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January 2014

Saving Shells, Saving the Bay

DSC_0059People really love oysters – witness this dumpster full of shells left from folks slurping down oysters at several Richmond-area restaurants and community oyster roasts over the past few months.

But oysters really love oysters, too. In fact, baby oysters floating in the water like nothing better than to settle upon and attach to another oyster shell to grow and mature.

So collecting shells and putting them back into creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay to give oysters the shell habitat they need is one of the prime strategies for restoring oysters to the Bay. In case you hadn’t heard, the Bay’s oyster population is but a fraction of what it once was -- and what it could be again – if all of the public, private, and nonprofit efforts under way to restore oysters succeed.

One such effort was today, when volunteers from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and several partner organizations shoveled some six tons of oyster shells from this Richmond dumpster into more than 150 bushel baskets for transport to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Virginia Oyster Restoration Center at Gloucester Point, Va.

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"The Unpalatable Truth" about the Chesapeake Bay

Polluted water Tiffany Granberg CBFThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s most recent report, Polluted Runoff, inspired coverage by 25 newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations across the region.  The intent of the report's release during a press converence in Annapolis last week was to inform state legislators and the general public about the only major source of water pollution that is increasing in the Bay and its tributaries.

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are right now considering bills that would overturn or undermine important runoff pollution control laws and regulations.  Hopefully, the facts, figures, and water pollution experts cited in the report will advance understanding of why it is critical to invest in runoff pollution control systems.

An especially encouraging editorial about CBF's report was published in The Annapolis Capital.  The editorial described the conclusions of “Polluted Runoff” as being an “unpalatable truth” that the public nonetheless needs to hear, perhaps making a reference to the “Inconvenient Truth” of climate change.

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Virginia Runoff Bill Fatally Flawed

Krista SchlyerHeads up, Virginia readers!

The Virginia General Assembly is poised to turn back time -- and not in a good way for those of us who care about clean water and a healthy environment. Here's the skinny and what you can do to help.

The legislature is debating several bills that seek to delay or change a pending state runoff protection program. Conservation groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), are fighting these bills day by day, committee by committee, and legislator by legislator. The battle cry is, “No delay, no dilution, no exemptions.” Here’s why.

Runoff pollution, also called stormwater, is getting worse and threatens to undo past progress made to restore the Chesapeake Bay and clean up local rivers and streams. Runoff is the water that washes off buildings, streets, parking lots, and lawns when it rains, sweeping a toxic brew of fertilizers, chemicals, pet waste, and dirt into local waterways.

Baywide, runoff is increasing because of ever expanding development and the hard-surfacing of the landscape without proper management of the resulting runoff and its impact on the environment.

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New Report Explains Urgent Need to Control Polluted Runoff

Stormwater pipe by Tom PeltonAcross the Chesapeake Bay region, one major source of water pollution is on the rise while every other is declining.  That one source is suburban and urban polluted runoff, also called stormwater.

Today, CBF released a new report on the subject, "Polluted Runoff: How Investing in Runoff Pollution Cotrol Systems Improves the Chesapeake Bay Region's Ecology, Economy, and Health."

Polluted runoff erodes stream banks, floods homes and roads, fouls local waterways, contaminates drinking water supplies, and makes us sick. The good news is that in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, legislation has been passed to address polluted runoff and to reduce the damage it leaves in its wake.

The bad news is that, particularly in Maryland and Virginia, opponents of pollution control regulations are fighting to turn back progress. Some have launched a focused effort to confuse the public’s understanding and derail any discussion of solutions. Other critics are exaggerating costs.

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Local Flowers as an Alternative to the Industrial Rose

Carling Elder of Local Color FlowersPromoting local agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region is important for preserving open spaces, reducing greenhouse gas pollution, and protecting our rural character and economy.

A small -- but beautiful -- part of that picture is the promotion of local flower growers and sellers (like Carling Elder of Local Color Flowers in Baltimore, shown in the picture here).  Making gifts of flowers is a romantic tradition that many people will enjoy next month, on Valentine’s Day.

But flowers are not just decorative. They are also a more than $40 billion dollar a year industry.  Americans consume more cut flowers every year than Big Macs, according to Amy Stewart, author of a book called “Flower Confidential.”

Back in the 1960s, roses sold in the U.S. were mostly grown here.  But today, 93 percent of roses sold here are flown in from overseas – with the vast majority  from Colombia and Ecuador. American-owned companies were attracted to these countries in the 1960s through 1980s by their cheap land and low energy prices. In 1991, Congress passed a trade preference law to boost the flower industries in these countries, according to Stewart’s book.

“About 80 percent of the flowers we buy in the US are imported,” Stewart said. “And mostly they come from Latin America. In the case of certain flowers, like carnations, it’s actually closer to 99 percent.”

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No Delay, No Dilution, No Exemptions!

Stormwater1It’s January 2014…31 years after the Bay states and the federal government signed the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement pledging to restore the Bay to good health.

…27 years after the Bay states and EPA signed a second Bay agreement pledging to reduce pollution and save the Bay by 2000.

…14 years after the Bay states and EPA signed yet another Bay agreement, Chesapeake 2000, pledging to save the Bay by 2010.

…five years after all agreed a saved Bay wasn’t going to happen by 2010, and that the Clean Water Act and common sense required more aggressive action, accountability, and results.

…three years after EPA created a science-based “pollution diet” for the Bay, quantifying how much pollution the Bay could safely handle and directing the states to reduce pollution accordingly.

…three years after Virginia, Maryland, and the other Bay jurisdictions produced state-specific plans to achieve the diet by 2025. These “Clean Water Blueprints” call for major reductions in polluted runoff, the only major source of Bay pollution still on the rise.

…three years after Virginia approved new statewide rules to reduce runoff.

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Judge Opens Door to Major Study of Toxic Contamination at Steel Mill Site

Sparrows Point.CBFJohnSurrickA federal judge this week issued a decision that clears the way for an extensive study of potentially contaminated waters off the Sparrows Point steel mill in Baltimore County.

For years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its allies have been in court demanding comprehensive testing for toxic chemicals in the waters off the now-bankrupt steel mill site. The previous owners improperly disposed of hazardous wastes including benzene, chromium, lead, naphthalene, and zinc.

On Monday, Maryland District Court Judge Frederick Motz vacated an earlier decision of his to limit testing of the waters to a narrow area. That was a victory for clean water activists, because it opens the door to a thorough investigation.

“There is clear scientific evidence that there is toxic pollution in Bear Creek extending hundreds of feet from the steel plant. The residents of the area, and those who boat and fish there have a right to know what is in the water and sediment and whether those pollutants are harmful to their health or the environment,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker.

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Don’t toss that shell. Recycle it!

Programs-oyster-restoration-save-shell-logoWe’re smack in the middle of oyster season in Chesapeake Bay country, and millions of the delicious bivalves are getting shucked, slurped, roasted, fried, stewed, and eaten.

But what happens to the empty shells diners leave behind? Historically, most oyster shells were thrown away, buried in abandoned wells and landfills, or crushed and used as road bed or other construction filler.

Today, we know better. Rather than tossing those shells into the trash, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and other oyster restoration advocates are tossing them back into the Bay to help rebuild oyster reefs and repopulate the Bay with baby oysters.

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Opponents of "Rain Tax" Flush Facts Down the Drain

Stormwater pipe by Tom PeltonWhether to keep or repeal Maryland’s so-called “rain tax” is at the center of a critical debate in the General Assembly session that opened yesterday.

The term is a catchy -- but factually incorrect -- slogan used by opponents of  pollution control fees, many of them deniers of a real and growing problem.  The intent of the rhetoric is to confuse discussion of suburban and urban runoff pollution, the only major source of pollution that is growing in the Chesapeake Bay.

The pollution control fees required by a 2012 state law are not, in fact, taxes on rain.  They are fees on parking lots, roofs, driveways, and other hardened surfaces in developed areas. The amounts are set by local governments, which often base them on how many square feet of pavement and roofing a property has, or on a standard rate per property (not on how much rain falls in a given year).  When water flushes across these surfaces, it picks up oil, trash, pesticides, pet waste, toxic metals and other pollutants. The noxious, fast-moving mixture erodes stream banks, and can kill fish, flood homes, and pose health risks to people who swim or wade. Polluted runoff seriously damages the water quality of the Bay and its tributaries.

Local governments are responsible for reducing this pollution by building ponds, modified ditches, and roadside gardens with plants that act as filters. These projects create local jobs for construction workers and engineers.  But the projects cost money for local governments, which is why fees are needed.

To date, at least five bills have been introduced to delay, weaken, or create exemptions for Maryland’s 2012 stormwater law, which requires the state’s nine largest counties and Baltimore to impose the pollution control fees.

State Del. Kathy Szeliga, the House Minority Whip who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford Counties, argues the law should be overturned.

“When this tax –- and we call it the ‘rain tax’ –- was passed two years ago, 10 of the counties were picked on, and the remainder were not charged any tax,” Szeliga said. “And, so what does that look like today?  I’ll tell you what it looks like. A car dealership in Howard County literally has a forty thousand dollar a year rain tax bill, and is competing against car dealers in other counties that don’t have a rain tax bill.”

To clarify a factual issue here: At Howard County’s rate of $15 per 500 square feet for businesses, it would take a car dealership with 23 football fields of blacktop  and roofs to have an annual fee the size Del. Szeliga describes.  An average fee is more like about $8,000 a year for a car dealership in Howard County, according to the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association. 

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Resolve to Buy a Bay Plate in 2014

Virginia Bay PlateThe new year is here, and if you are still pondering 2014 resolutions, here’s one that’s easy, inexpensive, and makes a difference:

Buy a Chesapeake Bay license plate for your Virginia or Maryland vehicle.

It’s easy to do. If you live in Virginia, click here; in Maryland, click here.

It’s inexpensive. A Virginia Bay plate costs $25; a Maryland Bay plate, $20.

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