January 30, 2013

Virginia is first in LEED

Whoopee! Virginia may not be moving very quickly to offshore wind or other renewable energy, but my state is finally first in one important green initiative. Virginia was just listed as the top state on the 2012 List of Top 10 States for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which ranks states with the most buildings certified in energy efficiency features and such.

29.7 million square feet in 170 projects is something to brag about. Kudos to the builders and architects who made this happen!

James City County can take a bow for three county-owned buildings with at least silver LEED certifications: the Police Department at 4600 Opportunity Way, Building D, of the county office complex at 101 Mounts Bay Road and the Fire Administration Office at 5077 John Tyler Highway. Two more county buildings are in the works that will seek LEED certification too: a new Fire Station 4 on Olde Towne Road and a new Fire Station 1 in Toano.

The cost of building a LEED certified building is not necessarily more expensive than a regular building although the design and construction phases usually are. But if you factor in the savings over the years in lower operating costs, reduced waste sent to landfills, healthier air and water and energy savings, it's a win-win.

LEED design is measured according to: Sustainable sites, Water efficiency, Energy and atmosphere, Indoor environmental quality and Innovation in design.

York County does not have any county-owned LEED certified buildings at this time. Nor does the City of Williamsburg have any city-owned LEED certified buildings but they are seeking silver certification for the Municipal Building at 401 Lafayette St.

Virginia Code requires any new state government building where the building would be greater than 5,000 square feet or a renovated building where the cost of renovation exceeds 50 percent of the value of the building, to conform to the Virginia Energy Conservation and Environmental Standards developed by the Department of General Services.

Perhaps we can make substantial reductions in heating and air conditioning costs in more of our huge buildings over the next decade and make coal-burning power plants truly obsolete. New Kohl's stores are making LEED claims and I am hoping that more commercial spaces and hotels can move toward this goal. I am tired of walking down Marriott hallways that are cooled to refrigeration temperatures.

January 28, 2013

Ecotourism in Virginia?

I just enjoyed a Windstar cruise through the Panama Canal and up the western coast of Costa Rica, well known for its protection of natural habitats and ecotourism.

Our first stop was one of the 365 San Blas islands where the local Kuna Tribe members make and sell their famous molas while living a simple life. A few of the Kuna children entertained us with a very lively dance to their pan flutes music.

Passing through the 50-plus miles of the Panama Canal had been on our bucket list. And there is no more enjoyable way to do it than on the Windstar, although I now suffer from "Windstar Waist."

Costa Rica is an ecotourist's dream. There are numerous lodges and boat tours to national parks. The country's pristine jungle calls out for hikes. The cicadas were out in full force, adding to the already present howler monkeys and macaws.

So I now wonder if Virginia offers any ecotourism. Please email me if you know of any worthwhile ventures.

January 27, 2013

Uranium mining in Virginia

If you are concerned about the 30 year long ban on mining uranium being lifted, you might want to learn more.

Williamsburg Climate Action Network and JC4 are holding a Uranium Mining Public Forum in Williamsburg at 3051 Ironbound Road on Thursday, 1/31/13, 7:00 PM.

Speaker: Nathan Lott, Executive Director of the Virginia Conservation Network

They repeatedly tried to secure a speaker to present the supporting position, to no avail.

January 26, 2013

Recycling in the jungle

On vacation in Costa Rica last week, but always looking for a green blog topic. See what I found in the jungle!

January 11, 2013

Coastal flooding is real

Crab shack on Tangier Island
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) calls for a flexible, multi-step approach to flood risks in Tidewater Virginia. Click here to read the entire report.

VIMS also offers the public an excellent free opportunity at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, to learn more about recurrent coastal flooding. Molly Mitchell, VIMS researcher, will present potential adaptations and options for our flood-prone Tidewater area. Call 804-684-7846 to register for this free program, over the Coleman bridge at Watermen’s Hall, 1375   Greate Road. Gloucester Point.

The best book I have read about coastal flooding and the resulting erosion is William Cronin’s “The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake.” Cronin presents survey results of forty-odd islands that are either submerged completely or eroding at an alarming rate each year.

Locally, the Guinea Neck neighborhood of Gloucester County and the Poquoson area of Hampton Roads are very prone to flooding in almost every heavy rain. After Hurricane Isabel, many Guinea Neck homes were raised by a few feet, owners hoping to buy a little time and distance from the York River.

As a sailor, I have seen low lying islands succumbing to sea level rise. Holland Island used to be home for 300 hardy watermen and their families; most left in the early 1900s. But the last house on Holland Island collapsed in October 2010, finally succumbing to storm waves and erosion.

Grog Island (in Fleets Bay north of the Rappahannock River) is one that we saw first in 2002. The cruising guides even recommended it as a great "lunch hook" drop--not protected enough for an overnight anchor, but delightful as a place to go ashore for a picnic lunch. Then we saw it after Hurricane Isabel when only a few scraggly pines remained. A few years and storms later, only a few dead tree tops. And in 2012, nothing but a few stakes to mark the "easy to run aground" spots.

Hart and Miller Islands, off Baltimore's Back River, are the opposite extreme. In spite of erosion, we sailors used to dinghy ashore for picnic lunches back in the early-1970s. Then the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bought the land in 1975 and proceeded to fill it in with dredged material from Baltimore's channels. Millions of yards of dredged material later, the now hyphenated Hart-Miller Island is a thriving wildlife sanctuary and recreation area for boaters.

Smith Island and Tangier Island (really groups of islands) are the two inhabited Chesapeake Bay islands most threatened by rising waters. In the 1980s, a seawall of boulders was erected along a stretch of the western shore of Tangier, and it succeeded in keeping a small airport and the town's sewage-treatment plant from being lost to the Bay. Another $3.6 million jetty project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1996 but it remained undone. Fourteen years later, in November, 2012, Governor McConnell had good news for the residents who have been lobbying for another jetty/ seawall to save the harbor. But now its budget is $4.2 million, with the federal government paying for about $3.2 million. To an island that is losing up to 19 feet of land every year, that was welcome news. But the islanders may not see it for a few years.

More about Poplar Island, James Island, and Tippety Wichety Island in the future. And then there are the islands of Tuvalu in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where rising oceans will force the inhabitants to relocate.

How can we know when to evacuate? Coastal communities such as ours have less time to adapt if sea-levels rise faster.  William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) developed a Tidewatch system to forecast coastal flooding, measuring the difference between predicted astronomical tides and observed or real-time water levels. That’s the one that includes storm surge. When our local winds shifted during Superstorm Sandy, Tidewatch detected the drop in water level before the Weather Chaneel’s computer models. You can check it out at www.vims.edu/bayinfo/tidewatch

Cool Season Lawn Care Calendar for Tidewater Virginia

A "Turf Calendar" to Guide You with Cool Season Grasses, such as Tall Fescue

Below is a basic "lawn care primer" to get you started. Follow it faithfully and you should see a big difference in your cool-season grass next year. The month you jump into this schedule will make a difference. But when it's your lawn (a rather expensive property), better late than never.

If you have a lawn care service, cut and paste this calendar and give it to them.

January: Avoid walking on dormant lawns since dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be damaged or killed.

If you're getting antsy and need a garage job, sharpen your mower blades. Virginia Tech experts recommend that homeowners sharpen mower blades at least three times per growing season. A dull blade causes excess leaf damage and becomes a site for fungal entry, leading to a diseased lawn.

February: It's time to prevent crabgrass seeds (from last year's crop) from germinating with a pre-emergent herbicide before it takes over. Apply a crabgrass pre-emergent as early in February as you can. A second application two months later is recommended as well. The golden rule was to wait for forsythia to bloom to put down crabgrass control, but that may be too late. Crabgrass pre-emergent will also help keep spurge and a few other weeds from germinating as well.

March: You might still have time to prevent crabgrass by reading the February tips above. Better late than never. ALERT: You’ll see crabgrass preventer PLUS fertilizer in many garden aisles. Your cool-season fescue lawn does NOT need fertilizer in the spring—unless you forgot to put down those three applications last fall. Look for a pre-emergent alone product.

April (a biggie month): It's time for your second application of crabgrass pre-emergent to prevent any just-now-waking-up seeds from germinating--or by May at the latest. Once these hardy little weeds emerge, you'll have no choice but digging them out. And one little piece of root always seems to remain, and you will see the weed again.

This is also the month to atttack common Bermuda weeds when you notice their ugly nasty little sprouts sticking out. Frequently, there's an easy solution to choke out Bermuda- by simply allowing your fescue to grow taller by mowing higher. That's why it's called "tall." Tall fescue is very happy at 4 inches. But if you had a major infestation of common Bermuda last year, keep on reading.

The key is to take action every few weeks thoroughout the Bermuda grass growing season (that begins NOW) so that you don’t have to do a major “kill and replant” of your tall fescue turf in the fall. The "scorched earth" post-Roundup look in the fall is less than attractive.

Grass-Selective Herbicides that are available in retail establishments and are for homeowner use (recommended in the spring) include the active ingredient sethoxydim (Grass Getter) or fluazifop (Ornamec, and Grass-B-Gon). Another application that has shown to be promising is a solution of 50 percent Ornamec & 50 percent Turflon Ester mixed according to the label (Turflon Ester is reportedly available at Ace Hardware; it is not cheap).

After Bermuda green-up starts, two applications 2 weeks apart in the spring and 2 applications 2 weeks apart in the fall should do the trick There are similar herbicides with the same active ingredient. Some local homeowners report success using Bayer Advanced Bermudagrass Control for Lawns. This is available at Lowe’s and attaches to your garden hose. As with all herbicides please read and follow the label directions

For best control with these herbicides, make the first application in spring when new bermuda growth is less than 6 inches in length, then re-apply the herbicide before the regrowth reaches 6 inches again. Additional applications on regrowth may be needed through the spring and summer. It is important to be consistent with treating regrowth in order to eliminate the weed, but read the label of each product for information on the total amount that can be used per year per area. The best control is achieved when the bermuda grass is growing vigorously, has lots of leaf surface and is not drought stressed, is not dusty, and has not been damaged by insects.

Many people have problems with Bermuda invading their juniper beds and they may think they can just spray the junipers. There is a product called Grass Getter, made by the manufacturer of Turflon Ester, that can be applied directly to control Bermuda growing in shrubs. BUT READ THE PRODUCT INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.

May (another biggie month): Re-read April tips and continue your warfare against common Bermuda.

Sharpen your mower blades for the second time this year.

June: Mow high (3 1/2 to 4 inches) to keep the roots cool, conserve water, and choke out weeds. Never remove more than 1/3 of its blade growth at one time.If your lawn has a white hue rather than a green color after you mow, it is a good bet that your blades are too low.

Irrigate as needed if we have less than 1 inch of rain per week. Instead of once per station, set your system to half of the necessary time around 4 a.m., then the other half around 6 a.m. This will allow the second watering to soak down into the soil instead of running off.

July: Mow high and irrigate as in June.

Do NOT fertilize cool-season grasses in the summer. Only warm weather grasses such as Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede need to be fed during the summer.

One-quarter to one-half inch of compost on top of your lawn is good for any variety of grass at any time--especially if you see "hot spots" that easily dry out and turn the grass crispy.

Watch for lawn fungus and turf diseases such as brown patch and dollar spot when the temperatures stay above 70 degrees at night. Call the James City County Extension Office (757-564-2170) for advice.

August: Mow high (3 1/2 to 4 inches). Continue watering your lawn as needed (see June and July); continue to watch for lawn diseases. You might choose to let your grass go dormant if you've previously managed your grass for strong root growth. But many homeowners found their lawns dead instead of dormant. So choose whether to water your turf deeply (paying the accompanying water bill) or pay to have your lawn top-dressed and over-seeded every year.

Get a SOIL TEST done before applying lawn fertilizer in September, October, AND November. You may be applying more fertilizer—or the wrong kind—if you haven’t had a soil test done in the last 3 or 4 years. The testing will give you information on your soil texture and composition, pH, lime content, and available phosphorus and potassium. Get a “Turf Love” soil test and home visit by a Master Gardener for $30 by calling Virginia Cooperative Extension at (757) 564-2170. .For more info, click on http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/452/452-129/452-129.html  

If you have large patches of Common Bermuda weeds, it's time for a nonselective herbicide such as Glyphosate (Roundup and other brand names) every 10 days to 2 week--for 6 weeks. The herbicide must get down into the root system, in addition to killing top-growth. For glyphosate to be most effective it must be applied to bermuda grass that is not drought stressed and has lots of leaf surface, so don't mow for 2 to 3 weeks before treating. Wait 7 days after applying to mow or cultivate the bermuda grass.

Cultivation/rototilling will bring the underground parts of the plant (stolons and rhizomes) to the surface of the soil so they can dry. If left uncultivated, deeper rhizomes and roots may survive the first application and regrow. A second or even a third glyphosphate application may be necessary to completely eliminate bermuda weeds. Read the product instructions carefully!

Reducing lawn size can significantly save you water. Consider eliminating hard to water areas like narrow strips, irregularly shaped areas, or areas that are losing the water battle to trees.

September: Now is the time to core-aerate and over-seed your lawn if you need to fill in areas killed off by heat and drought. Many of us with super strong root system lawns only aerate and overseed every 2 or 3 years.

PRIOR to aerating (and even if you're not this year), top-dress your lawn (and bed areas) with 1/2 inch of compost to break apart clay particles and promote better drainage while it helps hold moisture in sandy soils.You will discover that you'll no longer have 'hot spots' in the lawn that burn out every year. This is something you can do yourselves (if you need some serious exercise) or landscapers can do it for you. Compost counts as a VERY small fertilization, so you can slightly reduce the September amount of fertilizer used.

There are many Nutri-Green compost fans in our area but it may not be available any more. This product comes from Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) wastewater treatment plant. HRSD sends treated biosolids to a company that adds recycled paper products and woodchips. This mixture is turned frequently and proper aerobic conditions are monitored. After about 60 days, the product (regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality) is fully stabilized, free of weeds and pathogens, and tested for nutrient and trace metal content. It has a guaranteed analysis of 2% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 0% potassium, and won’t burn your lawn. It’s sold at Ace Hardware and Anderson’s Greenery.

The day or two before core aeration, if it has not rained recently, water the soil well. This will allow the aerator to get deeper penetration into the soil.

Plan on fertilizing three times--at initial seeding and each 4-6 weeks thereafter. Use a high nitrogen (low to no phosphorous) fertilizer. Apply at the recommended rate. Water in the grass seed so that it stays moist. This usually means about 5-10 minutes per irrigation zone per day. Germination will take 2-3 weeks.

While you're waiting for the new grass seeds to germinate, sharpen your mower blades for the third time this year. Then they won't mangle the newly emerged blades of grass.

Cut the grass when it needs it but don’t wait so long that you have to cut more then 1/3 of the blade. You might need to bag the clippings the first cutting so that you don't smother the new grass seedlings. Keep the mower blade high.

October: Fertilize your lawn for the second time. It might be getting late for aeration and over-seeding. But if the weather still promises warm sunny days, go for it.

November: Fertilize for the third time. Rake leaves off the lawn if they're really a heavy layer, but mulch if possible. If you bag your mulched leaves and whatever grass is still growing, use it as mulch around your shrubs.

December: Other than removing the leaves still on the lawn, relax. You deserve a rest.

January 4, 2013

2012 a year of records

Looking back — 2012 was a year for the record books—the hottest year on record in the U.S. Flooding threatened millions in Australia, China and Nigeria, while the western U.S. suffered from severe drought. High water in flood-prone San Mark’s Square in Venice became the norm.

Arctic sea ice has been retreating for years, but it shrank to its lowest level in recorded history this past summer. NASA’s incredible photos of Greenland’s rapidly melting ice sheet were alarming because ice reflects a large part of solar radiation back into space.

Permanently frozen ground across Siberia and Alaska that contains vast stores of carbon dioxide, trapped for thousands of years, has started to thaw, bringing with it the threat of a big increase in global warming —perhaps by 5-9 degrees F by 2100. That is far above a ceiling of 3.6 degrees F set by almost 200 nations at climate talks in 2010.

There was definitely a “new reality” when it came to weather patterns in the U.S.  this year. Superstorm Sandy was the final straw for many and brought back climate change conversations—even among former climate change skeptics. “Fear death by water,” T. S. Eliot intoned in “The Waste Land.” Many now do.

The Mississippi River is in danger of closing to commercial barges after the worst drought in the Midwest in half a century—after historic flooding in that area in the spring of 2011. Farmers there lost up to three-quarters of their crops this year. Releasing water from the Missouri River would help the barges, but hurt the farmers in Montana and Nebraska. The recent Ken Burns series about the Dustlands showed the dire state of farmlands after duststorms in the 1930s. Could it happen again? The East Coast’s Intracoastal Waterway (ICW to us boaters) has similar problems and insufficient funding to dredge it regularly.

Worried? You might worry about Mount Kilimanjaro too, even if you deny climate change. Its snowy top has been diminishing for more than a century—decades before climate change entered our vocabulary. Between 1912 and 2011, this icy cap decreased by more than 85 percent. Decreasing snowfall and deforestation play a role but increasing radiation from the sun is the major factor. With less cloud cover, the snow transforms directly from ice to water vapor without melting.

So Kilimanjaro remains a poster child for global warming. Predictions for the demise of its snowy top now range from 7-30 years. A few years ago, I saw remarkably smaller glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park than in past photos.

January 3, 2013

Chesapeake Bay improving?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks just issued their annual report and the headlines proclaim that our bay is improving. But look carefully, all ye doubters. The overall improvement last year was a very modest 1 point. That is a score of 32 on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 representing a pristine Bay, and 70 a goal of a relatively healthy and stable estuary.

32 out of 100 on any teacher's report card is failing. Getting to 70 is gonna be VERY difficult, especially by the target date of 2025. Underwater grasses are not thriving, but the rockfish are. Heavy rains and hurricanes are enemies of the Chesapeake because they wash lots of pollutants into the tributaries.

Governor McDonnell has proposed $217 million for the Bay budget, including more sewage treatment plant improvements. When they overflow, it's a real "yuck" factor.

So all Virginians should wish the Chesapeake a hearty "Godspeed."

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Click here for CBF's "State of the Bay" report.