April 28, 2009

What is YOUR "Learning Curve"?

Americans are trying to understand the nation's energy needs, especially the availability of alternative/renewable energy. But a new report from Planet Forward is not reassuring by finding that half of those surveyed could not identify one renewable energy source, and 4 out of 10 could not name a fossil fuel. Duh! Who are these folks?

Public Agenda's first Energy Learning Curve ™ report, in partnership with Planet Forward and produced by George Washington University, identified four broad clusters of public opinion based on folks' attitudes, values and knowledge; the Anxious (40 percent), the Greens (24 percent), the Disengaged (19 percent) and the Climate Change Doubters (17 percent). The steep learning curve required for all four groups poses challenges for policymakers.

If you're reading this blog, I'll assume you're not included in the last two clusters. But we need to engage the 36 percent who are not buying into the need to do something soon.

What can YOU do? Check out the above report and comment below.

Water, Water, Everywhere?

BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK?

Not yet, but our drinking water (and irrigation water) are NOT an unlimited resource. Most of our local water comes from the Chickahominey-Piney Point and Potomac aquifers, underground sources that are slowly dropping as we draw from them like there's no end to their water. Williamsburg folks also depend on Waller Mill Reservoir and another aquifer. Both local governments buy their water from Newport News Waterworks. New contracts guarantee water for 50 years.

Desalination plants (such as the 5 million gallons/day facility at Five Points Groundwater Treatment which came online in 2005) can only help to a degree--since the water that's returned to the James River is higher in salinity. James City Service Authority manages the county’s central water system as well as seven independent community water systems.

But what about the water from the proposed King William Reservoir? After a twenty year battle, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia agreed in April, 2009 with the Chesapeake Bay Foundations's opposition to the King William reservoir project by saying "no" to the US Army Corps of Engineers' decision to issue a permit for construction.

Construction of the proposed 13 billion gallon reservoir would destroy 437 acres of wetlands, flood more than 1500 acres of pristine wetlands (largest permitted wetlands destruction in mid-Atlantic area), flood 21 miles of streams, inundate Native American cultural sites, draw water from the Mattaponi River, and threaten the restoration of the American shad.

Here's the history from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF): In the late 1980s, the City of Newport News proposed to construct a new regional reservoir, citing alleged water needs. The lead federal permit agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, rejected the original proposal and recommended permit denial. The Corps' original conclusion was that there were unacceptable environmental and cultural impacts as well as less damaging alternatives available. The Corps then reversed itself and issued the permit.

CBF and its partners (the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Mattaponi Tribe) argued that the US Army Corps' decision to reverse itself and issue the permit to construct the reservoir and flood hundreds of acres of wetlands was "arbitrary and capricious." Citing requirements in the Clean Water Act, the U.S. District Court agreed. The Court said that the Corps had failed to establish that the reservoir was the least damaging alternative. It also said that the Corps had failed to show that the reservoir project would not cause substantial degradation to water quality--also a Clean Water Act requirement. Finally, the Court concluded that EPA also had acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" way in failing to follow the governing requirements of the Clean Water Act for EPA review of a Corps' decision.

For years, CBF and its partners have argued that there are other alternatives available, from conservation to smaller reservoirs; that Newport News had never legitimately established the need for the amount of water the huge reservoir would provide; and that the plan to mitigate the wetland destruction failed to compensate for the degraded and destroyed acres and functions of the wetlands.

The projected cost of this project was headed to $290 million by the time it came online in 2020. $50 million has already been spent, much of that for court costs to defend it.

5-1-09 update: The Army Corps of Engineers indefinitely suspended the project's federal permit. The public needs to look at water conservation efforts more closely. Water use has been declining throughout the Peninsula for the last few years as more users water their lawns less frequently and realize that fixing small leaks can also help their wallets.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

1) Reduce the turf area around your home with more mulched beds and plants that tolerate dry conditions. Find suggested plants fromthe John Clayton Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and the Master Gardeners' website.

2) Follow the watering restrictions in your community. They are NOT merely a suggestion.

The James City Service Authority website states that a violation of their watering ordinance is a Class I Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500. "Violators who have been reported will be issued one warning in the form of a door hanger either given directly to the resident or left on the front door of the house or business. If a second violation is reported, the County Police will investigate and a summons may be issued." Don't tempt your neighbors to report you to JCSA at 229-7421!

3) Follow the hints at http://wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/index.php .
The three tiers of water pricing could bring you to tears when your water bill arrives. The first 15,000 gallons is $2.85/thousand gallons; next 15,000 gallons are $3.45/thousand gallons. After 30,000 gallons, the price jumps to $9.80/thousand gallons. THAT should get your attention!

April 24, 2009

Earth Week 2009 "Honor Roll"

TAKE A BOW!
Many individuals and families jumped onto the green bandwagon during the past year, as “green” appeared everywhere. Earth Week provides an opportunity to recognize some of the many in the Williamsburg area who deserve more than a pat on the back for their efforts to create a better planet.

I apologize to the many that I’m likely leaving off this list (which also appeared in the Virginia Gazette). Readers, please add your suggestions in comments at the end of the posting.

It’s also an ideal time to look back on some of the non-environmentally friendly happenings in our area. Local governments play a huge role in environmental impact—some positive and some not—so you’ll see some of their actions in both groups below.

LOCAL GREEN WINNERS

Christine Llewellyn and the Williamsburg Climate Action Network (WCAN) — For continuing grassroots efforts to promote energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy and spearheading opposition to the proposed Surry coal plant. Our prevailing winds put the Williamsburg area downwind of this proposed power plant's emissions.

David and Carla Hess — For installing the first major household rain cistern (1330 gallon capacity) in James City in Ford’s Colony

A. DeRose & Sons— For building the first five certified EarthCraft homes in our area in Ford’s Colony (see Green Homes on this blog for more info on EarthCraft Homes)

Norge Elementary School -- For being the first place winner in the Trex Company's recycling contest. 4th grade teacher, Ann Beaty, says, "The kids and parents really worked hard recycling 211 large bags of plastic. The second place recyclers were Clara Byrd Barton with 118 bags! We did a great job! It is amazing how much plastic there is in our world. We won one of two Trex benches made out of recycled plastic bags."

Stonehouse, Matthew Whaley, and Clara Byrd Baker Elementary Schools Students — For recycling another 300 giant bags of plastic bags.

York County schools — For geothermal energy-efficient programs in its six Energy Star buildings

Williamsburg and York County — For earning Green Government designations from the Virginia Municipal League

Environmental Coordinator Jennifer Privette and James City — For earning both an Outstanding Recycling Performance Award from the Virginia Recycling Association and a Green Team award from the Virginia Municipal League in the Green Government Challenge

James City County Citizens Coalition (J4C) — For promoting “smart growth” and sponsoring numerous green workshops throughout the past year

All local Adopt-a-Road and neighborhood clean-up volunteers — For trying to stay ahead of OPT (other people’s trash)

Faye Keenan and St. Luke’s Methodist Church — For keeping lots of mattress pads and fabric remnants out of landfills by transforming them into quilts for the homeless

James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department — For providing more “locavore” food at their new farmers market in Toano, thanks to volunteered goods or services from Taylor Lumber, Arch Marston at AES, David A. Nice Builders, Jack L. Massie Contractor

Libbey Oliver — For again coordinating the Williamsburg Farmers Market every Saturday from May through October, plus a few more off-season

James City Service Authority — For offering rebate incentives for rainbarrels, cisterns, low water use fixtures, water smart landscaping, and Energy Star washers and to the hundreds of smart consumers who applied for them

Williamsburg Shopping Center’s Ace Hardware — For being the first Virginia store to carry 100 percent VOC-free paint (Mythic brand)

Great Wolf Lodge — For being part of he first hotel chain in the world to achieve national Green Seal Certification for their efforts in recycling and conservation

Williamsburg Land Conservancy — For obtaining a donation of 190 acres on Oak Landing Creek

Supervisor Jim Kennedy’s Green Building Design Roundtable — For promoting eco-friendly building practices

Another 50 acres Preserved from Development —Near St. George’s Hundred along Route 5, purchased by James County with greenspace funds

James City’s Stormwater Division volunteers in the Save Our Streams project — For adopting local streams and monitoring their water quality

Master Gardeners— For taking hours of training and sharing their expertise in countless hours of community service

Settlement at Powhatan Creek Homeowners — For their recent stream-restoration project

Two Rivers Yacht Club, Wormley Creek, Seaford Yacht Club, River’s Rest, Riverwalk Landing, and York River Yacht Haven — For adopting at least 80 percent of pollution prevention or reduction measures to become one of 62 certified “Clean Marinas” in Virginia

Williamsburg Botanical Garden Volunteers — For countless hours planting and maintaining Freedom Park’s garden

US Maritime Administration — For fewer ships in the James River “ghost fleet” that could threaten water quality if ships rupture. Only 25 now remain! Appreciation also to Congresswoman JoAnn Davis for championing this cause.

Charlie Dubay and his Jamestown High School Students — For plant identifications along Greensprings Trail

Freecycle Members — For keeping usable items out of our local landfills by freecycling them

Individual Residents and Businesses — For participation in curbside/drop-off recycling programs and numerous Earth Day events during the past week and

LOCAL GREEN LOSERS

Open Space in James City — After a potential $700,000 loss of land acquisition funds when proposed stormwater fees were rejected

Potomac and Chickahominy-Piney Point Aquifers — After timid conservation plans keep our water rates below others in our area. If water is cheap, where’s the incentive to conserve it?

Greenspace and Watersheds — As James City considers “shaping our shores” instead of preserving them as “living shorelines”

Farmlands —As Hill Pleasant Farms joins the growing list of “former farmlands” and locavores have less locally produced foods that haven’t been trucked hundreds or thousands of miles

Wetlands and RPAs — For losing a 200’ protection buffer after the James City Board of Supervisors reverted back to 100’

Chesapeake Bay Waters —That continue to endure poor water quality and minimal aquatic grasses and the watermen whose livelihood suffered last year (but crabs seem to be increasing in 2009)

Powhatan Creek Watershed — For being “built out” even before New Town is completed and enduring a sewage spill and “urban drainage” from increasing impervious surfaces

5 Million Year Old Fossil Bed — Lost on James River bluffs when wetlands boards approved grading the cliffs for 38 Kingsmill lots

Acres of Trees — Along Route 199 and Monticello Avenue that have been replaced by commercial growth and impervious parking lots

York County Residents —Who live near the fly ash landfill mound that York’s Board of Supervisors permitted to expand to a height of 75 feet, and who breathe the emissions from both the power plant and refinery

600 Queen’s Lake Homeowners — Who are still waiting for $19.5 million to replace septic tanks with sewers

York River shoreline protection project — Also waiting for $174,000 funding

Edgehill South, Brandywine, and Moore’s Creek — Still waiting for $4 million for drainage projects

York River Water Quality — Awaiting $2.2 million funding for York Point sewage project

Green Lawn Superfreaks — Who continue to ignore the advice of Virginia Tech’s Extension Service and fertilize their cool season grasses in spring, adding to nutrient runoff into local watersheds and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay

YOUR SUGGESTIONS WELCOME BELOW in COMMENTS.

April 23, 2009

Attention Boaters!

Boaters, Watch Your Waste Line

“There is NOTHING—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” is an often quoted line from The Wind in the Willows. However, some Chesapeake boaters are taking that quite literally when it comes to their holding tanks. Responsible boaters occasionally have that temptation to dump holding tanks overboard with the flip of a switch rather than visiting a pump-out station at the end of a long day. Apparently some think a “Pump Out” sign means the fuel pumps are out of order!

Some boaters have told me that they can discharge overboard because their boat has a macerator. I calmly respond that a macerator doesn’t treat their sewage; it only chops it up. Then there was one sailor who told me that he had researched it and found that “the Chesapeake is NOT a NO-discharge area.” “Yikes,” I replied, “Did you translate that sentence with two negatives into one positive?”

Boaters in “no-discharge areas” are prohibited from dumping both untreated and treated sewage. Specific small, poorly-flushed (no pun intended) areas, such as Herring Bay and the Lynnhaven watershed, need that special environmental protection.

The good news from Dave Lazarus, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality watershed expert, is that Broad Creek, Fishing Bay, and Jackson Creek may soon be added by the EPA to that list of no-discharge zones.

Responsible boaters know that it is illegal to discharge raw sewage from any vessel ANYWHERE in the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries, regardless of proximity to a coastline. Many recreational boats have Type III type marine sanitation systems (isn’t that an oxymoron?) which merely hold sewage until it can be safely pumped out.

Boaters who get an annual Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron vessel safety check know that Type III systems must have a SECURED closed Y-valve to prevent overboard discharge while in the Bay or its tributaries. The Coast Guard and Marine Police have better things to do than enforce this regulation. Let’s police that ourselves.

U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Investigations, Jerry Crooks, told me “We’ve never received a complaint about illegal sewage overboard, but we know it happens.” Who would discharge sewage when another boat, or Coast Guard or Marine Police boat is nearby?

Some boaters argue that the contents of their single boat’s holding tank are “peanuts” compared to the big sources of pollution; insignificant in the big picture. A single overboard discharge from a boat holding tank into a low dilution environment, such as a marina, can be detected for at least one square mile from the discharge point for quite some time. Is that sufficient motivation? If not, think about the thousands of boats out there with you.

True, sewage system overflows from our large municipalities after super heavy rainfall contribute more than their share of “nutrient over-enrichment” into our waterways, as does agricultural runoff. However, individual boaters do not need to add their additional two cents worth.

Consider this amazing discovery—the San Francisco Estuary Project found that “the untreated discharge from one weekend boater puts the same amount of bacterial pollution into the water as does the treated sewage of 10,000 people.” Yuck! To be graphic—remember that boat holding tank contents are VERY concentrated, compared to municipal sewage which is diluted by millions of gallons of water and rainwater. Also, it often contains treatment chemicals such as chlorine and formaldehyde to reduce odors or as disinfectants. Most commercial products used in heads should be biodegradable. But using too much or the wrong type of a product can poison marine life. Can your conscience handle oxygen depletion and algae blooms, let alone coliform bacteria in our waterways and contaminated shellfish?

Both Virginia and Maryland require marinas with more than 50 slips to have a pump-out, and both states have grant programs, supported by the federal Clean Vessel Act, which fund at least 75 percent of the cost of a pump-out installation. By regulation, any marina that uses a grant can charge boaters no more than $5 for pump-out service of a typical holding tank. Recent Maryland legislation requires that, as of July 1, 2010, Maryland marinas with more than ten slips and with boats over 22 feet in length must have a pump-out facility.

Friends of the Rappahannock’s "Pump for the Rivah" program, modeled after a cleanup initiative in Solomons, Maryland., is doing an excellent job in their educational program to stress pump-out use on the Rappahannock and septic tank maintenance. In Virginia, the Department of Health’s Hampton Roads Sanitation District has spread the word to boaters. But more education is needed.

Watermen are paying the price of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our rivers and bay. Merely reducing the 2008 crab harvest will not solve the problem. Sediment, fertilizers, loss of underwater grasses, farm runoff, and sewage treatment plants’ discharge are a larger combined assault than overfishing.

So let’s stop the blame game where watermen, farmers, sewage plant operators, and the poultry industry point fingers. We 17 million who reside along Chesapeake shorelines need to take responsibility for the state of the bay and the super-sized nitrogen diet we’ve fed it. Any amount of nitrogen and phosphates from your boat’s holding tank is one ounce too many for our threatened bay. Keep your “stuff” in your boat’s holding tank until you get to a pump-out. Complain loudly if you find one that’s not working or working poorly. Encourage your marina owner to maintain their pump-out facility.

As more of us head out on our local waters as the weather warms, keep your eyes open. Report suspected water pollution (oil spills, fish kills, hazardous materials) or suspected violation of environmental laws as soon as possible.

In VA: Department of Environmental Quality’s Pollution Response Program (PREP):

During normal work hours call the DEQ Regional Office that covers the area where the incident occurred.
· Northern Regional Office: Woodbridge, VA; 703-583-3800
· Piedmont Regional Office: Glen Allen , VA; 804-527-5020
· Tidewater Office: Virginia Beach, VA; 757-518-2000

Nights, holidays, and weekends call the Department of Emergency Management's 24 hour reporting number:

In Virginia only: 800 468-8892

Out-of-state calls: 804 674-2400
In MD: Report any environmental emergency that poses an immediate threat to the public health or the well-being of the environment such as oil and chemical spills or accidents causing releases of pollutants by calling toll free 866-633-4686.

Fish Kills and Algae Blooms: Days 800-285-8195; Nights/Weekends 888-584-3110
Hazardous Material & Oil Spills: Days, Nights/Weekends 866-MDE GO TO

FYI: Rainbow colored films can result from harmless iron-oxidizing bacteria on the water's surface, OR from oil discharges to the stream, possibly from run off from roads or parking lots. One way to differentiate iron-oxidizing bacteria from oil releases is to trail a small stick or leaf through the film. If the film breaks up into small islands or clusters, it is most likely bacteria. If the film swirls together, it is most likely a petroleum discharge. If you believe it is a petroleum discharge, please report the discharge according to the instructions above.

BROKEN PUMPOUT STATIONS?

Report broken pump-out stations in Virginia to the Virginia Department of Health at 1–800–ASK–FISH .

In Maryland, report them to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8770.

April 9, 2009

Green Drinks

Environmentalists really know how to network—and enjoy green drinks at the same time! No, I don’t mean appletinis, green beer, or green tea—although those could work. I’m referring to a network of environmentalists and eco-friendly folks, called “Green Drinks,” who meet locally each month after work. Green Drinks started in London in 1989, and now have more than 430 “chapters” world-wide--including one in Williamsburg. Other Virginia Green Drinks groups are in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Peninsula, Fredericksburg, Northern Shenandoah Valley, Salem, and Warrenton.

This year, on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, Green Drinks chapters throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania chapters) staged a same-day gathering in their respective cities, attempting to top the world attendance record of 1,800 set in Melbourne, Australia, and to rally support for action to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Most chapters hold their “meetings” at bars and restaurants that share their zeal for environmental awareness and protection.

Green Drinks Williamsburg launched a letter writing campaign on April 22, partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s campaign of letters to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act for the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay. Each group will post its plans on a dedicated website, http://www.greendrinksforthebay.org/

April 7, 2009

Sound FISHY? (updated 9-23-09)

Throw a net into the sea . . . and pull out NO FISH? That's happening more and more as over-fishing continues worldwide. I witnessed it up close last summer while snorkeling in both the Aegean and Ionian seas. Somehow I expected this long-awaited vacation in the Greek isles to provide more awesome fish-sighting than past snorkeling in the Caribbean. Locals in both Turkey and Greece warned us that we'd see "only small fish" and few of them. But we were still very surprised and disappointed.

When you think of it, the Mediterranean waters have been fished since Biblical times. The Chesapeake wasn't heavily fished until recent times, and the crab and oyster harvest is already hurting as John Smith's journal proves.

Now the BAD news (9-23-09 update): The bluefin tuna, which has been overfished almost to extinction in the Mediterranean Sea, will continue to be fished there thanks to a move by France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta to block a ban on trade of the declining species. Monaco introduced the idea of banning bluefin tuna trade earlier this year, and two weeks ago the European Union voted to support the ban. Despite the backing of 21 EU governments — and despite a speech in July by French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for the ban — the idea is now derailed.

Let's Hear It for the Native Oysters

Hooray! Federal and state officials just announced that Asian oysters will not be allowed in the Chesapeake Bay, and that the existing Asian oyster "farms" will be gone from the bay within a month. About a million of them are in controlled farms in Virginia waters as part of a seven-year experiment to see how the oysters would adapt.

This finally puts to rest a debate that's been going on for many years (and cost about $17 million)about whether an oyster species from China could revitalize the Chesapeake, where only about 1 percent of the oyster numbers from John Smith's day remain. And I don't mean revitalize as Oysters Rockefeller, but rather as filterers of our less-than-pristine waters. When they're really thriving, they can revitalize our watermen's income.

The federal, Virginia, and Maryland governments will now focus their efforts on bringing back the bay's native oyster. Native oyster restoration IS working in Virginia, in spite of little funding. Too bad that $17 million hadn't been re-directed from those studies. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has determined that native Virginia oysters at the mouth of the Rappahannock River have increased tolerance to Dermo and MSX, the two major diseases that kill oysters. Rapahannock rays remain as a threat there, however, since they really enjoy baby spat oysters.

Research will be allowed to continue on Asian oysters, though not in Chesapeake waters. The debate could reopen if lab work proves that sterile Asian oysters can escape from farms and later reproduce.
The bad news, however, is that a mere $12 million is available at the moment for native oyster restoration projects in 2009. $50 million is the recommended annual expenditure.

Local Oyster Info: In 1957, most tongers began to harvest oysters from the James River and sell them to a soup company. Starting in 1959, the MSX disease began to kill most oysters larger than 50 mm long in salinities above 15% in Chesapeake Bay, including those in Hampton Roads.
From 1966 to 1976, from 42 to 175 tong boats harvested about 3,000 bushels/day. The harvesting of the soup oysters ended when kepone was found in the James River.

Overfishing of oysters had a dire effect. After the 1986-87 season, when tongers harvested 238,000 bushels of market-size oysters from the James River, oysters were relatively scarce.

The final straw was the loss of underwater grasses and the acculation of layers of silt on river bottoms. Oysters need a good bottom to take hold. As a consequence of the small oyster stocks in Virginia, few tongers remain.

More Environmental News: Last week Chesapeake Bay Foundation's litigation seeking to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers' permit to allow the destruction of over 400 acres of wetlands in Virginia to create the King William Reservoir was won in federal court. The judge found the Corps and EPA to have been "arbitrary and capricious."