Browsing articles from "February, 2010"

Oysters Are…?

By Alex Moe

In all the time I spent learning about the Chesapeake Bay and eating the delicious seafood that comes from it, I really had no idea about the creatures I was eating. An interesting piece the Annapolis Capital published about oysters got me thinking about this topic. I’m not going to list all 10 things the article says people do not know about oysters, but I wanted to highlight two that really struck me.

First, oysters often change gender. It never occurred to me that this was even possible. After looking into this a little more, I discovered that sex change is not all that uncommon in fish and other sea creatures. The article goes on to talk about how oysters often start out as male and then change to females. How does this affect the current state of the bay’s oyster population?

And second,  when you eat a raw oyster, it is likely still alive. Thankfully, I do not tend to enjoy oysters and have always been more of a crab and shrimp person, because this fact disgusted me. At least with crabs we get from the Chesapeake Bay, they get steamed before consumption, but with oysters, they are alive and can wiggle in your mouth.

Now I am interested in looking into facts about other seafood we may not know, because this article definitely taught me a lot about oysters that I did not have a clue about.


Melting Snow May Stress Shorelines

By Megan Pratz

After a record breaking winter, the Chesapeake Bay is facing what may be a record breaking thaw.

Historically, after a large snowfall, the Chesapeake has to cope with runoff and flooding of the bay and its tributaries. During the last large blizzard in 1996, the town of Port Deposit, Maryland, experienced so much excess water and ice that residents were forced to evacuate.

This storm may have an aftermath, too.  As the snow begins to melt off, the massive amount of water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries could flood shorelines. Cities are already preparing, in anticipation for warmer temperatures and rain that would melt the snowpack more quickly.

Annapolis has made sandbags available in their vulnerable locations of City Dock and Eastport. Ocean City is closely monitoring its shorelines for erosion that is expected with flooding.

At this point flooding has not been an issue. But cities still want to be prepared for what may be a serious situation.


CBF Gives the Chesapeake Bad Grades

By Allison Frick

If you’re from Maryland, “Save the Bay” is a turn of phrase you hear a lot and don’t have to think twice to know it’s about the Chesapeake. What you may not realize, though,  is that an independent organization is behind the motto: the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

It was founded in 1970, and is dedicated (as its slogan suggests) to saving the bay through social and political means.  The foundation filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2008, demanding that the federal government comply with the Clean Water Act and play a greater role in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

read more


Chicken Litter Debate Rages on Eastern Shore

By Justin Karp

It has been widely written in books and scientific reports that one of the biggest– if not THE biggest– polluters of the Chesapeake Bay comes in the form of excess nitrogen and phosphorus from farm runoff and manure.

Now, thanks to budget cuts, chicken manure– a waste product  highly sought after by farmers to fertilize their land — is not being removed from the bay watershed as much as it once was.

At one point, according to, state funds were used to used to truck over 40,000 tons of chicken waste from farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that were willing to sell it to other farms off the Shore. Now that a good chunk of the government funding for the transport program has been cut, more of the manure is staying on the Shore. read more


EPA to Host Bay Webinar on Feb. 25

By Brian Hooks

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold its first Chesapeake Bay-related event of the year  next  Thursday, Feb. 25–a Web seminar updating the public on the EPA’s efforts to establish pollution limits for the bay.

The webinar will run from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and will cover the EPA’s latest plans to set maximum daily pollution limits in the Bay watershed, or what it calls Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL).

This webinar will likely review how the EPA intends to go about its second round of public forums, which it plans to hold before establishing the daily pollution limits by the end of this year. Anyone who wants in on the webinar can sign up here (you must do so ahead of time).

From November through mid-December of 2009, the EPA held forums to discuss and answer questions in regard to setting a TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay. Every week, the EPA answered questions from local businesses, citizens and spokespersons from numerous environmental groups.

The forums were to be the first of two rounds of meetings on pollution limits throughout the six-state (and District) watershed. One of the biggest issues of the meetings was what specific powers would the EPA hold as leverage to get states to cooperate, and that answer took some shape in a Dec. 29 letter sent to each of the states.

In the letter, the EPA lists a number of actions it may choose to take if states fall short on goals of pollution reduction, including increasing jurisdiction and oversight of pollutant permits, establishing more waste responsibilities for specific areas, and conditioning or redirecting EPA grants.

But the EPA also said it considers these precautions to be more of a “backstop,” and that it  fully expects compliance and cooperation from all of the states and the District.


A Tribute to Tom Wisner, the Bard of the Bay

By Kate Yanchulis

Local musician Tom Wisner, who dedicated his songs and his life to the Chesapeake Bay, recently made public that because of the progression of his lung cancer, he has moved to the Hospice House in Prince Frederick, Md. There, according to the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance-Star, he will face what could be his final battles against the disease.

The 80-year-old has fought lung cancer for more than a year, all the time remaining active in the community. The man who worked for more than 40 years as an educator, starting with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, Md., and moving on to travel to schools across the area, knows no other way to live than through the Chesapeake.

He organized his writings, photographs, artwork and the more than 140 interviews he conducted with those who live along the Chesapeake Bay, and give them to the Calvert Marine Museum.

“They are the songs and stories of the sailing oystermen,” he said of the donated archive. “The sun-tanned, quiet breed of watermen whose lives are bound in the regional traditions to follow on the water.”

And not content to compile his old works, he also worked diligently to record a new CD, “Follow on the Water,” available from the Web site of CHESTORY, the Center for the Story of Chesapeake Life and Culture that he co-founded to encourage artists to celebrate and raise awareness for the Bay.

Though he has stopped performing for large crowds except on rare occasions, he and his band still took time recently to play some of his new songs for Gov. Martin O’Malley. And on Jan. 31, Wisner and other musicians took part in “A Bay’s Life in Story and Song: A Celebration of Tom Wisner” at Avalon Theatre in Easton, Md., giving fans one more chance to hear him and imprint him in their memories.

If you have never heard the musician, the Washington Post’s 2009 profile of Wisner includes three audio tracks of the World Folk Music Association’s 2002 John Denver Award winner. Especially take the time to listen to and linger over “Chesapeake Born,” which might as well be the official song of the bay and its people, and appreciate all that its creator has given to the Chesapeake and the legacy he will leave behind.

“I’m Chesapeake born, I’m Chesapeake Free, I’m Chesapeake bound, flowing with ease…”


Reducing Runoff the Organic Way

By Sharon Behn

Even the briefest research into the health of the Chesapeake Bay shows that the issue is very complex, involving six states and many sectors of society, from farmers in New York to housing developers in Maryland to watermen in Virginia.

Many contend that the runoff from farms, which can include high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers and manure, is having a disastrous effect on the quality of the water in the Bay.

So some have turned to organic farming, which does not rely on chemical fertilizers and tends to work to improve soil and water health. Organic farmers typically also focus on water management and safe environmental practices – all of which can aid in helping the Bay recuperate.

And the states are helping.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recently approved 13 farms for its Path to Organic farming transition program.  These farms range from 13-acre produce farms to 280 acres and include dairy, beef, poultry orchard and vegetable farms.

The program is the first state or privately funded organic transition program of its scope in the country, and has as one of its purposes to evaluate organic  farming practices as ways to improve soil health and protect water quality, according to Pennsylvania State Rep. David Kessler, who helped create the program.

Kessler told a Pottsville, Pa. newspaper that organic methods reduce the amount of nitrogen in local drinking water, reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and improve air quality.

New York State contains the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and there, too, the agricultural community is changing farming practices to improve the environment. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, farmers are “emerging as one of the leaders in environmental stewardship.

One of the farmers highlighted by the NRCS is dairy farmer Kathie Arnold in Cortland, N.Y., who operates a 140-cow dairy farm on some 700 acres of land. The land is on the Tioughnioga River Watershed, which is part of the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In order to improve environmental conditions, Arnold composts the manure produced on the farm, and has a roof water management system to keep clean water. She also built laneways for the cows, and installed a concrete pad in the barnyard’s high-traffic area to prevent the runoff from flowing into the Tioughnioga River – instead the manure is gathered and deposited in a storage pit.

With an increased interest in organic food and produce from local farms, and state-funded incentives, more farmers may be interested in switching to organic farming. It would be interesting to see if there is any way to measure what kind of impact these farms are having on the Bay’s health and if any more incentives are being contemplated


Competition Brewing As Stakeholders Joust For Control of Bay’s Future

By Zettler Clay

Source: Wiki Commons

It’s shaping up like a championship bout.

In one corner are the “protagonists”, the environmentalists, Chesapeake Bay lovers and stakeholders (collectively the “Rocky” of this match) in preserving the cleanliness of the bay.

In the other corner stand the “antagonists,” the farmers, developers and other stakeholders in agricultural production and development, groups that sometimes operate at the expense of the bay’s cleanliness.

We’ve seen this match before. But there are new wrinkles: President Obama’s backing and a new bill called the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, proposed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The current political landscape offers plenty of challenges to passage of this bill. The Chesapeake clean water act could become another football in the political game that the Republicans and Democrats like to engage in, which might put a damper on real reform to the bay.

While political maneuvering is always a concern with ambitious legislative measures, it is even more so in an election year, especially one in which the president is promising to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Pro-farming and agriculture lobbyists undoubtedly will attempt to stymie this bill, arguing that it would increase expenses for farmers by requiring them to reduce their run-off (pollution) and thus slow down food production.

Local environmentalists support it because of the obvious benefits to the Chesapeake Bay. National environmentalists support it because it could set a precedent for stronger and wider enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

The bill’s success likely will boil down to two major factors: party cohesion (all 59 Democrats would likely need to be on board if this bill has a prayer of passing in the Senate) and constituent mobilization and support. Citizens, advocacy groups and corporations alike will have to make their voices heard if they hope to persuade their representatives to resist the lobbying they will face from opponents.

If national trends and history are any indicator, then the environmentalists have a major hurdle to leap.


Revisiting the Bay’s Dialect

By Zettler Clay

Source: Wiki Commons

Last week, I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post about the Chesapeake Bay. The piece was written about five years ago, but is still no less important to the full understanding of the bay’s effects on this region.

The headline:

“Bay’s Dialects Slowly Dying: As City Encroaches and Watermen Leave, Linguists Try to Preserve Vernacular”

During this course spring and summer, we’ll explore how the bay’s restoration rhetoric and efforts impacted the citizens in the Northeast region. Seafood, agriculture and pollution will undoubtedly be hot topics. But from a culture standpoint, the linguistics of the people on the coast of the bay are as much a telltale sign of the bay’s vitality as any other factor.

“*Now, linguists are trying to record and preserve these ways of speech. They fear that soon the bay will be overtaken by a suburb’s interchangeable sense of place — and that the land and language here will be the same as anywhere else.”

I’m very much interested in the differing dialects among the many different coasts in the six states that the bay touches. Though there are a “vast array of vocabularies and accents” along the bay, there is something to be said about language as a preserver of history and community. As with gentrification, the language of an area is altered by the incoming group. In the case of the bay, language is becoming more homogenized toward mainstream culture (“kyar” becomes “car or “Bawlmer” becomes “Baltimore”).

How does this linguistic change relate to the conditions of the bay? Is it mere correlation or does one’s alteration cause the other’s?


Can Farming Incentives Aid Bay Restoration?

By Allison Frick

On May 12, 2009, President Obama released an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration. It identifies the bay as a national treasure and reiterates its importance as “the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world.”

Agriculture is one of the main sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but reducing polluted runoff from farms has proved to be a major challenge. Some believe what’s needed are stricter regulations and better financial incentives for farmers, according to a September 2008 report in the Baltimore Sun.

Such financial assistance programs subsidize the cost of what the Maryland Department of Agriculture calls best management systems, farming practices targeted at protecting and improving the environment.

These programs are  addressed in Part Four of President Obama’s executive order, “Agricultural Practices to Protect the Chesapeake Bay,” which focuses on prioritizing watersheds and implementing “…conservation practices that most efficiently reduce nutrient and sediment loads to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Here is a list of the current financial assistance programs available for farmers through the Maryland Department of Agriculture:

  1. MACS: grants (covering up to 87.5 percent of cost) to install grassed waterways, natural filtration systems (trees and grasses) and animal waste management systems that reduce soil erosion and protect water sources that feed into the bay
  2. CREP: the government essentially rents land from farmers who agree to halt production on sensitive crop or pastureland for 10 to 15 years
  3. Cover Crop: pays farmers (by the acre) to plant cover crops that reduce soil erosion and limit nutrient runoff
  4. Manure Transport: (intended for animal producers) the government helps farmers pay to have excess manure taken off their farms

The (officially urgent) question facing lawmakers is: What is the most effective way to ensure that collaboration between farmers and legislators leads to a healthier Chesapeake?

Allison Frick

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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