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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: September 2010


Environmental education gets a boost in Maryland

On September 21, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to incorporate environmental education (EE) into all K-12 school systems, but held off on making it a graduation requirement for high school students. Maryland is now one of only three states to formally incorporate EE into the classroom.

Since there is no graduation requirement, school systems are expected to incorporate EE into existing classes, such as biology, and complete one local project that helps to “protect, sustain or enhance the natural environment.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, one of the main reasons for not passing the graduation requirement was that some Board of Education members felt that it would reduce the amount of flexibility high school students had in crafting their schedule. Board member Donna Hill Staton thought that by adding a requirement, they would have “started to overwhelm the system.” Maryland would have been the first state to require EE for graduation.

Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I can only remember one instance that EE was incorporated into my lesson plans. This consisted of a 4th grade class trip to the Chesapeake Bay, where we used waders and a net to collect aquatic species for cataloguing and study. I remember being so excited that I was able to experience the outdoors and the Bay, and that trip has stuck in my memory for more than 14 years.

My other EE experiences came from classes that I chose to take during my high school years. I voluntarily took an Environmental Studies course and participated in the Montgomery County Area Science Fair for 3 years with a project that studied the ecological impairments of a local creek. Neither one of these was a graduation requirement, and if I hadn’t been interested in the environment already, I probably never would have been exposed to them.

Some critics may think that incorporating EE into already existing classes will be overwhelming and interfere with teaching key concepts. But teachers need to look no further than BayBackpack.com to see that that’s not the case. Launched in the spring of 2010, Bay Backpack was created to help teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed find lesson plans that include the Bay and the environment. Bay Backpack catalogues hundreds of EE lesson plans that span various subjects other than the sciences, including art, social studies, and language arts.

For instance, the “Wood, I’d like to get to know you” lesson from Pennsylvania State University incorporates learning tree anatomy and importance with sculpting and crafts. In another lesson titled “Who Killed SAV?”, provided by the Virginia Department of Education, students are asked to examine four major causes of bay grass decline, and then use their writing skills to “defend, compare, and discriminate between arguments for and against a given factor, while evaluating the level to which certain natural and human factors led to the decline of bay grasses.”

It may seem like a new EE requirement would add more pressure on teachers, but Bay Backpack shows that there are easy ways to use existing classes to teach EE. Incorporating EE into existing classes can also make some lessons more relatable and understandable by applying what students are already learning in the classroom toward a real life situation. Hands-on learning in the classroom can help students absorb more of their lessons while learning about the Bay and the environment at the same time.

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Keywords: education

Anacostia River to go on trash diet

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia have announced a new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or “pollution diet” for trash in the impaired Anacostia River as directed by the federal Clean Water Act. The TMDL will require the capture or removal of more than 600 tons of trash from the Anacostia watershed each year, making the Anacostia the first interstate river in the country with a Clean Water Act limit on trash.

Officials believe limiting the amount of trash in the Anacostia watershed will be a step in the right direction toward a “fishable and swimmable” Anacostia River by the year 2032. Every year, hundreds of tons of trash and debris make their way to the Anacostia River either through illegal dumping or stormwater runoff carrying it into the river. This trash then flows downstream to the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

"This precedent-setting 'trash TMDL' is a multi-regional commitment to finally attack the trash traveling through our storm drain systems," said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson. "Trash has for too long been a problem in our waterways and communities – reducing trash and stormwater runoff is key to restoring the Anacostia River, the Potomac River and the Bay."

Anacostia River Trash

The Anacostia River was placed on both Maryland and the District’s impaired waters lists in 2006 due to this excessive amount of trash pollution.

The new pollution diet will also contribute to the five-year-old Trash-Free Potomac Watershed initiative, which the Alice Ferguson Foundation celebrated by holding its fifth annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit this week. The summit included a ceremonial signing of the Potomac Watershed Trash Treaty as well as roundtables and exhibits on enforcement, composting, public education and regulation.

The initiative is working to have a trash-free Potomac by the year 2013, with a campaign using public education and market-based approaches, including the District’s 5-cent tax on plastic bags. 

Trash in our rivers is not only unappealing from an aesthetic standpoint, making our natural areas more difficult to enjoy, but it can also cause serious damage to wildlife and habitats. The health of our local waterways, including the reduction of trash flowing to them, is vital to the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay cannot be fully restored if its tributaries are unhealthy and plagued by pollution.

A TMDL, as required by the Clean Water Act, establishes the amount of a given pollutant that a water body can take without compromising water quality standards. The state and District’s new stormwater regulations will work in coordination with the TMDL to reduce the amount of trash entering the Anacostia River.


How do you protect dolphins in the Bay?

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.

This week’s question comesfrom Tim, who is helping his students with environmental projects. Many of them focus on dolphins and how they are being protected around the world. He asked: “What is being done to protect the dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay?”

Small "pods" of bottlenose dolphins are frequent visitors to the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months. They are most often seen in the saltier lower Bay but have been spotted as far north as Annapolis, Baltimore and the Chester River.

Bottlenose dolphins are not thought to be endangered, but have been considered a “depleted” species since 1987-1988, according to the Bay Journal.

One of the major threats to dolphins that visit the Chesapeake Bay is excess pollution in the Bay and its tributaries. Dolphins depend largely on fish for food. If the fish they consume are not healthy due to water pollution, the dolphins' health can be affected. Because of this, some see the health of dolphins as a true indicator of the Bay’s health.

Other threats to dolphins include getting caught in nets that are targeting other species and boat traffic that may disrupt courtship, nursing or calving activities.

In all of these cases, regulations exist or are being develop to try to protect dolphins and all other aquatic animals. By imposing limits on the amount of pollution that is allowed into the Bay and its tributaries, all of the species that depend on clean water will be more likely to survive.

Those who spend time fishing or boating in the Bay's waters should watch out for pods of dolphins to prevent inadvertently harming them.

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

Keywords: questions, wildlife

New Analysis Shows Long-term Changes in Nutrient Pollution from Rivers to the Chesapeake Bay

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a new method for tracking progress toward reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from the streams and rivers that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.

The new analysis reveals mixed news about progress toward reducing nutrients over the past 31 years, particularly during the last decade.

Since 2000, nitrogen has been decreasing in the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers, while levels are nearly unchanged in the James and Rappahannock rivers. During the same period, phosphorus levels changed minimally in the Susquehanna, while there were moderate decreases in the Potomac and measurable increases and the James and Rappahannock.

Looking back even farther, scientists found a substantial improvement in pollution loads from the Patuxent River since 1978. Phosphorus from the Patuxent declined by 75 percent from 1978-2000, while nitrogen declined by about 26 percent during the same time period and an additional 15 percent from 2000-2008. These improvements are likely due to large investments in advanced wastewater treatment facilities.

Conversely, there was a 53 percent increase in nitrogen from the Choptank River from 1978-2008. Much of the increase is attributed to groundwater flowing into the river from deep below the land surrounding the river.

The new method takes multiple factors into consideration: seasonality, variations in river flow, and long-term trends driven by human activities, such as wastewater treatment and land management.

“When we analyze long-term nutrient trends for the Chesapeake Bay or other major water systems, it’s important that we consider [river] flow variations,” said Robert Hirsch, a USGS research hydrologist who led the development of the new method. “This new method enables us to remove this source of variation from the data and get a much clearer picture of the effect of human activities, including nutrient-management actions, on nutrient delivery from these watersheds to the Bay.”

Methods that do not consider variations in river flow can paint a much different picture of long-term nutrient trends in the Bay.

For example, 1999-2002 were very dry years throughout the Bay watershed. As a result, nutrient delivery to the Bay was relatively low and conditions in the Bay appeared to be much improved.

These years were followed by extremely high flow conditions in 2003, and then a series of progressively drier years from 2004 through 2008. The 2003 data showed very poor conditions, but the subsequent years’ data suggest slow improvements from one year to the next.

“These apparent changes were largely the consequence of differences in flow,” said Hirsch. “This new method helps us to see past these random year-to-year changes and get at the underlying long-term changes taking place.”

“The new USGS method will allow the Chesapeake Bay partners to better assess progress toward reducing the delivery of nutrients and sediment to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Rich Batiuk, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s associate director for science. “This method, based on monitoring data, will improve accountability regarding the nutrient reductions needed to meet our restoration goals for the Bay.”

USGS, a Chesapeake Bay Program partner, works with other partners to collect data for the Bay Program’s Nontidal Water Quality Network and provides critical science to the Bay Program partnership. Learn more about USGS Chesapeake Bay activities at http://chesapeake.usgs.gov.

The new analysis is available online in a report from the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Keywords: nitrogen, Phosphorus
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