May 8 to for the forum at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to discuss a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report, called “Angling for Healthier Rivers.”  The report describes the "perfect storm" of pollution, parasites, warming temperatures, and bacteia that are combining to kill the popular sport fish.
Crowd at May 8, 2013 CBF smallmouth bass forum in Harrisburg, Pa.The state’s fisheries management agency and CBF have joined in calling on EPA to designate the Susquehanna River as “impaired” with pollution under the federal Clean Water Act, a move that would focus more attention on cleaning up the waterway. But Pennsylvania’s environmental agency has declined, saying more research is needed to determine the causes of the fish deaths.  The day after the forum, EPA announced there is "insufficient water quality data to make an impairment determination." 

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Want to Make a Difference? Look No Further

North View 10x8_v2People often ask what they can do to make a real, tangible difference in restoring the Chesapeake Bay. If you’re a Bay Daily reader in Virginia (or beyond), here are three suggestions.

Help build one of the world’s greenest, most environmentally sustainable buildings to serve as a model for living responsibly near sensitive environmental resources such as the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is raising money to construct the Brock Environmental Center at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Va. This cutting-edge facility is designed to be so in tune with the environment that it will have “net zero” impact on surrounding air, land, and water.

The unique building will house CBF’s Hampton Roads staff and that of Lynnhaven River Now, a partner watershed group; be home base for CBF’s award-winning outdoor education programs for Hampton Roads students and teachers; restore native habitat and wildlife; provide community meeting space; and serve as a national model for sustainable building.

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