November 18, 2015

Solar energy heating up in Virginia?

Please excuse the pun, but yesterday's full page ad by Dominion Energy in the Daily Press had me smiling. It seems that 900 acres on Virginia's Eastern Shore will be transformed into a mega solar energy farm in the coming months, the largest solar energy facility in Virginia so far. An 80-megawatt facility to power Amazon Web Services data centers in Northern Virginia! And expected to enter service by fall of 2016? This is indeed good news.

November 5, 2015

Clean Power Plan defended

Virginia, through the efforts of Attorney General Mark Herring, is defending the Clean Power Plan.

The plan requires states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent during the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels, and gives states flexibility in achieving those reductions. Virginia already has reduced carbon pollution from the power sector by 16 percent since 2008.

Fittingly, the American Lung Association in Virginia supported the move, saying the Clean Power Plan, when fully implemented, will save up to 6,600 premature deaths nationwide each year and up to 150,000 asthma attacks.

Thank you, Mark.

October 20, 2015

FYI: Coral reefs and sunscreen

No coral reefs here in Tidewater Virginia, but many residents of this area head off to Caribbean or Hawaii destinations when winter arrives. So a recent study about sunscreens should be of interest.

It seems that the chemical oxybenzone, found in more than 3500 popular sunscreens, is killing coral reefs. 80 percent of our reefs in the Caribbean are lost already. Degraded bleached out reefs might recover, but it takes a LONG time.

Anywhere from 6000 to 14,00 tons of sunscreen lotion wash off our bodies and into coral reef areas each year. And much of that sunscreen contains between one and ten percent oxybenzone. I just checked the Nutrigena products we use and see 6 percent oxybenzone.

So check EWG's Guide to sunscreens at to see the ones they highly recommend. You will probably not be familiar with most of these brands.

October 18, 2015

James River improving?

Recent headlines tout the improving grade of the James River's water quality, but the jump from C+ to B- in the James River Association's report card is a tad misleading. And their B- is a 61%. That is VERY generous grading.

Indeed, OVERALL water "quality" improved due to the eagle count, phosphorus reduction and wastewater upgrades. But a parent looking at this report card would see these numbers and question Jimmy's teacher:

56% in stream health
40% in agriculture pollution control
44% in sediment reduction
36% in storm water pollution controls
30% in vegetated buffer restoration
58% in underwater grasses

Look here to see the entire report card:

October 11, 2015

Tidewater groundwater faces a challenge in coming years

Here are a few handy facts and figures from today's DAILY PRESS article on local groundwater at

  • Quite a bit of our local drinking water from groundwater aquifers is 40,000 years old.
  • Virginia receives an average of 40 inches of rain each year, but less than one-half inch of it soaks into  our groundwater sediment.
  • Our groundwater has dropped as much as 200 feet during the last century in some areas in Virginia.
  • In James City County, current water consumption (in 2015) is 5.6 million gallons per DAY.
  • Virginia's DEQ may cut James City County's daily water withdrawal to 3.8 to 4 million gallons.
Prepare to conserve more water over the coming years.

Other eye-opening news is that the EPA tells us that $6.7 billion is needed for drinking water infrastructure needs in Virginia alone. $4.5 billion for pipeline improvements.

And $384 BILLION just to maintain the existing drinking water infrastructure in the entire country.


September 19, 2015

Dominion plans new online outage map

Is it just me? Or did anyone else see the humor in today's paper about Dominion Virginia Power's new online interactive power outage map? If my power is out, how can I access this map to report an outage? Aha, my phone of course! Unless I forgot to keep it charged.

September 2, 2015

James City County water bills

A few home owners may be shocked when they receive their next quarterly water bills, especially if they do not have a submeter for their lawn irrigation water.

As of July 1, 2015, Hampton Roads's former first tier cost of $2.85/thousand gallons decreased to $2.47/thousand gallons. But the next tier of usage jumps from $3.45 to $4.93 per thousand gallons.

Then there is a big hit if you exceed a limit: $11.59 per thousand gallons in tier three. That should discourage homeowners from defying the county irrigation schedule of three times weekly. 

But they do not seem to be enforcing their regs in many neighborhoods.

Ewwwww for algae blooms in the York River

Perhaps it is due to the lack of rain in the last few weeks, but the latest news from William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) about the York River and the one aerial photo I saw were troubling. It seems that the algae bloom there is one of the most intense and widespread in nearly ten years.

VIMS reports that water samples collected near the mouth of the York River on August 17 contained up to 200,000 algal cells per milliliter. 1,000 algal cells per milliliter is visible to the naked eye and considered dense enough to be called a bloom.

According to Science News Daily, "The current blooms are dominated by a single-celled protozoan called Alexandrium monilatum, an algal species known to release toxins harmful to other marine life, particularly larval shellfish and finfish. Since mid-August, VIMS has received sporadic and localized reports of small numbers of dead fish, oysters, and crabs from the lower York River and adjacent Bay waters associated with nearby blooms, although a direct cause/effect relationship has not been established for any of these events.

Aerial photography and water sampling by VIMS professor Wolfgang Vogelbein between August 17th and 27th confirmed the blooms' intensity in the lower York River, and revealed that they extended much farther up the York River and out into Chesapeake Bay than previously reported. The flyovers were facilitated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

"This is new and important information," says Vogelbein, "as we have never appreciated that Alexandrium extends so far into the mainstem of the Bay or so far up the York River." Bloom patches in the mainstem reach from the York River to the mouth of the Rappahannock River, across the Bay to within 3-4 miles of Cape Charles, and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The bloom patches are most dense on the western side of the Bay, with other areas experiencing less activity. "The main body of the bloom is several miles off shore," says Vogelbein, "and thus wasn't appreciated prior to the recent flyovers."

Alexandrium monilatum is one of several species of harmful algae that are of emerging concern in Chesapeake Bay. It was first conclusively detected in Bay waters in 2007, when Reece and colleagues used microscopy and DNA sequences to identify it as the dominant species of a bloom that persisted for several weeks in the York River. There are generic reports of Alexandrium in the Bay from the mid-1940s, and specific reports of A. monilatum in the mid-1960s, but none in the intervening decades.

The recent sampling and aerial photography show that the epicenter of the A. monilatum bloom is near the mouth of the York River. Smaller, less dense patches are visible within Mobjack Bay and its tributaries, the Back and Poquoson rivers, and near the mouth of the James and Elizabeth rivers.

Reports of algal blooms in the lower York River started around July 22nd. As in recent years, the initial summer blooms began with concentrations of the alga Cochlodinium polykrikoides, before shifting after 2-3 weeks into blooms dominated by A. monilatum. As of the last week of August, the A. monilatum bloom in the York River persists but has grown markedly less dense.

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.