The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland have announced a new draft “pollution diet” for trash in the impaired Anacostia River, only the second river in the country to get a daily trash limit.
Stormwater runoff, the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, delivers hundreds of tons of trash to the Anacostia each year. The amount of trash in the river is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it also endangers the river’s wildlife, which may eat or get tangled in the trash.
The draft pollution diet was developed in response to the federal Clean Water Act’s directions to develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for polluted water bodies like the Anacostia. A TMDL establishes the amount of a given pollutant that a water body can take without compromising water quality standards.
The Anacostia River was added to Maryland and the District of Columbia’s impaired waters lists in 2006 due to excessive trash and polluted water. New stormwater regulations in Maryland and the District of Columbia will work in coordination with the TMDL to reduce the amount of trash entering the Anacostia.
The District Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of the Environment, along with members of several non-governmental organizations, have worked collaboratively with the EPA to develop this draft trash TMDL.
The three agencies will hold a public meeting on the draft TMDL on May 6, 2010, in Washington, D.C., and take public comments on the plan through May 18, 2010. Visit the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website or the District Department of the Environment’s website for the full draft TMDL.
Underwater bay grasses covered 85,899 acres of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers in 2009, about 46 percent of the 185,000-acre baywide abundance goal, according to data from scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Program. This was a 12 percent increase from 76,860 acres in 2008 and the highest baywide acreage since 2002.
Bay grasses -- also called submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV -- are critical to the Bay ecosystem because they provide habitat and nursery grounds for fish and blue crabs, serve as food for animals such as turtles and waterfowl, clear the water, absorb excess nutrients and reduce shoreline erosion. Bay grasses are also an excellent measure of the Bay's overall condition because they are not under harvest pressure and their health is closely linked to water quality.
“The overall increase in SAV acreage in 2009 was strongly driven by changes in the middle and lower Bay zones, including Tangier Sound, the lower central and eastern lower Chesapeake Bay, Mobjack Bay, and the Honga, Rappahannock and lower Pocomoke rivers,” said Bob Orth, scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and leader of the SAV baywide annual survey.
Bay grass acreage increased in all three of the Bay’s geographic zones – upper, middle and lower – for just the second time since 2001.
Upper Bay Zone (from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge north)
In the upper Bay zone, bay grasses covered about 23,598 acres, just shy of the 23,630-acre goal for this area and a 3 percent increase from 2008.
Large percentage increases were observed in the Northeast River, part of the Sassafras River and the upper central Chesapeake Bay, an area just north of the Bay Bridge. However, bay grass acreage in a few local rivers, such as the Bush and Magothy, decreased significantly and offset increases elsewhere.
Overall, the massive grass bed on the Susquehanna Flats continues to dominate this zone.
“The growth and persistence of the SAV bed in the Susquehanna Flats – including the largest bed in the Bay – continues to be a major success story for bay grass recovery today,” said Lee Karrh, living resources assessment chief with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program's SAV Workgroup. “Many of the Bay’s lower salinity areas are doing well and seem to be driven by reductions in nutrient pollution entering the Bay. Seventeen segments in this zone have met or exceeded their restoration targets.”
Middle Bay Zone (from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Potomac River and Pocomoke Sound)
In the middle Bay zone, bay grass acreage increased 15 percent to 39,604 acres, 34 percent of the 115,229-acre goal.
Eighty-four percent of the acreage increase in the middle Bay zone occurred in five segments: Eastern Bay, the Honga River, Pocomoke and Tangier sounds, and the lower central Chesapeake Bay. These changes reflect a large expansion of widgeon grass – the dominant SAV species in the middle Bay zone – as well as the continued recovery of eelgrass in Tangier Sound.
Elsewhere in the middle Bay zone, large percentage declines in bay grass acreage were observed in the Severn River and Piscataway Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.
Lower Bay Zone (south of the Potomac River)
In the lower Bay zone, researchers mapped 22,697 acres of bay grasses – a 17 percent increase from 2008 and 49 percent of the 46,030-acre restoration goal. This is the third year that bay grasses in the lower Bay zone have increased since 2005, when hot summer temperatures caused a dramatic large-scale dieback of eelgrass.
Eighty-two percent of the acreage increase in the lower Bay zone occurred in Mobjack Bay, the lower Rappahannock River and the eastern lower Chesapeake Bay.
None of the 28 segments in the lower Bay zone saw large declines in bay grasses in 2009.
“We are cautiously optimistic about eelgrass recovery now that it is into its third year following the 2005 dieback,” said Orth. “But we are concerned about the long-term absence of eelgrass from areas that traditionally supported large dense beds, such as much of the York and Rappahannock rivers, many of the mid-Bay areas just north of Smith Island, and in the deeper areas of Pocomoke Sound. Declining water clarity noted in much of the lower Bay may be a major impediment to eelgrass recovery.”
Annual bay grass acreage estimates are an indication of the Bay's response to pollution control efforts, such as implementation of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.
Bay watershed residents can do their part to help bay grasses by reducing their use of lawn fertilizers, which contribute excess nutrients to local waterways and the Bay, and participating with their local tributary teams or watershed organizations.
Bay grass acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is flown from late spring to early fall. Visit VIMS’s website for additional information about the aerial survey and an interactive map of bay grass acreage throughout the Bay.
A new computer game created by a team at the University of Virginia is giving students a real-life look at how decisions by the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s 17 million residents affect the future of the Bay and its local streams and rivers.
The U.Va. Bay Game is a large-scale interactive simulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Bay Game demonstrates the importance of political and civic collaboration and serves as a tool for exploring and testing policy choices.
In the Game, players assume roles as farmers, watermen, citizens, developers and policymakers, and play the game according to those roles. For example, farmers decide whether to plant cover crops, and developers decide between regular and sustainable development. Players then see the effects of their decisions on each other and on the Bay watershed over a 20-year period.
"The Bay Game shows how human behavior is interrelated, how what we do in one location affects people and the environment here and everywhere," said Thomas Skalak, U.Va. vice president for research. "It is our goal with this tool to inform public policies, private investment trends and societal behaviors in ways that will enhance human health, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability."
The Bay watershed is represented in the Game as a collection of seven smaller watershed regions (the Eastern Shore, James, Patuxent, Potomac, Rappahannock, Susquehanna and York) and the Bay itself divided into a north and a south region. Each of these smaller watersheds contains an agricultural sector and a land development sector, as well as general public sector.
The Bay Game, the first simulation of its kind in this region, is based on current science and is true to the complexity of the Bay watershed. It has the potential to generate innovative solutions to finding a balance between a healthy environment and strong local economies.
“The Bay Game is a progressive tool that brings together the power of the local – the realization that we're all in this together,” Bay Program Director Jeff Lape said.
The Bay Game was developed by a faculty and student team at the University of Virginia. Azure Worldwide, an environmental education organization co-founded by Phillippe Cousteau, has since joined the team, which hopes to eventually develop a K-12 version of the Game for the watershed’s younger students.
Visit U.Va.’s website for more information about the Bay Game.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
Recently, we’ve had several people ask us about rain barrels. They all want to know: “Where can I get a rain barrel for free? How can I make a rain barrel?” Quite often around this time of year, watershed organizations sponsor events with rain barrel giveaways or sales. After searching, we couldn’t find any resources for free rain barrels in the Bay watershed right now, but you may want to check with your local watershed group for more resources near where you live. It is possible that there are rain barrel giveaways going on that we don't know about! Rain barrel sales, however, are much easier to find. Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased from many different places. A few that are listed on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ website include:
There are plenty of other places to find rain barrels, including smaller, local companies, like Rain Barrels of Annapolis, for example. Search on the Internet or ask around to find out where you can get a rain barrel in your area. As an alternative to spending the money on a pre-made rain barrel, you can opt to build your own for a fairly low price. Maryland DNR estimates that it costs about $15 to build a rain barrel using the following materials:
Installing a rain barrel is great for the environment and the Bay because it diverts stormwater from storm drains, reducing polluted runoff from making its way into your local river and eventually the Bay. For more information about rain barrels and how to make them, visit: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/ed/rainbarrel.html Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events!