Chesapeake Bay

Clean Bay Critical to Watermen Then and Now

Watermen Culling Oysters in the  Chesapeake Bay Credit to Library of Congress LC-USF34-014482-D)

Credit: Library of Congress

by Bonnie Lomax

Each year, the nation celebrates African American History Month, dedicating the month of February as a formal and themed opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions and the rich history of African-Americans. This year’s theme is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.

As an African-American and an amateur genealogist, I often think about my own family history and how my ancestors may have lived a hundred or more years ago. The United States Censuses of 1900 and 1910 list my maternal ancestors and their children as living in the communities of Dames Quarter, Ewell, and Chance, in Somerset County, bordering the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My great-grandfather and his sons were all listed in occupation as oystermen or watermen, earning a living harvesting oysters on the Chesapeake Bay.

Most likely, my ancestors and others would have faced many difficult challenges in their day-to-day lives. Their work required being away from home and family, spending extended periods of time on the water, often exposed to harsh weather conditions. Yet for them and the other early 20th century watermen, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay provided a kind of home, as well as a source of stability and income. In fact, their way of life depended on a clean and healthy Bay.

Today, the nation’s largest estuary continues to support many people’s livelihoods. (Check out this photo essay exploring the life of modern-day Chesapeake Bay watermen). However, like many ecosystems, the Bay faces enormous environmental challenges, including nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution, and the consequences of a changing climate.

Last year, EPA and its state, federal, and non-profit partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, setting goals, outcomes and management strategies to guide the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them. That followed the establishment in 2010 of the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint for Restoration, or Bay TMDL, designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.

While government commitment is essential, individual actions can have a huge impact on the Bay. Check here for a list of simple everyday steps you can take to help the Bay.

Just as it was 100 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay continues to play a vital role in the lives of millions. The steps we take today are crucial in preserving this important resource – and its culture and history – for future generations.

 

About the author: Bonnie Lomax is the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water

by Tom Damm

photo credited to Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

So, what does cleaner air as far away as Indiana have to do with cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay? Plenty.

A sizable portion of the overload in nitrogen in the Bay and its surrounding waters comes from tailpipes and smokestacks in a vast area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the mid-West and from North Carolina to a lower slice of Canada – and even beyond.

The nitrogen pollution is carried by winds and falls directly or washes into the Bay’s waters, contributing to algal blooms that rob oxygen in water needed by fish and other aquatic life to survive.

The good news is that actions by EPA and its state partners under the Clean Air Act have led to big reductions in those airborne nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

In putting together an EPA fact sheet on the topic, we found that two side-by-side graphics were most telling.

One shows the degree of nitrogen air pollution affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1986. The other shows the state of the air in 2013. It’s as if someone lifted a dark overlay.

That’s a big deal because scientists estimate that as much as a third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

The fact sheet lists some of the Clean Air Act rules that have led to the sharp declines in NOx pollution. It also highlights figures that show EPA is on track to meet air pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

And it’s not only the Chesapeake that benefits from the decrease in NOx pollution. Coastal waters from Long Island Sound to estuaries all along the Gulf Coast benefit from reduced nitrogen loads from the air.

You can do your part, too, to help brighten the picture. When possible, walk, bike or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air – and water.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Plastic Problem in the Chesapeake

Maybe you’ve heard of “micro plastics.” They’re created when plastic products eventually break down into tiny particles that drift in our ocean waters and can be eaten by fish and other wildlife.

They’re a big problem globally, as is trash from plastic products in general. As much as 80 percent of trash in the ocean comes from sources on land, and up to 60 percent of this trash is plastic.

I got an offer from two conservation groups to tag along as they trawled the upper Chesapeake Bay waters to assess the extent of plastics pollution. As an oceanographer, I always cherish the days that I get to take my off my tie and get back out on the bay, so I was eager to join them.

I predicted that we wouldn’t find much. My theory was that the Chesapeake Bay is too dynamic, with its constant tides, winds and currents, as opposed to the somewhat quiet open ocean circulation patterns that can concentrate plastics pollution.

I was wrong.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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And the Best Supporting Role Goes To…

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

 

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

Waterways with “celebrity” status rely on the supporting roles of countless unnamed waterways and wetlands.

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hundreds of stars are embedded into the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard, honoring countless celebrities, past and present. These well-known Hollywood stars have kept us on the edge of our seats; made us laugh, cry, and sometimes scared the wits out of us.

Yet it takes a cast of hundreds–sometimes thousands–to make these celebrities shine. Their names may not be readily recognized, but these professionals working in supporting roles and behind the scenes are essential to our movie-going experience.

There are many “celebrity” waterways in the Mid-Atlantic Region like the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware, and the Potomac, which are well known for their beauty, recreational opportunities, and the economic benefits they provide to surrounding communities. But like Hollywood celebrities, their stardom is dependent on the supporting roles of countless unknown and unnamed streams, wetlands, and headwaters.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the “big star“ waters. It also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

This March, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protection for waters that are vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream, so our proposal insures that these waters will be protected.

One in 3 Americans – 117 million of us – get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

If you’ve ever viewed the credits at the end of a movie, you are taking time to recognize the many behind-the-scenes people for the roles they played in a production. Your comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule help us give “credit” to important roles these waterways play in our lives. EPA is accepting comments on the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule until October 20.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking in a good movie.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Road Tripping Through Watersheds

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations. My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other. The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country. It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers. Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips with her family.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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I’ll Trade You: Water Quality Science Edition

By Marguerite Huber

Landsat image of Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay watershed includes six states and the District of Columbia. Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

The outcome of a trade can sometimes be the luck of the draw. You may not have gotten a better sandwich for the one you traded at lunch, or the all-star pitcher your team acquired in that mid-season trade may turn out to be a bust.

On the other hand, the best kind of trade is one where everybody wins. EPA researchers are helping bring just that kind of trade to improve water quality.

Chesapeake Bay is an expansive watershed that encompasses some or all of six states and the District of Columbia. High levels of nutrients flowing in from all over that expansive watershed decrease oxygen in the water and kill aquatic life, creating chronic and well-known dead zones.

To help, EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which sets a cap on nutrient and sediment emissions to restore water quality, ensure high quality habitats for aquatic organisms, and protect and sustain fisheries, recreation and other important Bay activities.

Recent innovations in Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere have promoted a new type of trading, called water quality trading, to meet watershed-level reductions in nutrient pollution. The goal is to facilitate individual flexibility and responsiveness while creating incentives to reduce overall nutrient flow from both agricultural and urban areas.

Here is how water quality trading would work…

Farmers and wastewater treatment plants have the opportunity to team up to collectively meet the water quality goal by reducing nutrients. While both entities have their own baseline nutrient emission level they must shoot for, they can gain tradable credits if they do better. A farmer that plants nitrogen-absorbing crops such as barley and wheat can sell the credits they gain to a wastewater treatment plant that needs to reduce its own emissions.

Silhouette of kids on dock at sunset

A healthy Chesapeake is a win for everybody!

Trading is based on the widely different costs it can take to control the same kind of pollutant, depending on its source and location. For example, upgrading wastewater treatment plants and ripping up urban streets to replace leaky stormwater drainage pipes could cost billions of dollars. On the other hand, planting new or different crops is much less expensive.

Like the TMDL itself, the development of the water trading system began with science. EPA-supported scientists and economists developed a computer model to find the least costly mix of pollution-reduction options across the watershed for meeting the TMDL. The model also has been used to explore how different trading policies could help to meet TMDL requirements, and as the basis for analyzing policies leading to the nutrient trading guidelines for Chesapeake Bay.

Overall, water quality trading depends on cooperation across the watershed to help achieve faster, less expensive pollutant reductions that improve the Bay’s water quality. It’s a win-win for everybody.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Waste not, save a lot

By Jennie Saxe

Most people think of wastewater treatment plants as the end of the pipe: it’s where the water from our sinks, showers, toilets, and sewers ends up. They’re viewed as the place we send liquid waste from our homes and businesses. It’s even right there in the name of the place: “waste.”

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

Believe me: the York Wastewater Treatment Plant doesn’t waste anything.

I had heard about the sustainable technologies that were being put into place at this treatment plant in York, Pennsylvania, and decided I had to make the trip to see for myself. General Manager Andy Jantzer led me and a small group of my colleagues on a tour of the treatment process from the head of the plant, through some repurposed aeration basins to aid in nutrient removal, past the clarifiers and sand filters, and all the way through to the treated, disinfected outfall to Codorus Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which eventually drains to the Chesapeake Bay.

So far, things looked pretty standard: primary and secondary treatment, nutrient removal, and disinfection.

Then we got to the second part of the tour. That’s where we learned that there was some serious technology hiding out in a repurposed building on the site. Only the small gas conditioning units outside might have tipped you off that inside there are 8 sophisticated microturbines – which sound much like jet engines – 3 of which are powered by gas from the facility’s anaerobic digesters and 5 of which are natural gas-powered. These allow the facility to generate nearly 7,000kW on site. Without the microturbines, the plant would be wasting methane (a greenhouse gas) from its digesters and purchasing all of its electricity from the grid. EPA’s Net Zero Energy team promotes technologies like this to help water and wastewater treatment plants become more energy efficient, and potentially “net zero” energy consumers.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

What about the centrate (liquid waste) from the digesters? Most plants recycle that back to the head of the plant, which requires not only more energy for pumping, but also additional chemicals for treatment. Not here! The digester centrate comes to the former sludge incinerator building where a special process removes phosphorus and ammonia and creates a long-lasting, slow-release, pelletized fertilizer that is being used in agriculture, on golf courses, and in other applications.

See what I mean? Nothing is wasted. By recovering resources like phosphorus and energy from wastewater, this treatment plant has joined a new breed of facilities that are extracting beneficial products from what most people consider waste. The dedicated management and staff at the York Wastewater Treatment Plant are making a difference to the communities that they serve. Pursuing sustainable technologies like the ones that York has adopted not only solve problems for today, but for tomorrow, as well.

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time tending to a vegetable garden.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Our Natural Resources – Here and Abroad

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

 

By Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the nation’s most vital resources, providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, and recreational and tourism opportunities for millions of people each year. While increased tourism and development has supported the area’s economic growth, it has brought with it a suite of environmental challenges, including nutrient pollution, loss of forests and wetlands, and air pollution stemming from increased development in the area. In my previous roles as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment and Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I saw first-hand the impacts of this damage, and worked closely with local residents, stakeholders, elected officials and the federal government to begin on a major restoration and protection effort. Not only can we protect the bay and surrounding wildlife, we can ensure the continued economic benefits of tourism for the future.

Nearly 8,000 miles away from the Chesapeake Bay lies an area with similar opportunities and challenges. Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known around the world for its striking beauty and diverse ecosystem. However, as with the Chesapeake Bay, concerned citizens and government officials are seeing increased degradation and pollution as more and more people access the Bay for tourism, recreation and shipping development. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Farm Conservation Practices are Working in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

by Kelly Shenk

As the agricultural advisor for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany the EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator in talks with farmers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through roundtable discussions and tours of their farms. We’ve observed their successes, challenges, and opportunities.  It’s encouraging to see how engaged farmers are in implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality.

Last month the Chesapeake Bay Program reported that pollution controls put in place over the last four years have resulted in an estimated 7% reduction of nitrogen, 11% reduction of phosphorus, and 6% reduction of sediment in the Bay Watershed.

Agriculture is responsible for about one-third of these reductions because producers have stepped up their conservation practices such as cover crops that take up residual nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil after crops are harvested. Other effective conservation practices include tillage that prevents nutrients and sediment from running off of cropland; and fencing to keep cows out of streams.

While this progress is encouraging, there’s still much that needs doing to restore the Bay.  Using 2009 as a baseline, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or pollution diet calls for having measures in place by 2017 to achieve at least 60 percent of the pollution reductions necessary for restoring the Bay to water quality standards.  The Bay jurisdictions are in the process of achieving this objective through upgrading of wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, increased implementation of agricultural conservation practices, improving urban stormwater management, and addressing air pollution sources. All sources are tackling their share of the challenge

The pace of the Bay jurisdictions’ pollution reduction efforts will get quicker moving forward.  For agriculture, I think the keys to success are strong state programs, targeted federal and state financial and technical assistance, incentives that engage more producers, and continued innovation.

We’re encouraged by some of the progress that’s already being made.  We are seeing increased financing for high priority practices promoted by the States such as stream exclusion and cover crops.  States are strengthening their programs for addressing water quality concerns from small animal operations.  We’re also seeing incentives such as Ag Certainty programs to engage more producers in conservation practices.

In my time out in the field, I am always inspired at the creativity and innovation of farmers.  With a good knowledge of the States’ pollution reduction goals, targeted financial and technical assistance, and the flexibility to reach water quality goals in a way that works for their business, I’m confident they can get the job done.  But it will take all of us working together in all sectors, building on the progress that we’ve made thus far, and staying on track to reaching our goals of restoring our local waters and the magnificence of the Chesapeake Bay.

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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