West and Rhode Riverkeeper

We work with our community to enforce environmental law, to
promote restoration, and to advocate for better environmental policy.
Contact us: 443-758-7797  ♦  PO Box 172, Shady Side, MD 20764


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West and Rhode Riverkeeper Blog

Description of my blog
Aug 30
2010

Federal legislation update

Posted by in legislation , clean water act , Cardin

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.

For more information, see a Q&A document and a comparison chart of the Clean Water Act vs. the proposed bill.

 

Aug 30
2010

River Otter on the West River

Posted by Chris in river otter , otter , adam hewison

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.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-0B_z_kIZc 480x385]

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.

Jul 21
2010

Dolphins visit us again

Posted by Chris in West River , Water Quality Monitoring , Rhode River , dolphins

I got a very cheerful call from water quality monitoring volunteer Linda Lawrence this morning - she had spotted a pod of dolphins in Tenthouse Creek (near Galesville) in the West River. Our volunteer monitoring team on the Rhode River reported seeing them later this morning, too. Last summer we also had these marine mammal visitors come up the river. Yesterday, my friend and colleague Drew Koslow (Choptank Riverkeeper) reported seeing dolphins in the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore. Could they be the same ones that came to our Rivers today? Could they be the same ones that went up the Rivers last year? Maybe this is their annual vacation... I don't blame them - the West and Rhode Rivers are a wonderful place to visit!

Photos courtesy of Linda Lawrence and her iPhone

Dolphins1

dolphins2

Jul 01
2010

Video: A Day in the Life of Muddy Creek (Rhode River)

Posted by Chris in video , Rhode River , Muddy Creek

Recently, a member sent us a video he put together of scenes he captured on the Rhode River. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txp7S6SGCzY 480x385]

Jun 21
2010

Volunteer Army

Posted by Chris in volunteers , Rhythm on the River

Staff at West/Rhode Riverkeeper were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief this weekend, after we pulled off another successful Rhythm on the River fundraiser. To those of you who were in attendance, I hope you'll agree it was a great party.

Rhythm picture

Rhythm could not be possible without the tremendous support of our volunteers. We had volunteers to help with the setup and preparations, registration/check-in, tender service, the bar, the silent auction, and of course, cleanup at the end. We are a small organization and that was a BIG party - and we owe a lot to all of those who helped us make it a success.

So much of what we do depends on volunteer support from within our community. We are very proud of what we do, and equally proud of those who help us do it. From the dedicated Wednesday Morning Warriors who go out water sampling every week, to the members of our  Board of Directors (also volunteers!) - people power is what makes this organization run.

So thank you to all of our volunteers. We couldn't do this without you!

May 03
2010

Gulf Oil Spill

Posted by Chris in Waterkeeper , Oil Slick , Offshore Drilling , Gulf , BP

I'm sure many members of West/Rhode Riverkeeper are following the Gulf Oil Spill situation. The devastating impacts of this spill demonstrate once again how easily we can destroy an ecosystem.

aerial view of Gulf Oil Slick

As we watch the oil inundate Gulf marshes and cover fish, turtles, birds and other wildlife, we are reminded of the effects of poor regulation. This country has laws meant to minimize the likelihood of such catastrophic oil spills. Too often, however, the profits of an industry take precedence over protection of our natural resources.

While we can't go back in time to prevent this spill, we can do our best to make sure this doesn't happen again. Just a few weeks ago, federal officials unveiled plans to pursue offshore drilling near the Chesapeake. What was a controversial idea just a couple weeks ago now seems like utter folly. Who could possibly advocate for bringing offshore drilling to our coast now? Drill, baby, drill became spill, baby, spill.

We are fortunate that the West and Rhode Rivers are not threatened by this disaster. However, our hearts go out to those in the Gulf States who will be dealing with this tragedy for years to come. Our brother and sister Waterkeeper organizations in the area are on the front lines down there. You can support them by visiting this site. (Select 'Gulf Disaster Relief' in the Gift Designation box).

You can read the official Waterkeeper press release on the Gulf Oil Spill here.

Apr 22
2010

Earth Day: Have We Earned the Right to Celebrate?

Posted by Chris in EPA , Earth Day , clean water act , chesapeake bay

This is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, founded in 1970. Much is being made in the media of the significance of Earth Day and its meaning today. As someone with a passion for environmental issues, I thought I’d lend my voice to the chorus.

Cuyahoga River on fireIn 1970, Earth Day was founded as an angry response to an unacceptable situation. The Potomac River was a cesspool, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire, and air pollution was so bad smog was killing people. People were marching in the streets. The anger translated to activism, and the whole country demanded change. Victories soon followed with the founding of the EPA (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973) just to name a few.

Now, 40 years later, Earth Day has a much different feel. Businesses promote “green” products, school kids plant trees, and there is some sort of Earth Day concert with Sting planned on the DC mall this weekend. These new ways of celebrating Earth Day have somewhat of a celebratory feel about them. And there have certainly been victories to cheer, but it almost feels like Earth Day is taking a victory lap. We need to ask ourselves, did we earn the right to celebrate yet?

With regard to the Chesapeake Bay, I would say no. Scientists and activists alike agree that the Bay is in poor condition. We have a long way to go to get to the point when we can pat ourselves on the back. Back in 1970, politicians feared being voted out of office if they didn’t vote for the environment. Looking back at the last Maryland General Assembly, we can see that is not the case today.

We need environmental stewardship to be completely interwoven into all aspects of our lives. How we drive, what we buy, where our electric comes from. How many of us just think about that once a year during Earth Day? If we want a restored Bay, then every day is going to have to be Earth Day, not just once a year.

 

Earth Day Every Day

 

Apr 13
2010

Sine die

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

"Sine die" is Latin for "without day". Essentially it means that there is no further meeting scheduled. This is the name given to the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session.

This year was my first experience getting heavily involved in the state legislature. It gave me a great excuse to wear my one and only suit.

MD State House

West/Rhode Riverkeeper was a partner in the effort to try to pass a Stormwater Utility bill, and we also took positions on several other bills that had the potential to affect water quality in our Rivers - either positively or negatively.

Here is a run down of some of the bills we lobbied for (or against)

Stormwater Utility (SB686/HB999) - This bill would have required counties and some municipalities to setup a stormwater management fee based on impervious surface coverage. The amount of the fee would be left to the local jurisdictions. The money would go into a dedicated fund which would be spent on stormwater management projects. We supported the bill but it did not make it out of committee. We expect that it will be reintroduced again next year.

No Discharge Zone (SB513/HB999) - This would have directed the state to apply for a No Discharge Zone designation for all of Maryland waters. The bill was amended near the end of the Session to change it to be a study only, and passed the Senate. Nevertheless, the watered down bill didn't even make it out of the House. We are disappointed that the bill died, but we are glad it raised the issue of pollution from boat waste. We hope that next year, the General Assembly will address this issue again.

Abandoned Boats (HB527) - This bill, introduced by local Delegate Virginia Clagett, reduced the time it takes to declare a boat "abandoned" on private property. Current law stated that private property owners had to wait 90 days - a whole summer - to begin the process to remove a boat from their property. This bill reduces that time to 30 days. It passed both chambers and will be signed by the Governor.

Marine Contractor Licensing (SB382) - This bill established a procedure for licensing marine contractors who do work in our wetlands and waterways. The premise of the bill was good, but we vigorously opposed provisions in the original version which had inadequate fees and fines, would have given release of liability to contractors doing Living Shoreline projects, and exempted an undefined category of projects from permitting requirements. Working with other partners in the environmental community, the bill was amended to take out all the parts we felt would negatively impact the environment, and we supported the final version. It passed both chambers and awaits the Governor's signature.

University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic - A rider was attached to the budget which would restrict funding to the UM Environmental Law Clinic pending a report on the cases they took. This encroachment of academic freedom was a result of the case the clinic took, representing Assateague Coastkeeper in its suit against a lower Eastern Shore farm and Perdue chicken. This legislative bullying came about because some influential polluters were trying to influence how the Clinic operates. Fortunately, the funding threat was stripped out of the final budget, but the precedent is a dangerous one. What are we teaching our young law students - "be careful which polluters you sue?"

Overall, this was a very strange session of the General Assembly, which isn't too surprising given the poor economic climate and the fact that this is an election year. A week before the session ended, environmental groups were prepared to release an angry statement, effectively proclaiming that the Bay "got the shaft". However, during the final week of the session, it appeared that many legislators got the message and began restoring some of the environmental priorities. The Bay Trust Fund was restored to the Governor's original funding request ($20 million), most funding for Project Open Space was preserved, and a bill to consider environmental impacts when planning transportation projects was approved.

Despite these successes, it is difficult to point to specific policies enacted this session that will actually improve water quality. The Stormwater Utility bill died in committee, as did the No Discharge bill. And then there was the stormwater "compromise" which codified guidance from MDE on the implementation of the 2007 Stormwater Act, set to be enacted on May 4, 2010. The compromise allowed grandfathering of many projects in the pipeline, so that they might be built without adhering to the new tougher stormwater regulations.

All in all, I would say that it was a disappointing session, although the environmental was able to "eke out" some wins at the last moment.

Mar 29
2010

State Legislators Bullying Environmental Law Clinic

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

As part of the budget process, the University of Maryland School of Law is being ordered by Maryland General Assembly to produce a list of all the plaintiffs their students have represented over the past two years or lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.

bullyThis is clearly bullying by some key lawmakers because they are upset that the UM Environmental Law Clinic has taken up cases against some big industry polluters. The Clinic has been a valuable ally to many environmental organizations in Maryland, including West/Rhode Riverkeeper. They represented us in our Construction General Permit challenge, as well as our Petition to EPA to strengthen Maryland's Clean Water Act permitting. They are doing the tough work to make sure our environmental laws are enforced.

The support of the Clinic allows us to challenge some of the big polluters with deep pocketbooks and armies of lawyers. These polluters are trying to influence how the Clinic operates. It's an effort State Senator Jim Brochin calls "something straight out of communist China."

Please tell our General Assembly leaders that it is not OK to bully one of the best law clinics in the country just because some legislators don't like the cases they are taking.

Contact:
 
Speaker of the House Michael Busch
(410) 841-3800
 
President of the Senate Michael Miller
(410) 841-3700

 

Mar 11
2010

Parish Creek Dredging

Posted by Chris in sediment , Parish Creek , Idlewild , dredging

When I got to the office this morning, I was greeted by the site of heavy equipment in Parish Creek. The mouth of the creek is teaming with barges, pipes, and dredging rigs. This is all for the long-planned dredging of Parish Creek. The dredging will begin this weekend (March 13) and continue through the end of the month. The dredge material will be "sucked" from the bottom and pumped through a pumpline to the Idlewilde Dredge Material Placement(DMP) site.

Dredging on Parish Creek

We support this project as it will restore the Parish Creek channel to a level which will allow safe navigation for the myriad of watermen, sailors, and recreational boaters that keep their vessels in this creek. We will, however, be watching closely to ensure that the dredging does not release any sediment plumes or cause any other negative impacts to the immediate area during during this work. At least I can watch from right out of my office window!