August 21, 2015

Hot July

Hot, hot, hot. We in Virginia already knew it, but NOAA just confirmed that . . . 

The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880-2015 record, at 61.86°F, surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°.

And we witnessed it in Alaska where temps were in the mid to high 70s while we were there. Glaciers receding throughout the state, except for one.

It was a delight to see no plastic water bottles available for sale in Denali. Aramark has provided water refilling stations for tourists and backpackers at the visitor center to refill their reusable bottles. The one road into and out of Denali made a stiff drink more necessary than water. Sheer drop offs from a dirt road with no guard rails kept bears my second fear.

One more final comment on the green factor (or lack of) in Alaska. A lot of folks burn their trash at various times throughout the day. The forest fires still burning in Alaska are not the only source of air pollution. I suppose that they justify burning trash as we mainlanders did in the early 1950s. Alaska may be huge, but air is not an infinite landfill.

July 20, 2015

Wind energy offshore Virginia blown away?

Dominion Resources only received two bids for their two experimental wind turbines offshore Virginia Beach. Very disappointing, and one did not meet their specs. The other came in FAR above expected costs--a whopping $375 to $400 million.

So Dominion may install offshore turbines that are less technologically sophisticated. The original goal was to install about 300 wind turbines, with construction beginning in 2016. Alas, it will be delayed.

July 18, 2015

Sufficient water in Virginia?

If a major ProPublica investigative story is on target, we Tidewater Virginians should  question if we have sufficient and correctly measured underground and surface water for the future.

ProPublica claims that California and Arizona have been miscalculating their water supplies for decades. Hmmm. We already know that the recent drought in California prompted Governor Jerry Brown to curtail the public's water use, but what happens when the real amount of water remaining is revealed? Many already predict future "water wars." Who is watching here?

Our reservoirs are quite visible, but most of our water comes from aquifers that re-fill at a "glacial speed." Pun intended. In James City County, a majority of our system wells pump from the Chickahominy-Piney Point Aquifer (250-300 feet deep). Five other wells pump from the Potomac Aquifer (300-836 feet deep).

In October 2014, there was a bit of hoopla in local papers with headlines shouting "James City groundwater withdrawals could dry up," but I have not heard much conversation about that topic since. Counties contract with the state's DEQ about renewing their limits on withdrawing water. So the topic should resurface soon.

Click on to read ProPublica's story on the human threat to the Colorado River. 

July 10, 2015

Eagle count on the James River

Good news from the 2015 bald eagle count along the James River: 326 nesting pairs producing 313 young.

I see them flying over my back yard on their way to and from their nests.

June 30, 2015

United Airlines to cut their emissions

I might be able to travel by air without "green guilt" soon. Later this summer United Airlines will begin to phase in biofuel from animal manure. And that's no BS. Seriously, airlines have a big carbon footprint and they are looking to alternative, and cheaper, fuels.

Sadly, at this same time, big time farm animal lots continue to allow their cows and hogs to stand in streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. That's a big EWWWWW factor and a waste of potential airline fuel. You'd think that the two industries could develop a partnership.

Clean air too costly?

It seems that five justices on the US Supreme Court ruled against cleaner air yesterday by deeming it too expensive. The Clean Air Act declared that coal plants needed to follow regs that were "appropriate and necessary" but the Supreme Court accused the EPA of not undertaking sufficient cost-benefit analysis. Scalia only saw "a few dollars in health or environmental benefits." Really?

What about the particulates that used to cover our boat when we kept it in a York River Marina, but not in our current marina on the Rappahannock River? Those are the same particulates that asthmatics inhale? 

And Dominion now states that the court decision will not change their plans to close the two coal-burning power plants on the York River. That is good news indeed. But they still persist in their plan to install unsightly power lines across the James River, claiming that it would be too costly to submerge those lines under the river. Too costly to their bottom line!

June 24, 2015

Smaller dead zone predicted for the Chesapeake Bay

Due to less "stuff" flowing into it this spring from the Susquehanna, some University of Michigan researchers and NOAA are forecasting a slightly below-average, but still significant dead zone in the Chesapeake this summer. Over the last decade, the size of the dead zone hasn't changed that much anyway. But 1.37 cubic miles is nothing to overlook.

The size of the Chesapeake Bay's dead zone has been measured annually since 1950. Low-oxygen regions also form each summer in the lower portions of the bay's major tributaries and episodically in many smaller tributaries.

June 17, 2015

Cove Point LNG facility

Cove Point LNG terminal
I haven't read anything lately about the proposed expansion of the Cove Point liquified natural gas facility near Calvert Cliffs, Maryland. But every time we sail by, I expect to see signs of life. All was quiet there today.

The current facility, about 90 minutes from D.C., was built in the 1970s for importing natural gas. But Dominion Energy wants to build a natural gas export facility on the same land, at a cost of as much as $3.8 billion. The project includes an on-site 130 megawatt power plant, a 60-foot-tall permanent sound wall, and storage units.

The approval process for any exportation facility is quite lengthy, with federal, state and local permits required. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy granted conditional approval to Dominion Energy to export approximately 770 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from Cove Point.

Before construction can begin, however, Dominion needed approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In May, 2015, the Energy Departmen issued a final authorization for Dominion Cove Point LNG, LP to export domestically produced liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that do not have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. The Cove Point LNG Terminal in Calvert County, Maryland is authorized to export LNG up to the equivalent of 0.77 billion standard cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas for a period of 20 years.

In May 2013, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), now a declared presidential candidate, signed a law giving Calvert County the authority to grant a tax break to Dominion. Look for that to become a campaign issue.

June 16, 2015

Chesapeake Bay has sharks

Most folks are not aware of sharks sharing their Chesapeake Bay waters. But some five species are out there.

According to the Chesapeake Bay program experts, they are: 

Sandbar shark: the most common shark in the bay. It’s found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Brazil.
Bull shark: a close cousin to the sandbar shark, but more aggressive. Many shark attacks are attributed to the bull shark, which ventures as far north as the Patuxent River, although the Chesapeake Bay Program says it’s not considered a “significant threat” to human safety.
Sand tiger shark: a common visitor to the lower bay in summer and fall, most often feeding along the bottom of the estuary and active at night. With its jagged teeth and size, it looks dangerous, but there have been no recorded attacks on humans.
Smooth dogfish: a common to abundant visitor to the bay, especially the lower part and as far north as the Patuxent. They usually travel in schools.
Spiny dogfish: commonly found in the lower bay south of the Potomac River in late fall through early spring. Like the smooth dogfish, it travels in schools, but is a slower swimmer and inhabits deeper waters. It’s found in temperate coastal waters and in all the world’s oceans.
Less common or infrequent visitors to the bay include the basking shark, the bonnethead, the smooth hammerhead and the Atlantic angel shark.

June 15, 2015

Butt out butts

Cigarette butts are estimated to be 38 percent of our roadside litter. And in France on a recent visit we noticed wall to wall butts at every train stop. No such sight in Williamsburg at the Amtrak station, I am proud to report.

So it is very fitting that seven Hampton Roads localities, in partnership with, are taking part this summer in a national Keep America Beautiful program to reduce the impact of cigarette butt litter in the region. 

Focusing on the theme “Cigarette butts = litter,” the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program launched at these project sites, following a pre-scan of the areas to determine the extent of the cigarette litter. 
• Hampton – Buckroe Beach 
• James City County – Commuter parking off Interstate 64 at Croaker Road 
• Newport News – Hilton Village at Warwick Blvd. and Main St. 
• Norfolk – City Hall Plaza 
• Portsmouth – Ntelos Pavilion
• Suffolk – Downtown in the Main Street area
• Virginia Beach – Lake Smith/Lake Lawson Natural Area, off North Hampton Blvd. 

“Cigarette butt litter has been documented as the most frequently littered item of waste in the United States, and Hampton Roads is no different,” said John Deuel, the project leader of the grant program. “In a pre-scan of the project sites, volunteers found 3,223 cigarette butts and plastic cigar tips. If this amount of cigarette butt litter is happening in just these seven locations, imagine how much litter we’re dealing with throughout the region.” 

So participating city and county litter prevention employees and volunteers will roll out tactics and messaging at each project site to try to turn smokers’ behavior around. As part of the $12,500 grant, Keep America Beautiful has provided 35 new free-standing and wall mounted cigarette butt receptacles to be placed in strategic site locations, in addition to 4,000 hand-held pocket ashtraysand 1,000 portable auto ashtrays to be distributed to adult smokers. 

Additional project resources were provided by with $5,000, raised from its 2014 Keep Hampton Roads Beautiful Golf Tournament. These funds contributed to new signage, guiding smokers to the receptacles, and educational materials, emphasizing the impact of cigarette butt litter, which will be distributed to smokers during times when the sites are at peak use. 

Localities also have invited community members and local business and government representatives, who live near, maintain or use the sites, to advise on where to place the receptacles, when to distribute the ashtrays and the types of awareness techniques that might work best. 

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable because they contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that will persist in the environment. 

In late-August, campaign participants will conduct a follow-up scan at each project site to determine if cigarette butt litter has decreased and if so, by how much. A follow-up report will be presented in October to Hampton Roads government officials, and shared with business owners and property managers, as well as to those involved with the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management program. 

Communities that implement the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program consistently cut cigarette butt litter by half. The Hampton Roads campaign is unique in that it is being implemented simultaneously in multiple localities. Deuel says the national group is looking at the Hampton Roads project as a pilot program, whose results will be shared in a national report.

Amazingly. . . 
 • Recycling Butts? Yes You Can! TerraCycle, working with the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, turns cigarette waste into industrial products such as plastic pallets. They accept butts, filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper and ash. Collect the debris in a plastic bag and ship to the company for recycling. For every pound of waste collected, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company donates $1 toward the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Littler Prevention Program. Details at

June 14, 2015

A somewhat cleaner Chesapeake Bay

Kudos to the 6000 plus volunteers in Virginia who picked up debris (including lots of cigarette butts) on Clean the Bay Day last weekend. Virginia has 450 miles of shoreline to clean up, so that is not a small task. And more than 110,000 pounds of "stuff" that rains wash off our streets and into the Bay is gone. Thank you!

June 11, 2015

Another virus carried by mosquitoes now in Caribbean

The Zika virus, also called ZIKV, first was identified in a Rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947 and spread to humans by 1952. It is transmitted by the same mosquito that carries dengue and chikungunya viruses. A young girl in the Dominican Republic is now hospitalized with it. Symptoms are similar to chikungunya: fever, severe muscle aches, headache, conjunctivitis, rash and swollen lower limbs. It was diagnosed in a Brazilian patient a month ago. No deaths have been attributed to it as of now.

Chikungunya was first noticed in December 2013 and spread throughout the Caribbean and into Florida in less than one year. 

June 2, 2015

Hurricane season begins

It is tempting to be complacent after NOAA's predictions for this year's hurricane season. Only six to eleven named storms? But in the past, some doozies of hurricanes have popped up in rather "mild" hurricane years. Remember Andrew? Or Hugo?

Being sailors, we are Weather Channel regulars and always monitor the situation for predicted storms. I also subscribe to Caribbean news postings. These islands are on the lookout for tropical depressions long before our mainland.

BTW: I put this blog on vacation while I enjoyed a long European vacation. It was somewhat bittersweet to see many wind turbines in the UK and France while the US remains slow to embrace this energy. And I still yearn to see ANY country develop tidal energy. Tides are a constant while solar and wind depend on Mother Nature. She has not been kind in recent weeks as floods in Texas claimed so many lives, while Californians are asked to conserve water.

April 17, 2015

James River saved for awhile by the Virginia Supreme Court

Sharing this from the James River Association.

The James River Association, along with national, state and local partners, has been advocating for Dominion Virginia Power to study and pursue alternative solutions on where to place a transmission line, currently planned to span the James River near Jamestown. 

As proposed, this power line would negatively impact scenic views and visitors’ experience of the Historic Triangle, which attracts an estimated 6 million visitors annually. 

A key part of James River Association’s effort was joining James City County and Save the James Alliance to challenge the State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) approval of the transmission line project as it stands now.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Virginia released its decision and has overturned part of the SCC ruling, thereby requiring local zoning approval of certain aspects of the project. 

The decision allows James City County to further review the project through its local zoning process. James City County now has the opportunity to ensure their concerns are addressed and will provide additional opportunities for the public to register their concerns as well.

This is an encouraging and positive step in the effort to avoid the impacts that the proposed transmission line will have on America’s Founding River and surrounding communities.

April 14, 2015

New tick virus to fear?

If recent reports are correct, we should be aware of a virulent new tick-borne disease that has shown up in southern Connecticut. Known as the first place for Lyme disease to appear, this lovely state may soon be known for Powassen, an untreatable and sometimes fatal disease.

The scariest part is that the ticks begin to transmit this nasty virus  within two hours after latching on. Lyme virus needed almost two days. 

The virus can often be symptomless before often infecting the nervous system and causing encephalitis and meningitis. Survivors can develop neurological symptoms such as muscle wasting and memory problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

April 10, 2015

The latest buzz on pesticides is promising

Did you know that 51 percent of the plants at many Lowe's, Home Depot and Walmart stores contain levels of neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten honeybees?

So it is quite good news that Lowe's stores will phase out the use of this pesticide by 2019. Home Depot supposedly has asked its suppliers to label plants that have been treated with this nasty stuff. So look for the labeling.

March 25, 2015

Virginia secures research lease for wind energy

I hope this is not simply a good PR move for Dominion Virginia Power. But today's headline made me smile.

We know that the offshore wind is more than sufficient for a viable wind farm. Dominion can now move forward to erect two 6-megawatt test turbines 24 nautical miles off Virginia Beach. I hope to sail by them soon.

When we travel, I'm always taking photos of wind turbines when they unexpectedly pop up. Here are some in the Galapagos where I was amazed to see them.

Baltic Sea similar to the Chesapeake Bay?

I never thought of it . . . But these two bodies of water have a lot in common when it comes to nitrogen pollution. Especially the runoff from roads and farms that is known as non-point source pollution.

So researchers in Finland are analyzing the similarities and differences between protection policies initiated in both areas. They do not have as many political entities that need to agree to get things done as the Chesapeake faces. The many states that need to arrive at consensus are somewhat of an obstacle here because it takes so long for the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to make significant progress. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks help coordinate plans but a lot of beaurocracy gets in the way.

Good luck, Finland.

March 12, 2015

Ice in the Chesapeake a hazard

I do not remember any alert such as this in recent years. But the Coast Guard just announced that boaters should not venture into the northern part of Chesapeake Bay (and specifically Baltimore harbor) until April 15 due to imminent hazardous ice. 

If you have any questions, contact Ronald L. Houck, Sector Baltimore Waterways Management Division, USCG, (410) 576-2674,

Because of imminent hazardous conditions, USCG did not provide advance notice or a public comment period. It fears frozen waterways could steer boats off course or cause sinking or grounding. It is broadcasting the ban though marine bulletins, including reports on the thickness of the ice. During winters, hazardous ice buildups frequently occur in the waterways, most often in the canal between Town Point Wharf and Reedy Point; in and around Baltimore Harbor; and the Elk River, Susquehanna and Patapsco rivers.

USCG says it will allow some traffic in certain areas if conditions allow for it to travel safely. If conditions allow, it may end the ban sooner than April 15

March 9, 2015

Electric powered supercarrier on its way

Some interesting trivia of the billion dollars kind. . .

A warship unlike any other is under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine. General Dynamics is completing a $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer that will use all-electric power. And rumor says it may never see battle because no other country will have anything like it. 

The U.S. Navy, already larger than that of all other countries combined, already has 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers. No other country has even one.

Just "food for thought" on a random day.

Blue crabs now in Maine waters

Scientists have now documented that lobsters are now sharing the waters north of Boston with Chesapeka blue crabs. The northern limit used to be Cape Cod, MAssachusetts, but they have been seen off Northern Maine and Nova Scotia.

The waters in the Gulf of Maine are warmer now and blue crabs are now happy there. Back in the 1950s, during a short spell of warmer water, they were also found here. Fiddler crabs are also now seen in these usually cold Canadian waters. However, ocean temps in 2012 and 2013 were 1.3 degrees Centigrade warmer than the previous decade.

March 5, 2015

Nicaragua Canal is humongous project

Did you know that the proposed canal through Nicaragua will be about 172 miles long, while the Panama Canal is merely 51 miles? It will run through Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater tropical lake of the Americas. Roads for all the needed equipment are already being built.

Its $50 billion cost will be shared between a Hong Kong company and the Nicaraguan government.

This info seemingly has little to do with Tidewater Virginia. But the Hampton Roads area will see an impact if and when the mega ships using the deeper and wider Nicaragua Canal use our port. The first mega-ships may pass through this canal in late 2019.

March 4, 2015

A cleaner James River?

$76 million may make a major difference to the water quality of the James River. It has been "predominantly brown" since I moved here eleven years ago, with frequent blue-green algae blooms many summers.

But the major pollutant is nitrogen, 575,000 pounds of it each year. Much of that has been coming from the wastewater treatment plant in Hopewell, east of Richmond. A $49 million grant from Virginia's Department of Enronmental Quality will join the dollars from other sources to upgrade those wastewater treatment facilities. 

The James is a very busy river. According to documents at the Corps of Engineer's James River Partnership website, between 1,000 and 2,500 barges a year travel up the river to the Deepwater Terminal in Richmond. Between 100 and 200 ships, not including the Ready Reserve Fleet at Fort Eustis or pleasure boats, travel on the James every year, with many of them transporting cargo to and from industrial facilities in Hopewell. 

February 24, 2015

Food for thought on SEA LEVEL RISE

How much is one inch in sea level rise?

Two quadrillion gallons of water. If you can't wrap your brain around that figure . . . It's enough to fill 3 billion Olympic size swimming pools.

And yet some don't worry about the one foot of James River water rise that I have noted in the past twelve years.

CSX in the headlines again

I'd like to think that this could be my last blog posting about CSX Transportation, but alas, it will likely be simply my latest. This company name was not in most folks' vocabulary until recently, when another of its MANY train cars full of Bakken field crude oil derailed in West Virginia. 

But this time CSX is in the news for the paltry $361,000 fine imposed on it by the state of Virginia for the huge oil spill in Lynchburg, Virginia, last April. It seems that 390 gallons of the 29,000 gallon spill are still in the environment. Presumably at the bottom of the James River.

During the ensuing fire, 90 percent of that spill burned and 245 gallons of crude oil were recovered at the riverbank site.

As part of the CSX agreement with the state, the company has reseeded the spill area and planted 200 trees. And they will make monthly inspections for oil that appears at the site.

But $12 per gallon of crude oil spilled -- or $900 per gallon still unaccounted for -- seems like a small fine to me in corporate dollars.

And I haven't researched yet what fines, if any, oil pipeline companies receive for their frequent leaks. Posting this on the expected day of President Obama's veto of Congress plan for Keystone pipeline is simply a coincidence!

February 18, 2015

Train safety standards

The train manufacturing industry has responded to safety issues by now making CPC 1232 cars to replace the many DOT-111 cars that are still in use. But even this improvement was not sufficient in the derailment in West Virginia earlier this week with huge explosions, fire and leak. That particular train was hauling 107 tank cars of North Dakota Bakken Field crude oil in the newer 1232 cars, not the older type model.

The CPC 1232 with a thicker one inch hull is the newer, supposedly tougher version of the DOT-111 cars that were manufactured up until 2011 and are being phased out. 1232 cars have reinforced top fittings to help prevent spills and pressure relief valves to allow gas to escape when there are fires. Thicker steel plates that are less likely to be punctured by couplers are another improvement. But the thousands of gallons of crude bound for the Yorktown, Virginia depot were still vulnerable.

This is the same route used by the train that exploded in Lynchburg last April. And if the derailment had occurred 35 miles earlier, while the train passed through the city of Charleston, W.Va., it could have been catastrophic. Less risk is not the same as risk-free.

The rail industry rightly claims that in lieu of the Keystone pipeline, this will be the travel path of countless more train cars of crude oil. And more spills. Pipelines are merely marginally safer than rail cars.

February 15, 2015

Hockey stick graph on climate change

Michael Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K Hughes created the famous "hockey stick graph" in 1999 for a paper, "Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations." In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a version of the graph in its report, pushing the hockey stick depiction of temperature trends to the forefront of the climate change discussion.

So I present it again for your consideration. It says it all.

January 10, 2015

Dilbit is NOT Dilbert

With all the discussion now taking place about Keystone XL, you might hear the term "dilbit" or diluted bituminous and wonder what the heck it is.

The TransCanada folks offer a great answer at if you want to learn more. And you just might want to. It is not as harmless as it sounds and you might not want it in your backyard or near your drinking water.

TransCanada history is not without blemish

Keystone pipeline advocates frequently argue that pipelines are safer ways to transport crude oil than railroad cars. But look at these facts.

TransCanada pipelines were in the headlines three times in 2014 for rather extensive failures. In September of 2014, a natural gas pipeline owned by TransCanada ruptured in Michigan causing the evacuation of 500 people. An earlier rupture in Alberta last February and another in Manitoba in January.

Some folks might argue that three leaks in one year is not that onerous. If one occurs in YOUR backyard or near your drinking water, you might not share that opinion.

In Keystone I's first year (2010), it leaked 14 times, with the largest spill more than 21,000 gallons. Pipeline regulators shut it down temporarily. Shortly thereafter, Keystone opened up their "state of the art" natural gas Bison pipeline that they claimed would not need repairs for 20 to 30 years. Oops. It exploded two months later. Guess those whistleblowers who claimed construction flaws were onto something.
Preventing leaks and detecting leaks may get easier as new technologies are developed. But leaks will occur. The Wall Street Journal reviewed 1400 pipeline accidents and discovered that out of 251 spill reports, energy companies' monitoring systems only discovered 19.5 percent of them. Most of them were discovered after the fact.
Pipelines spilled an average of 112,569 barrels a year in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous five-year period, according to U.S. Transportation Department figures compiled by Bloomberg.
TransCanada explains: "The fact is, industry-leading design, construction, maintenance, operating and technological features are being incorporated into Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Pipelines. Our primary focus is always to prevent leaks in the first place. . . While there are many emerging leak detection technologies that are being developed for the oil and gas pipeline industry most are still in the developmental stages. TransCanada is working with industry and the vendor community on evaluating a number of these technologies, including acoustic detection systems, internal pressure wave based tools and external cable and fiber optic based systems as well. . .
The pipeline monitoring and leak detection systems deployed on our Keystone oil pipeline system are based on proven technologies and represent the current state of the art for long distance, large diameter liquid pipeline operations. Our leak detection systems use the most advanced and proven technology available, and our highly-trained operators have consistently shown that they are able to notice very small changes that could be related to a leak and shut the pipeline down within minutes. This was demonstrated twice in 2011. Our monitoring system identified leaks of 10 and 500 barrels at above-ground pumping stations from very small fittings during two incidents in the U.S. On both occasions the pipeline was shut down within minutes and the oil was cleaned up with no environmental impact. The system worked as it was designed to do. Ten and 500-barrel leaks are extremely less than the 12,000 barrels our opponents claim would be the minimum amount our leak detection systems would be able to detect. We will continue to assess technologies that can further complement our current leak detection capabilities if and when the reliability and feasibility of those systems can be proven."

January 9, 2015

Addressing marine debris in Virginia waters

Marine debris was in the headlines a few months ago as searchers vainly looked for the missing Malaysian airline plane. Many had not heard of the floating masses called "garbage gyres" in the middle of our oceans. The one in the Pacific was in the news years ago, but memory is short when so many things plague our waters. And besides, this "sea of plastic" was not visible on our shorelines. It came from there, but few folks can actually see it now. But I pick up an assortment of flotsam on my nearby James River shoreline.

So it is good news that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and many other agencies and individuals are addressing balloon releases, derelict crab pots and other marine debris. Their plan is supposedly the first of its kind on the East Coast. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program includes a lot of education and awareness programs as well as clean up. I hope to see more about in local and state news.

January 7, 2015

Chesapeake Bay receives a very lenient grade AGAIN

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks are the best hope for restoring the health of this huge estuary. But since when is an index score of 32 out of 100 deemed a D+? No teacher worth their weight could curve scores that much. Nor would parents accept that much leniency.

CBF looks at 13 separate indicators, some of which show improvement (oysters, water clarity, underwater grasses). But the blue crab and rockfish populations decreased and the amount of phosphorus leaching in from our lawns increased. Let's hope we can get our act together and get some newly funded programs going by 2017. Or face lost federal funding.

James River power lines are again in the headlines

Fear of the dark a lobbying force? Really?

Dominion Power must believe that if they repeat it enought, the public will believe them. So they keep saying that without the proposed 500 volt power lines across the James River, power outages in Hampton Roads will occur in the near future, all the way from northern Virginia to North Carolina.

Thus, yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court heard Dominion's oral arguments and those of opposing groups such as the James River Association, James City County and the Save the James Alliance who want to preserve the rather pristine look of the James River in that area. Also up for decision is whether a switching station is part of a power transmission line. They are integral to each other, but did the State Corporation Commission (SCC) err in late 2013 when they signed off on the project without input from James City County?

Marred views from our shorelines or impending darkness? 295 foot towers higher than the Statue of Liberty or no lights or TV? Dominion is not enthusiastic about burying the power lines, claiming that would add additional millions of dollars to the project cost.

The Supreme Court decision is not expected to make their decision until later this year. But stay tuned.  Then too, the Army Corps of Engineers still need to add their two cents before all can proceed.

December 9, 2014

Senate passes Chesapeake Bay bill

Senator Mark Warner (D) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R) sponsored a bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate recently that would coordinate the numerous agencies and efforts that are working on cleaning up our beloved bay. This Chesapeake Bay Accountability Act is now in the House of Representatives for their consideration. Sure hope that it passes now in 2014 and does not get bogged down in partisan squabbling. 

Under this Bill, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) would prepare ONE budget to oversee the myriad of programs and track their efforts to restore the bay. Right now it is difficult if not impossible to track the performance of the ten or more federal agencies that work on this huge task.

Powhatan's Village will be protected

Algonquin Chief Powhatan ruled these parts in 1607 when John Smith and friends "discovered" our Chesapeake Bay Area. Powhatan's seat of power was called Werowocomoco, a tract on the York River now privately owned by Bob and Lynn Ripley. But this piece of history on 57 of their acres has been threatened for some time by erosion. 

Good news! A $199,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant will allow the nice folks at VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science) to get busy in dealing with the erosion on these cliffs. The main feature of this restoration project will be two or more sills of piled rocks just offshore that will give a friendlier habitat for marsh grasses to thrive and more sand to remain. Hopefully, about 15,000 square feet of marsh will keep 900,000 pounds of sediment from washing into the York River each year. Yes, each YEAR. Mother Nature is a tough old gal.

Chesapeake Bay warming up too

According to the U.S. Geological Survey folks, most of the more than 100,000 creeks, streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay estuary are warming, largely driven by rising air temps. That is not really surprising if you consider that if your home's air is too cool, your leather sofa will be quite chilly too.

But the latest USGS research, published in the Climatic Change journal, announces that the Bay's water temp has risen more than 2.5 degrees F between 1960 and 2010. And that does not even include the years since then, with 2014 the hottest year on record so far. Air temps during that same 50 year period rose less than 2 degrees F, so obviously the Bay's waters retain the heat.

One major result of warming waters is increased eutrophication, a fancy way of saying too much nutrients in the water. Animals and plants used to one level of nutrients may move upstream in freshwater or up the Chesapeake. Invasive plants may also find an environment that they prefer.

John Smith and Bartholomew Gosnold might not recognize our local waters for more reasons than the homes dotting the shorelines and the lack of oysters and sturgeon.

November 19, 2014

Sturgeon making a comeback

The homely sturgeon was nearly wiped out in the James River by overfishing in the late 1800s. NOAA listed four varieties of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered in 2013. But they seem to be making a comeback. A few have been spotted in the James River and in various spots in the Chesapeake Bay. Are they Chesapeake Bay sturgeon or migrating from the Potomac River? Some have radio tags and are being tracked. But these are not easy fish to capture.

An alternative to Keystone XL

The TransCanada website includes a lot of information about their alternative 2858 mile pipeline, called Energy East, from the Alberta tar sand to the EAST coast of Canada.

Now that Keystone XL is still being debated, and the First Nations tribes are still opposing a pipeline west through their land, look for more news about this alternative pipeline. The oil will move. Whether by train, highways or pipeline is the only question. And there will be spills any way they move it. How much of a threat can we handle?

Fracking in Virginia forests update

I have posted about the threat to Virginia's George Washington National Forest before. But this is good news "of a sort." A compromise has been reached.

In 2011, the drafted plan would allow fracking in quite a lot of the 1.1 million acre forest in the Shenandoah mountains that I love so well. The new compromise now will allow drilling on merely 10,000 acres where mineral rights are privately owned.

Why is this a big deal? According to the New York Times,

"Streams in the George Washington National Forest contribute drinking water to nearly three million people in Virginia, and the forest is the largest federal property in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The region includes some of the top agricultural counties in the state and supports a $10 million recreation and tourism economy."

Good news about styrofoam

Styrofoam is the one plastic that no one seemed to know how to recycle. Until now.

A company in Mexico, Rennueva, claims to have designed a machine that can separate the plastic polymers out of styrofoam into pellets that can be used to make transparent rigid plastic.

The process, called termodensification, heats styrofoam cups, packaging materials and those famous food-storage clam shells to the point that the five percent of it that is plastic can be compressed into pellets. Who knew that styrofoam was 95% air?

The company says that they will create another 12 to 18 recycling units before the end of 2014. If they can, this will be good news to landfill operators since that has been the final destination for a LOT of coffee cups, etc.

November 16, 2014

Dead zones in the Chesapeake

Those large areas of Chesapeake Bay that don't have enough oxygen in the water to support happy critters or happy underwater grasses did not get much attention this past summer. In fact, at the beginning of summer, things looked fairly good. Hurricane Arthur stirred up the bay nicely. But every heavy rain also washes a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen into the bay. In the October issue of PropTalk, the dead zone was estimated to be about 1.32 cubic miles. The crab harvest of 2014 was certainly lower. The increasing aquaculture of oysters is a good effort to clean our waters as well as provide some tasty morsels at happy hour. But our bay is anything but happy.

James River at risk?

You're darn right. The James River wake-up call was last April's train derailment in Lynchburg and subsequent fire. Lots of crude oil spilled into my favorite river that day. I posted about it then.

The James River Association has a new website at devoted to other high risks to the James from such things as storage of toxic coal ash and other chemicals that don't seem to get much monitoring.

Five inspectors to check the train tracks that carry a million gallons of crude oil should get your attention too. It is a patriotic duty to protect this historic river.

The folks in 37 counties and 18 cities who rely on the James as a major source of their drinking water should be especially vigilant. 

October 6, 2014

Train tracks in trouble?

A recent article in the Daily Press, with a "Dangerous Defects?" headline, should have gotten all readers' attention. But most have already forgotten the fire resulting from the CSX train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia just a few months ago in late April. The 15 train cars that ended in the James River? The cars full of crude oil on their way to the Yorktown refinery?

That accident is still under investigation. Just a few days after the April 30 accident, inspectors found quite a few troublesome spots where support ties or bolts were missing, rails were cracked or two inches out of line and support soil or gravel was compromised. But now we know that inspectors found significant faults on that specific line six weeks before that derailment. 55 faults have been noted on the line through James City County and Newport News!

Just what constitutes urgency here? CSX is indeed spending about $1 billion this year maintaining existing tracks, signals and bridges. CSX, along with Norfolk Southern, operate about 2000 miles of train tracks in Virginia. Federal regulations call for tracks as heavily used as the CSX mainline through our area to be inspected at least twice a week and immediate repairs made. So someone is not doing their job.

CSX maintains that the derailed train was traveling at an order of slower speed through Lynchburg last April. But 10 mph on tracks with missing bolts and rails two inches out of alignment is not the answer. Watch these crude oil train cars traveling through our area and ask yourself if you are sleeping soundly. Another derailment WILL occur. It is just a question of WHEN.

Chikungunya is not a joke

The World Health Organization, CDC, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other disease-monitoring agencies have had their hands full recently. Ebola has been their priority. But a mosquito-borne viral disease, chikungunya, deserves more name recognition and media coverage, especially if you plan to travel to any Caribbean island soon.

The disease causes severe and debilitating joint pain and fever and is especially dangerous to those over 65. The actual name of the disease means "bended and twisted over." PAHO's most recent count reported 113 deaths attributed to chikungunya in St. Martin since it first appeared there in December 2013.

I first posted about this disease with the funny name in May, months after hearing about it when we were in St. Lucia and it had affected some folks nearby in St. Martin. But by now it has been reported in more than 738,000 individuals in almost all of the Caribbean islands. 19,000 new cases in the Dominican Republic alone, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research. 

Fellow sailing enthusiasts now in Grenada posted that it is very prevalent now in their community. One said "I am nearly bathing in DEET in the past few weeks." She also repeated the oft quoted phrase that "chikungunya may not kill you but you'll wish you were dead when it doubles you over in pain."

And locally acquired cases in Florida too. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, just reported its first locally acquired chikungunya case on September 19. The case apparently marks the 10th indigenous case in the continental United States, all of them in Florida.

Not to be an alarmist, but that fits my definition of "epidemic." The symptoms usually appear three to seven days after being bitten. So use more DEET products if you travel to the areas below, especially during daytime hours when this particular mosquito bites.