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.