Browsing articles from "February, 2010"

Washington Post: Failing the Bay

The Washington Post has an interesting multimedia page that touches on a few issues of the Bay.

Now, I’ve spent a few days searching the Internet for some sort of multimedia page, available to the public, that addresses the issues surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, and so far, this is it. Maybe my search techniques are lacking, or maybe it just hasn’t been done yet, but the Washington Post’s page has some good aspects, and some poor aspects.

First, the main page is pretty squished over. For such a big issue, I want to see a full page. The advertising column on the right takes up roughly a third of the page. Viewers want to find things easily, and, when you distract them with small content pages, you run the risk of losing them rather quickly. That being said, the main content page does offer quite a bit.

Washington post Multimedia

Screenshot of the Washington Post's "Failing the Chesapeake Bay" Multimedia page

The main scroll photo allows the viewer to check out some time-comparison photos. I like the idea, but three? Is that it? I want more! It’s a great idea that just falls off entirely. The map/photo/text overlay is all put together well from a graphic standpoint, but I really feel like it has much more potential than the Post utilized.

Below that, the page presents several graphs. I like graphs. Graphs are good. People can understand graphs (as long as they are kept simple) and the creator can get their point across pretty quickly. The rollover options add some great info too. I’m not sure how I feel about it being on the same page, but it’s a good element.

After you work through that, the Post gives you a few video stories. “Voices of the Bay: A Way of Life, Lost” is a classic approach to the effects of environment destruction. Jeanne Abbott and her family have lost their oyster business due to the devastated oyster populations. It’s a great story, but I have a few quarrels with Post’s production of the story, such as the length. I think this story is necessary in presenting the failing bay, but so far, outside of text stories, the Post isn’t giving us the necessary info to understand the cause of the “Failing Bay.” It’s not a core story, but human-interest pieces are always good.

The Post adds a few more videos that are the same in nature to Jeanne Abbott’s story. Overall, it’s a great attempt to offer a multimedia approach to a very vast story. There are so many elements that go into the bay’s story that by NOT producing a major, comprehensive, multimedia/interactive web feature, it seems to doom the overall message. The Post has a feature to search the archive for stories on the bay in the last 25 years. 25 years! Unless you’re doing research, most readers/viewers don’t want to take the time to sludge through hundreds of stories to get the big picture. Part of our goal here at News21 is to find news ways of storytelling presentation, and it’s for that reason we need to bring viewers into our stories so that they are not lost in page upon page of daunting text. The Washington Post made an attempt that is definitely headed in the right direction.


Who Said Roofs Can’t Be Colorful? These Are Green.

By Brian Hooks

The Green Roof of Chicago’s City Hall. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When people think about impervious pavements, they may immediately think of roads and parking lots, but another metaphorical funnel is right above our heads. Roofing is a big pusher of stormwater –and some of the most-traveled stormwater at that.

The connection is easy to make when considering water in roads and sewers, but much of that water –before it ever hits the ground– has moved over the surface of a roof, through a gutter and smacked down toward the ground, often upturning soil and dislodging many sediments (good for the ground, bad for the water).

A story last week in Scientific American summed up how the EPA is planning to address the stormwater problem nationwide. Resources like the Chesapeake Bay are at the head of concerns toward what ecosystems could be irreparably damaged by continued and/or amplified stormwater patterns.

In the story, David Beckman, co-director of the National Resource Defense Council’s national water program, explains the multitude of problems impervious surfaces pose for ecosystems that have grown and evolved with porous surfaces –the grass and forests.

The solution? Well, the EPA is considering a number of measures that several local governments have already taken toward stormwater runoff, including rain gardens, rain barrels, porous pavements and –that’s right– green roofs. Made of soil, grass and local plant life, green roofs look –and often serve– as lawns on top of buildings.

Green roofs, like the one pictured above, grab the rain before it can gain speed and chemistry. From there, the roof soaks up much of the water like a sponge, and acts as a filter for the water that runs through.

And cost? Depending on the company and breed of plants, a green roof can cost anywhere from $10 to $100 per square foot, according to estimates calculated online. But Beckman told SA green roofs will often pay for themselves in five to seven years because they help insulate buildings and thus reduce energy costs.


Bay Cleanup: Stick or Carrot?

By Sharon Behn

There are those who believe that rewarding people for change is an effective policy. And there are those who believe that only by bringing the power of the law to bear will people alter their polluting habits.

The Waterkeepers, an advocacy group that states it is dedicated to preserving and protecting water from polluters, appears to have taken the latter approach.

Assateague Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper supporter Kathy Phillips is readying to file a complaint under the Clean Water Act against Hudson Farm and its contractor Perdue Farms, according to the Maryland Coast Dispatch.

During an aerial survy, Phillips had found that Hudson Farm appeared to have a large pile of chicken manure — a source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution unless properly treated — close to a ditch that carried stormwater from the farm into Franklin Branch, which empties into the Pocomoke River and then into the Chesapeake.

After Phillips reported the case to the Waterkeeper Alliance, the pile was moved, but Phillips said there was still an illegal level of pollution. The Waterkeper Alliance sent a Notice of Intent to file the lawsuit on Dec. 17, 2009, and the February 26 deadline is now coming up when the organization must decide whether it is going to pursue the case.

The Waterkeepers have taken legal action before. Most recently, the Alliance challenged the Maryland Depeartment of the Environment’s general stormwater permits for construction sites. On May 15, according to the Waterkeepers’ website, the MDE settled with the Alliance and committed to make “significant changes” to the way it requires developers to prevent polluted runoff.

This litigious approach is not always appreciated by other advocates of the environment, but after years and millions of dollars have largely ineffectively been invested in trying to persuade polluters to change, even the EPA is moving away from the carrot and trying the stick.

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlined a “rigorous accountability framework” for addressing pollution levels in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It is the latest in a series of federal efforts to address levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the Bay watershed area.

According to Reed Smith, a company that specializes in complex litigation and high-stakes cases, the measures  include, for the first time in the 26-year history of the cleanup effort of the Chesapeake Bay, “a number of punitive measures intended to force compliance with pollution controls by the six Chesapeake Bay states – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennyslvania, Virginia and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia”.

More lawsuits can be expected.


Funding a Healthy Chesapeake Bay

By Rabiah Alicia Burks

As the costs of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay continue to rise, it has become increasingly important for the public to know where the money comes from, how much more is needed and how it has been allocated.

In 2003 the Chesapeake Bay Commission estimated that it would cost nearly $19 billion to restore the Bay by the end of the decade. With about $6 billion committed by various governments at that time, the commission projected a financial shortfall of $12.8 billion that would have to be raised.

The estimates, contained in a 2003 report titled “The Cost of a Clean Bay,”  were based on the projected amount needed to achieve the 100-plus goals that Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to when they signed the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, which spelled out goals to be met by 2010.

According to the most recent Government Accountability Office report on the Chesapeake Bay, released in 2008, $3.7 billion in direct funding and $1.9 billion in indirect funding was provided to restoring the bay between 1995 and 2004.

In 2005, the Chesapeake Bay Commission published another report outlining ways to restore the bay with limited funding. However, the commission did not specify a new amount needed to restore the Bay.

In short, the states have allocated nowhere near the amount estimated to be needed to restore the Bay.

Funding for bay clean-up efforts has come from a variety of sources. The Chesapeake Bay Program specifically is funded by eleven federal agencies, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The federal agencies are the Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Farm Services Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Navy/Marine Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission notes that funds are allocated into five categories– water quality protection and restoration; sound land use; vital habitat protection and restoration; stewardship and community engagement; living resource protection and restoration. Programs in each include:

  • Water quality protection and restoration covers areas such as nutrients and sediment and other pollutants. Most of the funding spent so far has gone to water quality protection.
  • Sound land use encompasses items such as development, transportation, and land conservation.
  • Stewardship and community engagement includes partnerships, education and outreach.
  • Living resource protection and restoration deals mainly with species management such as oysters, fish and crabs.
  • Lastly, vital habitat protection and restoration covers items such as aquatic vegetation, watershed, wetlands and forests.

See, It’s Not Just the Bay; It’s the Chesapeake Watershed

By Allison Frick

The legal aspects of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay are baffling.  Each week I spend on the subject I feel as though I am wading deeper and deeper into murky waters, getting my feet stuck in the muddied details of different federal and state programs all designed to help restore, protect or save the Chesapeake.

Stepping back after hours of research and reading, well quite frankly my head hurts.  After three weeks on the beat, all the information, stats, and facts I have collected were still swirling around in my mind.  Today, all that changed, I wouldn’t say it stopped, but to use a completely obvious, not-so-funny, yet very appropriate, bay-related play on words, the sediment settled.

Much like my bad joke, I am embarrassed about how long it took me to appreciate that the sheer size of the Chesapeake Watershed is a major factor in why legal issues surrounding restoration efforts are so complex.  In his book, Turning the Tide, Tom Horton explains just how large the Chesapeake Watershed is.  He writes that even though the bay itself is “small” and “skinny,” at about 195 miles long and 4 to 30 miles wide, the entire system is “about twenty times that size.”

There are rivers and streams that feed the Chesapeake from New York to Virginia.  That means in total there are six states included in the watershed: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and of course New York and Virginia.  It is one thing to know how big the Chesapeake is, and another to really see just how expansive the Chesapeake Watershed is.

Chesapeake Watershed (National Park Service)

The map above is from the National Park Service’s, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, which highlights historic sites and parks throughout the entire Chesapeake Watershed.  The National Park Service publishes a brochure about the bay, and it was a very simple heading  within the “Chesapeake Bay Gateways Map and Guide,” that made me understand just how large the watershed is.  The guide reads, “Gateways: Seeing the Big Picture.”  The brochure states: “The waters of the Bay extend almost 200 miles with 12,000 miles of tidal shoreline…it covers 64,000 square miles…”.  Reading that paragraph and being able to see just how far the watershed extends clarified my understanding of the Chesapeake.

I wanted to take the time this week to share this story about how I came to really grasp the size of the Chesapeake because it proves that seeing and knowing are two very different things.

I grew up on the Chesapeake.  My parents had a sailboat and we would take it out every weekend from before I can remember to the time I was thirteen.  I remember sailing underneath the Bay Bridge on really windy days, and being amazed at just how long it took us to get there.  It is difficult to grasp the complexity of an issue, if one cannot, as the NPS brochure instructs, “…see the big picture.”

In order to understand the laws and programs governing the Chesapeake Bay, the big picture must be taken into account.  The Chesapeake Bay is part of a much larger system, just like state and federal laws are part of the legislative branch.  By examining the Clean Water Act, the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, and the establishment of a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, BayStat and the Maryland State Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Program, my goal is to untangle the net of official efforts being made to restore the bay in a manner that appreciates the sheer size and complexity of the Chesapeake Watershed.

Allison Frick

Map: Courtesy of National Park Service


Chesapeake Bay Health Plans Expand

By Daniela Feldman

With a  goal  of preventing manure and other toxins from contaminating their local waterways in the Shenandoah Valley, Amish farmers from Lancaster County, Pa. have boosted efforts to alter paths of storm water runoff. They are being supported by federal and state environmental officers to clean up a region known for producing dire runoff, according to a Feb. 18 article in USA Today.

Caused by farmers using gross amounts of fertilizer, agriculture runoff, which pushes harmful toxins such as nitrogen and phosphorus into the Chesapeake Bay, is the most dominant pollution source , according to Tom Horton’s Turning the Tide.

Across the Chesapeake estuary, other states also have been promoting awareness of major pollution sources and studying methods to help the Bay’s heath.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. recently announced efforts to create a Chesapeake Conversation Corps for Maryland students and young adults, according to the Baltimore Sun.  The service team would promote energy conversation and environmental protection. The participants would be trained for environmental jobs and serve as advocates for the environment and the Chesapeake Bay.

This efforts seem to be part of President Obama’s renewed effort at addressing numerous environmental issues, such as climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The Obama administration has also been  focused on the Chesapeake Bay, especially after Obama issued an executive order last May which called on the federal government to enhance protection and cleanup efforts in the Bay’s estuaries.

There is some evidence that Chesapeake Bay restoration is on the mind of many environmental activists, which could aid in Bay restoration. Making the Bay healthy requires support from those who live by the Bay and whose lives are directly connected to the Bay, as well as broader scale efforts.

Restoration efforts have been on the government’s agenda for decades and billions of dollars have been spent, yet the Bay’s health is still subpar.

I wonder if this is the time when things will change, when more people and officials will become active to restore such a valuable and rich ecosystem.


Oysters Are Greener Than You Think

By Megan Pratz

So we understand that the Chesapeake Bay oyster is in danger. Why is it so important? Why should you care?

First, many people find the oyster delicious, raw or cooked. Watermen are able to sell them to restaurants year-round. But even if you don’t enjoy them, oysters do much more than fill bellies.

Oysters rest on the bottoms of the Bay and its tributaries, creating reefs. These reefs can sustain several other species including fish and small crabs.

read more


Maryland Watermen Fish for Ideas in the Gulf of Mexico

By Kate Yanchulis

Maryland watermen escaped freezing temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay area this week for balmy Florida weather. But they weren’t on a vacation– more like a business trip.

Members of the Maryland Watermen Association participated in a “Fishermen Exchange” hosted by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and Environmental Defense Fund Feb. 15-17, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. The Shareholders’ Alliance, a commercial fishing trade organization dedicated to making the industry environmentally sustainable in the Gulf of Mexico, ferried the Chesapeake watermen to ports around Tampa, Florida, including Clearwater, Cortez, St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach, teaching them about the resource management plan put in place in the Gulf of Mexico that has helped red snapper population recover and boosted a fishing industry on the decline.

The organizations hope the exchange of ideas will foster alliances and awareness of problems shared by the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and waters around the globe. These include eutrophication, an excess of nutrients in the water from farm runoff, air pollution, and other sources; habitat degradation and overdevelopment; and dead zones, areas of water with no oxygen. They also placed particular focus on the plight of the bay’s blue crabs in comparison to the Gulf’s red snapper.

The Chesapeake watermen observed the Gulf fishermen at work and participated in discussions about resource management plans to see how one might be implemented in the bay. The plan would include providing state governments with more comprehensive input on regulations and mandates, participating in on-boat monitoring and data gathering programs, and other measures designed to increase cooperation and sustainability.

A particularly hot topic was limiting catches with individual harvest quotas. With Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) in place, according to the GMFSA, “Federal officials say a new red snapper assessment suggests overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico ended ahead of a 2010 deadline and recently recommended an increase in the Gulf’s total allowable red snapper catch.”

“We’re seeing true sustainability in our revenues, our relationships and our resources,” said TJ Tate, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “We’re happy to show the Maryland Watermen and others that this can be done.”

The plan would need to be tweaked for Maryland watermen. Though the conference focused on blue crab, the watermen often do not just harvest one species, but many. Still, it provides a good starting point.

More efforts such as this one are needed. At least two exchanges more are being planned in Gulf area for later this year, and from Jan. 30-31, more than fishermen from all over the country, from Gulf to Alaska, came to Ocean City for East Coast Commercial Fishermen’s & Aquaculture Trade Exposition, organized by the Watermen’s Association, to discuss issues facing their industry.

But the Chesapeake needs even more. These issues must be recognized not just as a local problems but as global concerns. If people come together and share successes, failures, and new ideas, everyone can benefit.


Oyster Dredging Changes Debated

By Alex Moe

Chesapeake Bay oysters continue to be at the heart of much debate. There is now legislation being discussed by the Maryland General Assembly that may change the way watermen are allowed to dredge for oysters.

HB 218, if passed, would permit use of certain types of drivers to aid in dredging. Drivers are plates that use water pressure to keep dredges down on the water’s bottom.  Many watermen came to the bill hearing in support of the proposed changes, stating that these devices would make oyster harvesting easier.

There have been many regulations on power dredging in the Bay aimed at controlling harvests since the oyster population is so low. As decided in 2003, only in certain areas can watermen with permits power dredge using bars that meet specific requirements.

Could this bill further deplete the Bay’s oysters? Delegate D. Page Elmore, R-Wicomico, who is sponsoring the legislation, told the Capital News Service that the bill “does not expand power dredging in any way, shape or form.”


Another Sliver of History Discovered?

By Zettler Clay

Source: Integration and Application Network

Chesapeake Bay historian Vince Leggett believes he has discovered a pivotal piece of history: Enslaved African-Americans used the bay to escape to freedom, as a part of the Underground Railroad.

As if the bay needed anymore patchwork in its rich historical quilt.

Whether this is true or not cannot be said for certain, but Leggett’s research lends considerable evidence that the bay was an enabler of freedom for enslaved African-Americans. It also destroys a “silent” myth about African-Americans not being adept at sailing boats in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Leggett writes on a childhood experience where he was in a school play about the Underground Railroad:

At one point, the teacher told us to pretend we were escaping from slavery by crawling through the woods on our hands and knees, with Harriet Tubman in the lead. While I did as instructed, I simply could not see how Harriet Tubman could have made it all the way to Canada without using a boat; every map I saw of Maryland’s Eastern Shore had water all over the place.

A couple of points give credence to Leggett’s claim:

  • Harriet Tubman was from Dorcester County, Maryland. She escaped from slavery when she was a teenager, and reportedly went back to rescue many of her family first. Dorcester County is considered the heart of the “Chesapeake Country.”
  • Frederick Douglass, who was born and raised in Maryland, wrote in his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave that as a youth, he predicted that “this very bay shall yet bear me to freedom.”

Douglass didn’t explicitly state that the bay led him or thousands of African Americans to freedom. But history may say it for him.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here:
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