Monday, May 16, 2011

Virginia Water Radio 66: Week of May 16, 2011

From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio (Episode 66), for the week of May 16, 2011.

Audio for this episode removed 4/15/13; please contact Virginia Water Radio to request access to the audio file (length 8 minutes 57 seconds).


This week we look at several recent Chesapeake Bay stories.
  • On April 27, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Melvin Hughes approved a settlement in a 2009 lawsuit by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (or CBF) and the Virginia State Waterman’s Association over the State Water Control Board’s approval of increased nutrient allowances in the wastewater-discharge permit for the Merck pharmaceutical plant in Elkton, in Rockingham County. In April 2009, the Board approved increases in the plant’s annual nitrogen allowance from about 14,600 pounds to almost 44,000 pounds, and in the phosphorus allowance from about 1,100 pounds to almost 4,400 pounds. The plaintiffs argued that those increases in permitted discharge to the South Fork Shenandoah River should be offset by discharge reductions elsewhere in the Shenandoah-Potomac watershed. Under the settlement, Merck’s discharges are to conform with nutrient guidelines under the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, pollution-reduction plan, issued by the U.S. EPA in December 2010. News sources: Bay Foundation, Watermen, Virginia, Merck Settle Lawsuit Over Discharges, Chesapeake Bay Foundation News Release, 4/27/11; and Settlement reached in Chesapeake Bay Foundation challenge to Merck river pollution discharge, Associated Press, as published in Washington Post, 4/27/11.
  • In late April, the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science released its annual “report card” on the Chesapeake Bay. The Center analyzes state and federal agency data to compare three water-quality indicators and three biological indicators to established goals. This year’s report, for conditions in 2010, had an overall “grade” of C- (or “moderately poor ecosystem health”), compared to a C for 2009 conditions; this is first decrease in the overall rating in four years. Grades in Virginia areas included a C in the James River; a D in the York River, which was nevertheless an improvement from 2009; a C-minus in the Rappahannock River, a decrease from 2009; and a D in the Potomac River, compared to a C in 2009, which was the second largest decline of all 14 regions assessed. News source: Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card Shows Slight Decline in 2010, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science News Release, 4/27/11. The report is available online at
  • Between December 2010 and March 2011, 70 Virginia watermen participating in the Marine Debris Removal Program recovered almost 10,000 lost crabbing pots (so-called “ghost pots”), plus 52 lost nets and other marine trash that can trap Blue Crabs and other animals. The program, started in 2008 and coordinated by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (or VIMS), pays watermen $300 per day and covers fuel costs. This season’s recovered pots contained an estimated 11,000 animals, including crabs, turtles, fish, and whelks. VIMS research has found that perhaps as much as 20 percent of crab pots are lost in storms or by boat propellers cutting the lines attaching pots to buoys. News source: “Ghost Pot” removal program has successful year, Virginia Institute of Marine Science News release, 4/22/11. The $1-million annual cost of the program has been covered so far by U.S. Commerce Department funds made available after the September 2008 federal fishery disaster declaration for the Bay. Discarded or lost fishing gear has created aquatic wildlife problems in several other states, as well, and the Marine Debris Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been studying the problem since 2005.
  • And in our last news item this week: In late April, the Chesapeake Bay Program reported that the acreage of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Bay (also called “underwater grasses” or “Bay grasses”) was 79,675 acres in 2010, a decrease of over 6,200 acres from 2009, when the largest amount since 2002 had been observed. The Bay Program’s restoration goal for Bay grasses is 185,000 acres. Bay grasses provide oxygen, food, and habitat for many fish, crabs, and other animals, and the extent of vegetation is a key indicator of water quality. Robert Orth, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science researcher who leads the annual survey, stated that Bay grasses were healthy in the Susquehanna Flats and upper Potomac, but many areas had limited or no grass beds, and some areas appear to have suffered from excessively hot weather in summer 2010. News source: Coverage of underwater Bay grasses decreases in 2010, Virginia Institute of Marine Science news release, 4/21/11. More information is available from the Chesapeake Bay Program at

This week we feature another mystery sound: Bay-breasted Warbler. [This segment has been revised and replaced by Episode 572, 4-12-21.]

If you’re an experienced birder, you may have recognized the song of a Bay-breasted Warbler. This species, which breeds in Canadian evergreen forests and winters in Central and South America, is one of many songbirds that can been seen in Virginia during spring or fall migration. Virginia’s location along the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay allows Commonwealth birders to have a chance to see the many species of songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that migrate along the broad, eastern North American route known as the Atlantic Flyway, one of four main routes on this continent. For example, in Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, over 200 bird species have been observed, but only 96 are known to nest in or near the refuge, while many other species—including many warblers—pass through during the spring migration months of April to June. The Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival, in fact, takes place each year during the second week of May.  

Thanks to Lang Elliott of NatureSound Studio for providing this recording. Information on Bay-breasted Warblers was taken from A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, by Chandler S. Robbins et al. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001); and “Birds of North America Online” at Information on birds in Dismal Swamp was taken from the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge Web site at, 5/13/11. Information on migration dates for birds in Virginia and other states is available from the “Nutty Birdwatcher” Web site at Other sources of information on bird migration are “Migratory Birds” from Chesapeake Bay Program Web site at, 5/13/11; “Migratory Bird Flyways” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site,, 5/13/11. International Migratory Bird Day is held each year on the second Saturday in May.

First, in Virginia government policy and regulatory meetings, occurring between May 19 and 25.
  • On May 23 at 4 p.m., the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Board meets at the public library in Lovettsville.
  • On May 24 at 9:30 a.m., the Marine Resources Commission meets at 2600 Washington Avenue in Newport News.
  • Also on May 24 at 9:30 a.m., the Soil and Water Conservation Board meets at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.
  • On May 25 at 1 p.m., the Technical Advisory Committee on the general discharge-permit regulation for car wash facilities meets at the Department of Environmental Quality office in Richmond.
Now, here’s one meeting about Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, for impaired waters:
  • May 19, 6:30 p.m., at Capron Elementary School in Capron, on bacteria impairments in Flat Swamp, Upper and Lower Three Creek, Mill Swamp, Darden Mill Run, and Tarrara Creek, in Greensville, Southampton, and Sussex counties.
Finally, in educational, recreational, and stewardship events:
  • On June 4, 8:30 a.m., at Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg, Wisdom Spring, Inc. is holding Walking for Water, its annual walk to raise funds for water wells, medicine, and education in the African country of Burkina Faso. More information: Susan Hough at
  • And on several weekends in June and July, the Virginia Herpetological Society—that’s the group dedicated to study and conservation of Virginia’s amphibians and reptiles—and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science will work beside brackish waters of several eastern Virginia counties and cities to conduct the Commonwealth’s first-ever statewide Diamondback Terrapin survey. The survey depends upon volunteer observers who will receive training materials and instructions. If you are interested in participating, contact Kory Steele by e-mail to The survey dates and locations are Jun. 4-5 in Accomack County, Jun. 11-12 in Northampton County, Jun. 18-19 in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Jun. 24-25 in Newport News and York County, Jul. 9-10 in Gloucester and Mathews counties, and Jul. 16-17 in Lancaster and Northumberland counties.

    For more information about government policy and regulatory meetings, click here for the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall. Click here for Virginia General Assembly legislative committee and commission meetings. For TMDL meetings, click here for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality TMDL Web site (please note that TMDL meetings are also listed at the Town Hall site, but are included among all other meetings). Organizations, events, or both are hyperlinked whenever possible. Click on those links for more information.
Virginia Water Radio is a product of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, which is solely responsible for the show’s content. Hosting and bandwidth for this podcast are also provided by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center. We invite you to visit the center online at

Show notes and production assistance were provided by Patrick Fay. Recording assistance was provided by the Office of University Relations at Virginia Tech.

Opinions expressed on this show are not necessarily those of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Tech, or our broadcasting stations.

If you need more information about anything mentioned this week, call us at (540) 231-5463, or visit our web site at