How much is a polluted Chesapeake Bay costing us?

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What are the benefits to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay? I usually focus on the biological and ecological benefits to watershed cleanup, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been looking at economic benefits. They released a report earlier this month estimating that cleaning up the Bay could result in earnings of $130 billion dollars each year for states in the watershed. On the other hand, failing to enforce pollution diets or follow the 2010 Clean Water Blueprint, will result in billions of lost dollars in the region.

The report estimates the economic benefits from watershed cleanup and regulation will improve recreational opportunities; support local businesses, restaurants and watermen; and reduce risks associated with flooding, air pollution and climate instability. The report looks at the savings possible for each state involved, and for the overall watershed.

In the News

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There have been a variety of stories in the news lately on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I’ve picked out some of the ones I’ve been reading to share:

From Delaware Online: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the export of liquefied natural gas from Dominion Energy’s Cove Point facility on the Bay. Natural gas will likely begin to be exported from this location starting in 2017, and be carried via ships to Japan and India. Many environmentalists remain opposed to this plan, citing concerns over the extraction, processing and shipping of natural gas.

From CBS Baltimore: Baltimore County has allocated $13 million to clean up White Marsh Run, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Flooding and erosion result in frequent bursting of sewage pipes, sending sediment and waste downstream into the Bay. The funds will allow for construction crews to rebuild the stream and relocate the sewage pipes.

From the Washington Post: Journalist Darryl Fears highlights the recent return of sturgeon, decline of rockfish, and the rise of the invasive water chestnut grass to the Bay and its tributaries.

Grant Funds Awarded to Chesapeake Bay Restoration Projects

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The National Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund has awarded $9.8 million to various environmental projects in the Bay watershed. These projects aim to reduce pollution, improve water quality, and restore wetlands and forest buffers. Individual projects include the installation of rain gardens in the District, and storm water management programs in Virginia.

(Chesapeake Bay News; Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund)

Osprey Used as Indicators for Environmental Hazards

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Spend a day on the Chesapeake Bay and you’ll see osprey all around- nesting on channel markers, diving for fish in the water, and flying above your head. These birds are common to the Chesapeake Bay, and live near bodies of water across the globe. Some 40 years ago, a sighting of an osprey in the Bay would have been much rarer.

Osprey were endangered in North America throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s with the widespread use of DDT as a pesticide. By 1975, species numbers had fallen by 90% on our continent. DDT was the cause for this decline, as it harmfully impacted osprey eggs; the birds were laying eggs that were not hatching, or had shells so thin that they broke during incubation. The use of DDT for agricultural purposes was eventually banned in 1972, and since the phaseout of DDT, osprey have had an incredibly successful comeback in North America.

Although DDT is no longer a threat to osprey, there are a number of other chemicals and contaminants that humans use and dispose of that make their way into the osprey’s food chain. I read an article from Environmental Health News that discusses some of the other threats facing osprey today. The article, “Osprey whisperers: Deciphering decades of clues from the sea hawk,” talks about how osprey respond to contaminants they ingest. The author uses several examples of the effect of contaminants on osprey in different regions, including the discharge of prescription drugs into the Chesapeake Bay. Osprey, which eat fish, are at the top of their food chain. Pollutants found in the waters where osprey live bioaccumulate in the food chain, and can have serious impacts on these bird’s reproductive and migratory habits. The article points out that examining how osprey are affected by what they eat can be indicators for their health as well as human health. Often, what is damaging to these birds, can be damaging to humans, if ingested or exposed to certain chemicals at high enough levels.

I encourage you to take a look at this article, which I’ve linked to above. I found this particular piece through a post on the New York Times Dot Earth blog, where the author looks at the many ways birds can warn us about the health of our surrounding environment (“Winged Warning: Heavy Metal Song Distortion“).

Update on Blue Crab Regulations

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Late last month the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) published a press release on new crabbing regulations the agency had issued to reduce the harvesting of female and juvenile crabs in Virginia waters. The VMRC voted to reduce the female blue crab harvest in Virginia by 10% over the next year, effective July 4, 2014 through July 5, 2015. New limitations on blue crab culling reduce bushel limits by license category (number of crab pots a certain crabber has a license for).The VMRC has also closed winter dredging of blue crabs for this upcoming winter, for the seventh year in a row.

This spring I posted on the incredibly low numbers of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and spoke to the VMRC on steps moving forward. (“Blue Crab Numbers Low Again This Year,” “Information on Blue Crab Regulations“). As stated, the VMRC consulted with two partner agencies, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, and used two advisory committees (the Crab Management Advisory Committee and the Crab Industry Advisory Committee) to make their decisions.

According to the VMRC, the new regulations will protect juvenile crabs and and will “[bolster] the number of spawning age females.” Reducing the catch of these crabs will help to bring the overall crab population back to a sustainable level in the coming seasons.


The Health of the Bay

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The Health of the Bay

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science released their annual health report and score for the Chesapeake Bay. The report focuses on 2013, and awards the Chesapeake a C, the same score as last year. Although the lower Bay has seen some progress, the estuary overall needs more help. The primary limiting factor for stream health again seems to be nutrient and sediment pollution from stormwater runoff.

Recycling the Leftovers

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Recycling the Leftovers

This past weekend the New York Times had a piece about recycling food waste from restaurants, college dining areas, and other businesses associated with food production. The article focused on efforts to reduce food waste through composting, or donating leftovers to food banks. Cities, such as Austin, Texas, and colleges, such as Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, are participating in programs where food waste is being recycled into compost for fertilizer. Dickinson is unique in that it owns and operates a college farm, where waste from dining services can be composted and used to fertilize crops (which are then used in the school cafeteria).

Using food waste for compost, or donating leftovers to food banks, can reduce the millions of tons of waste sent to American landfills each year from restaurants, households, and the food production industry.