Month: January 2014

Appeal for Stronger VA Regulations on Stormwater Runoff

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The Potomac Conservancy sent out a letter regarding stormwater runoff regulations for the Potomac River watershed. Stormwater management programs are set to go into effect on July 1, 2014, but legislators in the Virginia General Assembly are being asked to delay implementation. I am urging Virginia readers, along with the Potomac Conservancy, to send a message to your local representatives asking them to not to delay on stormwater management programs. I will post the Potomac Conservancy letter below, which includes a link to contact information for Virginia state legislators.

From the Potomac Conservancy:

No More Delays for Clean Water!

 
Stormwater from urban and suburban areas (also called polluted runoff), is one of the biggest sources of pollution in the Potomac River.
 
Virginia has now been working for more than ten years on the development of stronger requirements that will better protect our local streams and the Potomac River from polluted runoff.
 
Regulations that are more highly protective of water quality were first authorized by the General Assembly in 2004.  Unfortunately, the General Assembly repeatedly delayed the process to establish the regulations-first in 2006, then again in 2009, and again in 2010.
 
Local municipalities were given the task of starting their own stormwater management programs beginning in July 2013, but all localities were granted a year’s extension.  The program is now slated to commence on July 1, 2014.
 
Unfortunately, legislators in Richmond are being asked AGAIN to delay, dilute, or create exemptions to the implementation of the stronger stormwater rules that will protect the Potomac River and its Virginia tributaries.
 
The Potomac River and its Virginia tributaries cannot wait any longer.  No more delays!
 
Politicians must hold firm to the July 2014 implementation deadline. Contact your legislators today!  Let them know that they must not delay or weaken Virginia’s stormwater management program which will ensure safe, healthy, and productive waters for us all.
 
Go here to find out who your legislators are : http://conview.state.va.us/whosmy.nsf/VGAMain?openform
 
It will ask you to enter your address; once you have it will take you to a page with the contact info for both your State Delegate, and your State Senator.  Call them both and leave a simple message:

  • Your name
  • Your town (so they know you are a constituent)
  • Tell them you are calling in support of Virginia’s stormwater management program, and you do not support any bills that delay or weaken the stormwater program
  • If you want a response in writing, ask for one and leave your entire address

That’s all! Thank you for taking action to help keep our nation’s river clean!

Antipoison Creek: Past and Present

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I think history is an important part of studying current environmental issues. The land use practices and consumer choices of past societies and generations shaped the environments we have today; studying historical descriptions of the places we live in can be used to compare past conditions with present.

In research for this SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) project (planting underwater grasses by the family Bay house), I have been looking at the historical presence of SAVs in the area, and have come across various historical facts on the area, some new, some old.

The house is at the mouth of Antipoison Creek, which opens up to the Chesapeake Bay. The Creek got its name when local Native Americans treated John Smith for a stingray injury. Smith was either treated at Antipoison Creek, or the cure was found at the creek- versions vary.

Agriculture and aquaculture have been prominent in Lancaster County for centuries. It’s hard to imagine the Antipoison Creek of Smith’s time. Today, farmers, watermen, oyster harvesters, vacationers and retirees surround the creek. How land use and the natural environment in the area has evolved and changed throughout the past 400 years is something I’m interested in, and could be important to future restoration/ conservation projects in the area.

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View from our dock of a fishing vessel that has a home on Antipoison Creek. To reach its wharf, the ship passes a variety of residential homes, fish houses, and a small oyster farm that are situated on the banks of Antipoison.

Underwater Grasses

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The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) estimates 600,000 acres of underwater grasses were once present in the Chesapeake Bay. As of 2012, the Chesapeake Bay Program estimates a total of 48,191 acres are in the Bay. Since the mid-twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of acres of underwater grasses have been lost. So what does the loss of underwater grasses, or submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) mean for the Bay?

SAVs are an important part of the Bay’s ecosystem and provide a number of services.  Underwater grasses are a food source for waterfowl; they provide habitat and protection for juvenile blue crabs and several species of fish, such as striped bass and menhaden. Grasses take up nutrients that enter the Bay, improve water clarity and health. The plants provide oxygen to other organisms in the water. They are a buffer against shoreline erosion by reducing the impact of waves and currents on a beachfront.

Strong storms and pollution threaten SAVs. Excess nutrients entering the Bay result(ed) in acres of grasses lost, this century and last. Grasses absorb nutrients, but they can only absorb so much. With large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous entering the Chesapeake watershed, underwater grasses have been inundated with nutrients, and have dramatically suffered. The decline of aquatic vegetation impacts ecosystem services, local economies and societies. The food industry, and the watermen that rely on the catches of the Bay, have been hit hard in recent years. A decrease in acreage of SAVs contributes to low crab populations, and was cited as a major source of a decline in crab numbers this past year. Fish are at more risk from predation from other species, leaving fewer fish to be harvested by Chesapeake watermen.

Restoration of underwater grasses is one solution to improving water quality and aquaculture, and reducing rates of erosion (or at least is a solution that I can directly play a part in). This weekend I am going to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Grasses for the Masses program, dedicated to planting SAVs in designated areas in the Bay watershed. On Saturday I will attend a workshop where I will receive an aquaculture system with wild celery seeds. After growing the underwater grass in-home for 10-12 weeks, I will plant the wild celery this spring on the Potomac River in Mason Neck State Park, in a second workshop.

While doing this project, I am also looking into the permit process for growing grasses for personal research, off of property in the Northern Neck. I have been looking at VIMS 2012 SAV report and interactive map for more information on the historical presence of grass in this region (VIMS), as well as permit information from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). Updates to follow!

Rising U.S. Carbon Emissions, Sea Levels: A Link to Two Studies

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U.S. Carbon Emissions Rose Last Year: (The Washington Post)

Study of Tides Measures Global Average Sea Level Rise: (NYT The Flood Next Time) Sea level rise and sinking land affecting East Coast, especially Chesapeake Bay islands

2014-2015 Federal Water Quality Milestones

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President Obama signed an executive order for the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay in May 2009. This order brings together groups such as the EPA, USDA, NOAA and other agencies across the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Transportation, Homeland Security, and the Department of Interior. The Committee created by this Order publishes an annual action plan and progress report. The committee has also established goals for water quality to be reached by 2025, with two year milestone reports published in the interim. The 2014 action plan has yet to be released, but the water quality milestones report for 2014-2015 is now available. (Chesapeake Bay Executive Order). 

The report is an overview of steps to be made in the next two years broken down by section. The milestone sections include agriculture, atmosphere, stormwater, septic systems, toxins, trading and offsets programs (ie. nitrogen trading), regulatory enforcement, and the EPA’s financial support to the six states and D.C., in the watershed.

I am particularly interested in:

  • the 2014 goal to establish State Implementation Plan revisions to reduce NOx emissions (atmosphere)
  • the development of stormwater BMPs (stormwater)
  • USDA studies on agricultural BMPs and estimates of nutrient/sediment reductions from conservation practices (agriculture)

 

Friday’s Reads

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Judge Rejects Suit Challenging Legality of Nutrient Trading Programs: (Bay Journal)

West Virginia Chemical Spill: (New York Times)
Not technically in the watershed, but an interesting read

Success of Plastic Bag Tax in DC: (The Washington Post)

DC Looking to Ban Styrofoam Containers to Reduce Pollution in Anacostia River: (WAMU)

I live along the Potomac River so I found the following two sources interesting. The Potomac Conservancy releases a report each year looking at habitat, species, pollution, etc. in the Potomac River and gives the watershed a grade. The 2013 report gave the Potomac a C grade. Guest blogger at the American Rivers blog explains why:

Potomac River Report Card: (The Potomac Conservancy)

Potomac River Report Card Explanation: (American Rivers)

Increased Nitrogen Pollution from Maryland Sewage Treatment Plants

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Earlier this week I shared an article on Maryland and its lax regulations on stormwater runoff, affecting water quality in the Chesapeake. According to another article today in B’More Green (an environmental blog associated with The Baltimore Sun), Maryland has also been negligent in monitoring nitrogen pollution from its sewage treatment plants. In 2012, Maryland sewage treatment plants had a marked rise in nitrogen discharge, and many facilities violated their permits. Reasons for this significant rise in nitrogen discharge is still unclear. The article can be found here: (http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bal-report-md-backsliding-in-bay-cleanup-20140109,0,4308987.story)

A Winter Morning in Virginia’s Northern Neck

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A Winter Morning in Virginia's Northern Neck

We spent the last weekend of the year at our house at the mouth of Antipoison Creek, in Virginia. Sunday, December 29th saw a cold rain most of the day, clearing late in the afternoon. As seen in the attached picture, Monday saw a colorful sunrise over the Bay. The ochre-colored building is Mike’s oyster house, closed up for the season while the oysters are dormant in their cages and floats. Little Bay is behind the oyster house, and the Chesapeake to the left. Except for some Canada geese and Bufflehead ducks, not much was stirring that chilly morning.

Photo and description by Gary Greenwood

Current Water Quality Issues

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Articles I’m reading this afternoon dealing with water quality issues in the watershed:

Postponing Stormwater Programs in Virginia (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Water Quality Improving Due to Air Regulations (Bay Journal)

Maryland Counties Lax in Monitoring Stormwater Runoff (Baltimore Sun)

What’s Your Nitrogen Footprint?

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In my undergrad classes I had to do several personal carbon footprint calculations (found on the web by organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or the EPA). The footprint models were generally eye-opening in showing how much energy I consumed through daily practices, yet questions were often broad and inexact. Despite this critique I find the calculators a useful tool in allowing an individual or family to look at their activities and find where they can cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions. For these reasons I was excited to find a nitrogen calculator from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that provided an estimate, in pounds, of how much my family and I contribute to nitrogen emissions in the Bay watershed.

CBF estimates that the average household should have a nitrogen footprint of, at most, 9.1 pounds. My household estimate was double that amount, and maybe even higher than the 20.1 pounds estimated due to values that were underrepresented in the calculator. Our property has a conventional sewer system which contributed a lot to our nitrogen output. Maybe we could look at ways to improve our system, or install other best management practices (rain gardens, rain barrels, etc) to reduce our nitrogen footprint.

Nitrogen pollution is a major issue in the Chesapeake Bay. In my opinion, not much attention is given to household contribution to this issue. I think the calculator is a good tool in raising awareness and allowing individuals and families a jumping off point for ideas on how to reduce their footprint.

The calculator can be found at the following link: http://www.cbf.org/news-media/multimedia/nitrogen-calculator