Browsing articles in "Regulation"

Chesapeake Bay Gets Federal Help

By Megan Pratz  //  Cleanup, Government, Regulation  //  40 Comments

The Obama administration yesterday announced its long-promised plan to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including tougher curbs on pollution and expanded programs to protect land from development.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson detailed the plan at a news conference along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Many of its elements already had been announced in the 12 months since President Obama issued an executive order directing federal agencies to draft plans to clean up what he called a “national treasure.”

This week, everyone seemed eager to share their opinions of the clean-up effort.

Scientist Kent Mountford spoke to Capital News Service earlier this week about his fears for the bay.

“The Obama administration sort of gave a real firm charge to the EPA to come on, get it together, let’s clean up the Chesapeake Bay. But the resources, the muscle is not there,” Mountford said.

Mountford is an avid sailor who retired from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to enjoy the bay before it dies: “I go out on my boat and try to soak up some of what’s left.”

And it’s not just people speaking up.

Choose Clean Water, a meta-coalition, encompassing 40 different activism groups, released a letter about the federal plans. The Baltimore Sun said its chief concerns are “tough consequences” for states if they fail to uphold the federal standards.


Crab Population Up, Oysters Remain Scarce in Chesapeake Bay

By Megan Pratz  //  Crabs, Fishing Industry, Regulation, oysters  //  25 Comments

Photo courtesy of UMCES

The blue crab population in the the Chesapeake Bay is up 60%, but the oyster population remains drastically low, despite concentrated efforts to restore it.

Overall, Maryland state and federal government funds totaling $40 million have gone to protect and grow the oyster population.

The state’s plan? More regulations to protect more areas of the bay to save more oysters. And the watermen are not happy about it.

Jackie Bowen, a Calvert County waterman, opposes oyster sanctuaries. He said in a public forum earlier this year, “We try to make a living out there. We don’t want to be out of business.”

Despite concerns like Bowen’s, the Department of Natural Resources hopes to submit a proposal for new sanctuaries soon.

And even though these sanctuaries would protect oyster beds, DNR knows this is serious business for watermen.

“We want to be sure we get it right, as right as we can,” DNR assistant director of fisheries Mike Naylor told the Washington Post. “These sanctuaries are permanent.”


EPA, Local Governments Propose Anacostia Dumping Limits

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.


Who Benefits from the Crab Revival?

By Zettler Clay  //  Crabs, Fishing Industry, Regulation  //  28 Comments

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.


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

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Agriculture, Pollution, Regulation  //  36 Comments

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.


Stormwater Update: The Votes are In

By Allison Frick  //  Government, Pollution, Regulation, Stormwater Runoff  //  40 Comments

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.

Oyster Sanctuary Plan Irks Watermen

By Zettler Clay  //  Fishing Industry, Regulation  //  27 Comments

In an effort to decrease the number of “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay, some Maryland legislators support the call for more oyster sanctuaries issued by Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

But this has been met with fierce opposition from watermen, who contend the sanctuaries could put many of them out of business.

Proponents believe sanctuaries can help revive the bay’s oyster population and clean the bay–and that a healthy Chesapeake should take priority over the livelihood of watermen.

“Hunter-gatherers in society are being squeezed out all over the world,” Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) testified at the House Environmental Matters Committee during the legislative session that concluded this week. “This is not one of the industries of the future.”

But many watermen believe pollution is the main cause of lowered oyster counts in the bay, not watermen and their fishing. Watermen lobbied in the Maryland General Assembly this year to delay or defeat the plan to create additional oyster sanctuaries.

To help revive the bivalves, Gov. O’Malley has been promoting a plan to expand the number of oyster reefs in the bay deemed “no harvesting” zones. Opponents pushed a proposal to delay creation of these sanctuaries for a year or more, but their measure died when legislators adjourned this week, according to the Bay Daily blog.

Other plans are afoot to boost the oyster population through aquaculture. On April 3, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources submitted a proposal for federal stimulus funds in the amount of $10 million to fund oyster-related projects. In that proposal, DNR recommended the infusion of ariakensis (Asian oysters) into the bay.

But on April 6, that proposal was criticized as ecologically risky by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recommended a native-only oyster restoration plan instead. The native-only plan drew praise from the governors of Maryland and Virginia.

While reducting algae blooms in the bay has long been a priority for bay preservationists,  environmental agencies also have been trying to figure out a plan to replenish oysters, which act as a natural filter to clean the water. The decline in the Chesapeake’s oysters has been steep, with 80 percent of oyster bars disappearing from Maryland’s waters over the past 25 years, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil.


Blue Crab Population Up 60 Percent

By Alex Moe  //  Fishing Industry, Regulation  //  33 Comments

Photograph by Alex Moe

Watermen and scientists spent the winter months counting the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and have finally released their findings. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources annual winter crab dredge survey report determined that the crab population has increased 60 percent in the last year. There are now 658 million crabs in the bay. This is the highest crab count since 1997.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced the news on April 14 at the Fisherman’s Inn Crab Deck on Kent Narrows, where he proclaimed it a great day because “The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is actually roaring back, and actually coming back stronger than many would ever have predicted.” O’Malley was joined by many other officials, including DNR Secretary John Griffin and Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker.

The best news of the day, according to Lynn Fegley of DNR’s Fisheries Service, was the increase in the adult crabs because they spawn and produce the next generation of crabs. Fegley said it was the highest the adult crabs have been since the early 90′s.

Photograph by Alex Moe

Even with the apparent turnaround in the crab population, officials are unlikely to lift the current restrictions on crabbing. At the press conference, Griffin said, “Two years does not necessarily make a trend.”  He went on to say he wants to “avoid some of the boom and the bust from the past– 1993 and 1997, where we had a spike up in abundance and then a quick drop off.”

But many who work in the industry, including Jack Brooks, President of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Association and co-owner of a crabmeat processing plant in Cambridge, want more freedom to catch. Brooks said the higher population is good news and hopes it “will enable an easing up on some of those restrictions to enable the folks to get back and benefit from their sacrifices.”

April 1 marked the start of crabbing season in the Chesapeake Bay, and it will be interesting to see how the harvest season turns out this year.

The owner of Fisherman’s Inn, Sonny Stulz, said he is optimistic for Maryland’s blue crabs. “We have to deal a lot with Louisiana and Texas to get our crabs” Stulz said, “so to get them locally would be great.”

CBF applauded the efforts made by Maryland and Virginia to bring back the crabs and said that the work must continue. “This is not the end of the problem of threatened Bay species and a struggling Bay seafood industry,” Baker said, “but it is a sign that managed the right way, the fisheries can respond and even flourish again.”


Permission to Pollute ‘Administratively Continued’ in Some Chesapeake Bay States

By Allison Frick  //  Enforcement, Government, Regulation, Stormwater Runoff  //  1 Comment

Some states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are falling behind in reviewing permits designed to curb stormwater pollution, according to Environmental Protection Agency reports.

Stormwater is the fastest growing source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  It is a serious problem because so much soft  ground with plant cover that once absorbed and filtered pollution out of rainwater has been covered by hard surfaces such as roads, roofs and parking lots.  These impervious surfaces prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground.   Instead, it runs into the streams and rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

In order to control the environmental impact of stormwater, the Environmental Protection Agency set up a permitting program to regulate stormwater runoff called  the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  Permits issued under this program control facilities whose discharges go directly into lakes, rivers and streams from identifiable agricultural, domestic or industrial sources.  For example, runoff from municipal sewage treatment facilities and construction sites are both regulated by NPDES permits.

Many states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are behind in updating the permits that control what kind of discharges and how much of them a facility or company can allow to run off a work site and into waterways.

After the state issues a NPDES permit, it is good for five years.  At the end of that five-year period, (180 days before its permit expires) a facility must apply to have its permit renewed.   When a complete application for renewal is received, but not officially re-issued by a permitting authority, it becomes “administratively continued.”  Put simply, the permit becomes backlogged (this can also include facilities waiting for their first NPDES permit).

The EPA measures how effectively states keep up with backlogged permits by tracking their “percent current rates,”  which is the number of facilities with current permits divided by the total number of facilities.

Facilities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that release one million gallons of runoff per day, individual major permit holders, and those that do not produce as much runoff, individual minor permit holders, both have 90 percent current goals.

Virginia has the highest percent current rates in the bay watershed.  Its rate for major permits is 99.3% and 98.3% for minor permit holders.  EPA reports indicate that West Virginia has the lowest percent current rate for minor permit holders, at 56.3%.  It show s that Delaware, at 65%, and Maryland, at 69.5%, have the lowest percent current rates for major permit holders in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Overall, none of the percent current rates fall below 50% for states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Most percent current rates for both major and minor permit holders are between 70 and 90%, leaving an estimated 20-30% that are backlogged or “administratively continued.”


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.

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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