Category Archives: Water Quality and Habitat in Chesapeake Bay Tributaries and Coastal Waters

Items related to aquatic life and conditions in the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia’s coastal waters, Virginia’s Chesapeake tributaries (James, Potomac, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and York), and Chesapeake Bay waters in other states.

Chesapeake Bay Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Increased Eight Percent in 2016, According to Bay Program and VIMS Annual Survey Results Released in April 2017

In late April 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) reported that the acreage of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) in the Bay (also called “underwater grasses” or “Bay grasses”) reached 97,433 acres in 2016, an increase of eight percent from 2015.  This continued a string of annual increases since 2012; for example, the increase from 2014 to 2015 was 21 percent.

The 2016 Baywide coverage of SAVs was the largest in the history of the annual aerial survey, which began in 1984.

According to the Bay Program’s news release, “Experts attribute the rise in underwater grass abundance to a strong increase in the tidal freshwater and moderately salty regions of the Bay, with Widgeon Grass in particular expanding in the latter region.  However, because widgeon grass is a “boom and bust” species—its abundance can rise and fall from year to year—a widgeon-dominant spike is not guaranteed to persist in future seasons.”

SAV chart

Chart of Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) from 1984 to 2016, based on the annual aerial survey by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.  Graph from More than 97,000 acres of underwater grasses recorded in Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Bay Program News, 4/27/17.

Sources:
More than 97,000 acres of underwater grasses recorded in Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Bay Program News, 4/27/17.
Survey: another good year for Bay’s underwater grasses, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, 4/26/17.

Some news accounts on the 2017 survey:
Underwater grasses up 8%; acreage is highest in decades, Bay Journal, 4/27/17.
VIMS: Chesapeake Bay sees another record year in underwater grass abundance, Daily Press, 4/27/17.

For more information on Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation:
Chesapeake Bay Program/Chesapeake STAT, “Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV),” online at http://www.chesapeakeprogress.com/abundant-life/vital-habitats/sav (as of 5/25/17).

Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), “SAV in Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bays,” online at http://web.vims.edu/bio/sav/index.html (as of 5/25/17).

VIMS, “SAV Coverage in Chesapeake Bay 2016,” online at https://infogr.am/copy_sav_area_by_salinity_zone (as of 5/25/17).  This site has interactive charts on Bay SAV by salinity zone in 2016.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Survey for Winter 2017 Shows 31-percent Increase in Spawning Females over 2016, But Declines in Juveniles and Total Population

On April 19, 2017, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (Md. DNR), and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) reported the results of the latest winter dredge survey of Blue Crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay.  Since 1990, the survey has been conducted each year from December to March by VIMS and the Md. DNR.  The report for the 2016-17 survey showed increases over the previous year in spawning females but decreases in the number of juveniles and in the total population.  Despite the decreases, the population was the 11th highest recorded.   Survey results since 2008 are available online at http://www.vims.edu/research/units/programs/bc_winter_dredge/results/index3.php.

Following is an excerpt from the VMRC’s April 19, 2017, news release on the 2016-17 survey (see Sources, below, for the Internet link to the news release PDF):

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission today released the results of the 2017 blue crab winter dredge survey, which shows a 31-percent increase in adult female crabs and forecasts another year of improved harvests.

“This is the highest level of adult, spawning age females recorded in the 28-year history of the Bay-wide crab winter dredge survey. …The results of the 2017 winter dredge survey show the total population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay fell a bit, by 18 percent, due to a decline in the number of juvenile crabs, but remains at the 11th highest level ever recorded by the winter dredge survey.   This year’s female spawning stock increased by 31 percent, from 194 million to 254 million crabs, which surpassed the scientifically recommended target of 215 million spawning female crabs and remains well above the minimum safe threshold of 70 million crabs.  Spawning age female crabs are the cornerstone to maintaining a vibrant crab stock, and depend on conservative and cooperative fishery management efforts among the Bay jurisdictions.

“The adult male crab stock fell by 16 percent, from 91 million to a still-substantial 76 million.  However, the juvenile abundance plummeted by 54 percent, from 271 million to 125 million, which is the fourth lowest level on record.

“This was unfortunate but not unprecedented. Optimal spawning conditions do not occur every year.  Successful crab reproduction naturally fluctuates and can be affected by wind, currents, storms, temperature, and cannibalism. In recent years, post-reproduction predation events and environmental factors have caused at times dramatic downturns in crab stock abundance. For example, the level of juveniles fell from 581 million in 2012 to a mere 111 million in 2013.

“This reproductive variability highlights the need for fishery managers to continue to enhance resilience of the stock through adaptive management to compensate for unusual or extreme environmental conditions and the resulting impacts on reproductive success….

“A Bay-wide 10-percent crab harvest reduction was enacted in 2014 by VMRC, Maryland, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to combat low overall crab abundance and to boost a dangerously depleted female spawning stock.   Bay fishery managers have since refined their management regimen to focus on conserving juvenile crabs as well as spawning age female crabs. Each year’s juveniles become the next year’s spawning stock.  Adjusting catch regulations to conserve more of today’s juveniles from harvest when they reach market size in the fall and emerge in the spring after overwintering in the water bottom increases the likelihood they will survive to spawn another generation of abundant crabs in the summer. …

“The Bay-wide commercial harvest increased by 20 percent last year, from 50 million pounds to 60 million pounds, and remains at sustainable levels.  Since 2014, the Bay-wide commercial crab harvest has jumped 71 percent while overall crab abundance has increased by 53 percent.  The current low level of juvenile crabs appears to preclude the reopening of the winter crab dredge fishery, which has remained closed since 2008.

“The annual Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey is the primary assessment of the Bay’s blue crab population, and has been conducted annually by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources since 1990.  The survey employs crab dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.  Sampling during winter when blue crabs are usually buried in the mud and stationary, allows scientists to develop, with good precision, estimates of the number of crabs present in the Bay.  The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), a subcommittee of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team,is reviewing the new survey results and will release their full analysis of the results in the 2017 Blue Crab Advisory Report this summer.  The annual advisory report is used by managers as they review and update fishery regulations. …”

Following are the lowest and highest estimates of key parts of the Bay crab population since 1990:
Total (both sexes and all ages) – low of 251 million in 2007; high of 852 million in 1993.
Spawning-age females – low of 53 million in 1999; high of 254 million in 2017.
Juvenile-age (both sexes): low of 105 million in 1992; high of 581 million in 2012.

A table of all the results since 1990 is available in the VMRC’s April 19, 2016, news release.

Sources:
Scientific Survey Shows Promising Blue Crab Stock Abundance with Boost to Adult Females (PDF), Virginia Marine Resources Commission News Release, 4/19/17.
Scientific survey shows highest-ever level of spawning-age female crabs, Virginia Institute of Marine Science News Release, 4/19/17.

Some news accounts on the winter 2016-17 survey are the following:
Survey finds Bay crab population strong, with record number of females, Bay Journal, 4/19/17.
The Chesapeake Bay was less crabby last winter, survey says, Virginian-Pilot, 4/19/17.

For previous News Grouper items on the Blue Crab winter dredge survey, please see this link: https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/?s=blue+crab+winter+dredge+survey.

Water Quality and Agriculture in Shenandoah River Watershed in Virginia are Focus of Report Released in April 2017 by Environmental Integrity Project

On April 26, 2017, the non-profit organization Environmental Integrity Project (headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Tex.; online at https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/) released a report documenting water quality problems from bacteria and phosphorus in the Shenandoah River watershed in Virginia (counties of Augusta, Page, Rockingham, and Shenandoah); documenting the amount of waste generated in the region by cattle and poultry operations; asserting that waste from agricultural operations in the watershed are largely responsible for the pollution; and asserting the Commonwealth should do more to reduce water-quality impacts from agricultural operations.

The report is available online at https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/livestock-pollution-on-shenandoah/.

According to the report’s Executive Summary, the report was based on analysis of pollution management plans for 675 farms, inspection reports in 2014-2016 from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In May 2017, news media reported that some farmers and state regulators were asserting that the report failed to account adequately for efforts being made to reduce impacts on water quality from agricultural operations in the Shenandoah Valley.

Some news media articles about the report and related issues are the following (listed from oldest to newest):
Virginia faulted for handling of cattle pollution in Shenandoah, Bay Journal, 4/26/17.
A billion gallons of liquid cow manure is generated yearly in the Shenandoah Valley, fouling waterways, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/26/17.
Nearly 200 million chickens, turkeys and cows are making a mess of the Shenandoah River, Washington Post, 4/26/17.
Progress is being made on non-point source pollutants, Northern Virginia Daily, 5/11/17.  [Comment by staff person at the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District on implementation of stream fencing, nutrient management plans, education, and other activities to reduce the kinds of polluted runoff cited in the report.]
Local farmers, regulators critical of environmental group’s report, Waynesboro News Virginian, 5/14/17.

Healthy and Safe Swimming Information Sources – May 2017 Edition

Following is a list of information sources for healthy and safe swimming.  This list was published on May 22, 2017, by the Virginia Water Monitoring Council (VWMC), with financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Virginia Department of Health .  More information on the VWMC is available online at http://www.VirginiaWMC.org; or contact Jane Walker at vwmc@vt.edu.

Please feel free to re-distribute this information.  If you forward this announcement or post it to your Web site, please let the VWMC know so that the information can be reported it to the funders; to do so, please email: vwmc@vt.edu.

1.) Healthy and Safe Swimming WeekMay 22-28, 2017

The week before Memorial Day marks the thirteenth annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. Nationwide, communities will be collaborating and engaging in discussion about how to maximize the health benefits of water-based physical activity while minimizing the risk of recreational water–associated illness and injury. Together, swimmers, aquatics and beach staff, residential pool owners, and public health officials can prevent the spread of germs by following easy and effective healthy swimming steps which can be found at www.SwimHealthyVa.com.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site has promotional materials (brochures, buttons & banners, fact sheets, infographics, podcasts, posters, mobile apps, social media library, stories, and videos) to educate the public on healthy swimming practices.  To learn more, see: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/observances/hss-week/index.html.  (Please see #5 below for more resources from the CDC.)

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is promoting Healthy and Safe Swimming Week and is providing a media and messaging toolkit at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/toolkits/.  A statewide press release will soon be available at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/public-relations-contacts/news-releases/2017-statewide-news-releases/.

2.) Beach Monitoring in Virginia

Bacteria levels in coastal beach water are monitored weekly at 46 public beaches on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean of Virginia during the swimming season (May-September).

Water samples are collected weekly by Local Health Departments and analyzed by local laboratories for enterococci bacteria. If bacteria levels exceed Virginia’s Water Quality Standard of 104 colony forming units (cfu)/100 mL of water, a swimming advisory is issued. Enterococci bacteria serve as an indicator for fecal contamination in salt and brackish waters. These organisms are not harmful themselves, but indicate that other potentially harmful organisms may be present. High levels of enterococci bacteria indicate an increased health risk to recreational water users.

Follow VDH’s Beach Monitoring Program on Twitter to receive a notification for swimming advisories https://twitter.com/VDHBeach.

For information about current swimming advisories and monitored beaches, beach advisory and monitoring data, links to local beaches, local health department contacts, special projects, and our new Coastal Beach Monitoring brochure visit: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/beach-monitoring/.

3.) “Beaches and Bacteria”

This article was updated in January 2014 and is available at https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/beaches-and-bacteria-january-2014-update-of-an-august-2004-virginia-water-central-article/.  It was first published by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Virginia Water Central Newsletter (August 2004).  The article describes:

  • The difference between a beach advisory and a beach closure
  • The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act
  • The types of indicator organisms monitored at Virginia’s beaches
  • Virginia’s bacteria standards
  • Microbial Source Tracking

4.) “Safely Enjoying Virginia’s Natural Waters”

This brochure, published by the Virginia Department of Health, covers topics such as:

  • What organisms are in natural waters and where do they come from?
  • What are the health risks and how are they determined?
  • Why avoid natural water after a heavy rain?
  • What you can do to protect yourself.

Go to http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2016/04/Safely-Enjoy-Natural-Waters_v2.pdf to download a PDF document of the brochure.

5.) More from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Healthy Swimming & Recreational Water web page: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/ — Provides information on the following topics and more:

  • Health Benefits of Water Based Exercise – Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Older Adults
  • Swimmer Protection — Tips for Healthy Swimming, Pool and Hot Tub User Information
  • Recreational Water Illnesses — Germs & Illnesses, Education & Prevention Materials, State Resources
  • Other Recreational Water Issues — Drowning, Injuries, Boating, Sun Protection, Extreme Heat
  • Pools & Hot Tubs — Design, Operation, Disinfection, Regulation
  • Oceans, Lakes, & Rivers — Beach Monitoring, Water Quality Indicators
  • Model Aquatic Health Code — About, The MAHC, Updating, Tools

Natación Saludable — Información en Español — https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/audience-espanol.html.

 

 

Lower Chickahominy River Watershed is Subject of Va. Coastal Zone Management Program Request for Proposals Due August 1, 2017

The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program is seeking proposals from Virginia’s public academic institutions to conduct an analysis of costs and benefits of land conservation and natural resource protection in the lower Chickahominy River watershed.

For a detailed request for proposals document, contact Beth Polak, Coastal Planner, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, phone (804) 698-4260, e-mail: Beth.Polak@deq.virginia.gov.

Proposals are due by August 1, 2017.

Funding for the requested proposals is through Section 309 of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.  Background on the Federal Section 309 Program is available online (as a PDF) at https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/enhancement/media/Sect-309_Guidance_June2014.pdf.

Jet Fuel Spill on May 10-11, 2017, at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach

On May 10-11, 2017, an estimated 94,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled from a leaking fuel line at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.  The Navy discovered the leak on May 11 and contained the spill to the base that day, but by then the spill had spread to Wolfsnare Creek (a tributary of Lynnhaven Bay/Lynnhaven River/Chesapeake Bay).  By May 11, the Coast Guard announced that it had contained the spill at that waterway.  As of May 16, recovery of the spilled fuel from that creek was still taking place, the Virginia Department of Health was asking people to avoid any recreational activities in the creek south of Virginia Beach Boulevard, and some residents were reporting smelling fuel fumes in their homes.  On May 17, the Navy announced that it was temporarily re-locating residents of three neighborhoods affected by the fumes from the spill. On May 19, the Navy reported that the spill had been caused by a switch being in an incorrect position during a refueling operation, leading to fuel flowing into and out of a 2000-gallon container, rather than into the three intended 880,000-gallon tanks.  Reports on May 19 indicated that about 180 homes in the city had been affected by the spill.

Following are some news media accounts of the spill and its aftermath, listed from most recent to oldest:
A switch in the wrong position caused Oceana’s largest ever jet-fuel spill, Navy says, Virginian-Pilot, 5/19/17.
Navy officials reveal what caused NAS Oceana jet fuel spill last week, Southside Daily, 5/19/17.
Navy providing investigation update into jet fuel spill, WAVY TV-Hampton Roads, 5/19/17.
How has the NAS Oceana jet fuel spill affected watermen?, WAVY TV-Hampton Roads, 5/18/17.
Navy offers temporary relocation to some residents near Oceana fuel spill, WAVY TV-Norfolk, 5/17/17.
Navy offers relocation assistance for neighbors impacted by jet fuel leak, WTKR TV-Norfolk, 5/17/17.
Navy starts voluntary relocation for residents affected by Oceana jet fuel spill, Virginian-Pilot, 5/17/17.
Navy relocating residents affected by jet fuel spill, WVEC TV-Norfolk, 5/17/17.
6 days after fuel spill, Virginia Beach is still in recovery “emergency phase”, Southside Daily, 5/16/17.
“My whole house reeks”: Jet fuel vapors invade Virginia Beach neighborhoods, Virginian-Pilot, 5/15/17.
Navy continues cleanup of jet fuel spill at Oceana; London Bridge Road reopened, Virginian-Pilot, 5/15/17.
Wildlife rehab specialist called in after 5 birds found dead following Oceana jet fuel spill, Virginian-Pilot, 5/12/17.
Government agencies hear public concerns about NAS Oceana fuel spill, WTKR TV-Norfolk, 5/15/17.
Navy to hold public information session Monday to discuss fuel spill in Virginia Beach, Virginian-Pilot, 5/14/17.
Watch: Crews working to clean up jet fuel spill at NAS Oceana, WTKR TV-Norfolk, 5/11/17.
Thousands of gallons of Navy jet fuel spilled at Oceana, traffic diverted near base, Virginian-Pilot, 5/11/17.

Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund Stabilization is Focus of Stakeholder Advisory Group Convening May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017, is the date of the first meeting of the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board’s Water Quality Improvement Fund Stabilization Stakeholder Advisory Group.  The meeting will start at 9:30 a.m., at the State Capitol, Senate Room 3, 1000 Bank Street in Richmond.

The Virginia Regulatory Town Hall notice for this meeting is online at http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewMeeting.cfm?MeetingID=25973.  According to that notice, “Item 364 of the [Virginia General Assembly’s] 2017 Appropriations Act requires the Department of Conservation and Recreation [DCR] to establish a stakeholder group to make recommendations on [the following]: (i) increasing the portion of any deposit to the WQIF reserve; (ii) limiting the portion of WQIF reserve that may be utilized; (iii) evaluating combined revenues available from the WQIF and the Natural Resources Commitment Fund in a given fiscal year; (iv) distributing funds to be deposited across a biennial period; and (v) considering the impacts on the staffing and technical assistance needs of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.”

Virginia Code information on the Water Quality Improvement Act (which created the WQIF) is available online at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title10.1/chapter21.1/, and information on the Natural Resources Commitment Fund is online at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title10.1/chapter21.1/section10.1-2128.1/.

For more information about the advisory group, contact Christine Watlington, DCR Senior Policy and Planning Analyst, 600 East Main Street, 24th Floor, Richmond, 23219; phone (804)786-3319; e-mail: christine.watlington@dcr.virginia.gov.