May 25, 2013

Storm runoff from construction sites can be a big problem

Good news, bad news.

The good news is that Virginia requires builders and developers get a construction general permit before they begin a construction job. Every five years, Virginia re-issues this permit to update requirements and ensure that builders use the latest, most effective runoff-prevention practices.

The bad news, this time around, is that the public is not part of this process. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks say that the runoff prevention plans will no longer be available for citizen review. In a serious departure from existing law, this new construction general permit would allow contractors to keep their pollution prevention plans out of public view and secret.

Duh. So how can the public report any violations if they do not know what is expected?

You can tell the state you object to this new secrecy provision in the proposed Virginia permit. Insist that Virginia protect the public’s waterways by maintaining public access to builders’ runoff prevention plans.

Click here, or write:

Regulatory Coordinator, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
203 Governor Street, Suite 302
Richmond, Virginia 23219

The deadline to comment is June 7.

May 23, 2013

Support your local farmers

James City County residents have another opportunity to be "locavores" and eat locally produced foods. They are usually grown organically too if you aim to limit your exposure to chemicals.

OFF THE VINE MARKET opened at 312 Lightfoot Road and I wish owner Tess Schaffer luck. I met her at a cheese making class a year ago. Her store is only 1000 square feet so it won't be overwhelming. Lightfoot is that shortcut road off Richmond Road that can take you to Walmart.

Call her at 757-879-2242 for more info.

Snakehead now in Rappahannock

Those nasty looking snakeheads have migrated from the Potomac to my major sailing river, the lovely Rappahannock.

The problem with these invasive fish is that they compete with the native fish who already have enough problems dealing with pollution, runoff, lack of underwater grasses and algae blooms.

The fish can live on muddy river banks for a few hours, but it's a widespread rumor that they can jump into your boat or attack humans. I wouldn't put my fingers in their mouths as you can surmise from this photo.

If you ever catch one, hold onto it and call the friendly inland fisheries folks at 804-367-2925. Visit for more info on this invasive fish.

May 14, 2013

Puente Hills landfill is an awesome sight

I have yet to follow our trash haulers to our local landfill in Virginia, but I have been to the largest operating landfill in America, Puente Hills in Los Angeles County.

Most people on California vacation like to explore museums, shops or  natural wonders. But I had been enthralled with Puente Hills Landfill since I read Edward Humes book, Garbology. 

Luckily, Puente Hills' Public Information guru, Don Avila, offered me a tour when I phoned him. My husband humored me since we had a rental car and the landfill would only be 30 minutes from the Queen Mary in Long Beach where we were staying. That is another topic for a future blog post.

But Puente Hills is slated to close in late 2013 and I wondered where all of Los Angeles County garbage would go. Would they really send it by rail 200 miles away?

Puente Hills' 1400 acres, filled with closely orchestrated activities with "garbage," was mind-boggling. Don gave us a "data dump" of facts and figures that overwhelmed my note-taking. More than 1000 trucks of household and commercial garbage arrive at Puente Hills every day. Anywhere from 5000 to 7000 tons per day. The "white goods" accumulate in one area; tires in another.

The "active cell" of the landfill is the main ring of this multi-pronged circus. Seriously, it was a show to behold as the giant bulldozers spread out the garbage as quickly as it arrived. then covered it at the end of the day. A lot of stereotypes about landfills were debunked.

No food source for rats! So no rats.

NO smells surprised us too. But this particular landfill has the advantage of sitting in a desert climate. Little rainfall means no leachate of toxic materials into the water table.

NO dust either--as water trucks spray down the area as needed for the landfill to be a "good neighbor" in their community.

VERY FEW seagulls either. Monofilament lines stretched from high poles deter these pesky critters. If that fails, some lucky guy has the fun job of shooting flares or firing a small cannon to scare them away.

Don Avila's two-hour tour (which included seeing the recycling center and methane-burning power plant) showed me that "sanitary landfill" is not an oxymoron. The word "landfill" is actually a misnomer since most are not actually filled, but approach amazing heights. Puente Hills, with origins to 1957, is currently more than 540 feet high.

More on our local Mount Trashmore near Virginia Beach and our local landfills in a future posting.

If you'd like to see what National Geographic had to say in their special, Inside Garbage Mountain, look at this.

Oyster shells needed

Most folks know that oysters were good for the Chesapeake Bay generations ago. They filtered the water better than anything man-made. Then pollution and a few oyster diseases culled their numbers.
But Roger Mann of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science adds another benefit--buffering the increasing acidity of water. It seems that ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution and that oyster reefs can act like a giant bottle of Tums. Their calcium carbonate content reduces the acidity by changing the pH.
Mann's study estimates that oysters were once responsible for 70 percent of all baywide buffering in 1870, but only about 3 percent today. So I'll continue to toss those oyster shells overboard and feel even better about it. Some spat may be able to attach to them and lead a happy life. That is until a waterman harvests them.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation encourages restaurants to gather up their spent oyster shells and return them. Then they can be cleaned and returned to Bay waters. Click here to learn more about dropping off shells in three Virginia locations.

May 13, 2013

Need a straw?

That's a question most servers do not ask. They usually just give us straws,whether we want them or not.

Two years ago, nine-year old Milo thought that was ridiculous. He found that 500 million straws go to landfills each day. So he started the Be Straw Free campaign  to encourage bars, restaurants and other businesses to stop this wasteful practice.

Kudos to Milo for this initiative, and kudos to Kingsmill Resort for being the first in our area of Virginia to jump on the straw-free bandwagon. Let me know of others.

May 5, 2013

Is golf green?

Generally speaking, golf courses may have 18 greens, but they don't have a green reputation due to high usage of fertilizers and water on their greens, fairways and tee boxes. Most folks see a lot of green on most courses although 70% of the average course is the rough.

But kudos to Kingsmill and their parent company Xanterra for really stepping up to the plate (oops, that is a mixed metaphor) during this weekend's LPGA event at their Williamsburg resort by making it a "landfill free event" with NO trash cans. instead, they are providing 150 recycling and 55 food waste/compost containers. In the 2012 tournament, they sent more than two tons of "garbage" to the landfill.

All three Kingsmill courses are also certified as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries with no-mow corridors and grass buffers to filter pollutants and provide sanctuary for wildlife.

Across town and farther up the James River, the Two Rivers Country Club hosts a big "Welcome Back Greens" event today, allowing their golfers back on their new greens with a grass variety, 007 bent grass, that is more drought and heat tolerant. They also have increased their no-mow areas and provide bluebird nesting boxes.

Golf course turf needs a LOT of pampering, but these are steps in the right direction.

May 3, 2013

Going nuclear?

You may have missed a few news articles about nuclear energy in the last few weeks. So here's a recap:

1) Two years after a triple meltdown at Fukushima that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, they face a new crisis with a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain. 75 gallons a minute is nothing to sneeze at since they are running out of space to store this highly contaminated radioactive water. 42 acres is not sufficient! So they plan to chop down a small forest  to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task even more urgent because the underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.

Was entrusting the cleanup to the company that ran the plant before the meltdowns a wise decision?

2) Huge piles of highly radioactive waste are sitting all over the world in vulnerable spent fuel pools lacking containment structures or backup generators. Our nearby Surry nuclear plant on the James River stores the radioactive spent fuel in huge above-ground concrete "tanks."

3) The most alarming announcement came from Gregory Jaczko, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He calmly pointed out that all 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology. He said that shutting them all down at once is not practical, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.

4) Now hear this! Virginia is creating a new agency to support developing more nuclear power. BUT the newly created Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium will NOT have to comply with Virginia's Freedom of Information Act and other laws.

Dominion Virginia Power investing in renewable energy?

Dominion has been criticized by many environmentalists for projecting so little renewable energy in their grid in the coming years. Less than 6% by 2030!

But they are putting some funding into green energy. I just read that Christopher Newport University will receive a $50,000 grant to study off-shore wind energy (which is standing still in Virginia water so to speak while other states are moving forward). Dominion was more generous with Old Dominion University who will receive $500,000 (over three years) to study the cost benefits of solar panels. That will install about 600 solar panels on campus rooftops.

Still haven't seen many solar panels in Williamsburg! Perhaps I simply haven't noticed them?