Monitoring Progress in the Bay

by Jim Edward

EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio observes underwater grasses growing at the Susquehanna Flats. (Photo by Jim Edward/Chesapeake Bay Program)

August and September were very wet and rainy months in most parts of the Chesapeake Bay region. But on September 19, there was a break in the clouds, which was fortunate for those of us going on a water quality monitoring “cruise” in the northern portion of the Bay.

Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Bolton invited EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio, Water Division Director Cathy Libertz, and me to join him and his staff on their research vessel to observe their tidal Bay monitoring team in action.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitoring teams do water quality monitoring cruises of the tidal Chesapeake Bay on a regular basis during the year. They take samples at numerous stations during three-day cruises beginning in the south at the mouth of the Bay and finishing up north where the Susquehanna River meets the tidal Bay.

We began by visiting one of DNR’s fixed monitoring stations where the team took various measurements including water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, Ph, turbidity and chlorophyll a. They also took water samples to test for levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, which are the three pollutants Bay jurisdictions are working to reduce under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

Monitoring the Bay and its tributaries allows the Bay Program to detect changes that take place, improves our collective understanding of the Bay ecosystem, and reveals trends that provide valuable information to policy makers.

The second leg of our cruise on a smaller boat enabled us to venture out into an area in the upper Bay known as the Susquehanna Flats. This is the longest contiguous bed of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay, spanning approximately 10 square miles near the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

Underwater grasses are important because they offer food to invertebrates and migratory waterfowl, shelter young fish and crabs, and keep the water healthy by absorbing excess nutrients, trapping suspended sediment and slowing shoreline erosion.

Our hosts were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to see much of the grass beds due to the unusually high amounts of rain we had this summer. Since June 1, more than twice the normal amount of rainfall has fallen over a broad swath from Washington, D.C., up through Maryland and central Pennsylvania, resulting in higher river flows into the Bay. Measurements show freshwater flows into the Bay this August were the highest ever recorded.

Despite these conditions, we saw many of the dozen or more species of underwater grasses that live in the Bay. While cloudier than usual, we still could pick out large stands of widgeon grass, wild celery and some hydrilla. I found it awe-inspiring to be out in the middle of almost 10,000 acres of underwater grasses.

It will be interesting to see next time what impact the record rainfalls and associated nutrient and sediment load increases will have on Bay water quality and the abundance of the underwater grasses.

We will see if the resiliency we are trying to build by putting best management practices on the land will help to minimize any potentially adverse impacts to water quality, underwater grass fisheries and habitats.

The Bay Program’s scientists will undoubtedly be making comparisons to Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee, and other high-flow events to see if the resilience of the Bay ecosystem is improving as much as we have been working toward.

About the author: Jim Edward is the Acting Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He plays a lead role in coordinating the U.S. EPA’s activities with other federal agencies and works with state and local authorities to improve the water quality and living resources of the Bay.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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Citizen Science, Environmental Outreach and Water Quality

By Ibrahim Goodwin

Spring is here, the eaglets in the Anacostia River Basin have hatched and so has another opportunity to make a visible difference in our nation’s watersheds.

Earth Conservation Corps prepare and discuss their next event where they work with EPA and a group of youth scientist on testing water quality parameters like pH, temperature, phosphates, salinity etc..Here in DC’s Anacostia watershed, EPA and the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) are working together as part of the Anacostia Watershed Outreach and Education Initiative. We’re encouraging citizen science field research with ECC members, students and others. We test for water quality parameters like pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, phosphates, nitrates, salinity, and we’re analyzing samples for aquatic macroinvertebrates (water bugs you can see with the naked eye that are important indicators of water quality).

At the ECC Pumphouse, EPA is helping to make this urbanEarth Conservation Corps (ECC) are working together as part of the Anacostia Watershed Outreach and Education Initiative to educate students . river a classroom. We recently sponsored “Protecting the Anacostia Watershed – A Workshop on Water Quality Standards.” This activity, held on World Water Monitoring Day, also highlighted the Urban Waters Federal Partnership between EPA, ECC, the U.S. Forest Service, National Geographic and DC Water.

The interactive water quality workshop and hands-on water sample collection and analysis program offered over 75 students and citizen scientists an intimate look at how everyday pollution affects our local environment. We also discussed simple solutions to curbing complicated pollution problems. The young citizen scientists from St. Augustine Catholic School in Northwest Washington, DC were captivated by activities like the owl encounter, water quality monitoring, macroinvertebrate identification and National Geographic’s FieldScope GIS and data system.

This workshop can be modified to fit any watershed.  Our workshop, ‘’Watersheds and Water Monitoring,” is being held on the largest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States. The river is home to all sorts of wildlife, including over 300 species of birds.

The author tests water samples.Working with young citizen scientists in a hands-on setting reminds me how important my daily work at the EPA is in protecting the environment and educating the next generation of environmental stewards.

About the Author: Bryan “Ibrahim” Goodwin has worked in the Office of Water as an Environmental Scientist since 1987.   Mr. Goodwin has helped to train thousands of environmental professionals in the Water Quality Standards Academy and is currently working on initiatives to engage citizen scientists.   He received a B. S. in Geology from Howard University and is an avid gardener.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Bear is in the Igloo

The marine glider ready for deployment.

The marine glider ready for deployment.

By Darvene Adams

It sounds like a story of Arctic homesteading gone awry, but it actually takes place in the coastal waters off of New York and New Jersey. “The Bear is in the Igloo” is a catchphrase used by Rutgers University oceanographers to signify that an “Autonomous Underwater Vehicle” or ocean glider has been successfully retrieved from its mission gathering water quality data in the ocean.

State and federal agencies have long recognized that low dissolved oxygen in the waters off the coast of NY and NJ is a major concern. Fish, clams, crabs, etc. all need a relatively high amount of dissolved oxygen (D.O.) in the water to survive and reproduce. Effectively measuring dissolved oxygen levels in the ocean is a complex task. There is a lot of territory to cover (approximately 375 mi2 just off of NJ) and the D.O. levels change constantly. NJ and EPA have conducted some “grab” sampling which resulted in the entire coastal zone being declared “impaired,” even though the existing sampling didn’t cover the whole area. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection asked EPA for help to address this dilemma.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Enter the glider, better known as RU28, a relatively new technology but one that is being rapidly adopted by the military and water researchers. Part fish, part robot, it “glides” through the water column, using a pump to take in or expel water, allowing displacement to lift or sink the glider. It is programmed to surface approximately every two hours and “phones home” to send some of the water quality data it has collected and its operational status. Parameters include dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll a (pigments indicative of algae), CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter), and depth. As the glider moves in a zig-zag pattern down the coast, it is also moving vertically in the water to profile the water column. Each deployment is approximately three weeks in length.

A glider was in the water off of NJ when Hurricane Irene impacted the area in 2011. The data collected by the joint glider mission produced the first water quality data ever collected under a hurricane. The National Weather Service was able to use these data to revise their hurricane modelling to account for the effect of a tropical hurricane entering temperate zone waters.

The second mission of this summer was deployed last month, so click on: http://marine.rutgers.edu/cool/auvs/index.php?did=422&view=imagery and follow the journey.

About the Author: Darvene Adams is EPA Region 2’s Water Monitoring Coordinator. She provides technical assistance to states and the public regarding ambient monitoring activities in marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. Darvene also designs and implements monitoring programs to address relevant resource management questions in the region. She has coordinated monitoring projects in the NY/NJ Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Delaware Bay, and coastal NJ, as well as the region’s involvement with EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys. Darvene received her Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and is based in the Edison, NJ field office.

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.