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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: August 2009


Eelgrass Continues to Rebound in Lower Chesapeake Bay

Mid-season monitoring of underwater bay grasses in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay is showing beds of eelgrass and widgeon grass that are similar to or slightly denser and larger than 2008, reflecting continued recovery from a large-scale eelgrass die-off in 2005, according to updates from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

Bay grasses, also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV, provide critical habitat for juvenile fish and molting blue crabs. Bay grasses also help improve the Bay’s health by adding oxygen to the water and reducing erosion.

Based on these mid-season observations, total bay grass acreage in the lower Bay is expected to be higher than in 2008, but still far below the peak seen in the 1990s, according to Dr. Robert Orth with VIMS. The Bay Program will release bay grass acreage figures for the entire Chesapeake Bay in spring.

Along the Bay’s western Virginia shore:

  • Dense beds of eelgrass are present in much of Mobjack Bay, the lower York River, Back River and Drum Island Flats. Eelgrass continues to recover in these areas.
  • Grasses remain absent or sparse in a number of areas, including the York River north of Gloucester Point and the Piankatank, Poquoson, Rappahannock and Great Wicomico rivers.

On the Eastern Shore:

  • Many areas appear similar to what was noted in 2008, including the Big Annemessex River, the Cape Charles area, and the large shallow water areas between Smith and Tangier Island.
  • Bay grasses appear to have increased in density in Occohannock Creek and in parts of western Pocomoke Sound.
  • Grasses remain absent in the Wicomico and Nanticoke rivers and much of the east and northern parts of Pocomoke Sound.

Read the full mid-summer monitoring report on VIMS’ SAV observation blog.


Virginia Receives $80.2 Million in Recovery Act Funding to Upgrade Wastewater Treatment Plants

Virginia has received $80.2 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to upgrade and improve wastewater treatment facilities throughout the state, which will help lessen a major source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

The funding will help Virginia and its local governments install nutrient-reducing technology at many wastewater treatment plants, as well as eliminate overflows of raw sewage to local rivers throughout the state, including from Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems in Lynchburg and Richmond.

Approximately one-fifth of nutrient pollution to the Bay comes from wastewater. All seven jurisdictions in the Bay watershed – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – are currently working to reduce pollution from wastewater by installing nutrient-reducing technology at major wastewater treatment facilities.

“We have worked hard to restore the health of the Chesapeake and all Virginia waters, but also we know that we have much more to do,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine. “These funds will significantly help us advance our work to reduce pollution from sewage treatment plants.”

The funding will also be used to implement wastewater reuse projects, alternative energy use at wastewater treatment plants, and address public health problems in areas not currently served by centralized sewage systems.

Keywords: wastewater

Chesapeake Bay Executive Order Website Features News, Information on Development of New Strategy to Clean Up the Bay

The Bay Program has launched a website for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net, which will be used to distribute news, events, documents and other information from the various federal agencies working on a new strategy to advance Bay cleanup.

On May 12, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order that recognizes the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure and calls on the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the nation’s largest estuary and its watershed.

The Executive Order website includes a blog that will feature a variety of content about the Executive Order, such as discussions about Bay problems, announcements of upcoming public meetings, and documents required by the Executive Order. Through the website the public can provide comments about the Executive Order and use online tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr to track Executive Order activities.

“Government transparency and accountability during the Executive Order process is of paramount importance and the website will assist the federal government in achieving these goals,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who is also chair of the Federal Leadership Committee overseeing development of the Executive Order. “It is vital to allow the 17 million residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to participate in the development of new strategies to restore the Bay and using online technology is an effective way to engage the public.”

On September 9, the Bay Program will publish to the website draft reports on how federal agencies will address topics including water pollution, climate change and public access. By November 9, these reports will be merged into a draft strategy for restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay, which also will be published on the website.

Input from the public is critically important to the federal agencies as the various reports and overall strategy are created. When the draft strategy is released on November 9, the formal public comment period will begin. Until then, feedback can be posted on the website under the Provide Comments section. The federal agencies will receive any comments that are posted online.

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website now.

Keywords: Executive Order

Pesticide Runoff Can Pose Risk to Humans, Wildlife in Chesapeake Bay Region

Pesticides used by farmers, residents and business owners pose a significant risk to Chesapeake Bay wildlife and human health, according to a recent report released by the Maryland Pesticide Network.

Pesticides and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay Watershed lists the major types and sources of pesticides in the Bay region and explains how pesticides can affect the fish we eat and the water we drink. Toxic chemicals in pesticides can move up the food web when larger fish and birds eat smaller, contaminated organisms. Humans can also be affected if they catch contaminated fish or drink contaminated water.

According to the report, pesticides are a threat to the region’s environmental health because they can be toxic to aquatic life, wildlife and humans, even though those species are not being targeted by the pesticide applier. Even at low levels, toxic effects of pesticides can put additional stress on fish, plants, microscopic animals and other species. A 2007 report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that synthetic organic pesticides were widely detected at low levels throughout the Bay watershed.

One type of pesticide discussed in Pesticides and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay Watershed is atrazine, the most commonly used herbicide in the United States. Atrazine, which is used in both agriculture and on lawns, has been linked to sexual abnormalities in frogs and is a suspected endocrine disruptor: a substance that mimics hormones and can cause reproductive anomalies.

Pesticides get into our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay when we apply them to the ground and rain washes them into nearby streams and storm drains. The largest source of pesticides in the Bay watershed is from agriculture, but commercial, residential and government properties also contribute measurable amounts of pesticides to local waterways and groundwater supplies. Pesticides used in our homes, such as the antimicrobial ingredient triclosan in soaps and personal care products, can also find their way into the Bay through treated wastewater.

Fortunately, there are many ways people can help reduce the flow of pesticides to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, from using effective pesticide alternatives to taking preventative measures rather than resorting to pesticides. The report’s conclusion outlines several recommendations for consumers, regulators and policymakers, including:

  • Educating residents about mosquito breeding habits to reduce the need for spraying.
  • Planting forest buffers along the edges of farm field to reduce polluted runoff into local waterways.
  • Promoting the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a strategy that uses mostly non-chemical prevention techniques on farms and in residential gardens.
  • Supporting research on the effects of pesticides – from endocrine-disrupting chemicals to the interaction of multiple pesticides in the water – on wildlife, aquatic life and human health.

For more information, read the full Pesticides and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay Watershed report.

Keywords: toxics
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