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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: October 2009


Question of the Week: Wastewater Treatment Plants

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week. Each week we take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question comes from Matt:

“How are limits at wastewater treatment plants set? Is it based on water quality standards or limit of technology?”

Ultimately, nutrient discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are set to improve water quality, but many plants face limitations because of technological capabilities. Nutrient discharge from wastewater treatment facilities is one of the biggest causes of poor water quality in the Bay. Because of this, the Chesapeake Bay Program has been working to reduce nutrient pollution from these sources since 1985.

In 2005, the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions introduced a new permitting process limiting the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that the watershed’s 483 major wastewater treatment plants could discharge. These limits meant that most facilities had to make major renovations and upgrades to include biological nutrient removal and enhanced nutrient removal technologies.

In the biological nutrient removal (BNR) process, microorganisms remove nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater during treatment. The wastewater treated in this process contains less than 8 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of nitrogen.  Enhanced nutrient removal improves upon the BNR process, with wastewater treated at these plants containing 3 mg/l of nitrogen and 0.3 mg/l of phosphorous.

Some of those facilities that are required to meet stricter limits but cannot afford more advanced upgrades still have options. Nutrient trading programs have been implemented in Pennsylvania and Virginia for precisely that reason. These programs encourage facilities to invest in upgrades with greater nutrient reductions and then sell their excess nutrient credits to other facilities. This provides plants a cost-effective way to meet the limits imposed on them to improve water quality if they are lacking the technological advances.

And remember, you can do your part to help wastewater treatment plants reduce nutrient discharge too. Two easy steps are conserving your water so the facilities have less water to treat and switching to low- or no-phosphorous dish detergents. For more information, check out our Wastewater Treatment page.

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Please send it to us through our web comment form. Your question might be chosen for our next BayBlog Question of the Week!

Keywords: questions, wastewater

After search, status of elusive Maryland darter still unknown

The Search for the Maryland Darter from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

A crew of about a dozen biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Frostburg University and Marshall University spent an October afternoon searching for the Maryland darter, a fish that was last seen in 1988 and is feared to be extinct. Though their search proved unsuccessful, biologists are not giving up hope.

The Maryland darter, a 2- to 3-inch long fish, was last seen by Dr. Richard Raesly of Frostburg University in 1988. The fish has historically been found in just three Maryland streams near the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Using new technology, Dr. Raesly worked with Tom Jones of Marshall University to sample the river bottom at Susquehanna State Park.

The crew of biologists divided into two teams that worked with two large seine nets to try to catch the darter. One person on each team wore a backpack with an electric shocker that could send a current into the water in a 3-foot radius. The electric current does not harm fish; it only stuns them so biologists can easily gather them in the seine net for an accurate sample of the stream.

Pulling up the net, the team members sifted through leaves, sediment and other creatures in search of the Maryland darter. But no luck. Once an area had been sampled, the team moved downstream to continue the search.

Scientists involved with the project all gave the same answer as to why it is important to find the darter, particularly now: biodiversity.

DNR biologist Scott Stranko explained that just as the entire world is becoming more socially homogenized, the environment is undergoing the same kind of transformation, with just a few species that are found everywhere.

“All the streams are looking very much the same and we’re losing that specialness,” Stranko said. “While Maryland has been losing native stream species, we’ve gained widespread non-native species like carp and snakeheads that can be found all over the world. If this trend continues, no streams will be special like the Maryland darter streams once were.”

The livelihood of small species such as the darter also speaks volumes about the health of the tributaries that lead to the Chesapeake Bay. Since the Maryland darter was last seen in 1988, development has boomed in the areas surrounding Susquehanna State Park. In this landscape of overdevelopment, just a small amount of concrete or asphalt near the river’s freshwater streams is all it takes to create enough polluted runoff to harm underwater life. Biologists believe this is the main cause of the disappearance of the darter.

The fear that the Maryland darter is extinct still looms in the biologists’ minds. But they are hopeful that new technology and the largest search effort in decades will help them rediscover this rare fish.

The team will trawl the Susquehanna River once again on November 6-8 to continue the search. For more information about the Maryland darter, visit DNR’s website.


Seasons of the Chesapeake

Autumn makes you think of pumpkin pie, hot apple cider and the earthy smell of fallen leaves.  I am thankful we get to experience all four seasons here in the Chesapeake region – even though I’m not as fond of the ice storms winter brings to us in Maryland. 

See what the Chesapeake looks like today in each season by visiting NASA's website.  It is amazing how the landscape changes from spring to summer to fall to winter. 


Alicia Pimental's avatar
About Alicia Pimental - Alicia is the Chesapeake Bay Program's online communications manager. She manages the Bay Program's web content and social media channels. Alicia discovered her love for nature and the environment while growing up along Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. When she's not at work, Alicia enjoys cooking, traveling, photography and playing with her chocolate lab, Tess.

Keywords: weather

BayBlog Question of the Week: Do I Live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed?

Welcome to the third installment of our newest feature, the BayBlog Question of the Week. Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.

This week's question comes from Sacha:

“My husband and I just recently bought a house in Gainesville, Virginia, and were told that the creek that runs on our property is part of the watershed. I’d like to know how I can find out if that is true and if it is, where I can get more information on what that means for us as property owners.”

Your creek is, in fact, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As you can see in this map, Gainesville, Virginia, lies within the Potomac River watershed, and the Potomac River flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers more than 64,000 square miles in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, and contains thousands of creeks, streams and rivers that all eventually drain to the Chesapeake Bay. But no matter where you are, every creek or stream is a part of a watershed -- it’s just a matter of finding out which one.

If you want to find out which watershed you live in, start off by going to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Surf Your Watershed” site and plug in your zip code, city, or even the name of the stream itself. The site will then generate information for you about your specific watershed, including:

  • The name of the watershed
  • The congressional districts within the watershed
  • The names of citizen-based groups working in the watershed
  • Water quality monitoring data
  • Links to environmental websites dealing with that watershed
  • A link to the National Watershed Network
  • An assessment of the watershed’s health
  • Information from the United States Geological Survey including stream flow, science in that area and water use data
  • A list of places included in the watershed (counties, cities, states and other watersheds upstream and downstream)

As property owners, it is important to learn about this information so you are aware of the health of the water near where you live. You also might want to look into the citizen groups that work in your watershed to help improve or maintain the health of your local waterway. Volunteering with your local watershed group is a great way to help the environment and the Chesapeake Bay.

With that information, check out our Help the Bay section, which details dozens of ways you can make a difference around your home and backyard to help the Chesapeake Bay and your local stream.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay begins with the health of every creek or stream that flows into it. So treat your local waterways well, and the Chesapeake will one day follow!

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Please send it to us through our web comment form. Your question might be chosen for our next BayBlog Question of the Week!

Keywords: watershed, questions
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