I think we all have noticed that it seems as though this incredibly mild winter has turned into spring! Well, now our summertime friend the Osprey agrees and has come back to the West and Rhode Rivers from its winter home down south. Within the past week we’ve enjoyed scattered spottings of Osprey around the Riverkeeper office down here in Shady Side.
Ospreys are one of the more recognized birds of prey on the Bay due to their ability to tolerate humans relatively well. However, don’t get too close to their nests or they will start circling over you in a very menacing way… trust me I speak from experience. They also tend to hold a monopoly on waterfront real estate due to their abilities to gang up on the substantially larger Bald Eagle. If you don’t spend too much time on the water in the winter months you’d almost think that no Eagles live in the area. That is certainly not true; we’ve seen plenty of Eagles flying around near the West River this winter, including a juvenile that doesn’t even have a white head or tail. Eagles simply get banished to the forests when Osprey come to town.
Osprey leave the Chesapeake Bay area every winter to make their way to the Caribbean, Gulf Coast or South America to spend their winters. Once the weather up here warms back up, they return to their northern nesting grounds to start rebuilding their nests. I’ve had the pleasure of watching an Osprey carry rather large sticks to its nest on top of a cell phone tower while I drive to work. Osprey will build a nest 10-60ft off the ground, preferably around water, and return to the same spot year after year. Osprey are one of the many births that mate for life, so if you see two Osprey on a nest one year, more than likely it will be the same two birds there the next year.
By late April the female will lay 2 to 4 eggs. The eggs are generally a little bigger than chicken eggs and are white with brown splotches on them. These eggs hatch in 4 to 5 weeks. The mother stays on the nest for a majority of the time, unless she needs to hunt, in which case the male will take over nesting duties. By late July or August the young will be fully fledged (meaning they grow their adult feathers) and be able to fly around the nest, and start learning to hunt.
A huge majority of an Osprey’s diet (about 99%) consists of fish, which is why they prefer to nest around water. Due to the way that Osprey hover over the water and look for fish, their hunting can sometimes be harmed by poor water clarity because they can’t see the fish that they need to eat. Watching them hover in the air when they spot a fish is by far my favorite part of watching Osprey.
(Photo Credit Alan Vernon/Flickr)
After the summer up here on the West and Rhode Rivers the Osprey will start to migrate back down south in September. So enjoy them while they are here!
On December 11, local Eagle Scout Jimmy Gordon celebrated his successful Eagle project in a Court of Honor at Discovery Village in Shady Side. Jimmy's project involved constructing wooden racks to store 18 kayaks for West/Rhode Riverkeeper. The kayaks are used during warm weather months during the Riverkeeper's Community Kayaking events, which allow the public to take a kayak out on the West River for free.
See below for a video about the project. Thanks Jimmy!
2011 is shaping up to be quite a year for extreme weather and natural disasters. We started with a very wet and cool spring which quickly transformed into an unbearably hot summer with temperatures in the triple digits. The August 23 earthquake caused little damage, but captivated the news cycle and the water cooler chatter for days. Hurricane Irene and her strong rain and winds felled trees and left many of us without power, but it will take some time to assess her impact on water quality.
Each of these events had an effect on our environment in some way – great or small. For those of us who study the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, we know that weather contributes to the health of our waterways. A rainy year will likely bring more pollution to our waters, in the form of stormwater runoff. It can also affect the populations of aquatic life such as oysters, which need a certain level of salinity in the water in order to reproduce. The combination of heavy rains and high heat caused the fourth largest ‘dead zone’ on record this summer – just when we thought the dead zone was retreating. A particularly hot year can also damage beds of underwater grasses, and sustain persistent algae blooms which thrive in warmer water. Perhaps most alarming were reports this summer of people contracting a deadly bacteria called Vibrio that can develop under certain conditions.
But regardless of the annual fluctuations of weather patterns and extreme events, the underlying threats to healthy waterways remain constant. As our population continues to grow, and we add new pollution loads to our sewer system and wastewater treatment plants, more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is discharged into our rivers and streams. Modern technology allows us to greatly reduce the amount of pollution, but our sewer plants must be upgraded and we lack the funding to complete these important upgrades.
Each and every time it rains, stormwater runoff delivers pollution to our waterways. Rainwater flows from our rooftops, driveways, roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces into the nearest drain or ditch, carrying contaminates from oil and sediment, trash, and animal waste into local waters. Our newer communities utilize modern stormwater management techniques, which allow the rainwater to soak into the ground rather than become runoff. But most of our older communities were built long before this was the norm, and need to be “retrofitted” through restoration projects to achieve a much higher degree of pollution control.
Another significant contributor of pollution in our area comes from septic systems. Even though many of our communities are on public sewer service, large pockets still remain on septic. A household on a properly functioning septic system can contribute 10 times more nutrient pollution to our waters than the same household on public sewer. Failing systems are even worse, and may contribute harmful bacteria as well. There are currently no pollution standards, inspection or maintenance requirements regarding septic systems in our county.
To address the pollution from the Three S’s (Sewer, Stormwater, and Septic), the environmental community is organizing a grass-roots effort to promote our Clean Water, Healthy Families campaign. Last year was a huge disappointment for the environment in the Maryland General Assembly. We are organizing now to make it clear to our State Elected Officials that we expect them to act to protect our waterways and our communities. We are asking for legislation to increase funding for the Bay Restoration Fund (the so-called “flush fee” which funds wastewater treatment plant upgrades and septic-to-sewer conversions); to establish a dedicated funding source for critical stormwater management projects; to require a treatment standard for all wastewater treatment systems (including septic systems); and to discourage sprawling growth in inappropriate areas. You can find more information about this campaign at www.cleanwaterhealthyfamilies.org.
While earthquakes and hurricanes consume most of our attention, pollution continues to enter our waters every day from slow, yet consistent, sources. Hurricanes and earthquakes are often measured in terms of the millions (or billions) of dollars of damage they caused. The Chesapeake Bay has recently been estimated to have a nearly $1 trillion economic value. What is the cost to us all of allowing its health to decline? We are always on guard against “natural disasters,” but let us remember that another true disaster would be failing to act now to preserve our greatest resource. Please help us by joining the Clean Water, Healthy Families campaign. Go to the website and sign our petition!
This Week's Take
By ERIC MICHELSEN AND CHRIS TRUMBAUER, For The Capital
Published 04/23/11 in The Capital
At the beginning of the 2011 Maryland General Assembly session, many of us in the environmental community believed we were poised to make significant progress in the epic struggle to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. After last year's legislative session, in which we were frequently told to "wait until after the elections," we watched as candidates from both major parties fought over who could position themselves to be more "green" in the 2010 elections.
So, despite the difficult economy, we felt this year's legislative session presented a perfect opportunity to show Maryland's commitment to getting serious about the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay.
Several other factors contributed to the feeling that now was the time for change.
In December, the Maryland Department of the Environment submitted a Watershed Implementation Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laying out an ambitious plan for how Maryland would achieve Chesapeake Bay clean-up within Gov. Martin O'Malley's accelerated 2020 timeframe.
In early 2011, the EPA handed down its new "pollution diet," a series of Total Maximum Daily Loads for pollution into our waterways, establishing enforceable limits for sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus. These two initiatives represent the roadmap that will allow the bay to recover.
Surely, given their professed support for the Chesapeake and its waterways, the fact that the elections were over and the increasingly costly obligation to meet clean-up benchmarks, our legislators would take tangible steps to clean up the bay in 2011, right?
Nearly every major environmental policy initiative that was put forward in the 2011 legislative session died. Like a school of menhaden trapped in a dead zone, these initiatives were bottled up in committee and unable to survive.
Attempts to keep wastewater treatment plant upgrades on schedule and solvent, as well as requiring local governments to begin getting serious about their multi-billion dollar stormwater backlogs were shelved before they even saw the light of day.
And, even though it had the vigorous support of Gov. O'Malley, a plan to require new major subdivisions to use the best available technology to treat wastewater faltered mid-session, the victim of a concerted push by the development industry.
Even an effort to place a 5-cent per bag fee on single-use bags, a proven model that has been successful in Washington, D.C., was killed in committee in both the House and Senate, thanks in part to a late push by lobbyists for the American Chemistry Council.
In D.C., this policy has resulted in an 80 percent reduction in bags purchased by retailers and 66 percent fewer bags found in river clean-ups of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. The Maryland bill, in addition to demonstrably reducing trash in our waterways, would have reduced expenses for retailers and consumers by uncloaking a hidden cost we all pay. After all, "free" bags aren't actually free.
Protections against the impacts of drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale, reducing arsenic in chicken feed and several renewable energy initiatives also went down in flames. And, as if adding insult to injury, a bill that significantly weakens the state's renewable energy portfolio standard by adding in garbage incineration passed.
The only significant legislation to pass with potential to improve water quality was a bill which reduces pollutants in lawn fertilizer.
The environmental community doesn't live in a vacuum. We are aware of the incredible economic hardship facing our state. Legislators, rightly so, were consumed with dealing with a budget in which there just wasn't enough money to go around, and thankfully, attempts at permanent cuts to Program Open Space and the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund were defeated.
In 2011, the legislators may have found a way to once again balance the budget, but they also once again put off taking action to give Marylanders what they consistently demand: A clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.
Inaction never pays. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to restore the bay, and the more it will cost.
Well, there's always next year.
Our friends over at Being In Place have put together a nice video detailing a stormwater restoration project in the Magothy River watershed. Check it out!
On November 8, West/Rhode Riverkeeper submitted comments on Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP. The WIP details how Maryland intends to meet its pollution reduction goals as outlined in the federal TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load).
We believe that the TMDL/WIP process presents the best opportunity in a generation to bring about significant positive change in the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. However, this is true only if state and local governments will be held accountable for meeting their pollution reduction goals. Over the last three decades, there have been numerous Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreements, goals, plans, and initiatives. As 2010 comes to end, one thing is clear: our Bay is still polluted. What will make this newest initiative any different from the others that did not achieve success?
You can see our comments here.
On September 30, 2010 our area was soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole. Some areas received as much as 10 inches of rain from this storm. I spent the morning video-documenting various areas in our watershed and how the rain was impacting our waterways.
Galesville Rain Garden:
This project was recently completed, and seems to be functioning well. Water is captured from the street and parking lots, and is allowed to soak in rather than go straight into the river. The native plants help soak up the water, and also provide a pleasant landscape.
Triton Woods (new development on Mayo Peninsula):
This sediment basin fills during large storms and muddy runoff flows under Mayo Road and then into a ditch which carries it to Cadle Creek.
In order to restore the health of our waterways, we must be able to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. It's time to get serious about stormwater pollution. For more video of stormwater runoff, see http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=WestRhode#g/u
The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009, proposed by Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, is currently in the Senate. We are all frustrated with the slow pace of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and this bill, which would amend the Clean Water Act, seeks to provide new measures to help speed up the effort. However, despite the good intentions, recent amendments to the bill - made to get the votes needed to move it out of committee - significantly weaken the bill. As a result of the amendments, most Waterkeepers and some other environmental organizations feel that it would end up doing more harm than good.
The primary cause of our concern is that provisions of the bill will weaken the Clean Water Act, which is a proven tool for improving our impaired waterways. The bill would exempt some polluters from permitting requirements, would create a “safe harbor” for agriculture operations, and would set up a market-based pollution trading scheme which doesn’t contain an appropriate level of verification and accountability. For these reasons, although we acknowledge Senator Cardin’s good intentions, we oppose the current version of the bill.
We all love the West and Rhode Rivers for numerous reasons. One of the reasons for many of us is that they support an abundance of wildlife. This summer, we had another visit from a pod of dolphins (see here). Also this summer, former Director and long-term supporter Adam Hewison captured this video of another fun critter: a river otter.
The video is taken from his dock on the West River, near the mouth of Parish Creek. The North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) is native to our waterways. They can weigh between 10 and 30 lbs, and sport a thick, water-repellent coat of fur. They eat mostly fish and shellfish, and are known for being playful and fun to watch.
River otters were once very common in our area, but now are only rarely seen. Their population has been reduced by loss of habitat, and they are also susceptible to environmental pollution. We hope that we can improve the health of our rivers to the point where river otters will once again be a common site.