Browsing articles from "April, 2010"

EPA, Local Governments Propose Anacostia Dumping Limits

By Justin Karp

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the District of Columbia and Maryland, is imposing a new, lower Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) on the Anacostia River, the agency announced Friday.

Facing increasing trash, runoff and pollution levels throughout the Anacostia watershed, the District and the state are working with the EPA to enact the new TMDL.

The Anacostia will be only the second river in the country and the first in the Mid-Atlantic with a trash dumping limit. The Los Angeles River, which runs from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach in Southern California, is the other.

A draft copy of the new Anacostia TMDL cites several ways that trash buildup will be reduced, including:

  • new storm drain capturing technology
  • curtailing of illicit dumping
  • regulation of trash removal and prevention

The EPA made this announcement only four days after the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Project released a $1.7 billion plan to clean up the river, its branches and the wetlands surrounding it.

About 60 of the over 700 projects the plan outlined involved trash regulation and collection along the banks of the river and its offshoot waterways, which extend into Montgomery and Prince George’s County.


Anacostia Cleanup Begins in Earnest

By Justin Karp

Less than a week after the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Project announced a $1.7 billion effort to restore and clean up the trash-strewn, polluted river, the Anacostia Watershed Society began the effort with a bang.

In one of many events throughout the National Capital region to mark the 40th Earth Day, the AWS held a large river cleanup at nearly 30 sites throughout the Anacostia watershed, which reaches from the District to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Cleanup sites stretched from as far north as Aspen Hill and Colesville to the banks of the Anacostia directly across the river from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Cleanup organizers told WTOP Radio that Anacostia Park can still be one of the most vibrant and environmentally sound areas of Washington D.C., but trash and pollutants still line the banks of the river.

Watershed Society officials said nearly 60 tons of garbage were removed from the river in the latter half of 2009. They said that the D.C. bag tax has also already helped in cutting down the number of plastic shopping bags they’re finding in the park and along the water.

The Earth Day celebration and cleanup effort was the first major project taken by environmentalists since the AWRP released the multi-part plan to restore the heavily polluted river.

The plan calls for over 700 different projects including:

  • retrofitting stormwater runoff facilities
  • restoring streams
  • creating and restoring natural wetlands
  • fish blockage removal
  • reforestation
  • riparian renewal
  • trash reduction
  • parkland acquisition

AWRP worked with the governments of the District, Maryland, Virginia, the EPA and Prince George’s and Montgomery to produce the report and action plan.


Anacostia River: The Need to Clean

By Alex Moe

Like many of the rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, the Anacostia River is dirty. It is filled with litter, sewage, and a slew of chemicals that contaminate the waters. And according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “The Anacostia River is the Washington, D.C. area’s greatest source of toxic pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Officials have been working for the past two years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find a solution to make the river healthier. And on April 19, local and federal officials revealed a $1.7 billion dollar plan aimed at combatting the Anacostia’s problems.

The Anacostia River Watershed Restoration Plan lists more than 3,000 projects that could improve the ailing river. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Washington Post that much more needs to be done, but that, “Today, we’re taking, I think, a giant step forward for a new life for the Anacostia River.”

A major part of the plan includes putting the Anacostia on a “trash diet.” This move, O’Malley says, will make it the first river on the East Coast where the total amount of trash will be limited every day.

But none of the money needed to help restore the “forgotten river” has yet been budgeted, which leaves many to wonder if and when the plan will be implemented.


It’s Earth Day. Again.

By Sharon Behn

It’s Earth Day again. What’s changed?

Author and environmental reporter Tom Horton, speaking about the destruction of the once magnificent Chesapeake Bay estuary, has chided that we tend to write about the wreckage and not about what is driving the train.

He is quite right. Reporters are charged with covering the facts in front of them, and have not always felt emboldened to go behind the visible destruction to harder-to-quantify issues, and qualify reasons for the crash.

The public also has tended to focus on the debris and aftermath of agricultural, storm-water, construction and development policies rather than look into what they can do to alter those policies and change their own polluting habits.

But that is beginning to change. After the environmental outrages of a couple of decades ago (Love Canal, New York; Times Beach, Missouri; Pocomoke River, Maryland) the anger eased, but environmental groups ramped up their work.

Today, there is considerable money being poured into environmental research, a lot of sweat is being spent by advocates ensuring that existing legislation is being adhered to, and a lot of grass-roots organizations are working to bring about change on a local level.

The question that is finally being addressed is how much of the pollution we are all personally responsible for: we are all driving that train.

So here are some of the changes:

The Department of Defense is moving to use less petroleum: The U.S. Air Force today launched the Green Hornet by flying over the Chesapeake Bay. The sophisticated F/A-18 twin-engine fighter jet will have its tanks 50 percent filled with oil refined from the crushed seeds of the flowering Camelina sativa plant.

The Executive Branch is supporting pro-environment innovation: Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said progress in the past 40 years since the first Earth Day is about more than just law, reported the Associated Press.  It’s also about innovation that made cleaner cars. And that innovation, Sutley said, “is going to be the answer for tackling climate change.”

National lawmakers also are becoming more active: Last year, Democrat Henry Waxman of California helped pass a climate change bill in the House of Representatives, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, although its fate is unclear. On the Senate side, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine have proposed a climate change bill as well, called the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal, or CLEAR.

State governors are becoming more pro-active: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told WTOP radio that the polluted Anacostia River that runs through the nation’s capital, will go on a “trash diet,” becoming the first river on the East Coast and only the second in the nation where the total amount of trash will be limited every day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is flexing some muscle: yesterday it announced plans to require “green roofs,” rain barrels and other measures that trap runoff at new and redeveloped buildings in D.C., making the city a test case for an ambitious effort to stop pollution from flowing into rivers along with the rain. The EPA’s plan, as reported in The Washington Post, contained in a proposed permit for the District’s storm-sewer system, would require developers to trap 90 percent of the water that falls on a plot during a storm.

And finally, the media is taking reporting on the environment more seriously: The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Wired, Reuters, Slate, Grist, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PBS’ “Need to Know” series have all banded together to launch “Climate Desk,” a project that aims to aggregate information on climate control from across different platforms.


Who Benefits from the Crab Revival?

By Zettler Clay

Thanks to evidence that Maryland’s blue crab population has staged a rebound, it’s been a good month for Gov. Martin O’Malley and area crab lovers. The governor may have received a campaign boost, while crab lovers may soon be able to to go to their favorite seafood restaurants and have a better chance of  eating local crabs.

Well for crab lovers, not exactly. Even though Maryland announced the crab population appears to be up sharply this season, the harvest restrictions aren’t likely to be lifted anytime soon. First, Maryland officials want to see how blue crab’s numbers will continue to fare. Even though winter dredging of female crabs  has significantly decreased over the past two years, the harvest actually increased in 2009.

As for O’Malley, news of a crab revival is particularly welcome in a campaign year, coming as it does two years after his administration pushed for crab harvest restrictions that were  unpopular with watermen. Though restricting the crab harvest might seem like a smart move now, it wasn’t always perceived that way. This measure was controversial when passed in 2008. Now, O’Malley may have more credibility when he tells bay preservationists he has their best interest at heart.

Watermen, however, might not be feeling so receptive to O’Malley’s charms. They sacrificed the most for this crab growth. “Our watermen are due gratitude for their endurance during this stock rebuilding, and for their conservation efforts,” Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said.

But watermen have a glimmer of hope for change, as DNR officials said they may consider “modest management modifications” this year.


Stream Restoration: Essential to Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay

By Rabiah Alicia Burks

If rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were healthy, they could help remove excess nutrients, which is considered a key component of restoring the bay  to health.  However, many of the bay’s rivers are not healthy and are themselves in need of restoration.

Dr. Margaret A. Palmer and J. David Allan, in an article published in the Winter 2006 journal of the National Academy of Science, defined river restoration as the repairing of waterways that can no longer perform their essential ecological and social functions, including:

1)   mitigating floods

2)   providing clean drinking water

3)   removing excess nutrients

4)   supporting fisheries and wildlife

Two additional benefits of  healthy streams are that they can increase property values and serve as a hub for recreation, Palmer and Allen said.

Their article, titled “Restoring Rivers,” reported that  more than one-third of river in the United States were impaired or polluted, including those running into the Chesapeake.  In 2005, scientists determined that the “dead zones”  covering nearly one-third of the Chesapeake Bay were a result of excess levels of nutrients and sediments from its rivers, Palmer and Allan reported.

How did the Chesapeake’s streams and rivers get so polluted? What happened to damage them so badly that they lost their ability to perform the essential ecological functions defined by Palmer and Allan?

Palmer and Allan provided multiple historical reasons. Below are a few:

1)   Population growth – people like to live and work near water, causing many industrial plants and cities to grow around them.

2)   Historically, the nation’s waterways have been a dumping ground for waste and raw sewage.

3)   Removal of trees and wetlands to make way for buildings and transportation.

4)   The building of dams.

5)   Paving of streams.


Rainwater Collection: EPA Proposes Rules in D.C.

By Daniela Feldman

Seeking to curb pollution from storm water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  has announced a proposal that will mandate green roofs, rain barrels and other measures to trap dirty rainwater in new and redeveloped areas of Washington, D.C., according to an article in the Washington Post.

The EPA proposal would require developers to trap 90 percent of water that falls on an area during a storm, the article says. The hope is that pollution, chemicals and trash would be caught in rain barrels or absorbed by green roofs, thus minimizing the runoff into rivers that lead to the Chesapeake Bay.

Labeled at the fastest growing cause of pollution to the Chesapeake,  storm water is a huge issue nationwide. As American cities and suburbs expand, development and the amount of impervious surfaces increase, causing dirty water to flow into fresh waters after big storms.

The EPA plan for the District would require developers to trap the first 1.2 inches of rain that falls during a storm. Federal buildings would be required to trap the first 1.7 inches.  This plan is aimed at D.C.’s storm-sewer system as a way to revamp the way the city handles contaminated water.


Water Stewardship Inc. Wants to Help the Agricultural Industry Help Itself

By Kate Yanchulis

What are the best ways to convince farmers and corporations that helping the Chesapeake Bay helps themselves?

Answering that question is mission critical for Tom Simpson, the executive director of Water Stewardship Inc.

On April 16, Simpson, a former professor of environmental science at the University of Maryland, addressed a small audience of scientists, farmers and citizens at the third annual Conservancy and Coldwater Summit in Waynesboro, Va., trying to teach them how efforts to clean up the bay can also benefit them, according to the Waynesboro News Virginian. For example, they can get government grants to help restore their local tributaries and make a direct impact, even if they are located in the Shenandoah Valley more than 150 miles from the Chesapeake proper.

The event offered a window into how Water Stewardship Inc. strives to improve water quality. The non-profit organization is based in Annapolis, but also works in other watersheds, hoping to change the culture of water stewardship across the country.

To achieve its lofty ambitions, Water Stewardship Inc. studies methods to reduce pollution, particularly nutrient runoff from farming and agricultural industries. It wants to work with corporations to help them implement better practices in their policies above and beyond those required by federal state governments, believing environmental stewardship will be a future hallmark of a successful business. Already, it is developing partnerships with General Mills and SYSCO Corporation.

It also plans to provide resources to farmers and other individuals in (or simply affected by) the food industry supply chain to help them learn how to put in place more effective methods to improve the bay’s health and remain on the forefront of a changing industry.

Water Stewardship Inc. was founded in 2008 and has dived headfirst into its work. As a pilot project in the water cleanup effort, its programs bear watching by corporations, lawmakers and citizens interested in the success of the bay restoration drive.


Chicken Poop Lawsuit Sparks Debate About Accountability, Freedom

By Kate Yanchulis

The University of Maryland’s law clinic wants Perdue Farms Inc. to take charge of its chicken poop.

The environmental law clinic’s decision to represent environmental advocacy groups in a lawsuit against Perdue, a leader of the state’s poultry industry, has spurred intense discussion about academic freedom. But it has also brought up big questions of accountability in the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Clean Water Act citizen lawsuit, in which the clinic is representing Kathy Phillips, the executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, and other environmentalists, sparked anger among state legislators.

Though the defendant is Perdue as a whole, the case focuses on a small Eastern Shore farm contracted by the company to grow chickens. The suit says the farmers, Alan and Kristin Hudson, stored manure from the chickens next to a drainage ditch, funneling pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. It placed responsibility for the pollution upon Perdue, but the Hudsons still expressed worry that legal costs from the case could bankrupt their farm.

The lawsuit raises important questions about where responsibility for chicken poop lies, whether with the large company that owns the chickens or the small farmers who grow them. The answer could change the way pollution is regulated in the state.

But some Maryland lawmakers said the clinic is using government funds to attack family farmers and push a narrow agenda, bringing up a different debate about scholastic independence. State senators initially voted to withhold $250,000 from law school’s budget until it turned over information about the clinic’s clients and funding, hoping to “send a message that the law school should not target small farmers when choosing cases,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

“Small family farms on the lower Eastern Shore have survived only because of the poultry industry,” state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus told the New York Times. “If we have this harassment in the courts, they’re going to go away.”

Many saw this as an assault on academic autonomy, and protests rang out across the country, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch to the National Law Journal. So when reconciling House and Senate forms of the state budget on April 6, the Maryland legislature ceded to the pressure and did not cut the law school’s funding. However, it did still request information about the clinic’s clients and finances from the past two years, meaning the debate is far from over.

Meantime, accountability for pollution, an issue that was pushed to the background by the legislative wrangling, also remains unresolved.

As Eric Hartley of the Annapolis Capital wrote in his column, the lawsuit showcases what he sees as one of the chicken industry’s biggest problems: Corporations such as Perdue own chickens, but their manure belongs to the individual farmers. So  responsibility for nutrient pollution from chicken feces reaching the bay can fall to farmers, leading to small family farms bearing responsibility in cases such as this one.

Hartley applauded the suit for taking on Perdue and trying to hold the company accountable for pollution from its chickens, tying debate over this case to the larger effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.


Stormwater Update: The Votes are In

By Allison Frick

On April 6, the intense debate that had been raging in Annapolis about whether the state’s new stormwater regulations were too hard on developers came to a controversial end when a Maryland legislative panel approved some relaxed regulations.

The House-Senate Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review approved the emergency changes to the regulations put forth by the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE),  which had stirred heated debate among developers and  environmentalists.

Developers and local officials were worried that the new regulations would impede development by imposing high costs on developers.  Some environmental groups expressed concern that the weakened restrictions approved on April 6 would put the Chesapeake Bay at greater risk.

The hearing lasted for three hours, and as a result of the vote to approve the relaxed regulations, many construction projects will be held to old building standards.  Local news reports covered the hearing and the reactions of individuals on either side of the debate:

  • Baltimore Sun, “Easing of storm-water pollution rules approved,” by Tim Wheeler
  • The Capital, “Vote ends messy stormwater debate,” by Pamela Wood
  • WBAL Report, “Lawmakers Reach Deal on Stormwater Regs,” by Robert Lang and AP
  • WTOP presentation of the Frederick News Post story, “Builders, Realtors Hit Hard in Frederick,” by Ed Waters Jr.

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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