Bay Ecosystem: Fishery Managers Consider Cuts in Bay Crab Harvest

Chesapeake Bay crabbers will likely face some harvest restriction this season to protect future generations of the iconic crustacean, a move managers say is necessary because of the low population of juveniles.

Fishery managers for Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission all say they are considering shortening the season and imposing stricter limits on the harvest of female crabs. They are not proposing changes in male crab catches.

News of harvest cuts surprised some crabbers at Maryland’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee last week. The latest winter dredge survey results released in April showed the highest number of female crabs in the 28-year history of the annual count. Female crabs clocked in at 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year.

But the Baywide survey, which counts the crabs in more than 1,000 locations as they burrow in the mud, estimated there were 125 million juvenile crabs in the Chesapeake, a 54 percent decrease from the 271 million found in 2016. That is the lowest tally since 2013 — a year when crabbers also had their catch curtailed — and one of the five lowest estimates since 1990, managers said.

As a result, managers are expecting a robust harvest for the first half of this year, fueled by the large number of adults now in the Bay. But catches of the Chesapeake’s most valuable seafood will need to be curtailed later in the year to protect the smaller number of juvenile crabs as they reach market size.

Maryland and Virginia are both expected to decide by the end of June on harvest restrictions, which will take effect for the remainder of the 2017 season. The Potomac River commission will discuss its plan at its June 1 meeting, executive secretary Martin Gary said.

Maryland crabbers had expected status quo, at least, and possibly some easing of catch limits based on news reports quoting a Department of Natural Resources press release saying the survey had found the Bay’s crab population “resilient and steady,” with a record number of spawning females. They came to the meeting Thursday night hoping to maintain last year’s longer season and perhaps even secure more concessions. Last year’s survey results were so good that both Maryland and Virginia extended the season for about three weeks.

Instead, Mike Luisi, assistant director of fisheries and boating services with the Maryland DNR, talked about a return to 2013, when the season closed on Nov. 10. Last year, the season extended to Nov. 30. “We had 54 percent less juveniles this year than last year. To come into here thinking that we’re going to have status quo is unrealistic,” he said.

As with this year’s survey, the 2013 crab canvass showed a robust population of females and low abundance of juveniles, which are 2.4 inches across or smaller yet can be expected to grow to market size by next year. Maryland responded then by tightening bushel limits and shortening the season, aiming to cut the harvest 20– 40 percent. The move worked, Luisi said, as the population rebounded enough to relax the limits and extend the season for 2015.

If the department were to follow 2013’s lead, the season would close Nov. 10 and many crabbers, depending on the type of license they held, would take between three and seven bushels less; some would take no decrease at all. Daily catch limits vary over the season, but last September, for example, they ranged from 19 bushels for a crabber fishing 300 pots to 35 bushels for a crabber with up to 900 pots.

The 2013 cuts show what works for a sustainable fishery, Luisi said. But he and Fisheries Director Dave Blazer told the crabbers they were open to other suggestions, such as an even earlier season closure paired with a smaller reduction in the daily bushel limits.

But not every crab scientist approves of how management has reacted to the year-over-year changes in the notoriously boom-and-bust blue crab species. Tom Miller, a crab specialist who directs the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said it’s hard to evaluate the population’s long-term stability and the harvest it can withstand if management reacts seasonally. Crabs live between one and three years and can reproduce furiously, or not much at all. After being spawned near the mouth of the Bay, their offspring hitch a ride on ocean currents back into the Chesapeake. Some years, many return; some years, many don’t.

“I am not convinced that we need to change management,” Miller said. “One of my concerns has been that managers have been too responsive to individual winter dredge survey results. The reference points are meant to be long-term responses of the crab population under constant conditions — and as a result, frequent changes to the management regime makes evaluation of this problematical.”

Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, didn’t like the choices facing watermen at the meeting: “You either shoot yourself in the head, or you shoot yourself in the foot.”

Though George O’Donnell, DNR’s liaison to the watermen’s community, said he’d been traveling around the state warning that a cut was coming, Brown and most of the watermen were expecting better news.

“Everybody came here tonight thinking we would get an increase. There’s more crabs than we’ve seen in years,” said Thomas “Bubby” Powley, a Dorchester County trotliner. “They’re telling me they’re not there? The proof is in the pudding,” he said, holding up a cell phone photo of small crabs he’d caught and had to throw back.

Added his brother, Larry “Boo” Powley: “The boys are coming in with their limit at 10:30, 11 a.m.”

Despite the managers’ admonition that harvest restrictions are needed to sustain the crab population, the Powleys also asked Luisi and Blazer to let watermen in their part of the Bay catch more 5-inch male crabs.

Under rules in effect since 2001, the smallest crab that can be caught legally increases in mid-July from 5 inches across to 5.25 inches. The midseason increase was set to give male crabs more time in the water to mate with females and enhance reproduction. Miller, the UM crab scientist, has said that seemingly small annual change in catch regulations helps sustain the Bay’s crab population.

Some Dorchester County watermen, including the Powleys, began pushing two years ago to delay the increase in minimum catchable size. They sell those smaller crabs to picking houses, and complained the crustaceans in their part of the Bay don’t grow to the larger sizes that Baltimore and Southern Maryland crabbers see.

The department has resisted, and Luisi again told the group that such a change was not realistic, as the winter survey found male crabs had decreased 16 percent since last year and are only about half the abundance that scientists observed in the early 1990s.

The fight over the 5-inch crab apparently cost DNR’s crab manager, Brenda Davis, her job after 28 years with the department. Davis did not make the decision against relaxing the minimum catchable size; she merely delivered it. But several watermen met with Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and his deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, to complain about the catch restriction and accused Davis of not being flexible enough about the rule. The Hogan administration fired her shortly after the meeting and has refused since to give a reason, saying it is a personnel matter.

The Maryland DNR will decide what, if any, changes to make in crabbing regulations in consultation with its Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission. No meeting date has been set. Once the department decides, it will put out a notice for the change, to take effect 48 hours later.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will likely make a decision at its June 27 meeting. Commissioner John M.R. Bull said he expected to take some action, and that repeating last season’s late closing on Dec. 15 and this year’s early opening on March 1 would not be possible, given the drop in juvenile numbers.

“This year’s babies are next year’s mamas,” Bull said. “We want less of them to be harvested in the fall, so they will be able to be next year’s mamas. There was a warning sign and a blinking light that went on with the juvenile numbers; that means we have to be cautious in how we handle the spring fishery. I’m not exactly sure what it will be, but we need to do the right thing in light of the low levels of juveniles, for the health of this fishery.”

One option that is not likely to pass muster at the commission is the reopening of the winter dredge fishery, where crabbers take pregnant females who are burrowed in the mud. Virginia closed the fishery in 2008 after that year’s winter survey found the crab population had hit a historic low. Every year since, crabbers have lobbied to reopen the winter dredge fishery to provide a winter income and allocate the pain of cuts fairly among all crabbing sectors. But the commission has declined. The reopening is on the agenda again for the commission’s June meeting, but Bull said the low juvenile numbers “seem to preclude the re-opening” of that fishery.

by Rona Kobell

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Bay Ecosystem: PA Drinking Water Systems On of Nation’s Worst Violators

Millions of people in the Bay watershed and nationwide are drinking water from systems that have violated federal safe drinking water standards, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Pennsylvania had the worst performance in the Bay region, and the third highest number of total violations of any state nationwide, according to the NRDC. That finding came on the heels of a recent warning from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is so understaffed it can’t provide adequate oversight of drinking water systems in the state.

“America is facing a nationwide drinking water crisis that goes well beyond lead contamination,” said Erik Olson, the NRDC health program director and a report co-author. “The problem is two-fold: There’s no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we’re living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure. We take it for granted that when we turn on our kitchen tap, the water will be safe and healthy, but we have a long way to go before that is reality across our country.”

The environmental group’s review was based on records from the EPA and found that across the nation, state regulators often failed to penalize or even take note of the violations in many cases.

Federal oversight of state regulators is also spotty, according to the NRDC report. Olson warned it could be worse if Congress goes along with the Trump administration’s proposal to slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent.“ Huge cuts to drinking water programs will reduce EPA enforcement further,” Olson said, “causing less safe water.”

About 44 percent of Pennsylvania’s 12 million residents who depend on public water supplies were served by water systems with some kind of administrative, procedural or health-related violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the NRDC report said. When it zeroed in on the subset of violations that specifically impact public health, such as excessive levels of fecal coliform, nitrites and disinfectant byproducts, the state ranked 13th nationwide, with 700,000 people affected.

Neil Shader, the DEP’s spokesman, said the report’s data seemed accurate, but called the presentation misleading in some cases. For example, Shader pointed out, the Philadelphia Water Department had a single violation of monitoring and reporting requirements. But because the utility has 1.6 million customers, the NRDC report “gives the indication of a problem where one might not exist,” he said in an email.

Other Bay states with high rankings in drinking water violations include Maryland, which ranks fourth in terms of population served by water systems with health-related violations.

Maryland’s Department of the Environment had a similar criticism of the report. The 1.8 million customers of the Baltimore City water system had one violation of a health-based rule in 2015 — for an excessive level of a disinfectant byproduct — though fewer than 89,000 people on the system were affected, said Jay Apperson, spokesperson for MDE. If the numbers were adjusted for that, Maryland would fall out of the top 10 of systems with violations, he said.

“Safe drinking water is such a critical public health issue that the department acts assertively to see that the vast majority of Safe Drinking Water Act violations that do occur are corrected immediately,” Apperson said.

In Pennsylvania, steep budget cuts that have contributed to setbacks in its Bay cleanup efforts have also contributed to a growing number of drinking water problems. The EPA said in a letter to the DEP last December that the number of unaddressed violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act had nearly doubled in the last five years.

“This increased risk to public health is of concern to EPA,” the letter said. If the DEP cannot meet federal minimum standards, EPA warned it may take over management of the state’s drinking water program — which means relieving the state of some federal funding as well.

The DEP has experienced repeated budget cuts over the last decade, totaling roughly 40 percent. Department staffing is down 800 people, according to David Hess, former DEP secretary and now a political consultant.

Shader, the DEP spokesman, said state regulators plan to bolster their oversight of drinking water systems. “DEP is working to ensure that we have the resources necessary in our Safe Drinking Water Program to ensure that we are finding and preventing violations which jeopardize public health,” he said, “and [we] will propose a regulation package shortly which increases funding for this program.”

The DEP plans to raise permit fees and enact new annual fees on community water systems to come up with the $7.5 million needed to hire 33 new inspectors, Shader said. The fee proposal will be presented May 17 to the state Environmental Quality Board, a 20-member independent body that must approve DEP regulations. Each inspector in the department’s Safe Drinking Water Program is now overseeing 158 public water systems — more than twice the national average of 67, according to the National Association of State Drinking Water Administrators.

The EPA letter welcomed Pennsylvania’s plan to hire more inspectors, but said the process to create a rule to raise fees and hire and train the new staff could take up to two years, which the federal agency said is too long to risk public health. The agency said that the DEP should find a temporary source of funds to get the hiring process moving.

The EPA is charged with overseeing federal safety standards that the states carry out, and the agency regulates about 100 out of 1,000 known contaminants that could cause everything from a stomach ache to cancer. Nationally, 19.5 million people get sick annually from just one class of contaminants — waterborne pathogens — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, said his 2,600 members understand the DEP’s need to raise money for the program, but some are suffering sticker shock at proposed permit fee increase and a new annual fee.

Under DEP’s proposal, annual fees could range from $250 to $40,000 per water supplier; when passed on to consumers, they would raise rates from 35 cents to $10 per person per year.

Brosious questioned the fairness of making water system customers pay for DEP staff and programs that once were underwritten for by all taxpayers. “I think it’s fair to say that hiring 33 new inspectors is the bare minimum to meet federal requirements, he said. “The winnowing away of general fund money is forcing the agency to get money from elsewhere to do the same work.”

The state’s general fund once paid for most of the Safe Drinking Water Program. Now, a little more than half, $7.7 million, comes from the general fund. The DEP is counting on the $7.5 million in new fees charged to water operators to make up the budget shortfall.

“The question I see posed for government is: At what point does the general fund fill in the gap?” Brosious said. “Another question is: Do we still have a program that gives us a level of confidence that we are meeting our SDWA standards?”

By Donna Morelli

Bay Journal staff writer Donna Morelli is based in Harrisburg. She is the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Grading the Choptank’s Health with Riverkeeper Matt Pluta

Around this time every year, there is a certain amount of excitement and anxiety as the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) publishes its annual report card on the environmental condition of the Choptank, Miles, and Wye Rivers water quality status. And one of those individuals who is perhaps more anxious than most is Matt Pluta, the Riverkeeper for the Choptank.

His interest in the Choptank goes beyond the mere fact that it is by far one of the most complex parts of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem. The Choptank also has the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted, if not the most polluted, river in the entire region.

But as Matt points out in his interview with the Spy to discuss this year’s scores, the Choptank is really two very distinct spheres. And this year the organization made a decision to evaluate the Upper Choptank in the Lower Choptank as separate systems. The rationale being that each section news its water quality strategies as a result of the different ways that the water system is used.

The Spy talk to Matt last week about the overall health of the Choptank and what he anticipates to be the best approach to achieving better scores in the years ahead.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy please go here.

EPA Letter to Chesapeake Bay States Spells Out Cleanup Expectations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has high expectations for Bay cleanup efforts in the coming years. Earlier this year it sent states a 10-page letter outlining what agency officials believe must happen to deliver on the decades-old promise of bringing back clear, healthy Chesapeake Bay water—in which underwater plants thrive, fish and shellfish have plenty of oxygen, and waterfowl can graze on abundant food.

The “expectations letter,” as officials call it, outlines what assurances the District of Columbia and six watershed states need to provide in their next-generation cleanup plans to demonstrate they have enough funding and adequate programs to reduce farm and stormwater runoff and do everything else that needs to be in place by 2025 to restore the Bay’s health.

Chesapeake watershed residents have gotten a glimpse in recent years of what a restored Bay would look like; some areas have seen the clearest water in decades, underwater grass beds have expanded, and oxygen-starved “dead zones” have been nearly nonexistent. Those gains stemmed at least in part from drier-than-normal weather, which flushed fewer water-fouling nutrients and sediment off the land and into the Bay. Nonetheless, it was, officials say, real-world evidence that reaching nutrient reduction goals will produce the greatly improved water quality they’ve promised since cleanup work began in 1983.

To maintain those conditions over time, the EPA letter emphasizes the need for ramped-up efforts to engage local officials in the cleanup and to establish quantifiable “local area goals” that support nutrient and sediment control efforts. It also says states will need to offset impacts of growth, as well as the potential negative impacts of climate change and the nutrient and sediment buildup behind Conowingo Dam, which could make cleanup efforts more difficult.

But the letter leaves the door open for states to adjust planned pollution reductions from various sources, and even watersheds, if it accomplishes local and Bay water quality goals more effectively — and potentially more rapidly as well.

Accountability framework

The expectations letter is part of what the EPA and the watershed states had agreed to in the “accountability framework” of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML), the cleanup plan that was approved in December 2010.

Nutrients and sediment — the “daily load” in question” — have long been recognized as pollutants that foul the Bay’s water, but past cleanup goals, set for 2000 and 2010, were missed by a wide mark.

The TDML, or Bay pollution diet, was intended to keep that from happening again. Like earlier plans, it set pollution limits for states and major river basins aimed at reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to levels that would bring back a healthy Bay.

Unlike earlier efforts, though, the pollution diet includes safeguards intended to keep the cleanup effort on target. First, the states must write detailed watershed implementation plans, or WIPs, that outline the actions and policies needed to reach goals. Then states set two-year “milestones” so progress in following the WIPs can be incrementally tracked and publicly reported.

The Bay TMDL also included a “midpoint assessment” to be completed by the end of this year. At that point, states are to have taken actions sufficient to get 60 percent of the nutrient pollution reductions needed by 2025.

The results to date are mixed: Based on progress through 2015, the EPA has said it expects that Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia would meet their interim goals for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions. Meanwhile, New York was expected to miss some goals for all three pollutants, and Pennsylvania, while meeting its phosphorus goal, will miss its sediment and its nitrogen goals, the latter by a huge margin.

Under the accountability framework, if states are falling well short of their cleanup goals and not building the programs necessary to achieve them, the EPA can withhold federal grant funding, prescribe how that money is used or take other measures. In the past, for instance, it has temporarily withheld grants from Pennsylvania because of poor performance.

But even those states on pace to meet their goals are not necessarily on track to meet goals from all pollution sources; stormwater reductions, for example, were falling short almost everywhere. Nor were the states on track to meet cleanup goals for all major river basins.

Drawing on new information from updated computer models and new science developed for the midpoint assessment, the states next year must craft new “Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans” describing how they will reach the 2025 finish line.

According to the EPA’s expectations letter, states must not only show where pollution reductions will come from, but also demonstrate that they have programs adequate to achieve those goals, and on time.

The types of specific issues states need to address include: Are the regulatory programs robust enough, with enough staff and oversight, to ensure regulated dischargers will meet goals? Do unregulated pollution sources have adequate incentive funding to persuade landowners to install pollution controls, and is there enough technical assistance available to help them?

If the EPA isn’t convinced that the strategies will do the job when they review the WIPs late next year, the agency has the authority under the Clean Water Act to step in and demand additional actions, such as requiring greater reductions from regulated sources — wastewater treatment plants, for instance — to make up for cleanup shortfalls from largely unregulated sources.

Local goals & involvement

This time around, the EPA is stressing the need to involve local decision makers — whether they be local governments, soil and water conservation districts, regional planning districts, nonprofit groups or others — in the development and execution of the watershed implementation plans.

The “local buy-in” concept has long been seen as critical to Bay nutrient and sediment reduction efforts, since decisions about land use and stormwater management, as well as the promotion of farm runoff control practices, are typically made at the local level.

Local goals have been tried before. After the Bay TMDL was rolled out, the states developed Phase II WIPs in 2011 that were intended to establish local nutrient reduction targets throughout the watershed. That effort was ultimately walked back, though, as projections from the Bay Program’s computer models failed to match what was actually happening on the ground locally.

Now, EPA officials are confident that revised models with dramatically overhauled information — based on aerial photography, with 1-meter resolution across the entire six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed — will produce much sharper estimates of local land uses.

Still, when the EPA released a draft of its expectations letter a year ago calling for “local area targets,” it was met by a firestorm of criticism from many local and state officials who feared it would lead to new, enforceable requirements on local governments. The National Association of Counties even approved a resolution opposing any effort by the EPA to set local numeric targets in the Bay watershed.

“There was this perception that because of the word target, the idea was that the EPA was going to tell local governments — or have the states tell local governments — that you must achieve this local allocation, which was not the intent,” says Lisa Schaefer, director of government relations for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
During much of last year, Schaefer co-chaired a task force aimed at working with state, local and federal officials to resolve the issue.

Their recommendations, which were incorporated into a revised expectations letter, call for “local planning goals” but leave it up to the states to determine the size of the areas that would be expected to meet them. They only have to be smaller than a major river basin within a state.

While the EPA letter says goals do not “establish any new requirements or rights for those local and regional partners,” the goals nevertheless have to be measurable in some way. They could involve setting numeric targets for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, or thresholds for installing best management practices on specific land uses. Or, they could aim for retaining a certain amount of runoff on the landscape, among other measurable options.

EPA officials say the local goals are not intended as a regulatory tool, but rather a set of quantifiable objectives to work toward, which could help promote local planning and implementation. The ultimate accountability, they say, rests on states.

“We don’t have the authority to take a federal action against a local government or another local partner, nor do we have the desire to do so,” says Lucinda Power, an EPA representative on the task force.

Even though the new WIPs won’t be completed until late next year, the EPA wants local engagement efforts to start now. The agency’s letter calls for states to explain in their plans how local and regional “partners” will remain involved through 2025.

Officials in the states say they have either begun, or will soon begin, initial meetings with local governments and organizations. But most say they are still months away from deciding what the appropriate scale should be for local goals in their states, and want to get local input first.

Beth McGee, senior water quality scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says having some type of measurable goal is critical for meaningful participation at local levels. “How can you lose weight if you don’t know how much weight you have to lose?” she asks.

While McGee said she would like to have seen more detail in EPA’s letter about how local goals will be tied to meaningful actions, she added that simply including the local element in the correspondence “was a good marker to get out there.”

Refining river basin caps

The Bay and its tidal tributaries are divided into 92 separate segments spread across Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The goal of the Bay TMDL is to achieve water quality standards in each of those segments. To get there, the Bay TMDL set pollution limits for each major tributary, which, in turn, were divided among the states along each river. Those goals were further subdivided by the source of pollution, such as wastewater, agriculture and stormwater.

While most states are on track to meet overall 2017 goals, they are not necessarily on track in all river basins or with all types of pollution, which could affect their ability to meet water quality goals everywhere.

“Where you make the reductions does matter, particularly in Maryland and Virginia,” says Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA Bay Program Office. “Whether you are taking pollution load-reducing actions on the Eastern Shore or the Western Shore, for example, makes a big difference in cleaning up local tidal waters, as well as the Bay itself.”

Overall, pollution reductions from wastewater treatment plants or from power plants and other sources of air emissions have accounted for the majority of the nitrogen reductions. But hitting cleanup goals in all of the Bay segments will require more progress from areas, and sources, that have underperformed so far, Batiuk says.

The EPA is offering states flexibility using new computer models developed by the Bay Program to shift prescribed pollution reductions from one source to another, and even to another river basin, as long as overall water quality goals are met both in the Bay and the tidal portions of its rivers. In some cases, states may be able to reduce more of one nutrient, such as nitrogen, and less of another, such as phosphorus, if overall goals are met.

Likewise, states may want to make greater reductions from certain sources — such as wastewater — because they are more easily or cheaply attained. Or, they may want to promote additional management actions in places where they would provide additional local benefits, such as flood control or habitat improvement. Those, and other, considerations may contribute to states wanting to shift where they’re targeting cleanup actions, Batiuk says.

Accounting for growth

The Bay TMDL not only requires pollution reductions to meet nutrient and sediment goals, it also requires additional reductions to offset population growth and development, which increase runoff and discharges. Pollution could increase from more people, more farm animals, more cropland, more development, lost forests or other changes in the watershed.

States have tried to account for population growth and make adjustments in the past, but there is no set methodology about how that should be done. In recent years, using methods agreed upon by the states, the Bay Program has provided them with short-term growth projections that include population, cropland and farm animals, as well as changes in land use.

As states have set new two-year cleanup milestones, they have sought to offset any increases in pollution from growth while progressing toward their overall nutrient and sediment reduction goals.

The region could stay with that incremental approach to adjusting for growth. But in its expectations letter, the EPA said it would prefer to project land and population changes through 2025, giving the states an upfront estimate about how much increased nutrient and sediment pollution would need to be offset, and where it is likely to originate. New WIPs would have to aim for those offsets, though every two years the projections would be adjusted — either up or down — as new information becomes available at the local and state scales.

“This gives all of our partners a reasonable target to shoot for to offset growth,” says Matt Johnston, a data analyst with the University of Maryland who works at the Bay Program Office.

The EPA’s proposal not only gives states a fuller picture of what needs to be offset, it could also provide a new incentive for conserving ecologically valuable lands. That is, states could get credit by protecting land from development, thereby preventing the predicted increase in nutrient runoff. “This is the best way to incentivize protection of existing natural lands,” Johnston says.

The Bay Program partnership is expected to make a decision about how to account for growth in Phase III WIPs later this year.

Conowingo & climate change

The expectations letter also says that the WIPs will have to address impacts from climate change and additional pollution stemming from the filling of the Conowingo Dam reservoir on the Susquehanna River with nutrient-laden sediment.

The filling of the Conowingo reservoir has meant that more nutrients and sediment are flowing into the Bay than previously thought. And preliminary computer modeling suggests that climate change is also sending slightly more nutrients into the Bay than previously realized, especially via altered precipitation patterns.

Addressing those issues will likely mean more pollution reduction actions are needed, but the exact impacts may vary from place to place.

The letter does not say how the impacts will be dealt with. The state-federal Bay Program partnership doesn’t expect to make final decisions on them until later this year, when it has updated computer modeling available. The expectations letter will be updated at that time, after state and federal officials reach agreement on how each of these issues should be addressed in Phase III WIPs.

The full text of the interim expectations letter is on the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website:

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.

Inspectors find Most Pa Farms are Trying to Help The Bay

On the day of the inspection of his 350-acre farm, Jay M. Diller pulled large files from his desk and drove his skid loader out to meet staff from the district conservation office.

“Nobody likes inspections,” said Diller, as he produced plans and other farm records the inspectors wanted to see. “I don’t even like state inspections on my car; they always find something wrong.”

Diller was joking, but he’s very serious about water quality. “I’m doing everything I can to keep manure out of the creek,” he said.

Pennsylvania farmers like Diller are finding themselves under increased scrutiny as the state and many county conservation districts have ramped up their efforts to check whether farms have implemented the required manure management and sediment control plans. The inspections are part of Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay “reboot” strategy, announced last year and aimed at getting its Bay cleanup efforts on track.

The Keystone State is the largest contributor of water-fouling nitrogen to the Bay, but it has fallen far behind in its nutrient-control efforts. The state needs to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay by 34 million pounds by 2025 — almost 70 percent of the total reductions needed from the entire watershed.

Lack of progress could mean further punitive action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in the past has temporarily withheld funds from the state because of its shortfalls.

Most of the nitrogen reaching the Bay from Pennsylvania originates on the more than 33,000 farms in its portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. But an EPA review of the state’s programs found that only 2 percent of those farms were inspected annually — a rate that would take it half a century to comply with regulations required since the 1970s.

In its reboot strategy, the state pledged, among other things, to inspect 10 percent of those farms annually. To do that, it has increased inspections by state Department of Environmental Protection staff and enlisted help from the staff of more than two dozen county conservation districts — county-based entities that support landowners in managing land and water resources.

Through its first quarter, the DEP reported that 500 farms had been checked, but officials vowed to pick up the pace.

“I think it’s doable even though we started late,” says Veronica Kasi, program manager of the DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office. “We’re going to meet 10 percent, because that’s what we said we would do. And each year we’re going to have a better understanding of how many farms we have in the watershed.”

So far, the inspections are showing somewhat better compliance than state officials originally thought. When the reboot plan was announced in early 2016, they cited a DEP review that suggested as many as 70 percent of farms didn’t have state-mandated plans to curb pollution.

But through the first three months of inspections, the DEP said that 64 percent of the farmers required to have a manure management plan did have one, as did 60 percent of the farmers required to have an agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plan. “The farmers have been very cooperative with this new inspection program,” says Deborah Klenotic, a DEP spokeswoman.

Being out of compliance at this point means that a farm’s plans are either missing or no longer valid. Part of the problem, conservation district staff say, is that even if farmers are good stewards, many aren’t good file clerks when it comes to preparing and maintaining plans.

Diller milks about 180 cows on his Cumberland County farm and raises young hens to be sold to egg operations. He also grows crops: hay, soybean and corn. In addition, he leases several parcels of land in various townships in Cumberland County.

During his two-hour inspection, Diller cracked a few jokes, but when discussing farm management, the conversation was one of scientific precision. An avid reader of agricultural publications, Diller is well-versed in how to reduce soil erosion and responsibly manage manure. He said he practices no-till planting methods and plants winter cover — not only for conservation purposes, but also because they make good business sense.

“The last thing I like to see is brown water crossing the road,” Diller said. “I think about water quality, and I like to keep my soil on the farm.”

Still, Diller’s agricultural erosion and sedimentation plan was out-of-date. But his manure management plan was current.

The district gives farmers 90 days to rectify any issues with their plans and offers technical and financial assistance to get plans up-to-date. The problem will cost him about $3,600 to fix, and Diller may need an extension of the 90-day grace period; the wait to get a consultant to write or update a plan can be months because of increased demand by farmers who know they are going to be inspected soon, or whose plans are insufficient.

“I find the paperwork part of all this frustrating,” Diller said. “But if this is what it’s going to take to improve, I say, let’s do this. I’d rather do it than be in violation. I don’t want to be in violation. Farmers get enough bad publicity.”

All farms, large and small, are regulated to some degree. Manure management plans are required for those that generate or use manure. Agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plans are required for farms that plow (or no-till) at least 5,000 square feet or have an “animal concentration area” such as a barnyard or exercise lot of at least 5,000 square feet.

While the purpose of each plan is simple — to control runoff in areas where manure and animals are kept — a lot of detail is required to ensure proper management.
Out-of-date plan aside, Diller is a model farmer, says Brady Seeley, Chesapeake Bay technician for Cumberland County. But he says those farmers who don’t follow the rules simply don’t know what they’re doing wrong.

Often, the problem is a failure to record practices that the farmer is actually doing, Seeley says, and district staff try to help get that in order, when they can. Of 40 inspections conducted so far in Cumberland County, he says, “about 32 were out of compliance, but we were able to get 13 into compliance immediately.”

District staff have no authority — or desire — to enforce the rules that they are checking. If they can’t readily resolve a problem, they report it to the DEP, which can issue a notice of violation or a fine to farmers who refuse to comply.

So far, the district has not referred any farms to the DEP for enforcement, says Carl Goshorn, the Cumberland district manager. He says that farmers have multiple chances to comply with the regulations. “If we turn a farmer over to DEP for enforcement action,” he says, “they just didn’t want to work with [the] government.”

District staff members acknowledge that some farmers resent what they perceive is being told how to farm.

“When [a technician] talks to farmers,” Goshorn says, “he tells them it’s just a cost to do business. He’ll bring up water quality, especially if there’s a stream going through the farm. ‘Do you remember when you used to fish in that stream?’ And [the farmer] will often say, ‘yeah, I wish I could see my kids doing that.’”

But word of pending inspections is leading farmers to take pre-emptive action, Goshorn says. Many are coming to the district for help. The district has also conducted three manure management workshops this year to help farmers write their own plans or to offer technical assistance in getting manure management plans.

District staff can’t meet the demand to help write the plans, so its board of directors put aside enough funding in 2017 to offer a 50 percent cost share for plans, up to $1,000 per farmer.

“A lot of folks are asking for [inspections],” Goshorn says. “They heard of all the new attention, and they want to get into compliance, and some are looking for money. They know it’s not going to be this easy as time goes on.”

For now, the inspections primarily focus on whether farmers have required plans that are up-to date and available for each parcel of land farmed — not necessarily that the plans are being strictly followed.

“As a result of this initiative, Pennsylvania has substantially increased their presence in the agricultural community to ensure that farmers have the state-required plans,” says David Sternberg, a spokesman for EPA’s Region 3. The EPA anticipates that the state will be adding verification of practices installed on farms in the near future, he says, as well as improving programing, funding and tracking of key practices.

District staff say that encouraging good stewardship has always been a large part of their job, and that will increase along with the inspections.

“We may be only checking for an [erosion and sedimentation plan] and a manure management plan . . . but we also advocate and promote implementation,” says Christopher Thompson, Lancaster County Conservation District manager.

Overall, inspections in Lancaster have gone well, Thompson says, adding that part of the farm visits are educational. “We hear what they have to say, but remind them this is not a requirement just for 2016, this is a decades-old requirement.”

Lancaster County is the heart of Pennsylvania agriculture, with about 5,000 farms, compared with Cumberland’s 500. Technicians there have completed inspections on 200 farms and found that about 50 percent either didn’t have plans or had incomplete plans, according Kevin Seibert, who is in charge of agricultural compliance and oversees two technicians.

Like the Cumberland district, Seibert says, farmers are using the inspections to learn what they need to do to comply. “If they don’t have one or the other plan, we give them 90 days to submit a plan to the district. If they don’t come through, we grant extra time,” he says. “If they show some effort, we don’t report them.”

He says they’ve had to refer fewer than 10 farmers to the DEP for enforcement.
Even counties that rejected state funding to carry out inspections say the ramped-up attention is driving up requests for help with writing plans.

York County Conservation District is one of eight in the state that opted out of doing inspections. But their usual waiting list for technical assistance of 150 farmers remains consistent. “I think folks have taken notice,” says Mark Kimmel, district manager for York. “We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.”
By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News Service

Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She’s the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.


Nice! Pickering Creek Receives 10 Acres from George and Cemmy Peterson

Pickering Creek Audubon Center announced today that 10-acres of land was recently added to the 400-acre footprint of the Center, thanks to a gift of property from George and Catherine (Cemmy) Peterson. Cemmy and George have spent the last twenty years enjoying Pickering Creek through many seasons, hearing children squealing with delight across the creek as they experience the wonders of nature, which was one of the leading inspirations to donate their property. Both nature enthusiasts, Cemmy serves as a Trustee and past president of the Pickering Creek Board of Trustees and George is an active volunteer at the Center.

George and Catherine (Cemmy) Peterson.

Through 2013, the Center board and staff worked on creating a Master Site Plan that both addressed infrastructure needs at the center as well as improving bird habitat in the larger landscape of the Center’s neighborhood. With forests as a high priority habitat for bird conservation for Audubon, a portion of the Master Site Plan for Pickering Creek seek to knit together the forested parts of northern Talbot County to improve the area for forest interior dwelling birds. In addition to broader conservation goals, the Center also sought to find additional places it could use to explore nature with its students, both young and old. The Petersons heard that call, and were a terrific part of creating that vision four years ago. In what can only be described as an awesome selfless act, they took the lead this past December by donating their ten acre property and three bedroom home immediately across Pickering Creek from the main campus of the Center to the Chesapeake Audubon Society.

“We are honored and awed to receive such a thoughtful and generous gift, “ said Mark Scallion, Pickering Creek Audubon Center’s Director. The parcel, which will debut it’s first program with youth this May, will be known as Peterson Woods at Pickering Creek Audubon Center.
George Peterson reflects, “We always felt that the Audubon Center shared Pickering Creek with us. We were only a hundred yards away, across an arm of Pickering Creek, and shared everything from wildlife to the excited shouts of summer campers on Pickering’s trails and the equally loud shouts of our grandchildren (who went on to become Pickering campers).

Our pileated woodpecker flew back and forth between the woods. For a time we had a river otter in our bank who made the same trip. In winters when the creek froze over, even the red foxes would walk back and forth across the snow.

So when it came time to move from our home and our woods, it seemed only natural to share the property more permanently with Pickering Creek Audubon Center. One of the remarkable things is that, although the properties are so close, they have quite different mini-environments. In Peterson Woods there are thousands of naturally massed spicebush but none of the rugged mountain laurel that grace the Audubon Center, an acre of ferns and a large patch of creeping dogwood, but none of may apples that light up spring across the creek. We hope that both the connections and the differences will help strengthen Pickering Creek Audubon Center.”
Cemmy remarks, “Over the years, we have had opportunities to take part in the life of the Center in many ways. We are ever impressed with the acumen and dedication of its staff, and the programs they create for thousands and thousands of children. Knowing that their efforts have brought the Center into a position of conservation leadership on the Eastern Shore, we entrust our land to their care. Perhaps our gift will encourage others to consider conservation easements or outright gifts of property to further the Center’s mission.”

Although not open to the public, a smattering of the Center’s programs that are offered to the public this summer and fall will be held at Peterson Woods. Keep an eye on the Center’s program calendar at to take advantage of an opportunity to visit this gem.

Some Good News: Chesapeake Underwater Grasses up 8%; Acreage Highest in Decades

Underwater grasses, one of the most closely watched indicators of Chesapeake Bay health, surged to the highest levels seen in decades, according to survey results for 2016. This is the second straight year that grasses have set a record.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the Bay’s and its tidal tributaries were covered by the underwater meadows, which provide habitat for juvenile fish and blue crabs, as well as food for waterfowl.

That was an 8 percent increase over 2015, and more than twice what was in the Bay just four years ago. “It was an impressive year following a previously impressive year and we are at numbers that we’ve not seen — ever,” said Bob Orth, an underwater grass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who oversees the annual aerial survey, which began 33 years ago.

Like all green plants, submerged grasses need sunlight to survive, and the clearer the water, the more sun they get. Because of the link to water clarity, the annual survey of Bay grasses — often referred to by scientists as SAV, for submerged aquatic vegetation — is considered a key indicator of how the Bay is doing.

In their own right, grass beds are also a critical component of the Bay ecosystem. In addition to providing food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and crabs, they also pump oxygen into the water and trap sediments.

Restoring underwater grass beds is one of the goals of the nutrient and sediment reductions aimed at cleaning up the Bay, as water clouded by sediment or nutrient-fueled algae blooms can be lethal to grass beds.

The Bay’s underwater grasses were knocked back to 48,195 acres by the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer 2011, which sent a flood of nutrients and sediment into the Chesapeake.

But relatively dry conditions since then, which reduced the flow of nutrients and sediments into the Bay, have helped the grasses recover. The result has been unusually clear water in many areas. In fact, some grass beds are becoming so large and robust that they may be able to withstand at least some severe weather events, scientists said.

Water has been so clear in places like the Upper Bay’s Susquehanna Flats, that scientists reported dense grass beds extending into deeper areas where they had disappeared in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee.

Brooke Landry, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program’s SAV work group, said that when she visited the flats on a field trip to train citizen scientists last summer, the beds were not only expanding but included an “incredible diversity” of species — at least 11.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the bed, which reached 5,993 acres last year. “We definitely saw grasses deeper than I would have expected, and the water was crystal clear.”

Overall, the survey mapped 97,433 acres in 2016. That was an 8 percent increase over the 92,315 acres observed the previous year.

But in 2016, the aerial survey was not able to map some areas due to a mix of weather and security restrictions near the District of Columbia and the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Specifically, parts of the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers, including Piscataway Creek, were not surveyed in 2016, although they had been mapped the year before.

If those areas had the same amount of grass beds as in 2015, last year’s acreage would have increased by nearly 2,000 acres for a Baywide total of about 99,400, said David Wilcox, a VIMS analyst who works on the survey. But even that number is conservative, Wilcox said, because grass beds near the unmapped areas also appeared to have expanded last year.

Last year’s mapped acreage represented 53 percent of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, and it exceeded an interim target of 90,000 acres set for 2017 under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

One caveat is that much of the recovery is in the moderate-salinity areas of the Mid Bay, a region dominated by widgeon grass, which is a notorious “boom and bust” species that can disappear as rapidly as it pops up. More than half of all underwater grasses in the Bay are found in that area, and it accounted for most of last year’s increase as well.

“In 2003, we lost about half of the widgeon grass,” Wilcox cautioned. “If that were to happen next year, our story would be very different, because there’s so much widgeon grass out there.”

But scientists said they were encouraged that, at least in some places, they were starting to see other underwater species mix with the widgeon grass, which may help make the beds more durable over time.

“We’re starting to observe additional species in beds that were just widgeon grass, like redhead grass and sago pondweed, which is a great sign,” Landry said. “So if widgeon grass does crash, in some areas at least, these other species will continue to provide those ecosystem services Bay grasses are so important for.”

Though grasses improved Baywide, the survey found that trends varied in different salinity zones around the Bay (the following numbers compare acreages only for areas that could be mapped in both 2015 and 2016):

• The tidal freshwaters at the head of the Bay and in the uppermost tidal reaches of most tributaries, saw a 9 percent increase over 2015, to 17,319 acres.

• The slightly salty “oligohaline” waters that occupy a relatively small portion of the Upper Bay and tidal tributaries, experienced a 16 percent decrease, to 8,503 acres.

• The moderately salty “mesohaline” waters — the largest area of underwater grass habitat, stretching from near Baltimore south to the Rappahannock River and Tangier Island and including large sections of most tidal rivers — had an increase of 20 percent, covering 57,380 acres.

• The very salty “polyhaline” waters in the Lower Bay — from the mouth of the Rappahannock and Tangier Island south, including the lower York and James rivers — had 14,226 acres, which was a 15 percent decrease.

Scientists said it was unclear why grasses declined in some parts of the oligohaline zone. But observations suggested that, at least in some places, the decline was in hydrilla, a nonnative species that is often quick to colonize unvegetated areas. But hydrilla is also sensitive to higher salinities, and scientists said drier conditions (and therefore higher salinity) in some rivers might have caused localized diebacks.

Normally, declines in polyhaline waters are from diebacks of eelgrass, the dominant species in that region — which is always a concern because eelgrass can be slow to recover after setbacks. In fact, it’s been generally declining since the early 1990s. But based on limited observations, Orth said the overall declines in that area last year seemed to be caused by a loss of widgeon grass, even though that species had greatly expanded in other parts of the Bay.

“Widgeon grass has always been one of these dynamic species that comes and goes,” he said.

Except for 1988, the survey has been conducted annually in the Bay since 1984, when just 38,229 acres were observed — the lowest ever seen. The Bay’s 185,000-acre goal is based on actual acreages that could be observed in historical photographs of the Bay, taken for other purposes during the early and mid-1990s.

Details about the survey, including aerial photos of grass beds from around the Bay, are at

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.

Maryland Could Host the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm

The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “…We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.

Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.

“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”

Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.

By Cara Newcomer

Spy Profiles: Chesapeake Harvest with Deena Deese Kilmon

There seems to be a good bit of nostalgia about the traditional family farm on the Eastern Shore as of late.  Going back centuries, the idea of a self-sufficient, agricultural enterprise that’s focused on locally grown produce has had a minor renaissance as consumers continue to seek out healthy alternatives to commercial grown “fresh” fruit and vegetable sections.

That’s the good news. The not so good news is that in order for those local farmers to be competitive they are increasingly asked to certify their agricultural practices in order to qualify in the wholesale and retail markets.

This is not an easy undertaking. And that is why the work of the Chesapeake Harvest project formed by the Easton Economic Development Corporation is so critical to this important transition.

With the help of a federal grant, Chesapeake Harvest has made it its goal to work with 30 of these family farmers over the next three years to prepare them for USDA gap certification, the most common and well respected endorsement, while at the same time branding and marketing the notion of being “Bay-friendly” through the adoption of these production conservation standards.

Leading this marketing and outreach effort for Chesapeake Harvest is Deena Deese Kilmon who has not only had the invaluable background of coming from a family farm background, spent time in the wholesale food world but also owned restaurant in St. Michaels before joining the organization.

We caught up with Deena in Kent County a few weeks ago before she and her team of volunteers worked with the local farmer to do a risk assessment of that farm’s practices and make recommendations that will move that farm into a gap certified agricultural center.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Chesapeake Harvest please go here

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Hangs it Up for Politics

There has been a change of the guard for the Lower Susquehanna River. Michael Helfrich, the first Riverkeeper for the bottom half of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributary, is leaving after 12 years, to pursue a career in politics.

Already a part-time York, PA, city councilman and president of the five-member municipal governing body, Helfrich vacated his full-time Riverkeeper post on April 1 to run for mayor of his hometown.

“After nearly 12 years of having my focus and energy spread out over 9,215 square miles of Lower Susquehanna issues — and issues of the Chesapeake Bay — I’m now going to focus my energy on the 5.2 square miles of York City,” Helfrich says.

Helfrich, 47, says he’d rather not identify his successor until the Riverkeeper board of directors signs off on a work contract. But a photograph posted on his Facebook page from his going-away party in late March shows Helfrich exchanging chugs from a jug of Susquehanna River water with Ted Evgeniadis, current treasurer of the organization, avid fisherman and a veteran of many watershed improvement activities. Also, Evgeniadis confirmed that he’ll be the new riverkeeper.

“He’s passing me the torch,” Evgeniadis says. “And I’m going to run with it to support all of the efforts and accomplishments that Mike has made over the past 12 years.” Evgeniadis and Helfrich have worked together on water quality issues in York since 2011.

Helfrich founded the Codorus Creek Improvement Partnership in 2001. It organized citizens around a section of the creek, once known as the Inky Stinky, which flows through the community of nearly 44,000 people, according to the 2010 Census.
During the organization’s first three years, volunteers and partners formed waterway pollution patrols, removed more than 150 tons of trash from the creek, and brought attention — and legal actions — against polluters. The Codorus does not stink as much anymore, partially as a result of a 2001 settlement of a lawsuit filed by York city residents against York-based paper company P.H. Glatfelter Co. to clean up effluent from its paper mill upstream from the city. Following the lawsuit, Helfrich worked with Glatfelter on Codorus Creek improvement projects.

In 2005 Helfrich set his sights on bigger waters — the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay — when he founded the group Stewards of the Susquehanna and became a licensed Riverkeeper. Since then, he’s spent countless hours surveying the river from the back roads of south central Pennsylvania and paddling in it and its tributaries. When not in his clunky Subaru station wagon or his kayak, Helfrich was in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., lobbying someone to do something, or in some policy meeting with state officials. Depending on a person’s position, Helfrich was seen as either an annoyance or a strong voice at these meetings. Either way, he was always a gadfly.

“The work of a Riverkeeper is not for the faint of heart,” says Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The hours are long, the work is endless, and there is strife and conflict at many turns. . . . Michael Helfrich has been fighting for his river for twelve years — and has pushed back against a host of different pollution sources.”

Sometimes the struggle brings results. Helfrich joined other groups pressuring PPL Electric Utilities and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to investigate thermal pollution from an electric utility linked to several large fish kills in 2006. After a lengthy process and pressure, PPL agreed to invest $120 million in upgrades to the Brunner Island steam electricity plant on the Susquehanna between York and Lancaster counties. The utility installed a system that lowers the temperature of water used to cool equipment in the plant before releasing it into the Susquehanna. The project reduced the temperature spike in the river caused by the 600-million-gallon daily discharge, and eased the thermal shock experienced by fish in the area.

The upgrade of Brunner Island is one of two accomplishments of which Helfrich is most proud. The second, albeit not as neatly resolved, involves addressing the millions of tons of sediment trapped behind Conowingo Dam. Responding to concerns raised by him and others, a multi-year, federal and state study has documented that the dam is at capacity for storage of nutrient–laden sediment, and that it could have impacts on restoring water quality in the upper Bay. But there’s no agreement yet on how — or even whether — to deal with it. Some are pushing for dredging and removing the sediment, while others argue that the long-term solution lies in curtailing the runoff of sediment and nutrients upriver in the Susquehanna’s watershed.

Helfrich isn’t done with riverkeeping completely. If his mayoral bid is successful, he won’t start his new job until January 2018. He is committed to another nine months of mentoring Evgeniadis and keeping an eye on the watershed.

“We worked hard with [the U.S. Geological Survey] and others to get Conowingo on the map,” Helfrich says. “Eleven years later, and we still don’t know what to do. I’m going to stick around for a while and help the new Riverkeeper keep Conowingo on the radar.”

By Donna Morelli

Donna Morelli is a staff writer for the Bay Journal based in Harrisburg. She’s a former staffer for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.