A Shred of Good News on the Save-the-Bay Front

Underwater grasses are coming back in the Chesapeake Bay, increasing their domain by about 10 percent last year, according to a survey overseen by Bob Orth with the Virginia Institute for Marine Science. Grass beds are a critical part of the Bay ecology, offering shelter for baby crabs and fish, breathing oxygen into the water, and providing fodder for waterfowl.

Recovering from a massive die-off in 2005, grass beds covered an estimated 65,000 acres of the Bay bottom. That’s still way short of the 185,000-acre goal proposed for 2010, and even of the 90,000 acres as recently as 2002. But it does demonstrate that the Bay has the capacity to recover if we just give it a chance.

The Virginian-Pilot has the story here. (Photo credit: Michael’s Tips for the Technophobic.)

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    How important are the grasses to the health of the Bay?

    What are the proximate causes of the destruction of these grasses?

    Is the loss of these grasses – unique to the Chesapeake Bay?

    If we have limited funds on cleaning up the Bay – then should the money be prioritized to bringing back the grasses?

    I think we are dealing with the big “fuzzy” here…

    Each week or month – there is a different message being sent and inb such a way that the public is not left with a compelling understanding of what the priorities should be – and just as important – what their involvement should be beyond.. opening up their wallet and saying “take some”.

    People are .. disconnected from the problem solving aspects of cleaning up the Bay.

    Many folks think that buying a bumper sticker saying “Save the Bay” is pretty much the extent of what they can do.. i.e. give money.. get sticker.. and if you get real energetic… put on the cheerleading outfit.

    To give an example.

    What exactly should the folks in Fredericksburg Va (or Chesterfield or Arlington) do at the local level to help return the aquatic grasses (if indeed ..they are key to the health of the bay)?

    Right now.. we’ve got folks parking their cars on 5 acres of anti-freeze and oil-laden asphalt who believe.. with all of their hearts that the problem is caused by upstream farmers letting cows wander in creeks…

    If you asked them if that WalMart parking lot should be REQUIRED to be a filterable permeable surface – even if their groceries would cost a buck more.. they’d not know what to say… or they’d oppose it.

    The same thing with the sewage treatment plants….

    When the proposal is to add $20 a month to the water/sewer bill.. there is OUTRAGE that government intends to rip them off…

    Would we dare say that the $20 dollars is to restore the grasses in the Bay?

    heaven forbid.. we’d tell people a LIE .. right?

    but this is my entire point.. we do not give people the opportunity to take a personal role in the restoration of the Bay.. if they do not know what should be done at the local level…

    so.. the constant raining down of never-ending info about the Bay.. has too much of a “chicken little” flavor and not enough of an “Uncle Sam Needs YOU! flavor.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Citizens could:

    Stop buying bigger houses
    Stop using fertilizer
    Stop dumping down drains
    Clean up after their pets
    Use porous pavement and green pavers- stop creating impervious surfaces
    Take steps to control stormwater runoff on their property- rain water barrels, rain gardens, green roofs, etc

    The list goes on…

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What are the 3 most important things that citizens can do to bring the underwater grasses back?

    The problem with the Chinese menu approach is that virtually everyone can claim that they are doing their part – even as the Bay slips further and further away.

    We need to know what the most important things are that MUST be done by us as individuals and to get away from the touchy-feely ..”I’m doing my part” school of benign neglect.

    It’s almost as if .. what is REALLY important is that we all have the opportunity to feel good about our individual contributions..even if in the end.. the Bay goes to hell in a handbasket.

    We need to FOCUS and PRIORITIZE and yes..for some of us to KNOW that what we are doing is next to worthless.. in that is the case….

    enough of good intentions.. let’s do the job.. do the duty… and stop yammering about recycling plastic bags and mulching tea bags.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, the biggest issue is runaway development which is taking away a lot of riperian barriers and increasing stormwater runnoff.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I think the main thing is nutrients, followed by sediment. The nutrients kill the grasses by promoting algae blooms that shade the bottom dwelling plants from sunlight. Same for the sediment.

    Synthetic fertilizer is far more soluble in water than natural fertilizers. Otherwise, if you control runoff from your property such that it is no worse than the natural condition, you can be comfortable that you are not adding to the problem.

    All the rest, while helpful, is mostly fluff.

    (After you pick up after the dog, then what? Flush it down the toilet? Capture it in a plastic bag and transport it to the landfill, to be encapsulated forever?, burn it? How do you clean up after a cat? You actually wake up in the middle of the night when you hear the pet door and go stalk that cat? I don’t know about yours, but I imagine my cats would get skittish and disappear in a flash if you tried that. either that or “MEOW, Pervert, SLASH.” that cat already sent my wife and I to the emergency room once. And I’m supposed to do that while there are several million cattle, horses, deer, and turkey wandering around? And I must have five hundred hummingbirds around my house, what about them?)


  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “And I’m supposed to do that while there are several million cattle, horses, deer, and turkey wandering around? “

    let’s see.. in 1500 when there were a gazillion deer and turkey wading through poop-covered woodlands.. the Bay was… devoid of underwater grasses.. oysters and crabs….

    .. but sometime later.. at about the time of John Smith.. the Bay cleared up again and had bountiful harvests of seafood.. only to gradually succumb once again later to deer and turkey poop….

    The moral of this story is that we all know.. or at darkly suspect that none of rivers were really every healthy.. not with all those animals walking around and pooping and stuff…

    .. and that the problems we have now really have little to do with what we do..

    .. but.. just in case.. get yerself one of them “Save the Bay” stickers.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    The problems we have now probably have a lot to do with what we do. But in our efforts to clean up after ourselves and do what’s best with the resources we have, I suspect that stalking cat poop in the middle of the night is pretty far down on the list.


  8. Groveton Avatar

    I used to fish in the Potomac River when I was young. All we ever caught were catfish and white perch.

    Then one day a boat from Florida or somewhere like that put into the Potomac.

    On the boat was something called hydrilla. It was a weed from Florida that lived in the water.

    The weed liked the Potomac. It spread and spread.

    Everybody “knew” that the hydrilla would ruin the pristine Potomac. It would choke off the river and make boating impossible.

    The Army Corps of Engineers tried to dredge the foul weed from our beautiful river. Turns out that little pieces of the weed break off during dredging and float downriver to form a whole new hydrilla plant. The more they dredged the more it spread.

    They talked about herbicies. They talked about some kind of carp that might just eat all the hydrilla. But in the end they gave up. The river was doomed.

    It turns out that the hydrilla was about the best thing that could happen to the Potomac (that and DC building a sewage treatment plant called by the unlikely name Blue Plains).

    The hydrilla only lives in relatively shallow water so it never choked off the river. It settled the sediment and the river cleared up. The white perch and catfish were joined by yellow perch, largemouth bass, striped bass, etc.

    Sometimes I wonder how much people really understand about aquatic systems like the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. For example:

    “The bluefish commercial fishery in the Chesapeake Bay accounts for about 20 percent of the total U.S. landings of bluefish. Commercial landings from the Bay were generally high during the 1930s, modest to poor from the 1940s through the 1960s and again high from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. In recent years, over-fishing has become a concern.

    Rockfish (aka striped bass) are OK. They definitely taste better than bluefish. But bluefish are much tougher customers. And, when fish school, the bluefish ain’t in no stinkin’ AP classes – that’s for sure.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It turns out that the hydrilla was about the best thing that could happen to the Potomac”

    “Sometimes I wonder how much people really understand about aquatic systems like the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.”

    I agree. If anyone bothered to do water quality monitoring upstream and downstream of hydrilla – what you observed would probably be confirmed.

    Doing so could set off a debate about the “value” or “harm” of hydrilla but at least both sides of the ledger would be in the discussion.

    It points out the bigger issue that I allude to which is basically a piecemeal.. ad hoc … approach to the Bay’s problems .. that starts off with the assumption that Billions of dollars will be needed without laying out a clear roadmap or framework for.. prioritizing the most urgent issues – such that the public is on board with the plan.

    The lack of use and reliance on water chemistry… to know what is in and not in the water… and instead use computer models to “predict” what SHOULD be there.. without really seriously validating the model with the real data.. disturbs me greatly..

    We cannot develop a roadmap if we can’t accurately characterize the problems.

    That’s why I asked the two-part question:

    1. – Are the grasses KEY to the health of the Bay?

    2. – If they are.. what are the priority actions that need to happen to bring the grasses back?

    If the public does not know this – much less.. what needs to be done where they live… then they are not engaged in pursuing solutions.

    Most people DO care but they have not got a clue as to what the top 3 things that should be done locally to improve the health of the bay.

    That’s why you see folks lay down dozens of things to do.. to improve the bay.. because they really don’t know what the most important things are… much less.. what needs to change at the local levels…

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Ahh yes, but hydrilla is invasive, therefore it isn’t natural.

    But, invasive also means it must be well adapeted to the environment, right?

    Some people are never satisfied.

    Who knows, if it grows so succesfully, maybe we can harvest it for fuel and clean the rivers at the same time.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Regarding pet waste- Its not that difficult, people

    Ok: Clean up after your dog with a plastic bag and throw it away.

    Better: Clean up after yuor dog with a biodegradable bag and throw it away.

    Even better: Clean up after yuor dog and throw it into a special compost pile in your back yard that is a distance away from house and garden. Biodegradable bag optional.

    Best: Don’t own a pet and make sure your neighborhos get theirs spayed.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here is what the Chesapeake Bay folks are NOT doing and the subject of my rants…

    “A newly named group of local governments and utilities called the Northern Virginia Clean Water Partners has launched an effort to educate the public about how to prevent water pollution.”

    Anything that flows from neighborhood lawns, sidewalks and streets — including fertilizer and dog waste — can make its way into storm drains and waterways, according to the group.

    The group includes the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg and Vienna. Other members of the partnership are Fairfax Water, Loudoun Water, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Coastal Zone Management Program.

    For four years, the group has tried to convince Virginians that the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay are threatened by common materials carried to them every time it rains. Now the governments and utilities are operating as Northern Virginia Clean Water Partners.

    “We were a no-name collaborative effort, an unframed group working together,” said Laura Grape, the senior environmental planner for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. “This provides a unified voice. It really identifies the region and participants and our goal: a partnership for clean water.”

    Each spring, when Virginians begin tending to their yards and spending more time outdoors, the group launches a campaign to remind residents that they can reduce the amount of polluted storm water reaching waterways.

    “We are consistently surprised about the general awareness of the watershed concept by people in the region,” Grape said.

    What locals might not know is that polluted storm water is the No. 1 cause of unhealthy water in streams and rivers throughout Northern Virginia, according to the organization.


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    “bag and throw it away.

    Even better: Clean up after yuor dog and throw it into a special compost pile in your back yard that is a distance away from house and garden.”

    You make it sound like throwing away is free, you make just pick it up, sound as if it was free.

    The point of my post was that I could spend my entire life searching for my pets waste, and only find a fraction of some of it. In the process, I would find a lot more waste from wild critters.

    Now, you live in a townhouse and have fenced yard that’s 30 by thirty and surrounded by impervious surfaces, then maybe its different, but a one-size, fits-all, menu of every possible thing that any right thinking greeny should be willing to give up his life for is unrealistic and silly.

    Biodegradable bag or not, that bag has to be manufactured, and won’t be reused after this exercise. Just throw it away means collecting, storing, and transporting (maybe a long distance), none of which is free, and all of which require resources, the production of which may pollute the Bay.

    Or, if it isn’t really bothering anyone, and isn’t a threat to the Bay, you could just leave it alone. It will compost all by itself. The flys will love it, and the birds will eat the flys. then the birds will poop.

    As for putting it in a compost pile, I thought the whole point was to prevent nutrients from being in a place where they can run off. What’s the difference from this, and just leaving it alone in the first place? Surely you aren’t putting that compost on your vegetable garden?

    It is not that I’m oppposed to any of this, but sometimes it is worthwhile and sometimes it isnt. Rather than promote blind, slavish nonsense policies we should promote the idea that people evaluate what the heck they are doing.


  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Think about it. the argument for cleaning up pet waste is that there are thousands of tons of it.

    We are going to add to that the tons of bags, put thousands of tons of this stuff in heavy trucks and drive it probably dozens of miles, so we can bury it all in a clay coverd pit, where it will exit the biocycle for thousands of years.



  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “Best: Don’t own a pet and make sure your neighborhors get theirs spayed.”

    In one sentence, this captures what is wrong with the environmental movement: Do without, and tell your neighbors what to do. No, even worse enforce (make sure) what your neighbors do..

    And don’t put your name on your sentiments.

    The whole idea ought to be how to do better with less or equal, not how to do less with less, oreven worse, less with what looks like less but is actually more.

    Do without pets, yuck. If you want to go down that road and really save, then do without kids.


  16. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Dudes, guess what, the pet waste business is a growing industry. Check out the Poop Patrol.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Wherever it makes sense, it’s fine with me.

    Somewhere around here they did a stream study, thinking they could make big improvements by getting better livestock and pet control. Then they found that wildlife was the biggest stream befouler, by far.

    If you are someplace where you can spend X dollars and solve 60% of the problem, that’s a lot more attractive than spending 10X and solving 10% of the problem someplace else.


  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Somewhere around here they did a stream study, thinking they could make big improvements by getting better livestock and pet control. Then they found that wildlife was the biggest stream befouler, by far.”

    Assuming that critters abounded before we (new settlers) showed up and as far as we know the Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay were described as pure and clean and bountiful …i.e. not polluted.

    how do you reconcile the condition of the rivers and the Bay prior to our arrival and after.. with regard to wild animal poop and pollution?

    This is the kind of logic that drives me up the wall.

    It makes not a whit of sense.. and yet it get repeated.. as if it is the reason why the Rivers and the Bay are polluted.

    The reasons the Rivers and the Bay are polluted are because of the way we develop and use land not because beavers and opossums poop the same way that they have for thousands of years.

    You can, right now, go to virtually any wilderness area and verify this. Tons of pooping critters and unpolluted streams.


    The reason why Dog Poop is a problem – as opposed to Beaver Poop is that we put dog poop on impervious surfaces and then flush it into the creeks and rivers whenever it rains.. while the Deer poop.. (and pee) goes onto soil where it decomposes and gradually filters into the groundwater.

    If you get a thousand head of cattle and put them on space normally occupied by 10 deer and cut the trees.. and it rains.. the amount of poop is too much and the time to decompose is to short and the opportunity to filter is less.

    This is not rocket science. It is common sense.. but yet that doesn’t keep a substantial number of folks from being apparently unable to know simple truths.

    When you clear forests and fields and replace them with impervious surfaces and then you put dog/cat poop, anti-freeze, motor oil, fertilizers, pesticides, etc on those impervious surfaces – what you are doing – is just as good as throwing that stuff directly into streams… because that is EXACTLY what happens when it rains…

    This is why some folks advocate stenciling on each storm drain “this drains into the Chesapeake Bay”.

    If folks REALLY want to help the Bay – the first step is using simple intelligence in understanding that putting waste on impervious surfaces is tantamount to putting that same stuff directly into the Bay and work hard to restrain themselves for blaming beavers.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “The reasons the Rivers and the Bay are polluted are because of the way we develop and use land not because beavers and opossums poop the same way that they have for thousands of years.”

    Larry, Larry, Larry.

    Calm down. I agree with you. It was ONLY in this case in this area that this turned out to be true. And how did they find out? they went out and measured. So, in this area they could spend considerable money cleaning up man made or man introduced problems, and do almost nothing to solve the problem downstream in the BAy.

    My point is not, and never has been that there is no point in cleaning up. It is ONLY that there comes a time and place whre it doesn’t make sense.

    Therefore, the BLANKET statements that we must all do this, that, the other thing, and everything that anybody can think up for us to do, regardless of cost, is not only not green, it isn’t common sense.

    It isn’t even civil.

    Larry, I have two ponds, both fed sequentially by the same stream. That stream has NO sources of pollution that I know of becsuase the source is here on the farm.

    The second of those two ponds has an alge bloom and eutrophication problem, and the first doesn’t. There are no fertilizers, no paved surfaces, and no septic fields involved.

    It is a perfectly natural example of eutrophication.

    All I’m saying is lets not waste money and resources on phony “Pop” environmentalism. Let’s not kid ourselves that anything we do environmentally is free, or that (if we agree it isn’t free) will necessarily result in less pollution, or have an automatically positive environmental ROI.

    Let’s go measure, once in a while, and set some kind of standards on what we propose to do.

    But, if anyone proposes that I go chase my five cats around in the middle of the night, to find out which five acres they do their business in, so I can clean up after them, then they have got rocks in their head.

    Course, I suppose I could go mine a ton of cat litter, Bag it up and ship it all over the country, so my cats could use it, then go bury the cat litter.

    For me, that’s the kind of environmental “savings” tha will bring us to environmental bankruptcy. For someone else, it might make perfect sense.


  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “And how did they find out? they went out and measured.”

    no they didn’t.

    they went out and saw dead and dying fish with sores and intersex features. and less and less crabs and oysters…

    and then we observed that humans would get seriously sick JUST if they went swimming in water with high levels of feces…

    Yes.. you CAN have some bodies of water with eutrophication….happens quite frequently in arid areas where the water flow ceases come summer.

    When you have WIDESPREAD eutrophication not only in ponds.. but lakes and Rivers in areas that get 40 inches or more of year-round rain.. then you don’t have a “natural” process.

    And that’s the problem with the folks who claim they are “environmental” but can’t even figure out the difference between dog poop and beaver poop in terms of pollution.

    so.. no surprise that they don’t know squat about eutrophication either.

    Storm Water Runoff causes serious pollution problems that directly contribute to the decline of the Bay.

    You can go to a wilderness area and out of 10,000 lakes.. find one or two that suffer from eutrophication.

    You can then go to a developed area and out of 10,000 lakes 8,000 suffer from eutrophication.

    and of course these are the same folks who can’t (more likely refuse to) figure out the difference between dog-poop pollution and beaver-poop pollution.

    and there seems to be a high correlation between those who claim environmental credentials but can’t get straight simple things like the above.

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