Bay Journal


News, notes and observations from the Bay Journal staff.

Learn how your state plans to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals

Want to know how your state intends to help with the next — and ostensibly final — stage of the long-running Chesapeake Bay restoration effort?

All six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia have drafted “watershed implementation plans,” and are taking public comments on them through early June.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Bald eagles are nesting in Baltimore's restored Masonville Cove

Who loves Baltimore these days?  Bald eagles, that’s who.  A white-headed adult pair has set up housekeeping at Masonville Cove, a restored wetland and natural area on South Baltimore’s otherwise industrial waterfront.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Find your climate-altered future on a new interactive map

Ever had trouble picturing how climate change could alter the quality of life in your community? Now there’s a map for that.

Using a statistical technique called “climate-analog mapping,” two researchers have matched hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada with places that currently have the climate those cities are projected to have decades hence.

Timothy B. Wheeler

New Bay cleanup plans on schedule despite federal shutdown

Despite a 35-day government shutdown that sidelined federal agency involvement, Chesapeake Bay restoration leaders say they are committed to maintaining the deadline to complete new cleanup plans.

Senior state and federal officials said at a meeting last week that they intend to complete draft watershed implementation plans and submit them to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review by the original deadline of April 12.

 “I would say it would be premature right now to revise the Phase III WIP schedule,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, who chairs the Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee.

Karl Blankenship

Chesapeake falls to a D-plus in Bay Foundation’s annual report card

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation downgraded the health of the nation’s largest estuary Monday from a C-minus to a D-plus, blaming the dip in its latest report card on increased pollution from extraordinary amounts of rainfall in 2018.

“The Bay suffered a massive assault in 2018,” said CBF President Will Baker. Chronically wet weather throughout the six-state watershed washed more water-fouling nutrients into the Bay, reversing what had been several years of sustained gains in reducing pollution.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Study on soft-shell and razor clams delivers more questions than answers

Though they once served as important filterers and foodstuffs in the Chesapeake Bay, relatively little is known about the long-term population dynamics of soft-shell clams — and even less about razor clams.

That was among the findings of a first-of-its-kind study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, for which researchers took a holistic look at the species and the factors that could be keeping them to a small fraction of their historic abundance.

Whitney Pipkin

Six Bay states, DC get $13.1 million in grants to improve water quality, wildlife habitat

The Chesapeake Bay region has received $13.1 million in grants for environmental projects from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The announcement came on Dec. 3, the first day of the NFWF-hosted Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Forum, a gathering of practitioners and experts from around the watershed that took place in Lancaster, PA. The grants, combined with $21.9 million in matching funds, will support 49 projects to improve water quality and wildlife habitat across six states and the District of Columbia.

Donna Morelli

EPA names new leader for Chesapeake Bay Program Office

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced that it had selected a longtime Pennsylvania environmental official to head its Chesapeake Bay Program Office.

EPA Region III Administrator Cosmo Servidio named Dana Aunkst, who has held a number of positions with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the years and authored its Chesapeake Bay “reboot strategy to oversee the office which coordinates state and federal Bay restoration efforts.

Karl Blankenship
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Project to revive shoreline park using dredged material wins support

A pioneering plan to revive a faded waterfront community park using sand and silt dredged from Baltimore’s harbor took a couple of small but significant steps forward this week.

Community leaders in Turner Station, a historically African-American neighborhood in Dundalk southeast of the city, received their first donation Monday night toward their proposal to restore the shoreline of Fleming Park using material previously shunned by other communities.  And they heard a ringing endorsement of their plan from a prominent local official.

Timothy B. Wheeler

New online tool shows climate change in Chesapeake region, county by county

The planet has been warming amid a largely unchecked rise of greenhouse gas emissions. But what are the local effects of a changing climate?

A new online tool developed by researchers at Cornell University in New York offers a year-by-year, county-by-county snapshot of those changes.

Jeremy Cox

Lancaster County, PA, releases preview of plan to reduce water pollution

No location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed produces more animal manure than Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, but farmers may need to stop applying that waste to fields during the winter under a locally produced plan aimed at meeting the county’s pollution reduction goals.

Banning winter manure applications — long advocated by clean water advocates — is part of draft plan unveiled on Oct. 3 in a 3-page summary that calls for slashing overall manure applications in the county by 25 percent. 

Donna Morelli

Virginia attorney general sues over environmental violations at Fones Cliffs

The Virginia attorney general is suing Virginia True Corp. over environmental damages at Fones Cliffs, the office announced late Wednesday.

Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement that he will seek the maximum allowable penalties for "significant and repeated environmental violations” at the 1,000-acre property that is being developed into a luxury golf resort and homes along the Rappahannock River northwest of Warsaw, VA. The filing states that penalties could run up to $32,500 per day for each violation.

Whitney Pipkin

Marsh-dependent black rail nominated for federal listing as a threatened species

The diminutive Eastern black rail, an elusive marsh-dwelling bird that has nearly disappeared from the fringes of the Chesapeake Bay in recent decades, may be headed to the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird, whose population has been in sharp decline all along the East Coast, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in a notice that appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday.

Karl Blankenship
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Drinking Water Report: 188 Bay state communities have nitrate levels that could increase cancer risk

An environmental group is warning that more than 1,000  communities nationwide, including many in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, have nitrates in their drinking water at levels that recent research suggests could raise consumers’ risks of getting cancer.

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Working Group contended in a report issued Tuesday that worrisome levels of nitrates, primarily from polluted farm runoff, contaminate the public water supplies of almost 1,700 communities nationwide. The group’s list of community water systems with potentially problematic nitrate levels included 188 in the six Bay watershed states, with 100 alone in Pennsylvania — though many are in portions of the states that fall outside of the watershed. 

Timothy B. Wheeler

Report: Drinking water in 188 Chesapeake-region communities has nitrate levels that could increase c

An environmental group is warning that hundreds of communities nationwide, including many in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, have nitrates in their drinking water at levels that recent research suggests could raise consumers’ risks of getting cancer.

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Working Group contended in a report issued Tuesday that worrisome levels of nitrates, primarily from polluted farm runoff, contaminate the public water supplies of almost 1,700 communities nationwide. The group’s list of community water systems with potentially problematic nitrate levels included 188 in the six Bay watershed states, with 100 alone in Pennsylvania.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Phragmites, other invasives help fight climate change

And now, a kind word about one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most hated invasive plants: phragmites.

The tall, feathery-plumed marsh reed is the bane of waterfowl lovers around the Chesapeake Bay region, as it crowds out native wetland plants, depriving ducks, geese and swans of nourishment. Landowners and resources managers alike spend a lot of time and money trying to control its spread, if not eliminate stands of it.

But a new study finds that Phragmites australis and some other invasive plants help to fight climate change by enhancing the storage of “blue carbon.”

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Southern Maryland county puts aquaculture restriction on hold

A controversial proposal to temporarily restrict the expansion of some types of oyster farming in St. Mary’s County, MD, has been tabled for now, as county officials lobby the state to give more weight to local wishes in the permitting of aquaculture.

The St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners decided on Tuesday, Sept. 11, to extend the public comment period until Dec. 4 on a proposed ordinance that would impose an 18-month moratorium on the use of commercial docks to support new state-approved leases for growing oysters in cages or floats.

The decision — reached by a 4-0 vote, with one commissioner absent — comes two weeks after a well-attended public hearing in Leonardtown, where more people spoke in opposition to the proposed moratorium than spoke in favor. 

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Time will reveal July storm’s impact on Chesapeake water quality, ecosystem

The persistent storms that pounded the Mid-Atlantic region in late July could have lingering impacts on the Chesapeake Bay, though it will take weeks, if not months, of monitoring for scientists to fully assess the potential damage.

The deluge, which dumped 7 inches or more of rain on much of the Bay watershed over a 5-day span beginning July 21, could be a temporary setback for Bay recovery efforts, where underwater grasses and dissolved oxygen levels have shown signs of recovery in recent years.    

Karl Blankenship and Jeremy Cox

FERC approves ‘Potomac pipeline’ that would carry gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia

​Over objections from environmentalists, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given the green light to building a hotly disputed natural gas pipeline through western Maryland and under the Potomac River.

With one of its five commissioners voting no and another dissenting in part, the five-member commission approved the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project, a 3.5-mile pipeline proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission that would carry gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Army Corps commander retires from Baltimore District with a legacy of oyster and island restoration

By his own admission, Col. Edward P. Chamberlayne didn’t know that much about oysters or what it took to get a permit for an oyster farm when he assumed command three years ago of the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

He proved to be a quick study, though. Maryland oyster farmers were hopping mad then about government red tape and delays they said were holding back the state’s fledgling aquaculture industry, and the Corps’ Baltimore District shared the blame for it.

Timothy B. Wheeler
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Maryland invites input on next phase of Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

Maryland officials are seeking public feedback as they draft the state’s next steps in the long-running effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Earlier this week, officials with the state departments of the Environment and Agriculture briefed local officials, nonprofit leaders and others about the cleanup progress to date and the tough issues still to be faced.  While water quality is improving, the Bay’s oxygen-starved “dead zone” is shrinking and underwater grasses are rebounding to record levels, they said more needs to be done to fully restore the Chesapeake — and keep it that way.

Timothy B. Wheeler

After dodging hurricanes, Harriet the osprey last heard from in Puerto Rico

Some Bay Journal readers have wondered what became of Harriet, an osprey nesting in Masonville Cove in Baltimore that last summer was fitted with a transmitter allowing biologists to track her movements.

Karl Blankenship
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Long-buried oyster shells show how the Bay sustained early Americans

What can a bunch of old oyster shells tell you about the Chesapeake Bay’s past, and maybe its future? More than you’d think, according to Alex Jansen, a researcher with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

For several years, Jansen has been working with other researchers poking around on both shores of the Bay, digging up “shell middens,” primitive landfills holding ancient debris and other castoff artifacts. Around the Chesapeake, they mostly contain heaps of oyster shells, an indication of the dietary importance of the Bay’s bivalves to indigenous people long before European settlers arrived. 

Timothy B. Wheeler

Panel with Virginia governor will detail state’s opposition to offshore drilling

A coalition of Virginia officials now opposes federal leasing plans that would permit oil drilling in waters off the coast of the state. Gov. Ralph Northam — who has said he will use “every tool at his disposal” to derail the drilling plans — will share the specifics of his stance during a forum at Old Dominion University in Norfolk at 6:30 p.m. on March 5.

Northam will return to the Tidewater region that he once represented in the state senate to participate in a panel about the risks that offshore drilling poses to the region’s environment, economy and military. The event is part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Blue Planet Forum at ODU’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Whitney Pipkin


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