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: 410-867-7171  ♦  4800 Atwell Rd, #6, Shady Side, MD 20764

E-mail Print PDF

Maryland Using Technology to Crack Down on Oyster Poaching

By: Sarah Polus, Capital News Service, January 2, 2014

The Maryland Natural Resources Police are relying on new technology and harsher penalties to help crack down on illegal oyster harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay.

Poaching includes harvesting undersized oysters, exceeding bushel limits and harvesting in areas designated as sanctuaries, NRP Capt. David Larsen said. 

Oyster poaching undermines attempts at restoring oyster populations. Mostly due to overharvesting and disease, “currently less than 1 percent of historic levels of oysters exist in the bay,” said Sarah Widman, a DNR fishery spokeswoman.

E-mail Print PDF

Fishermen split over New Maryland rockfish quotas

LLoyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun - Rock Hall watermen spend all day setting and hauling in their gill nets for rockfish before returning to the dock in late afternoon.

By: Timothy B. Wheeler, The Washington Post, December 30, 2013

Sharing is often considered a good thing. But ask fishermen to share their catch, especially of Maryland’s state fish, and things can get testy — with seafood consumers on the hook for how it plays out.

Maryland is changing the way striped bass are caught for sale, ending decades of regulating the popular Chesapeake Bay fish by limiting the times when it can be harvested. Starting Jan. 1, commercial fishermen will have individual quotas of striped bass they can catch almost any time, not just in the relative handful of days permitted this year.

E-mail Print PDF

'Troubled Waters' series examines failures, successes of Chesapeake cleanup

By Tim Prudente, The Capital

December 29, 2013

After three decades of work and the spending of more than $15 billion, the Chesapeake Bay is far from being clean.

Deadlines for action have failed to sufficiently slow pollution. Most measures of water quality remain far below goals for a healthy bay.

The Capital’s week-long series, “Troubled Waters,” examined the “Save the Bay” movement during the 30th anniversary year of the first agreement to clean the polluted estuary.

The findings:

  • So much money was spent by so many federal and state agencies that, until recently, nobody could keep track.
  • Efforts have been uncoordinated and programs have been ineffectual, though better results are produced now.
  • Stormwater fees mean average Marylanders will pay more to clean the bay, but it’s uncertain whether it will be enough.
  • A 1980s moratorium saved rockfish, but millions of tax dollars haven’t restored oysters or stabilized blue crabs.
  • A new plan, based on tough enforcement, is praised as the best hope, but questions persist about paying for it.

“Troubled Waters” is a story told through videos and photographs, a database and interactive graphics. Officials in the “Save the Bay” movement, including three Maryland governors, offered opinions on the cleanup effort's greatest mistakes and successes.

Revisit “Troubled Waters” at www.capitalgazette.com/projects/chesapeake_bay.

E-mail Print PDF

Executive Council debates whether to deal with toxics in new Bay agreement

By Karl Blankenship, The Bay Journal

December 13, 2013

Next year, 20 years after approving a strategy that called for a Bay “free of toxics,” the Chesapeake Executive Council will consider something else: a Bay agreement free of any reference to toxics.

Controlling toxic pollution has been an issue for the Chesapeake since the EPA released the results of its multi-year Bay study in 1983 that identified toxic pollution as one of the factors in its decline.

E-mail Print PDF

Seven Myths about the Conowingo Dam and its Impact on the Bay

By David Foster

The Chestertown Spy, October 26,2013

The impact of the Conowingo Dam, particularly during storm events, continues to be one of the most serious and contentious issues associated with the clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  Despite the importance of this issue, much of the current debate is founded on mythology:

1)    “Most of our pollution comes from the Conowingo Dam and until we clean that up there is no use in trying to implement other pollution control programs.”

While the Conowingo is a very serious problem and the Susquehanna is the largest single source of nutrients and sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, these are by no means the only problems we face in our waterways.  In fact, most of the pollution in the Chester and Sassafras, particularly on the upper reaches of these rivers, is actually home grown and is generated right here on our farms, lawns and septic systems.

2)    “The fact that Chester River still fails to meet EPA standards even after several years in which farmers have implemented Best Management Practices further proves that the Conowingo is the real source of our problems.”

It is certainly true that most of our farmers are now doing a better job of controlling pollution but we are also dealing with a legacy of nitrogen and phosphorous that was once applied excessively and still remains in the ground water from years ago.   The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that it could take 10 to 30 years of sustained good practices before all of those excess nutrients have been washed out of the ground water and we have overcome this pollution legacy.

3)    “Funk & Bolton and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition are the only organizations trying to stop pollution from the Dam.”

While these organizations have played a valuable role in helping to bring attention to the problems associated with the Conowingo Dam, they are certainly not the only such organizations involved.  The Corps of Engineers; EPA; MDE; DNR; and Michael Helfrick, Riverkeeper on the Lower Susquehanna River and Rich Batuik from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have all been seeking to promote better controls for many years.  Furthermore, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, an organization serving as an umbrella for all the Riverkeepers in the area recently filed a motion to intervene and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation also plans to file a motion this month.

4)    “The flood of sediment and nutrients that came down the Susquehanna and through the Conowingo Dam in 2011, following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, undid all of the work that had been done to clean up the Chesapeake and set us back 100 years.”

Those two storms in 2011 not only brought down a new torrent of mud and trash from New York and Pennsylvania but they scoured out 3 or 4 million tons of the mud that had been accumulating in the reservoir behind the Conowingo Dam during the past several years.  This cloud of sediment could be seen from the Susquehanna to the Potomac immediately after that storm and yet, fortunately, very little of that sediment went up the Chester, the Sassafras or other tributaries of the Chesapeake.  Furthermore, while 2011 was a setback for all of us who care about the Bay, by 2012 the overall index of water quality was even slightly better than it had been back in 2010 before those storms.

5)    “Sediment from the Conowingo destroyed the once thriving oyster industry in the Chesapeake Bay.”


Sediment has certainly been a factor in the destruction of the oyster industry, especially in that portion of the Bay above the Bridge.  However, sediment is only one of many factors and analysis by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point indicates that the most important factors were over-harvesting and disease.  Before these recent storm events the oyster population in the Chesapeake had already declined by 99%.  Furthermore, the heaviest sediment deposits actually occurred north of the traditional oyster beds and many of the oysters killed in the upper Bay during the recent storms were more likely killed by the sudden influx of fresh (non-salty) water rather than by the sediment itself.


6)    “If we can control the Conowingo, then we will not have to implement the TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) and the WIPs (Watershed Implementation Plans).”

The Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay composed of TMDLs and Watershed Implementation Plans was designed by Federal, State and local agencies to reduce pollution going into the Chesapeake and its tributaries.  The best available models and the most knowledgeable scientists recognize that the pollution; primarily the excess nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment; is created throughout the Chesapeake watershed, including right here on the Eastern Shore.  Consequently, if we are to restore and protect the Chesapeake, all of us will have to continue to do our part.

7)    “The only solution to the Conowingo is to dredge the sediment that has built up behind the Dam.”

The Conowingo Dam and reservoir are currently operated as a “catch and release” facility, trapping nutrients and sediment during times of low flow (when the impact would be comparatively small) only to release them in huge quantities during storm events (when the impacts can be catastrophic).  Somehow we have got to change this process.

While it may be true that some sediment can be removed from behind the dam “for only pennies a pound,” there are approximately 4 billion pounds of sediment that flow into the dam each year.  The 348 billion pounds that have accumulated there over the years since the dam was built in 1928 is roughly the equivalent of 2 million freight cars.  Just to dredge the annual accumulation would cost at least $40 million per year and the cost of transport and disposal would be on top of that.  Therefore, although dredging the sediment may have seemed attractive at first, it is clear that we must begin studying all potential viable alternatives.  A range of potential options include but are not limited to:

a) Dredging, followed by:

i.     Making marketable products from the dredged material, if possible, and/or

ii.     Transporting and disposing of non-marketable material in abandoned mines or by creating new islands in the Chesapeake Bay or in the Atlantic;

b) Sediment-bypassing, so that the reservoir would operate in “steady state” allowing the daily load of sediment and nutrients that flows down the Susquehanna to be dispersed daily rather than filling up the reservoir (only to be scoured out during storms) and reserving space for some form of “catch and hold” for the storm events;

c) Sluicing the sand and gravel through the dam on a regular basis into areas of the bay where it is needed while reserving storage space within the reservoir for trapping the fine particles that are so damaging;

d) Sediment-fixing, so that the sediment (and nutrients attached to it) would be stabilized and/or capped so that it is less susceptible to scouring during storms;

e) Modifying dam operations (including operating gates in advance of and during storms), in a manner designed to minimize scouring during storms; and

f) Any other potentially viable option that the creative readers of this article can propose.

Anyone interested in continuing this discussion or in developing additional options of their own is encouraged to forward comments to David Foster at the following address:


E-mail Print PDF

Jeff Holland leaving museum post to run West/Rhode Riverkeeper Inc.

Photo of Jeff Holland.  By Joshua McKerrow (Capital Staff)

A favorite memory for Jeff Holland:

An afternoon canoe trip with his wife, years ago. They pushed off into the Rhode River, paddled among its tiny islands, beside the diving ducks, beneath the flying geese. All that nature — looking exactly as it appeared centuries ago — seemed theirs alone.

“It was just a magical experience,” Holland said. “I want everybody to have that.”

E-mail Print PDF

Clean Air Act Also Reduces Nitrogen Pollution to the Chesapeake Bay

Azocleantech.com, No Author

November 5, 2013

A new study shows that the reduction of pollution emissions from power plants in the mid-Atlantic is making an impact on the quality of the water that ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. The study by scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science confirms that as the amount of emissions of nitrogen oxide from coal-fired power plants declined in response to the Clean Air Act, the amount of nitrogen pollution found in the waterways of forested areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia fell as well.

E-mail Print PDF

Wood chips could help cleanse farm field run-off

By: , Cornell Chronicle
October 22, 2013

Cornell hydrologist Todd Walter and his colleagues Larry Geohring and Tammo Steenhuis may have found a simple solution to a complex pollution problem caused by agricultural run-off: wood chips.

By strategically placing organic matter to stanchion the water flow between farmers’ fields and nearby ditches and streams, he hopes to trigger a natural chemical reaction in which bacteria capture nitrogen in the run-off and help transform it into less dangerous gaseous forms.

E-mail Print PDF

Striped bass reproduction improves from record low of 2012

By Karl Blankenship, Bay Journal
October 20, 2013

Striped bass reproduction in Maryland rebounded from last year’s record-low spawning index in the state, though it remained below the long-term average, biologists reported. The news was slightly better in Virginia, where biologists found that reproduction was about average.

E-mail Print PDF

Maryland officials mark progress toward restoring oyster population

By E.B. FURGURSON III, The Capital

October 13, 2013 12:00 am

Maryland officials are heralding progress on the state’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, emphasizing record oyster spat production in the last year.

“Four years ago, we proposed a bold plan with better choices to rebuild our oyster population, its vital ecological functions and the thriving industry it once supported,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said Friday at an event at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

“Today we celebrate significant progress under every step of our 10-point plan and the many partners responsible for it,” O’Malley said.


Page 7 of 19