CBF: Pennsylvania Still a Problem with Nitrogen in the Bay

Share

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) assessment of progress made implementing milestone commitments in 2016 found Maryland and Virginia largely on track to meet commitments for reducing pollution and Pennsylvania falling significantly short in reducing nitrogen pollution.

“While there is significant room for improvement in all the states, it is important to note that reduced pollution is benefitting the Bay. Over time, the dead zone is getting smaller, Bay grasses are at record levels, and oysters are rebounding,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The success all three states have had in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is important, but it also masks shortfalls in each of the states’ efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Continued federal and state investments will be key to success on the state level, and we know the payoff will be significant.”

Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the states have committed to implementing 60 percent of the practices necessary to restore the Bay by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025. Over the next year, the states and EPA will assess progress and develop new plans to achieve the 2025 goal.

The two-year milestones provide transparency and accountability for restoration efforts. This assessment is for the first year of the 2016-17 milestone period.

CBF’s assessment looked at the practices the states put in place in 2016, as well as selected programs each state has designed to achieve the long-term goals. (Attached to this email is a narrative summary of the Maryland assessment, and a chart summarizing findings for all six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia.)

Pennsylvania practices

Pennsylvania is significantly off track in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture as well as urban/suburban runoff. Progress in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is on track. Overall progress to reduce nitrogen pollution is significantly off track, but efforts to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution are only slightly off track.

Pennsylvania programs

Pennsylvania’s re-boot committed the Commonwealth to develop and implement an agricultural compliance and enforcement strategy. As part of that strategy inspections were to be conducted on 10 percent of its farms annually. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program and other sources, over 1,100 farms were visited between October 2016 and March 2017, an inspection rate below what is needed to visit 10% of farms. However, the pace of inspections has increased now that the process is more established. Roughly 70% of the farms had the required plans. These inspections, however, only assess whether the required plans exist, not whether they are implemented – a major shortfall of state efforts to date.

Pennsylvania also committed to counting and reporting on agricultural practices that are not government funded. A recent Penn State study reported many practices that the Commonwealth had not counted.

Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are showing mixed success. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in reducing pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. To help jumpstart reductions, the Commonwealth has implemented specific, numeric goals in permits for small municipalities.

“Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction strategy has shown some progress and the Commonwealth is in the process of developing a new watershed implementation plan to carry it toward the 2025 goals,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. “But the Commonwealth is considering yet another budget that falls well short of providing the investments necessary for success. Pennsylvania will only be successful with sustained investments in the right places and on the right practices.

Maryland practices

Maryland is slightly off track reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture, while on track to remove phosphorus and sediment pollution. Urban/suburban efforts have fallen far short for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Maryland’s efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants are on track. Thus, overall efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are slightly off track, while pollution reduction efforts for phosphorus and sediment are on track.

Maryland programs

While seeing success in wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing pollution from septic systems. Technologies exist to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, however the state has stopped requiring those technologies to be used for new systems more than 1,000 feet from tidal waters.

There are requirements in Maryland for large municipalities to develop plans and implement technologies to reduce urban/suburban runoff by replacing 20 percent of impervious surfaces with practices that absorb and filter rainwater. While the Maryland Department of the Environment has reviewed those plans, it has not taken action to correct deficiencies. In addition, draft permits for smaller municipalities fail to require any restoration actions in the next five years.

Maryland is implementing its agricultural phosphorus management tool, which will limit the application of phosphorus on land that already has excess phosphorus. Current programs to match excess manure with farms where it can be used safely may need to be expanded.

“We can feel proud that Maryland got off to a strong start in this epic project to restore the Chesapeake and that state leaders remain committed to the Blueprint. From streams in Western Maryland to tidal creeks on the Eastern Shore, we see evidence of cleaner water. But the job is far from done,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “We must work together to find solutions for polluted runoff in our cities and suburbs, for failing septic systems in rural areas, and for problems from sprawl development. Given the uncertainties around federal leadership on this effort, we urge the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration to tackle the challenges head-on for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations of Marylanders.”

Virginia practices

Virginia is on track to meet its phosphorus goal for agriculture, and slightly off track for nitrogen and sediment. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in meeting nitrogen and sediment goals for urban/suburban runoff, while only slightly off track for phosphorus. Due to its success with upgrading sewage treatment plants, overall, Virginia is on track for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and slightly off track for sediment.

Virginia programs

Virginia’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are continuing to fall short of its goals. While new permits have been issued for both large municipalities and smaller jurisdictions, permit requirements are not sufficient to achieve the necessary pollution reduction by 2025.

Virginia’s agricultural programs have made steady progress, but there is room for improvement. A program funding 100 percent of the costs to fence cattle out of streams was so successful that there is a backlog of more than 400 farmers waiting for funding. And Virginia’s agricultural certainty program has resulted in the approval of 300 plans, covering more than 65,000 acres of cropland. However, implementation of these plans is lagging, Adoption of cover crops is below targets and implementation of forest buffers is also off track.

“It’s not often that we celebrate overachievements, but the incredible progress made in upgrading Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants allows the Commonwealth to remain largely on track for meeting goals to reduce pollution in our waterways,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. “However, the road doesn’t stop here. As we approach 2025, the success of wastewater treatment plants should serve as a model for addressing challenges in cutting polluted runoff from agriculture, cities, and suburbs. As state elections near, I hope Virginia’s next governor will work with legislators to ensure stable and adequate investment in farm conservation practices and support for local governments to reduce polluted runoff.”

CBF Notes: Catch the Last Two Clean Water Concerts by Erika Koontz

Share

As the first official day of summer arrives, so do the final two Clean Water Concert Series performances here.

Photo by Erika Koontz

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Avalon Foundation, Harrison Street between Dover and Goldsborough will be blocked off again on June 24 and July 8 from 6-8:30 p.m. for this free summertime tradition on the Shore. You won’t want to miss this year’s line-up:

Saturday, June 24: U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters

The Navy’s official chorus performs pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between.

Saturday, July 8: The XPD’s

A D.C. area favorite, the XPD’s groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that get people dancing.

Now in its fifth year, the Clean Water Concert Series has gotten off to a fantastic start. People from around the Shore came out on June 3 to enjoy the first show! The Spanish and Portuguese songs of Cantaré, a Latin American group from Washington, D.C., drew in people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. An estimated 1,500 attendees danced, enjoyed the music from a comfortable lawn chair, or caught the up-beat melodies while visiting the exhibitor tables.

More than a dozen community organizations staffed the family-friendly exhibits to educate people about the environment, and to celebrate the progress being made toward clean and healthy waterways on the Shore. Each organization offered an interactive and family-friendly activity that had something for everyone. Side-walk chalk drawings of Chesapeake Bay critters and drips of delicious Nice Farms Creamery ice cream covered the street by the end of the night.

All concerts are free and open to the public. The wide variety of environmental and community exhibits staffed by experts will be on display for children and adults to enjoy. CBF and the Avalon Foundation are pleased to host this opportunity to learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

The concert series promotes community awareness about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a multi-state, science-based plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

Visit cbf.org to learn more.

Pennsylvania Starts to Draft Plan to Address Bay Shortfall

Share

Pennsylvania’s effort to write a more robust Bay cleanup strategy was launched last week in a packed hotel auditorium where more than 200 people gathered to offer their initial thoughts about what a new — and more implementable — plan would look like.

The state is so far behind its Bay cleanup obligations that it is jeopardizing Chesapeake restoration efforts as a whole. All states in the Bay drainage have to write new Watershed Implementation Plans in the next year and a half to guide cleanup their efforts through the 2025 cleanup deadline, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has singled out Pennsylvania’s plan-writing process for increased scrutiny because of its shortfall.

“The challenge is great, but we can do it together,” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell told the gathering, noting that efforts to clean the Bay will also benefit state waterways.

It will indeed be a challenge. According to the EPA’s most recent review, Pennsylvania needs to control 34 million pounds of nitrogen runoff from 2016 through 2025 — about 70 percent of the total remaining nitrogen reduction for the entire Bay watershed.

Nutrient pollution spurs algae blooms in the Bay that clouds the water, blocking sunlight from critical underwater grass beds. When the algae die, they deplete water of the oxygen needed by fish, crabs and other species.

Because of its gaping shortfall, the EPA recently warned state officials in a letter that the agency was ramping up oversight of Pennsylvania’s cleanup efforts and could take further actions if the state doesn’t come up with a viable cleanup plan —one that specifies beefed-up regulations and new funding — in the next 18 months.

“I think everyone in the room is aware of the consequences of us not meeting our obligations,” McDonnell said. Those consequences could include more EPA inspections of farms and municipal stormwater systems, specific nutrient-reduction goals for large-scale animal feeding operations and stormwater dischargers, and mandatory upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, among other actions.

State officials anticipate — at least for now — that 80 percent of the needed nitrogen reduction will come from the more than 33,000 farms in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake basin, which they acknowledge will be a challenge.

“I worry every day about the 80 percent and the pressure on agriculture to get this done,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in an interview.

He said more of the nutrient reduction responsibility may ultimately have to be shifted to other sources. But that won’t happen unless the agricultural sector can show that farmers are stepping up.

As part of that, many county conservation districts, along with state agencies, have ramped up farm inspections since last fall to check that farmers have required conservation plans — and, ultimately, are implementing them. That effort is critical, Redding said, to showing others that the agricultural sector is addressing its challenge.

“You can’t have an intelligent conversation about changing [the 80 percent number] until you really get folks who have a current obligation to do the plan,” Redding said. But it’s a massive job, he said, noting that Lancaster County alone has 5,500 farms. Still, he added, farmers are beginning to accept the oversight, noting that complaints about the increased farm inspections have been fewer than expected.

“There hasn’t been hostility to that,” Redding said. “I’ve had one phone call out of the 1,194 visits that the farmer was really pushing back on why this is happening.”

For any program or new initiative, the key issue will be funding. The EPA, in its letter, said the state needs to show how it will come up with the funds needed to implement the updated Bay cleanup plan. Gov. Tom Wolf has called for $45 million in increased funding over the next three years to help support Bay efforts, but that’s well short of what is needed. EPA officials have estimated the state needs a $50 million to $80 million increase just its agricultural cost-share program.

McDonnell said the governor’s proposal was only a “down payment.” The legislature is considering several proposals that could generate more money for clean water projects, but the viability of those efforts is uncertain, and they are unlikely to be part of the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Funding for state environmental programs has declined over the last decade, and budget deadlocks between the legislature and the governor in recent years have made the situation even worse.

Ensuring that the General Assembly comes up with additional funding, said Cindy Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will be a critical to making any new plan a reality. “Even as we sit here, across the river important decisions are going to be made that will affect our ability to carry out the aspirations of today,” Dunn said, referring to the ongoing General Assembly session in Harrisburg.

Leaders emphasized that while the need to meet Bay cleanup goals is driving action, state water quality will benefit from the work. “This is a clean local water plan for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said.

Indeed, Dunn said the state has enough woes of its own so that water quality conversations “don’t have to include the words Chesapeake Bay to be effective.”

Pennsylvania doesn’t touch the Bay itself, but half of the state, including all or parts of 43 of the state’s 67 counties, drains into the Chesapeake, primarily down the Susquehanna River.

“Tragically, on some of the hottest days of the summer, after a rainstorm, we have to close beaches at parks because the E. coli levels are too high,” Dunn said.

At the June 5 event, about 240 people gathered to share ideas, more than had attended any meetings during the development of earlier Bay cleanup plans developed in 2010 and 2011 — which many considered a top-down exercise that resulted in unrealistic plans.

Repeatedly, officials emphasized that the new plans had to be, in McDonnell’s words, “realistic and achievable and gets us where we ultimately need to go, which is cleaning up local water quality.”

The meeting drew representatives for agriculture, local government officials, conservation districts, watershed groups and others to present ideas — the type of inclusion state officials had hoped to see. So many people wanted to be part of the process that organizers had to turn away several requests to register, said Veronica Kasi, coordinator of the DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office.

They met in small groups to discuss topics as varied as funding, roadside drainage management, local goal-setting, citizen science, messaging and new approaches to riparian forest buffers.

McDonnell said that participation by “everyone who’s partnered with us” on the plan will been necessary to make it a reality.

“Sometimes I walk into a room and conversation shuts down,” he said. “So engaging with conservation districts and engaging with some of the ag associations is essential in getting this done. The encouraging thing to me is that they’ve wanted to be actively engaged as a partner.”

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Chesapeake Bay’s ‘Dead Zone’ Expected to be Larger than Average this Summer

Share

A year after experiencing its best water quality in decades, the Chesapeake Bay is expected to have a larger than average “dead zone” this summer, where fish, crabs and shellfish will struggle to breathe.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are forecasting that the volume of oxygen-starved water in the Bay will grow to 1.9 cubic miles, enough to fill nearly 3.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Dead zone” is the popular term for water that’s low in oxygen, or “hypoxic.” Fish often avoid or leave such areas, but if they’re trapped — or are immobile, like shellfish — they can suffocate.

“The forecast is a reminder that the improvements such as we saw last year are subject to reversal depending on weather conditions—two steps forward, one step back,” said UMCES President Donald F. Boesch.

Last year, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the Bay mainstem and the tidal portions of its rivers were the best they’ve been in three decades. Many areas maintained levels high enough to sustain fish and other aquatic life, and no place experienced “anoxic” conditions, in which there is virtually no oxygen in the water. The diminished dead zone came on the heels of a robust rebound of Bay grasses and improved water clarity in much of the Chesapeake.

But last year’s good conditions stemmed in part from below-average rainfall. This spring, scientists say, heavy rains fell in Pennsylvania and New York, flushing an above-average amount of nitrogen down the Susquehanna River.

Scientists expect an above-average volume of hypoxic water, while the smaller anoxic zone is expected to be average in size early in summer – 0.35 cubic miles — before it grows to slightly larger than average by late summer, at 0.49 cubic miles.

“Although the higher forecasts for this summer seem to buck a recent trend toward lower anoxic volumes in Chesapeake Bay, they are consistent with known links between high river flows and oxygen depletion,” said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

The Bay’s chief water-quality problem stems from nutrient pollution. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm, urban and suburban runoff, and from sewage treatment plants, among other sources, feed massive algae blooms in the Bay and its tributaries. The algae then die and sink to the bottom, where their decomposition consumes oxygen in the water. Typically, a large area of hypoxic water forms each summer, stressing fish and shellfish, while a smaller area experiences anoxic conditions.

This spring’s heavy rains in Pennsylvania and New York delivered 81.4 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay via the Susquehanna, a little more than the long-term average. The dead zone forecast is based on mathematical models developed with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it relies on nutrient estimates provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists say that notwithstanding the return this summer of a worse-than-average dead zone, the Bay’s water quality does appear to be trending better overall.

“Despite this year’s forecast, we’ve made great strides in reducing nutrient pollution from various sources entering the Chesapeake Bay, and we are starting to see positive long-term signs,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “However, more work needs to be done to address non-point nutrient pollution, from farms and other developed lands, to make the Bay cleaner for its communities and economic interests.”

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating federal funding next year for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, in addition to deep cuts in other federal programs that contribute to the restoration effort.

Boesch said the forecast shows why the federal government can’t let up on the Bay restoration effort, which began in the early 1980s. After slow progress and repeatedly missed cleanup deadlines, the EPA imposed a “pollution diet” in 2010. The six states in the Chesapeake watershed and the District of Columbia have until 2025 to take all the steps needed to reduce nutrients and maintain good oxygen levels year-round — which in turn benefits the plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.

“This underscores the critical importance,” Boesch said, “of continued investments by federal agencies in science and monitoring as the states continue to implement the Bay’s pollution diet.”

by Tim Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Good Deal: Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and DNR Preserve 460 Acres on the Bohemia

Share

The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is preserving 460 acres in Cecil County for the future development of a new state park. The Board of Public Works unanimously approved the acquisition this morning.

The new water-access site, located near Chesapeake City, will eventually be called Bohemia River State Park and will complement existing Maryland Park Service properties in the area – Elk Neck, Fair Hill, and Sassafras. This is a big win for land conservation on the Eastern Shore, and more specifically, Cecil County.

“Over the course of the past 27 years, ESLC has been involved with literally thousands of Eastern Shore farms. OBX Farms is truly one of the most beautiful we’ve ever assisted in preserving!” said ESLC Executive Director Rob Etgen. “This purchase will keep the land open, free from future development, and most exciting of all, available to the public for generations to come. ESLC is incredibly proud to play a role in this important legacy.”

The acquisition of OBX Farms was fully funded by Program Open Space, which preserves natural areas for public recreation, and watershed and wildlife protection across Maryland.

In addition to existing agricultural land that will most likely continue being farmed, approximately 14,000 feet of riverfront property will now be available to the public for kayakers, standup paddle-boarders, canoers, and other activities. The property’s rich network of riparian forests and tidal and non-tidal wetlands will provide for habitat restoration and water quality benefits.

Once the acquisition is complete (projected Fall 2017), the department will develop an interim public access plan for the property, which will enable visitors to enjoy passive, nature-based activities until a master plan can be developed. Public access to the new park should begin during the spring or summer of 2018. The public will have numerous opportunities to comment on the master plan as it is being drafted.

For more information, please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165.

Something for Everyone at Chestertown’s First Friday – Photo Gallery

Share

A number of years ago, Chestertown started a First Friday tradition. Local businesses and organizations stay open two or three hours later on the first Friday of each month, usually until 7 or 8 pm.  The tradition has blossomed into a wonderful evening of music, wine and cheese and other snacks at local shops, open galleries, and special displays, lectures, and dramatic presentations.  This past First Friday, June 2, featured a talk on the history of ice cream at the Historical Society, a showcase of musical talent at Bill Drazga’s Music Life store, the display of a beautifully restored log canoe originally built on Tilghman Island in 1894, an exhibition opening at RiverArts, and a pair of One Minute Plays at the Garfield.  All in all, a vivid reminder of what makes Chestertown so wonderful.  And the weather was perfect – temps in the low 70s with a light breeze!

The Mary Julia Hall log canoe was on display in front of the Bordley Center on High Street. The owner is looking for crew. Any volunteers?

 

Hull of the Mary Julia Hall before restoration.

Detail of restored log canoe Mary Julia Hall with Emmanuel Church in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Jones, Sam Scalzo, and Frank Gerber play “All of Me” at the Music Life Showcase of Talent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talent Showcase at Music Life – First Friday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reception at RiverArts for the opening of an exhibit titled “The Journey”.

 

Artist Sihnja An Whitely

RiverArts’ new exhibit has a wonderful display of members’ interpretation of the theme “The Journey”.  The main room has pieces in multiple mediums – from digital art to watercolors to oils. The second room is devoted to a retrospective of artist Sihnja An Whiteley, who has been painting and teaching in Chestertown since 1985.

Sihnja An Whiteley grew up and attended college in Korea where she earned her Batchelor’s and Master’s degrees in European history.  She also studied painting and calligraphy while in Korea. After moving to America, she studied art history and studio arts at Washington College.

Her heart has always been in the arts.  According to the notice on her exhibit at RiverArts, “her paintings are a synthesis of East and West; discipline of the East; freedom and individuality of the West.”

For some time now, the Historical Society of Kent County has held a well-attended series of First Friday talks and presentations.  This month the society had a double feature!  The windows of the Bordley Center on High Street had a display on boats of the river and the bay.  On the street just outside the building was a 52 foot-long restored log canoe, the Mary Julia Hall.  Built in 1894, it has been beautifully restored by Jim of Kent County.  It is now sea-worthy and Jim will enthusiastically show you pictures of it under sail.  It is for sale, Jim says, at the right price.  But now he is looking for crew.  The canoe can carry at least ten, he said.

Bayly Ellen Janson-La Palme shares her research on the history ice cream in Chestertown.

While people admired the boat outside, inside the Bordley Center, Bayly Ellen Janson-La Palme spoke on the history of ice cream in Chestertown.  Making ice cream, she said, was a relatively simple process.  But it was hard work.  You had to crank a handle continuously and your arms would get tired quickly.  So people naturally liked to go out for their ice cream where someone else worked that handle. Over time, the process became mechanized and ice cream plants opened where gallons were made and shipped to stores and restaurants. Thus making ice cream changed from from a labor-intensive enterprise done in the home or on-site at a restaurant  to a capital-intensive one in a factory setting.

The first recorded ice cream saloon in Chestertown was started in 1846 by Philip Jones, an African-American who owned an oyster restaurant on Queen Street.  Ladies were served in a separate room from the men.  In the twentieth century, the Gill brothers ran an ice cream plant from 1920 to 1953.  Their ice cream was sold in stores from Cecil County to Delaware. Until the late 1940s, you could even get home-delivery.  In addition to their factory, the Gil Brothers soda and ice cream parlor  – in what is now Play It Again Sam’s – was a fixture for teens and families during the hot summers.

The Historical Society has published a booklet by Janson-La Palme titled “Ice Cream versus Hot Weather: Ice Cream Sales and Manufacturing in Chestertown”, available at the Bordley Center for a suggested donation of $5.00.

The Sensation of the Season! Chocolate ice cream bars made by Gill Brothers of Chestertown. They were in business from 1920-1953.

Topping the evening off, was a preview of “Hey, Wait a Minute” at the Garfield Center for the Arts.  “Hey, Wait a Minute” is a series of five short “one-minute” plays.  (Well, some of them do come in at two or three minutes.) These mini-plays will run before each showing of the “Short Attention Span Theatre” over three weekends, June 23 – July 9.  On this First Friday, you could get a peek at two of the plays,  The entire series of five will be played in the theater lobby while audience members wait for the show to start.

Zac Ryan and Severin Schut in “One-Minute” play “When in Rome” –
part of the “Hey, Wait a Minute!” series at the Garfield.
Photo by Jeff Weber, courtesy Garfield Center

Nivek Johnson was celebrating his recent graduation from Salisbury University with a degree in communications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Solar and Aquaculture Supplant Big Chicken on the Shore?

Share

Kevin McClarren has been growing oysters in nets on the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years.

“We were told it would never work,” said McClarren, who manages four acres of floating oyster grounds for the Choptank Oyster Co. near Cambridge in Dorchester County. “Now we’re ground zero for the artisanal oyster movement in Maryland.”

Since 2011, MARBIDCO, the Maryland Agriculture and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp., has doled out 50 loans to budding shellfish aquaculture startups for a total of $3 million.

According to McClarren, the problem is there’s not enough demand in-state for all the newly cultured oysters being produced — or enough distributors to move them to markets beyond Maryland.

Which makes aquaculture — like solar, another relative newcomer to the Eastern Shore — not quite the economic salvation some hope it will be. Similar to Western Maryland and the state’s northern counties, the Eastern Shore is in the process of forging a new economic identity.

Their quandary: finding new industries that create large numbers of decent jobs while protecting the Chesapeake Bay and maintaining the region’s pastoral feel for both tourists and locals. The old economic mainstays of crop farming, raising chickens and catching fish and crabs provide jobs and preserve the area’s character, but all three industries face economic pressures that make their future uncertain.

Big problems for Big Chicken?

There are about 304 million chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or 670 per resident, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. In 2015, chicken production was valued at $930 million, or 41 percent of the state’s total cash farm income.

The issue for some on the Eastern Shore is how the broiler business is changing, specifically in the size of chicken houses, which have evolved over time from open-air buildings that were about 16,000 square feet to enclosed structures of some 36,000 square feet, housing upwards of 30,000 chickens each.

“A lot of chicken houses built in the eighties and nineties have run out their useful life,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. “The growth of new chicken houses of the last few years is not going to continue. Companies are not taking on any new growers.”

The impact on air quality from the larger chicken houses is coming under increasing fire from environmentalists and politicians.

In April, the D.C Court of Appeals overturned a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency order that exempted chicken producers from following federal air pollution standards for animal waste. The industry is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. If they lose or the court doesn’t take the case, chicken growers will have to begin complying with EPA reporting standards as early as July.

“It’s not just the stinky smells,” said Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health scientist from University of Maryland. “There are different contaminants (coming from the chicken houses) that can impact your eyes, nose, throat, mood, cause asthma and contribute to other respiratory conditions.”

Should the industry lose its legal fight, compliance with EPA standards could significantly impact the cost for growing chickens on the Eastern Shore.

“Right now they (growers) don’t have to have any technology to reduce emissions coming out of those houses, so this is actually a game changer,” Sacoby added.

As watermen fade, can aquaculture fill the gap?

There are two people on the Maryland state seal, a farmer and a fisherman. Both are under threat on the Eastern Shore, but the plight of the area’s watermen is exceedingly desperate.

“We are a dying breed,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the average crab haul in the 1980s was about 45 million pounds a year. By the 2000s, that number had decreased to 29 million pounds per year, prompting sweeping environmental and fishing regulations that went into effect in 2008.

Those efforts appear to be paying off. According to the 2017 Blue Crab Winter Dredge survey, a measure of the total blue crab population, the spawning-age female crab population in the Chesapeake Bay is 250 million, the highest in the survey’s history.

“If you take the long view and you look at the return on investment in making sure water quality is improving, there are very real economic benefits to citizens and communities in the bay watershed,” said Alan Girard, Maryland’s Eastern Shore director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Popular in discussions about future watermen industries with a low environmental impact on the bay is aquaculture, specifically oystering without using the bottom of the bay.

The economics of growing oysters in netted floats versus harvesting them from the wild is stark. Depending on the market, a cultured oyster will fetch more than three times one that is pulled directly from the bay bottom. But the work — and start-up time for new operators — is daunting. It takes two to five years for an oyster to mature. And culling oysters ready for market must be done by hand on a daily basis.

Finding buyers for oysters is another challenge. Even for established operators like Choptank, there are only so many distributors.

According to McClarren, there’s not enough demand in Maryland to consume all the oysters being produced in-state, so selling them outside Maryland is crucial. “Choptank Sweets” can be found as far north as Maine and as far west as Las Vegas.

Lately, Choptank’s sales numbers are dipping. McClarren is worried that Maryland is overenthusiastic about oyster aquaculture without really understanding the limited market for oysters.

“The state’s pushing people into it, but they’re not looking at the back end,” said McClarren. “Nobody’s stepping back and saying let’s assess this program.”

Even if markets open up for increased oyster production via aquaculture, it seems unlikely to be a driver of employment on the Eastern Shore. At Choptank, it only takes three full-time employees to process one million oysters a year.

Food vs. clean energy

Like watermen, the Eastern Shore’s farmers were once a potent economic force in the region. Some argue the bay-oriented environmental regulation that decimated the ranks of watermen is doing the same to the area’s farmers, only slower.

“If each year, the agricultural community is impacted by new and onerous bills from Annapolis, it makes it difficult for folks in the ag industry to thrive,” said Kurt Fuchs, government affairs officer for Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, which carries about $2.6 billion in outstanding farm loans and has 11,000 borrowers scattered around the region.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census of Agriculture figures from 1997 to 2012, the date of the last census, Eastern Shore farmland is not disappearing. In fact, when combining the shore’s nine counties over the last 15 years of available data, there has been a 4 percent increase in acres of farmland, to just over a million in 2012.

Caroline, the only Eastern Shore county without any coastline on the Chesapeake, ranks first in Maryland in total value of agricultural products sold and is the state’s leading producer of wheat.

But with wheat prices depressed, many farmers in Caroline are hurting.

“The majority of farmers locally have diversified into either the chicken industry or some other industry so they can keep their heads above water,” said County Commissioner Wilbur Levengood, R-Caroline, who still farms about 300 acres near Goldsboro. “Guys who are paying big land rent and doing it on dry land, they’re in trouble,” he added.

Some Eastern Shore farmers are considering solar for revenue, thanks in part to a bill that increased Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for clean energy use to 25 percent statewide by 2020. Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill in February, but it became law via legislative override.

“I think the Eastern Shore has been favorable (for solar) because of the sheer amount of land not currently in use,” said Leigh Yeatts, interim executive director of the MDV-SEIA, the regional arm of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

The shore’s flat topography, and relative closeness to transmission areas also make it ideal for large-scale solar generation.

The biggest solar installation in the state is under construction in Somerset County. Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., a Canadian company, is in the process of installing up to 150 megawatts of solar generation on a series of arrays across 1,000 acres on different patches of land south of Princess Anne, the Somerset County seat.

The next largest site in Maryland is in Hagerstown and produces 20 megawatts annually, according to the SEIA.

The plan submitted to Somerset County by Great Bay Solar LLC and approved by the state’s Public Service Commission estimates that upwards of 4,000 direct and induced jobs will be created during construction, but the site will only require 27 jobs once the project is done.

The Algonquin facility’s future energy is already under contract to the the U.S. government’s General Services Administration. The sweetener for Somerset County, whose local officials did not resist the facility, is $2.5 million annually in tax revenue.

But for all the potential clean energy and government revenue that could be generated by solar, not everyone on the Eastern Shore is down with the area becoming a hub.

“The last thing we want to do is replace our food sources with energy,” said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, which is not against solar, but does not want it located on productive farmland.

Some counties, like Talbot and Frederick, in the past have placed short-term moratoriums on the installation of solar projects in order to devise appropriate regulations.

“Every field has a classification,” said Jennifer Williams, a Talbot County Commissioner. “In certain fields where the quality is marginal, why not use those fields for solar?”

However, the state’s Public Service Commission reviews and approves all solar projects that will generate two or more megawatts, and their authority supersedes that of the counties.

So is this the beginning of a solar gold rush on the Eastern Shore?

Some of the solar land leases being offered to area farmers make it seem that way. The leases usually run for about 25 years and their financial terms can vary widely, but offers in the $1000/acre range are common, with either lump-sum payments up front or made annually or even quarterly.

With some farmers struggling to net $100/acre growing corn or grain, saying no to solar will be hard.

For the time being anyway, most won’t have to choose.

“I think there’s this misconception (in Maryland) that utility-scale solar is going to continue at the rate we have seen, at 50 to 60 megawatts (developed) a year,” said Sara Rafalson, director of policy and new markets for Sol Systems, an energy finance company. “It will continue, but it won’t be this big solar boom where all the state’s farmland will be taken up,” she added.

A good indicator of the demand for solar is the state’s SREC, or solar renewable energy certificate, market. A single SREC is earned by generating 1,000 kilowatts or 1 megawatt, of solar electricity annually.

SRECs are important because Maryland’s utility companies are required to have 2.5 percent of their electricity generated from solar. SRECs can be bought and sold to big utility companies that need to meet state regulations or face fines. The electricity created is sold separately. SRECs generally serve as an inducement to build solar.

“A bunch of folks were developing projects (in 2015), which led to oversupply in the (SREC) market and a crash in 2016,” said Yeatts.

As of May 25, the bid on SREC Trade, an aggregator, for a Maryland SREC is $8. In spring 2015, they were in the $150 range.

“A lot of (solar development) folks are turning their eyes to Virginia because the economics are more favorable than Maryland,” Rafalson said.

By J.F. Meils

Op Ed: Funding the Bay by Tom Zolper

Share

Tax dollars at work. It’s a sign you occasionally see at road construction projects. But it also could be affixed to any number of valuable government services we take for granted as we sail, motor, fish, or swim in the Chesapeake Bay.

Keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean and safe is important to everyone, from boaters to businesses.

Say you are a recreational boater and you spy dark clouds building on the horizon. You need real-time information on weather and water conditions. You pick up your smart phone or device and presto, the information is provided through the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System.

You are a livestock farmer who wants to raise animals the way your grandfather did – on pasture. You’ve seen the economic data; you know you can increase your profit margin making the switch. But it’s expensive. So, you pick up the phone and secure some financial help from the Regional Conservation Partnership.

These are just two examples of countless services provided by federal programs. The buoys are funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The farmer program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (DOA).

By now most people have heard that President Trump wants to eliminate all funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, one of the biggest federal efforts that help the Bay. But there are many other federal programs that benefit the Chesapeake, NOAA and DOA programs being two. Some seem relatively safe from the budget ax; some seem in danger. Congress will decide the fate of all these programs this summer.

Federal tax dollars help fund oyster restoration, among hundreds of other Bay-saving projects.Here, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation puts spat-on-shell (young oysters attached to old shells) into the Little Choptank River. The feds have contributed millions to local oyster restoration.

The Chesapeake Bay is an ecosystem, a complex network of living creatures. Three hundred years ago the Chesapeake didn’t need help from the federal government to sustain itself. But there weren’t 17 million people living within its drainage area. Human beings are hard on nature.

Today, federal tax dollars from those 17 million residents are part of the complex econ-system (my word) that keeps the Bay alive. One dollar contributed from the feds prompts local governments, businesses, and groups to contribute up to $4 more to the same Bay-saving project. That’s how you stretch tax dollars, create jobs, and boost the local economy. Your federal tax dollars are invested. They pay off.

For instance, the feds gave $114,850 to restore 20 acres of oyster reefs in the Tred Avon River. That investment prompted the Oyster Recovery Partnership to raise $300,000 for the same project.

Another example: the feds invested $54,320 for the restoration of 27 acres of wetlands on the Chester River. The money leveraged a contribution from Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage of $53,500.

Take the federal dollars away, and re-direct them say, to the military budget, and the Bay will decline. Make no mistake about it. It’s doubtful that individual states, counties or municipalities within the Bay region would raise their taxes or shortchange other programs to make up for funding lost through federal budget cuts.

Here are just a few more of the services to the Bay provided through one agency, NOAA:

Oyster Restoration: From larvae produced at the Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge to the giant man-made reef networks in the Choptank River tributaries, NOAA provides substantial funding for the herculean task of bringing back the Chesapeake oyster population.
• Oyster Aquaculture: Just like regular farmers get help from the federal government, oyster farmers in the Chesapeake get assistance from NOAA, especially in the form of research of what works best.
Environmental Education: If we are to save the Bay, we absolutely must educate the next generation to carry on the work. Students across Maryland are monitoring and caring for streams near their schools, growing baby oysters, and studying their watersheds, among other actions. President Trump wants to eliminate a key environmental education program funded by NOAA: Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET). What might be lost? One example of many: the Choptank Choices program by the Sultana Education Foundation allows 5th-grade students in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties to study the Choptank both in the classroom and aboard the 1768 schooner Sultana.
Bottom Sonar Scans: these provide the data for navigational maps used by recreational and commercial boaters. The science also locates hard bottom where oyster reefs can be created.
• Oyster Reef Monitoring: Every year in Maryland NOAA provides about $130,000 so divers can carefully monitor whether man-made reef systems are working. These monitoring programs tell us if oysters are surviving, reproducing and more. Without these NOAA-funded dive, we’d be pouring tax dollars into the water with no way of determining results.

Eastern Shore Congressman Rep. Andy Harris sits on the House Appropriations Committee and will have an important voice in the future of these and other Bay-related programs.

Tom Zolper is the assistant media director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Mid-Shore Ecosystem: Championing a Horn Point Lab Champion with Jim Brighton & Jamie Pierson

Share

For the last several years, the University Of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory has made it a tradition to name a local Chesapeake Champion, to honor those individuals who show through their example how to sustain the region’s wildlife, landscapes and water.

This title is not casually handed out. Former Champions include Waterfowl Festival’s Albert Pritchett, conservationist Chip Akridge, Out of the Fire’s Amy Haines, and last year, Bartlett Pair’s Jordan and Alice Lloyd.

And this year’s recipient, Jim Brighton, falls into that same category as these other greatest stewards of the Bay, but in Jim’s case, his founding the Maryland Biodiversity Project is the first time a “Champion” has been named whose organization includes the work of citizen scientists whose interests relate to Horn Point’s extraordinary research activities in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Since Maryland Biodiversity Project was co-founded by Jim, along with Bill Hubick, in 2012, the organization and its dozens of volunteers have identified and recorded over 17,200 species in the state. And some of that important data is being used by Horn Point scientists, including Jamie Pierson, an oceanographer that focuses most of his work on zooplankton ecology.

And, oh yes, they are friends as well.

In fact, Jim and Jamie Pierson have known each other for many years as professionals, but they met each other in a book club that was studying Thomas Pynchon’s famous novel, ‘Mason & Dixon’. So there is no surprise that Jamie was one of many that was championing Jim for Chesapeake Champion this year.

In their Spy interview, Jamie and Jim talk about their friendship, the important role the Maryland Diversity Project plays in the work of Horn Point Laboratory, and the critical data that MDP has built to support a vibrant, nature study community.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Maryland Diversity Project go here and for Horn Point Laboratory please go here.

There will be a special event to honor Him Brighton at the Waterfowl Festival Armory at 40 S. Harrison Street in Easton on June 23 at 5pm. For tickets and more information please contat Liz Freedlander at lfreedlander@umces.edu