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August 2013

Veteran Environmental Reporter Gets Top CBF Honor

DSC_0032Newspapers seem to be out of fashion for a lot of Americans these days, but they remain a powerful force to inform citizens about local, state, national, and international issues, including, of course, Chesapeake Bay issues.

And one of the most effective newspaper voices in the Bay region over the years has been that of Scott Harper, the veteran environmental reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. For nearly two decades, Harper has literally covered the waterfront of environmental issues in the populous Hampton Roads region.

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Maryland Delays Important Poultry Manure Regulations

ChickensUniversityofMarylandExtensionReducing the runoff of phosphorus pollution from farms is important to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Many farms, especially on the Eastern Shore, have excessive levels of phosphorus built up in their soil from years of using poultry manure as fertilizer. The pollutant runs off into streams when it rains.

Proposed regulations from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration that were scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday would have prevented many Eastern Shore farms with high phosphorus levels from applying more manure.  But on Monday, the administration rescheduled the hearing, delaying it until an unknown future date, perhaps this winter.  The delay came because of because farmers protested that they need more time to prepare for the change.

The proposed phosphorus rule raises a major question:  What to do the vast amount of poultry manure that is produced on Delmarva, but not needed as fertilizer on Delmarva farms?  Some is already trucked off the peninsula to fertilize farms and gardens elsewhere, and there is talk of burning poultry waste to generate electricity.  But transportation of the waste is not easy or cheap; and burning poultry manure can potentially create air pollution.

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Black Roses Grow in a Golden River

PotomacRiverChesapeakeBayProgramIt looked like a field of black roses on the bottom of the river.

It was a peculiar sight over the side of my canoe as I glided down the Potomac River about 15 miles north of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on Saturday. The water was crystal clear, allowing the sun to slice all the way to the bottom, which glittered gold.

Swarms of tiny fish darted in and out of lush stands of ribbony aquatic grass with star-shaped white blossoms (wild celery, or Vallisneria americana).   Smallmouth bass cruised through the forests, as did a fat, whiskered catfish.

The scene was so beautiful it was almost hard to believe: sunshine, silver-topped clouds, forested river banks, and a river swimming with life. I tied my canoe to the knuckle of a tree root, and swam through the grasses and white flowers.

Then I saw the alien-looking plants.  Goopy blobs of neon green and black algae clung to the tops of wild celery stalks, making the the plants look like black roses.  Elsewhere, wads of this algae tumbled down the river.

The common name for this plant is blue green algae, but it is technically not a plant or algae at all. It is a bacteria called cyanobacteria, and it is one of the most primitive forms of life on Earth.Cyanobacteria frequently multiply on the Potomac and other waterways in the hot summer months, fed by excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers, sewage treatment plants, and polluted runoff from developments.

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Virginia Candidates: A Clean Water Plan You Need to See

Imagine you’re the next governor of Virginia and ask yourself, “What are five things I could do that would most advance restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and the state’s rivers and streams?”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) provided the answer this week with a five-point “Action Plan” aimed at candidates for state office this fall. Virginians go to the polls in November to elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Should any of the candidates for these offices wonder how best to clean up the Bay and Virginia’s 13,000 miles of polluted streams and rivers, look no further than CBF’s Action Plan.

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Fix the Dam Problem

ConowingoThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation is taking action to address the growing amount of pollution building up behind a dam on the Bay’s largest source of fresh water, the Susquehanna River.
Today, CBF filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to intervene in the Exelon Generation Company’s application for a license to continue operating its Conowingo Dam in north central Maryland.
“The owner, as well as the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, must meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act to ensure the Chesapeake Bay is protected,” said Kim Coble, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration.
For years, the 85-year-old hydroelectric dam had been catching roughly two-thirds of the sediment (which carries phosphorus pollution) that flowed past it down the Susquehanna River, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.  Between 1996 and 2008, about 12 million tons of muck built up in the reservoir behind the dam, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.
Now the reservoir is almost completely filled. And so large storms dig up the stored sediment and flush it down the Susquehanna in great brown slugs into the Chesapeake Bay, where it muddies the water and kills underwater grasses.

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"Time Machines" Predict Future of Plants with Climate Change

Bert Drake with greenhouseI am in a wetlands south of Annapolis, striding down a blue plastic walkway over the marsh. 

On both sides of the raised platform is a meadow of sedges (Scirpus olneyi) and fine, soft grasses (Spartina patens). The grasses form a lush green carpet from the Rhode River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary, to a curtain of oak and sweetgum trees that mark the edge of a forest on higher and drier land in Edgewater, Maryland.

Out of the marshlands sprout what looks extra-terrestrial phone booths.  Forty-five octagons, made from metal and sheathed in clear plastic, flash in the July sun. From the machines curl wires and pipes.

These strange-looking vessels are like time machines.

Dr. Bert Drake, a plant physiologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, explains the octagons are small greenhouses, full of wetlands grasses and sedges. The pipes pump into the chambers varying concentrations of carbon dioxide (C02). Dr. Drake is trying to predict what future concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do to plant life on Earth. 

“The chambers allow us to measure the exchange of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the plants,” Dr. Drake said.

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Aquaculture Booms, But Pollution Looms

8.25aquaculture2Shellfish aquaculture – “farming” oysters and clams in controlled situations rather than hunting and gathering them in the wild – continues to be a growth industry in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay region.

A recent report found the economic output created by clam and oyster aquaculture operations in Virginia totaled $81.2 million in 2012. The industry combined to provide jobs for 925 people, paid wages and salaries of $27.1 million, and generated tax revenues of $3.6 million.

The report, prepared by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant Extension Program, was released last month.

“Shellfish aquaculture has grown dramatically during the 1991-2012 period, and oyster aquaculture is showing signs of continued growth,” the report said. “Such growth underscores the importance of evaluating future prospects for expansion in shellfish aquaculture.”

In other words, clams are hot, and oysters are heating up fast.

Number of hard clams sold in VA

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Senator Cardin Proposes Bill to Fix Decaying Water Infrastracture

Ben CardinOn Tuesday, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, visited a water filtration plant in Laurel, Maryland, to discuss with regional public works officials a strategy to improve America’s decaying water infrastructure.

"Our aging water infrastructure system represents a clear and present danger to public health, as well as our economic security and therefore our national security,” Cardin said. “The federal government cannot meet this need alone, but we must take a proactive approach, making strategic investments in innovative projects.”

Infrastructure is not a sexy subject, but it is incredibly important in the Chesapeake Bay region, where state and local governments are working to clean up the nation’s largest estuary and reduce pollution to meet EPA pollution limits and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Sewage line breaks and overflows are all too common, flooding streams and rivers with fecal bacteria.  Water lines frequently break in Baltimore and other aging cities, creating sink holes and blocking traffic with emergency repair projects. Recently in Prince George’s County, a water main serving 100,000 people began to fail, requiring restrictions on the use of water during a heat wave.

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Virginians Want Clean Water – Just Ask Them

The headline on a Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) press release today says it all: “Huge Majority of Virginians Back Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan.”

Perhaps that doesn’t come as a surprise to Bay Daily readers, but sometimes public policymakers and elected officials need a reminder that clean water, healthy streams, and a restored Bay are genuine priorities for Virginians. Lots of them. Huge majorities of them.

The CBF press release summarized the results of bipartisan statewide polling done last month of Virginia voters likely to cast ballots this November. If you didn’t know, Virginians will elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 members of its House of Delegates this fall.

Regardless of who wins, one issue with which all of these elected officials will grapple is restoring clean water to the Chesapeake Bay and other state waterways. Consider that more than 13,000 miles of Virginia rivers and streams are “impaired” (polluted), according to the U.S. EPA and Virginia environmental officials. That includes nearly all of the Chesapeake Bay. Sadly, dirty water is virtually everywhere across the Commonwealth.

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Polluted Runoff is Leading Cause of Beach Closures

BeachwithkidsNRDCWhy should we pay fees to control polluted rainwater running off of parking lots and streets into waterways?  A Maryland law required such fees to be created by the state's  nine largest counties and Baltimore by July 1.
Polluted runoff is the leading cause of beach closures nationally, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report on the quality of water at swimming beaches, called Testing the Waters.  
Last summer, beaches across the U.S. were closed or the subject of swimming health warnings for a cumulative total of 20,120 days, according to the report.  Each closure day for a separate beach was counted separately. Local health officials issued more than 80 percent of these closings and advisories in 2012 because testing revealed bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards. This was a potential indication of human or animal waste.
Runoff was the largest known source of this pollution, contributing to 28 percent of the closing or advisory days, according to the report.

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