Scientists expect the Chesapeake Bay to see an above-average dead zone this summer, due to the excess nitrogen that flowed into the Bay from the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers this spring.
Dead zones, or areas of little to no dissolved oxygen, form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose. The latest dead zone forecast predicts an early-summer oxygen-free zone of 0.51 cubic miles, a mid-summer low-oxygen zone of 1.97 cubic miles and a late-summer oxygen-free zone of 0.32 cubic miles. This forecast was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan.
Dead zone size depends on nutrient pollution and weather patterns. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 44,000 metric tons of nitrogen entered the Bay in the spring of 2014. This is 20 percent higher than last spring’s nitrogen loadings, and will influence algae growth and dead zone formation this summer.
Researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will measure oxygen levels in the Bay over the next few months. While a final dead zone measurement is not expected until October, DNR biologists measured a larger-than-average low-oxygen zone on their June monitoring cruise, confirming the dead zone forecast.
The Chesapeake Executive Council signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement today, recommitting Chesapeake Bay Program partners to restoring, conserving and protecting the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them.
Agreement signatories include the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Delaware; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission; and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay. This marks the first time that the Bay’s headwater states of New York, West Virginia and Delaware have pledged to work toward those restoration goals that reach beyond water quality, making them full partners in the Bay Program’s watershed-wide work.
“Today we celebrate the most inclusive, collaborative, goal-oriented Agreement the Chesapeake Bay watershed has ever seen, highlighted by unprecedented participation from the headwater states and the public,” said Chesapeake Executive Council Chair and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a media release. “This Agreement not only addresses our continuing water quality and land use challenges, it also confronts critical emerging issues—environmental literacy, toxic contaminants and climate change. Finally, it builds upon the strength of our diverse citizenry, calling to action the nearly 18 million people that call our watershed home. Together, we can and will achieve our united vision of a healthy Bay and a productive watershed, cared for by engaged citizens at every level.”
Image courtesy Benjamin Wilson Imagery/Flickr
Years in the making, the Agreement contains 10 goals and 29 measurable, time-bound outcomes that will help create a healthy watershed. They will lower nutrient and sediment pollution; ensure our waters are free of toxic contaminants; sustain blue crabs, oysters and forage fish; restore wetlands, underwater grass beds and other habitats; conserve farmland and forests; boost public access to and education about the environment; and increase the climate resiliency of the watershed’s resources, habitats and human communities.
Public input had a direct impact on the content of the Agreement—encouraging partners to include goals related to environmental stewardship, toxic contaminants and climate change—and will continue to contribute to how the Agreement is achieved. Indeed, partners plan to work with universities, local governments, watershed groups, businesses and citizens in creating the management strategies that will define how we will accomplish the Agreement’s outcomes and goals.
Image courtesy USACE HQ/Flickr
In addition to signing the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Executive Council members heard from the Bay Program’s three advisory committees, which represent citizens, local governments and scientific and technical interests from across the watershed. Executive Council members also heard from four high school students representing Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. While each of these students was introduced to conservation in a different way, they have all had valuable experiences on the Bay and spoke about the importance of engaging future generations in environmental restoration, advocacy and leadership.
At the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an object as small as a piece of Styrofoam poses a big problem. Because whether it can be held in a volunteer’s hand or just fits into the bed of a truck, litter is at the center of the non-profit organization’s work.
Founded in 1954, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has an office in Washington, D.C., and an historic farmhouse-turned-workspace in southern Maryland. Whether it is through teacher trainings, field studies or volunteer clean-ups, the organization works to promote the sustainability of the Potomac River watershed. And one of the biggest issues facing the Potomac River is trash.
Most of what the Alice Ferguson Foundation does touches on litter: its danger is discussed with students on field studies; programs, events and meetings are often trash-free; and the office culture is one of low- to no-waste. You won’t find disposable plates or cups in the kitchen, and cloth napkins are washed, dried and reused on-site. Food waste is given to the pigs on Hard Bargain Farm, and bathrooms are equipped with hand-dryers. Clara Elias, Program Manager for the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, puts it simply: “We’re committed to reducing trash.”
Image courtesy kryn13/Flickr
In the Potomac River watershed, there are two kinds of trash. First, Elias explained, there is the new litter that is generated on a regular basis, like the plastic bags, cigarette butts and beverage bottles found on streets and sidewalks. Second, there is the legacy litter left behind long ago at a particular site, like a pile of old tires sitting on the edge of a parking lot. Across the watershed, trash is both an urban and rural issue, although it differs between regions. While bottles and cans often float down the river from urban centers, rural areas that are without strong recycling programs face issues with illegal dumping of appliances, cars and even deer carcasses.
Over the 26 years that the Alice Ferguson Foundation has hosted the Potomac River Watershed Clean Up, the trash in the Potomac has changed. Volunteers used to pick up a lot of plastic bags, but after bag fees were passed in the District of Columbia, plastic bags in District waters dropped 50 percent. Similar legislation passed in Montgomery County caused this number to drop 70 percent. There was a change, too, in the plastic bags themselves, as volunteers now find more pet waste and newspaper bags than the shopping bags that carry the five-cent fee. Even so, Elias noted that at least half of the trash picked up along the Potomac is recyclable, which indicates more must be done to slow the flow of pollution into our rivers and streams.
“In American culture, we’re so used to having so many disposable things. We’re not taught how much energy it takes to dispose of [all of] it,” Elias said. So the Alice Ferguson Foundation teaches people just that.
On a Bridging the Watershed field study, students play a game of Trash Tag and learn about street sweepers, trash traps and other litter-reducing best management practices. On the Hard Bargain Farm, students sprinkle a shower curtain with food coloring, sand and pieces of paper. When the curtain gets wet, the pretend fertilizer, sediment and trash are washed downstream. And before their visit to the site, students are given a guide to packing a trash-free lunch. After their meal, students weigh the paper napkins, straw wrappers and other leftover trash and compete with other school groups to produce the least amount.
In addition to its field studies, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has also had success with its Trash Free Schools initiative, which helps students teach their peers, lead their own cleanups and change their school’s culture to produce less waste.
Trash is “tangible and physical, unlike energy or [stormwater] runoff, which are things you can’t see or touch or smell,” Elias said. “It builds momentum among students. Trash is a great issue for students to learn about.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed Clean Power Plan this week, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called a “vital piece” of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change.
Image courtesy Rennett Stowe/Flickr
The Clean Power Plan aims to lower carbon emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. According to the EPA, this would also cut emissions of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide more than 25 percent, lowering asthma attacks and medical bills and working toward justice for the low-income communities that are hardest hit by air pollution.
Fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked, carbon pollution leads to rising temperatures and sea levels and changes in weather patterns, ecosystems and habitats. It also worsens smog, which affects the heart and lung health of children, older adults and people living in poverty.
“This is about protecting our health and our homes,” McCarthy said in a speech celebrating the plan’s release.
Image courtesy francescopratese/Flickr
The plan would give states the freedom to chart their own course toward their own goals. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” McCarthy said. Instead, states can “mix and match” methods of electricity production—whether it is a low-carbon or “no” carbon source like nuclear, wind or solar energy—and pollution control policies to ensure a “smooth transition to cleaner power.”
Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register. The EPA will host public hearings on the plan in Denver, Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28, and will finalize the plan next June.