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Chesapeake Bay News: Places

Jun
19
2017

Pennsylvania launches development of fresh plan to tackle water pollution

Close to 240 Pennsylvanians gathered in Harrisburg earlier this month to tackle a monumental task: meeting the state’s targets in the watershed-wide effort toward a clean Chesapeake Bay. Representatives from local governments, farm communities, river conservancies, businesses, schools and other industries spent the six-hour public meeting providing comments on Pennsylvania’s draft plan to reduce pollution and suggesting actions they believe are necessary to improve the health of the Commonwealth’s waterways.

The Susquehanna River flows past Fort Hunter Park near Harrisburg, Pa., on March 13, 2017.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)—also known as the Bay “pollution diet”—which sets limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment allowed to run into the Bay each year. To meet these goals, the seven Bay jurisdictions of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia created a series of roadmaps, or Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), describing how each will achieve the pollution reductions called for in the TMDL. Phase I and II WIPs were developed in 2010 and 2012, respectively, and efforts to develop Phase III WIPs are currently underway.

Each jurisdiction will develop a plan tailored to their area needs. Pennsylvania, behind on its Phase I and II goals, is zeroing in on increasing reductions from the agricultural sector for its Phase III WIP. The state is responsible for 69 percent of remaining nitrogen reductions needed in the watershed, and roughly 80 percent of those reductions are slated to come from this sector. Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding praised the voluntary efforts already taking place in farming communities across Pennsylvania’s 43 Bay counties, but noted that efforts must be redoubled in the newest WIP to “recognize the co-equal goals of improving water quality while preserving healthy and viable farms.”

“We want vital communities. We need healthy farms. We need economic development, jobs and thriving businesses. All of this depends on clean water sources,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “[We need to] empower communities to create shared solutions.”

Three participant-led, self-managed breakout sessions allowed attendees to submit comments on flip boards set up around the room. They discussed such topics as key elements needed for success, groups or agencies that should be involved, how to ensure all voices are heard in the process, measurable outcomes to include and how to work together to reach them by 2025. At the end of the day, the participants’ comments were collected for consideration by workgroups that will be drafting the Phase III WIP.

Interested parties can offer additional comments through the Pennsylvania DEP website until July 7.



Jun
16
2017

Photo of the Week: A second chance for injured owls

An Eastern screech owl is exhibited at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center open house in Edgewater, Maryland, on May 20, 2017. The bird, which lost its eye after being hit by a car, lives with other raptors at the Scales and Tales aviary at Tuckahoe State Park on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Collisions with vehicles are an unfortunately common occurrence for owls: as hunters, the birds follow their prey, which often means following them to the edges of streets and highways. Rodents, bats and other small animals are drawn to roadways in part to feast on the discarded food and other waste that ends up along the side of the road. Streetlights and lamps can also attract bats and moths, which in turn draw predators like owls to the area. Once an owl locks onto its prey, it may not notice or be able to avoid rapidly approaching traffic.

While cleaning up roadside garbage and driving slowly in areas frequented by owls can help avoid these types of collisions, wildlife casualties from cars unfortunately remain quite common. A recent study estimated that injuries from cars and trucks kill between 89 million and 340 million birds in the United States each year. In 2012, two-thirds of the screech owls admitted by the Wildlife Center of Virginia had been hit by vehicles, and 68 percent of those had eye injuries as a result.

If you do happen upon an injured owl or other wildlife, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. In some cases, injured owls may heal completely and be released; in others, extensive injuries may make the birds non-releasable, but they can live comfortably in educational aviaries like Scales and Tales.

Learn more about Eastern screech owls or find a wildlife rehabilitator near you.

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Jun
14
2017

Above-average dead zone predicted for Chesapeake Bay

Underwater grasses grow in the Susquehanna Flats near Havre de Grace, Md., on July 25, 2016. Low-oyxgen "dead zones" can suffocate underwater plants and animals, which rely on dissolved oxygen to survive.

Scientists predict the Chesapeake Bay will see a slightly larger-than-average dead zone this summer, due to above-average nutrient pollution flowing into the estuary from the Susquehanna River this spring.

Blue crabs, underwater grasses and other aquatic life rely on dissolved oxygen to survive. When nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose, the resulting areas of little to no oxygen, known as dead zones, can suffocate underwater plants and animals. The 2017 forecast predicts a mid-summer hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zone of 1.89 cubic miles—slightly above the 30-year average of 1.74 cubic miles. The anoxic, or no-oxygen, zone is expected to reach 0.35 cubic miles in early summer and grow to 0.49 cubic miles by late summer.

This forecast, funded by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan and relies on nutrient load estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey. This spring, 81.4 million pounds of nitrogen flowed into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River, slightly higher than the long-term average.

Anoxic areas—or areas with no dissolved oxygen—in the main portion of the Chesapeake Bay have been decreasing in size over time. (Graphics based on research by Jeremy Testa/University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science)

Over the next several months, researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will monitor oxygen levels in the Bay, resulting in a final measurement of the Bay’s dead zone later this year.

Learn more about the predicted dead zone size, or learn about how scientists measure oxygen in the Bay.



Jun
12
2017

'Sneaker index' of 41.5 inches measured at Bernie Fowler Wade-In

At the 30th annual Patuxent River Wade-In on Sunday, former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his sneakers through 41.5 inches of water. This year’s “sneaker index”—the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his shoes as he wades into the water—measured higher than last year, when high winds and rough waters led to a measurement of just 31 inches.

Bernie Fowler, a former Maryland state senator and advocate for a healthy Patuxent River, walks on the beach after leading the 28th annual Patuxent River Wade-In at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in Calvert County, Md., on June 14, 2015.  Fowler draws attention to the health of the river by wading into the water and measuring the depth at which he can longer see the top of his white sneakers. This year the official measurement was 41.5 inches.

Since 1988, the now 93-year-old Fowler has held the wade-in on the second Sunday in June. Clad in his signature white sneakers and cowboy hat, he hosts the event to bring attention to the polluted waters of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. Held for decades near Fowler’s childhood home on Broomes Island, the event moved to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in 2010.

In the 1950s, Fowler could wade into the Patuxent up to his chest and still see the river’s bottom teeming with fish, shellfish and underwater grasses. Nutrient and sediment pollution, however, have led to declines in water clarity and fueled algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the river bottom. The 1960s sneaker index of 57 inches now serves as the benchmark for a restored Patuxent River.



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