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June 2013

Virginia Issues First Big Runoff Permit

Some good news on the stormwater runoff front...

Earlier this week, Virginia approved a major runoff pollution permit for Arlington County, Va. The permit, designed to better treat polluted stormwater running off Arlington streets and parking lots, should lead to cleaner local streams, a less polluted Potomac River, and a healthier Chesapeake Bay.

“This permit -- the first of 11 to be issued by Virginia to the state’s largest localities -- marks a major step forward in meeting the Commonwealth’s Chesapeake Bay clean water goals,” says Peggy Sanner, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia senior attorney. “It will help ensure more effective treatment of polluted urban runoff before it can harm local streams.”

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The Return of Beavers to the Chesapeake Bay Region

Stephanie Boyles GriffinBeavers are nature's clean water engineers, building dams that filter sediment and pollutants out of streams. These ingenious critters also create ponds and wetlands that are important breeding grounds for wildlife.

But beavers were nearly wiped out in the Chesapeake Bay region by the fur trade centuries ago, their ecological contributions to the Bay sacrificed to the trends of fashion -- and the desire for beaver-skin hats.

However, beaver populations have increased substantially since the 1970s, thanks in part to re-introduction by state wildlife agencies, according to Harry Spiker, Game Mammal Section Leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"It's been a remarkable comeback story for beavers," Spiker said. "And now we've got beavers distributed really in just about all available habitats."

Beavers The beaver resurgence also may have been helped by the building since the 1970s of suburban stormwater control ponds and culverts, which beavers love to colonize, according to Stephanie Boyles Griffin, a biologist who has studied beavers and who works as Senior Director of Wildlife Response, Innovations, and Services for the Humane Society of the U.S.

The expected construction of more stormwater pollution control systems to meet EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay may mean even more habitat for beavers, and therefore an even larger beaver population, Griffin said.

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Scientist Tests Alternatives to Microplastics in Consumer Goods

PlasticsVIMSPlastic is all around us in modern life, as we drink from plastic bottles, type love notes on plastic keys, and celebrate sacred holidays by wrestling with plastic packaging.

But not everyone knows that plastic is also literally all over us, and even in us.  Many shampoos, eye liners, lip glosses, skin creams, and toothpastes are manufactured with tiny balls of polyethylene and propylene that make that products –- and us -- look shinier and feel smoother, according Dr. Kirk Havens, Director at the Coastal Watersheds program Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William & Mary.

The problem is, these microbeads of plastic -– a fraction of a millimeter in size -- do not dissolve in water or the environment, Dr.Havens said.

“Because it’s a non-degradable plastic, it basically will persist for a very, very long time,” Dr. Havens said. “And it’s so small, when it gets washed down your sink, it simply goes through your septic system and a lot of times it goes through the wastewater treatment plants and out into the marine environment.”

Microplastic particles also end up in bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay or the oceans when polyester or polar fleece clothing is washed, which can release plastic fibers.  The smashing of waves also can break plastic trash into tiny bits. Once out in the environment, these microplastics can absorb industrial pollutants like PCB’s and dioxins, Dr. Havens said. They can become like little pills of chemicals that are then consumed by worms, mussels, crabs, fish, and eventually, the people who eat them.

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An Eyeful of Runoff

Bay Daily colleague Tom Pelton and I write a lot about stormwater runoff, and rightfully so. It’s a big problem for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary streams and rivers. If you’ve missed our frequent blogs and want to read more about this issue, scroll down and take a look at earlier posts.

Today, I’m going to let pictures do the talking. Take another look at the above photograph of the beautiful Mattaponi River, taken from a bridge in Caroline County, Va., by Bill Portlock, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s senior educator for the Bay and photographer extraordinaire.

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Beach Closings and Eroded Streams Are Reasons for Stormwater Fees

Danger polluted water keep out sign 015The creation of stormwater pollution control fees in Maryland this month has inspired critics to demand: Why do we need these fees? 

Two compelling answers recently popped up in Frederick and Anne Arundel counties:  Because local streams are being destroyed by erosion, and erosion control projects are funded through local stormwater fees.   And the fees are necessary because stormwater flushes such high levels of bacteria into local rivers, it is unhealthy to swim or even have contact with the water.  Beaches in Anne Arundel County this week are closed, one with bacteria levels almost 10 times higher than what EPA would consider safe.  “No Swimming!” warnings keep kids out of the water when they on vacation and dying to play in the Chesapeake Bay.

These are just two of many examples and jurisdictions facing these same issues across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  My colleague Chuck Epes last week blogged about several similar examples in Virginia, including the closing of oyster beds because of contamination from runoff pollution. But these examples in Maryland are interesting, because the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners, in protest of the state mandate to create stormwater fees, this month passed the smallest possible fee allowed by law: only one penny per household per year, which will generate less than $500 a year for the county –- far less than the county’s legal obligations to clean up its local streams under the federal Clean Water Act. 

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Runoff Problems Right Here, Right Now

Pipe.schlyer.ilcpOne of the Chesapeake Bay region’s biggest water pollution problems – and one that is getting worse, not better – is stormwater runoff. That’s the water that rushes off buildings, streets, parking lots, and lawns after a rainfall, washing dirt, chemicals, fertilizer, and bacteria into our waterways.

This polluted runoff causes all sorts of problems for streams, critters, and people – erosion, silting, litter, oxygen-depleted “dead zones,” fish and shellfish kills, flooding, human health threats, to name a few.

Some timely examples:

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Water Pollution Regulations Produce Benefit-to-Cost Ratio of 4 to 1

MG County stormwater projects 363The myth that environmental regulations are bad for the economy has been disproven in the past, including by a Chesapeake Bay Foundation report “Debunking the ‘Job Killer’ Myth.” 

But the "job killer" rhetoric keeps rising from the grave.  And so it is reassuring to see yet another comprehensive report drive a stake into the heart of this myth.

A recent White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report to Congress concludes that federal water pollution control regulations over the last decade have produced up to four times more in economic, health, and environmental benefits as the costs.

From October 1, 2002, to September 30, 2012, EPA’s Office of Water created five new regulations that imposed costs on business of up to $800 million, according to the report.  But these rules resulted in benefits of up to $3.6 billion, according to the OMB report.

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Like Watching Ospreys? Make It a Science

You may have read in Bay Daily about the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Osprey Cam, a live, real-time webcast from a camera hovering over the nest of Tom and Audrey, a Maryland osprey pair. It’s a very cool, non-invasive way to watch the family life of some of the most spectacular birds in the world nesting right here in the Chesapeake Bay region.

And if watching Osprey Cam inspires you to learn more -- and do more -- about these fascinating Chesapeake Bay “fish hawks,” here’s the perfect opportunity: OspreyWatch.

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Throwing Pennies to Protest Stormwater Fee

Penny photoFrederick County has decided to launch a penny protest of Maryland’s new stormwater pollution control law. Sadly, the protest will prove costly to county residents over the long term, in  contaminated streams, flooded basements, lost recreational opportunities, and reduced property values.

Forced by a 2012 state law that requires the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to create stormwater control fees, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners recently decided to start charging eligible properties one cent per year.  That will generate a grand total of $487.81 for the county annually -– hardly enough to meet its legal obligations to clean up its own local streams and protect the health of its citizens from water pollution.

Blaine Young, President of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said of the stormwater fee mandate: “It’s absolutely absurd.”

Not really. Residients in Frederick County, as well as across the Chesapeake Bay region, want to fish, swim, and wade in local streams that are now polluted by stormwater.  Investments in modern stormwater pollution control systems help people enjoy their streams more, and can prevent fish kills, which have hurt the Monocacy River in Frederick County.  But investments, of course, require money.

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