Browsing articles in "Bay Education"

All Signs Point to the Anacostia

By Justin Karp  //  Bay Education, Cleanup, environmentalism  //  59 Comments

News21 photo by Justin Karp

Signs like the one above, which dot storm drains throughout the portion of Prince George’s County that lies in the Anacostia River watershed, are part of the county’s efforts to curtail pollution and dumping.

Samuel Moki, associate director of the Environmental Services Division of the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, says simple steps such as installing these street signs go a long way toward educating the public on how they can help to restore the Anacostia.

Moki says the billion-dollar, multi-agency and multi-state Anacostia restoration effort is cleaning up what has been one of the most polluted and neglected watersheds in the United States.

–by Justin Karp


Suburbanites Disconnected from Impact on Anacostia

WASHINGTON – The stream that runs behind the houses in Salil Kharkar’s Silver Spring neighborhood impacts the quality of the water in the Anacostia River, just downstream.

The problem is that others on the block might not know that.

“There are strong communities that want to protect their own watersheds,” says Kharkar, a wastewater treatment engineer for D.C. Water.

But, he says, they’re unaware their watershed is the Anacostia’s.

The Anacostia River watershed extends for 176 square miles across Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Washington, D.C. — but only 38 square miles lie in the city itself. The rest encompasses dozens of streams, creeks and branches that extend north into suburban Maryland.

A substantial amount of the multi-million dollar Anacostia cleanup focuses on the 6.8 miles of river that flow through the nation’s capital. But Kharkar and others believe that real progress can’t be made until residents of the watershed living outside the city are educated about the impact of their actions.

“People outside the environmental community are really buying into a future where the Anacostia River is an amenity to the community,” says Brent Bolin, director of advocacy for the Anacostia Watershed Society. But, he says, to get there, more awareness is needed.

While trash buildup and stormwater runoff from streets and parking lots remain the two biggest pollution problems plaguing the river, sediment and nitrogen runoff from upstream sources, such as Sligo Creek, the Northeast and Northwest branches and other Maryland streams, flow unchecked into the Anacostia.

“It’s sort of just letting people know that simple things they can do really make a difference,” Bolin says. “People don’t want to do the wrong thing. They just don’t know what the right thing is.”

He says steps as simple as properly disposing of grass clippings and other yard waste instead of dumping them into streams and creeks can go a long way toward reducing the amount of toxic nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that plague the watershed.

Carlton Ray, who administers a long-term control plan for D.C. Water, says that environmental stewardship is not at the top of the minds of many watershed residents.

“People are struggling to put macaroni and cheese on the table and are busy rushing their kids to soccer practice,” he says. “It doesn’t leave much time for them to ask, ‘What’s this thing about the watershed?’ ”

The long-term control plan is the utility’s effort to significantly reduce the amount of untreated sewage overflow entering the Anacostia from point sources during heavy rains. But both he and Kharkar agree this overflow is only part of the pollution problem in the Anacostia and that additional cleanup efforts from outside the city’s boundaries are vital.

“It’s something that needs to continue to be nurtured,” Ray says.

Ken Yetman, division chief for watershed assessment for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says it doesn’t help that the District sees a disproportionate benefit from a clean river.

“There [are] billions of dollars being invested in new real estate down there along the Anacostia,” he says. “A healthier river will increase property value and will be a greater asset to the District.”

But ultimately, Yetman said, if suburbanites take care of their local streams, “it benefits those downstream. … The cumulative effect is that they care about the [Anacostia] river.”

–by Justin Karp


Bay Scientist: ‘Nitrogen Is Our Oil’

By Sharon Behn  //  Bay Education, Cleanup, Pollution  //  35 Comments

Dr. Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation / News21 photo by Brian Hooks

Dr. Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation compares the Gulf of Mexico's oil spill to the Chesapeake Bay's nitrogen surplus during a recent interview. (News21 photo by Brian Hooks)

The broken ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico is a mirror image of the Chesapeake Bay’s dead zones and chronic decay, warned a leading water quality scientist, Beth McGee.

“Whether it’s impacted by oil, or whether it’s impacted by too much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment, there’s a lot of similarities there,” McGee, who works for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told News21.

“I think it is in a sense that nitrogen is our oil,” McGee said, glancing over her shoulder at the glistening Severn River. McGee was traveling with a News21 team aboard the “Anonymous Source,” a 40-foot trawler owned by the editor of, Glen Justice.

“If you look at the big picture in terms of resources being degraded because of water quality, we have a dead zone that makes a place where animals can’t live or can stress them to the fact that they are more susceptible to disease, which is exactly what oil does,” she said.

The slow pace of the Chesapeake Bay’s deterioration, taking place largely underwater, has led to little public outrage over the gradual disappearance of the estuary’s clear waters, fish and crab.

“I think that’s why they are not outraged: because it is beautiful. You look around, and the Bay on the surface is beautiful,” said McGee. Anyone would have to drop an oxygen probe to the bottom to see the that there is no oxygen there, she added.

“We’re not outraged because it’s not in our face, like it is in the face of the folks in the Gulf, where they can’t go fishing, they can’t buy seafood, they are seeing oil on their beaches,” McGee said.

–by Sharon Behn


Underwater Grasses Up Overall in the Chesapeake Bay

By Alex Moe  //  Bay Education, Crabs, Fishing Industry  //  29 Comments

Bay grasses in the Chesapeake Bay were up twelve percent in 2009–the most grass found in the bay since 2002, according to scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Program. The results of the annual aerial grass survey are giving scientists hope that the health of the bay is improving.

“Because bay grasses are sensitive to even small changes in water pollution, they serve as a key indicator of Chesapeake Bay health,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin said. “Healthy bay grass beds protect shorelines from erosion, produce oxygen and filter polluted water,” Griffin continued.

The underwater grasses are essential for fish and blue crab habitats. And with the crab population up 60 percent in the Bay this year, more grass is needed for the additional creatures.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the grass increase is a good sign for the state’s efforts. “This expansion is an encouraging sign that our pollution control efforts are working,” he said, “A trend that we hope to sustain with accelerated efforts to restore the Bay.”

Although overall the bay grass population is up, there were some areas of the bay that saw a decrease. Anne Arundel County encountered a huge disappointment in the amount of grass seen in its rivers. “There were dramatic declines in grass beds in the Magothy and Severn rivers, and no grass beds were documented at all in the South, West and Rhode rivers,” according to The Capital. Scientists are still working to determine why these rivers did not see an increase in bay grass.


Anacostia River: The Need to Clean

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.


MPT Presents Chesapeake Bay Week, Volunteer-a-thon

By Brian Hooks  //  Bay Education  //  29 Comments

Maryland Public Television is focusing on the Chesapeake this week, just in time for the environmental protection festivities of Earth Day. MPT is running shows about the lives, perils and history of the Chesapeake Bay, including older documentaries and new programs like Chesapeake Bay by Air –an aerial perspective of wildlife on the bay.

As a capstone to the week, MPT will be hosting a Volunteer-a-thon co-sponsored by Bank of America on April 25, where viewers can pledge volunteer hours to helping restore the Chesapeake. Last year, more than 13,717 hours were pledged during the Volunteer-a-thon, with viewers pledging to clean the bay from more than 70 organizations.

Additionally, MPT has a list of organizations within the watershed where people can volunteer. MPT has the programming schedule online and additional resources at the Chesapeake Bay Week website.


Earth Day Shifts Focus To Water

By Megan Pratz  //  Bay Education  //  1 Comment

Photo by Megan Pratz.

Earth Day is coming up on April 22. And in Maryland, many residents are shifting their focus from the earth to the water – the water of the Chesapeake Bay, that is.

The bay’s pollution is sparking people into action on a day when protecting the environment is the main focus.

Earth Day events in the Annapolis area are a tradition. There are festivals, a foot race and even a happy hour. But these activities are not just fun and games.

Jim Brennan, coordinator for the 7th annual Earth Day festival, told the Annapolis Capital the festival is about, “education and action – the ways we can improve the local waterways and the local environment.” read more


D.C.’s ‘Forgotten River’ To Enter New Stage of Restoration

The Anacostia River runs all of 8.4 miles from stem to tip.

Those 8.4 miles of water are among the dirtiest in the nation, yet flow mere miles from the U.S. Capitol Building.

Thanks to heavy runoff from the Washington Navy Yard, antiquated and aging sewer systems in the Near Southeast neighborhood of Washington and heavy amounts of raw sewage, the Anacostia is by far one of the most polluted bodies of water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

And, while D.C.’s other river, the Potomac, continues to see major and continued cleanup and maintenance efforts, the Anacostia has sat for years collecting trash and toxic pathogens. Though revitalization of the Anacostia’s waterfront neighborhoods has progressed, the river itself continues to languish.

Now, though, the mobilization begins.

On Monday, the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership, along with several local politicians, will unveil a new restoration plan for those 8.4 miles of river that snake through the east side of Washington.

Release of the plan comes in the wake of a Department of the Environment study showing that plastic shopping bags made up 21 percent of the trash in the Anacostia, a study that prompted the city to enact a five-cent bag tax to raise funds for cleanup efforts.

Over the next few weeks and into the summer, I’ll be taking a look at what activists, politicians and others are doing to restore these 8.4 miles of river. I’ll also be looking at efforts to revitalize the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. as a bustling business and residential district , to see how that revitalization might affect efforts to clean up the Anacostia.


Chesapeake Bay Health Poor But Improving

Despite efforts by environmentalists, the Chesapeake Bay’s health remains poor, according to the latest report card issued annually by the federal-state program tasked with cleaning up the nation’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay Program this week released its Bay Barometer, which gave the bay an overall average health score of 45 percent out of 100 percent for 2009. On a positive note, the study said 64 percent of the bay’s overall restoration and protection goals have been met, a score that is six points higher than in 2008.

The Bay Barometer is a comprehensive study of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. CBP describes it as a science-based annual review of the progress of achieving Bay health goals and implementing the needed restoration measures. The entire report can be found here.

Although the report may seem disheartening considering all the efforts underway to clean up the bay, there were some positives. For example, the Bay Barometer says that in 2009, “The adult blue crab population increased to 223 million, its highest level since 1993.” It also states that, “Bay Program partners have implemented 62 percent of needed pollution reduction efforts, a 3 percent increase from 2008.”

It is clear that much more needs to be done to improve the health of the bay, but at least there have been slight improvements over the past year.

Beth McGee, a senior water quality specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told The Daily Press that, “Overall, we still have a long way top go.”


Bay Cleanup Faces Another Challenge

By Alex Moe  //  Bay Education, Fishing Industry, Politics  //  17 Comments

Offshore drilling has been banned for years off the Atlantic Coast, but now that is going to change. Earlier this week President Obama announced that he will allow oil and gas drilling near Virginia and other southern states.

This new development could greatly impact the Chesapeake Bay and has raised concerns with environmental groups in the area. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has come out in opposition of the move. In CBF’s Bay Daily, Tom Pelton wrote that, “Drilling would punch a huge hole in the Obama Administration’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. And drilling would leave beautiful and fragile coastlines, such as those along Virginia Beach and Assateague Island, vulnerable to a future as black as oil.”

This move could undermine Obama’s promise to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. And the president of CBF, Will Baker, says that a spill from this new drilling “could destroy an entire year of newborn crabs, threatening the livelihoods of watermen and others.” With crab and oyster populations already at all-time lows, environmentalists fear the move to allow offshore drilling may be detrimental to their survival.

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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