Volume XI, Issue 38 ~ September 18-24, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

We’re Not Turning the Tide!
So says Tom Horton in his new book on the Bay

It’s a Bay encyclopedia, this new edition of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Turning the Tide: maps and graphics, a Bay timeline and flocks of facts about the Bay and the save-it effort.

Consider that “counting all the energy needs, from food to heat to transportation, the average American now requires about the same amount of daily calories as the average sperm whale.”

Or ask: “What would the water quality goals and standards … look like if the creatures that live in the water wrote them?”

It’s all in a fresh-from-the-press August 2003 book by award-winning Bay journalist Tom Horton.

Horton starts an average morning on the Bay in a kayak, watching the moon drop below the western horizon as the sun rises in the east. “I do that to keep my spirits up,” he says. “Being out there at dawn renews me.”

He needs uplift because he thinks Bay trouble is basic: We’re just not turning the tide of destruction. At the time of his book’s 1991 first edition, Horton was hopeful that new visions and programs would achieve Bay restoration. But the conclusion of this volume is different. “I don’t think that even the whole Bay program is going to get us there. That’s depressing, a downer,” he says slowly. “I see how fast a decade can go by with a lot of talk and too little action.”

If that conclusion sounds a little like Howard Ernst, the Naval Academy professor whose Bay Blues recently called the whole Bay restoration effort an outstanding failure, it’s because the political scientist and the Bay journalist agree on that most basic point.

That’s important. Horton has been chronicling Bay life and issues for nearly 30 years in the Baltimore Sun and in numerous landmark books. If he thought the Bay Program only needed a little tinkering, we’d be stuck with deciding whether it was Ernst or Horton who was misleading us. Two minds, two books, make an ever-stronger case.

Turning the Tide was rewritten piece by piece, Horton says. He looked at the facts about oyster health, trends with crabs, wetlands loss, nitrogen flowing into the waters, oil spills, forests, population and consumption trends that affect Bay life. While a few patterns were hopeful, the dominant path was clear: problems were getting worse.

That’s so despite Horton’s generous evaluation of Bay programs. Take environmental education, for example. “We’re light-years from a generation ago,” he says. “But we’re also light-years from where we need to be.”

Horton’s anger is characteristically mixed with cautious optimism. “Actually nobody in the history of the world has tried to do what we’re doing — taking a 64,000-square-mile watershed and trying to restore it right in the midst of population growth and the pursuit of ever more consumption,” he says. “We don’t half-know what we’re about … but we’ve got so many talented people going full-bore to help.

“Maybe David Orr (an environmental studies prof at Oberlin College in Ohio) is right. We need to think in a scale of thousands of years,” Horton says.

So what does Horton prescribe?

  • Bay-literacy programs at every level of education, kindergarten through college, not just one field trip in fifth grade. If you don’t know the results of your own actions, he asks, how can you behave well?

  • A clear analysis of the economic values that would let Bay-saving groups tell industry and government officials that it’s going to cost $19 billion to clean it up. A clean bay is an economic resource that’s worth far more. Just how much more is the question.

  • All cars and trucks with a miles-per-gallon gauge on the dashboard so drivers could see how their speed and driving patterns contribute to the tons of air and water pollution from transport each year.

  • Ethical ways to cut back population growth in the watershed.

None of those goals, especially the last, is simple — and Horton’s recommendations fill 26 pages. Some, like population limits, sound radical. But what seems really radical to Horton is pursuing current trends he believes guarantee “Bay residents will live amid increasing ugliness on the lands of the region, even as we do spend hundreds of millions to clean up the Bay itself.

“We’re just frittering away the heritage of the places we live,” he says.

You not likely to agree with it all. But if you shell out $40 for the Horton and Ernst books, and put them right where you can read dollops of them day after day, you’ll likely start to feel some outrage, too.

— Sara Ebenreck

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Our Rain Barrels Overfloweth
In storm as in drought, rain barrels help save the Bay

Don’t roll that rain barrel away. Now, amid the rainiest season in years, the rain barrel’s true purpose is served, slowing down storm water runoff to cool the water down and help prevent the erosion of our creeks and streams.

When we last wrote about rain barrels, drought sucked precious water from our soil and we were eager to use every drop that came our way. Now, the rain barrels are full, the overflow hose constantly leaking into the wettest spot in the yard, and we wonder what we’re supposed to do with all that water.

Corinne Reed-Miller of the Weems Creek Conservancy reminds us what we can do and why.

“It’s most important to know that once the rain barrel is full, it’s not doing anything,” she says. The water is flowing out as fast as it’s coming in. That’s not the way it’s meant to work. The idea is to slow the water down before it gets into the Bay and streams.

“Connect the barrel to a soaker hose,” Reed-Miller advises “Then the water will slowly go out.”

Corinne Reed-Miller of the Weems Creek Conservancy advises hooking up a soaker hose to your rain barrel in overly rainy weather.
Pollution running off from land — technically called non-point source pollution — is the largest contributor to the excess nutrients, sediments and chemicals in the Bay. During a typical rainstorm, a roof covering a house with a 1,000-square-foot footprint will shed 600 gallons of water, Reed-Miller explains. In summer the water can reach 140 degrees and can still be 120 degrees when it enters the creek from the storm drain. That’s too warm for critters that live in and near the creeks and rivers.

“To make matters worse,” Reed-Miller continues, “the speed with which the water rushes down driveways and streets, down storm drains and out to the creek, causes sediments to be carried into the creek and churns up the unstable sediment recently deposited. This reduces water clarity, which keeps subaquatic grasses and oysters from growing. Without grasses and oysters, water isn’t filtered like it used to be, so water clarity suffers even more.”

Reed-Miller calculates that there are over 900 single-family homes in the Weems Creek Watershed alone. If every household kept half of the average rainfall from going directly into the creek, 270,000 gallons would be diverted.

Anne Kitchell of the Center for Watershed Protection in Ellicott City agrees with the importance of rain barrels, whether the season is dry or wet. “Rain barrels are promoted,” she says, “because it’s a simple, useful practice that homeowners can use to slow down the speed of stormwater running from rooftops to storm drains. One rain barrel doesn’t mean anything, except to give the homeowner water to use at will. But cumulatively, there’s an impact. Slowing down the water run-off slows down the erosion caused by water running too quickly from downspouts to storm drains to streams.”

While you’re slowing the water, Reed-Miller advocates putting it to use. Her rain garden, in the Weems Creek neighborhood of Annapolis, got started under drought conditions but has grown to maturity in this wet season.

Set three inches lower than the surrounding yard so it holds water longer, the gardener says, “It’s infiltrating 55 gallons of water slowly into the landscape. In the worst rain, and we’ve had the worst this year, the water infiltrates my garden in two hours, though some soils will require up to eight hours to soak in.”

There’s no reason to worry that a rain garden will multiply mosquitoes, according to Reed-Miller. The pests’ eggs take 48 hours to hatch. If given any chance to breed in the few hours your garden holds standing water, mosquitoes will die as the water recedes.

Mike Sprinkle of Severn puts his rainwater to use another way. He’s installed a small submersible motor that forces water from two rain barrels into his garden hose. He uses the pressurized water to wash his truck.

If you rely on electricity to pump your well water, you’ll find a rain barrel invaluable during power outages. Use water by the bucket to flush toilets, water indoor plants or wash your hair.

Water, water everywhere. Sometimes, too much. Sometimes, too little. A rain barrel can help to make it just right.

Rain barrels, starting at $40 for the unassembled model, are available from Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center: 410/222-3822 • www.arlingtonecho.org.

South River Federation holds occasional rain barrel workshops and will work with communities to assemble and install rain barrels. Look for the Federation’s Rain Barrel Community Action Team at www.geocities.com/RainForest/Wetlands.

— Sonia Linebaugh

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It Takes a Party to Make History
Friends Raise $16,000 for Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Jewels, furs and raspberry gateau line the path Calvert County sixth graders follow through the woods into history.

In this wonderland, on one night of the year, dollars flow as easily as the line of sight slips down mowed meadows to St. Leonard Creek and the Patuxent River.

This wonderland is Point Farm, the country home of Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, photojournalist, foreign service wife and benefactor. In 1983, Patterson donated her home at Point Farm — and its 512-acre grounds, including two and a half miles of riverfront — to Maryland. By the time of her death in 2003, tens of thousands of people a year had delved into thousands of years of Maryland’s cultural heritage at the Calvert County homestead she and Jefferson Patterson built.

photo courtesy of Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Her gift in honor of her diplomat husband has become Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

This month, another couple of hundred history lovers visited Point Farm for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. At An Affair at Point Farm, they paid $50 each to lead modern-day school children into the Jefferson Patterson Park’s history-rich woodlands.

Inspired by the rare opportunity to visit the estate, its sweeping view, a good cause and auctioneer Rodney Thompson’s baiting banter, guests spent tens, hundreds and thousands of dollars more on 80 lots of goods and services donated by a supportive community.

Among the bidders was North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer, who outbid a pair of competitors to outfit his partner in mink.

That was Auction Item 78, a “mahogany mink coat with wing collar, straight sleeves and banded cuffs,” donated by Quincy Rodgers.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t fit, but when I saw her trying it on, I knew my goose was cooked,” said Frazer. The bidding started at $1,000, but the mayor took home the coat for less than its estimated $3,000 value.

By the time the night was over and the bills paid, the Friends had raised $15,000 to support Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s educational programs.

Which means 1,500 sixth graders can travel back in time 300 years to step inside an Algonquinian wigwam. It’s made of bark stripped off the ancient trees at Calvert County’s nearby Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Nature Center.

“Before 1634 came thousands of years of history,” said Wayne Clark, who, as Maryland’s director of museum services, oversees the state’s two museums, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum and Banneker-Douglass Museum.

Native American history, Euro American history and African American history all come to life here. History comes to life in the darkness of a bark wigwam. It comes to life in the hands of children who shape stone tools, build fires and split wooden shingles.

State, local and federal funds provide much of Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s $1.8 million annual budget. That money builds roads, erects buildings and keeps up the grounds. But discovering history: That’s paid for by jewels, furs and raspberry gateau.


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Spinning Wheels Over Isabel
Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best

Remember those winters where forecasts predicted large snowfalls to hit Chesapeake Country? As the reports flew fast and furious, municipalities stretched to get resources in place — just in case they were needed — and citizens rushed to get supplies.

With Hurricane Isabel heading toward the East Coast, the same fears, routines and practices are in full motion now.

On Monday, to get Maryland ready, Gov. Robert Ehrlich met with colleagues from many departments and authorities responsible for the protection of human life and property.

“I’m hoping and praying Isabel goes out into the ocean, but if not, we’re ready,” said Ehrlich at a press conference with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, Maryland National Guard, Department of Natural Resources Police, Maryland Emergency Management Agency and others. Their goal was to ensure that no matter what happens, government is ready for action.

Ocean City, which could be hit hard, considered canceling its Sunfest celebration and evacuating its citizens. The Department of Natural Resources started pulling smaller vessels out of the water while sending larger ones to safer harbors. East-bound traffic on the Bay Bridge might be closed to allow people to leave the Eastern Shore for higher ground and safety. Other recommendations went to homes and property.

photo courtesy of Governor’s Press Office
Gov. Robert Ehrlich meets with colleagues and department heads in preparation for Hurricane Isabel.
“Use common sense and listen to the radio or watch television,” said Ehrlich, urging people to rely on authorities to give proper warning and instructions for safety.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued basic suggestions: Buy bottled water, canned or non-perishable food, have a radio and flashlight with extra batteries and have a basic first aid kit.

“If Isabel comes up the Bay, there will be significant damage,” said Dennis Schrader, director of Maryland’s office of Homeland Security.

Of course, all this preparation may be for naught, just like some winter snowstorms.

For more information on how to prepare for Isabel: Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov; Maryland Emergency Management Agency: www.mema.state.md.us.

—James Clemenko

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Way Downstream…

In Virginia, an algae bloom recently destroyed about one-fourth of the 800,000 disease-resistant native oysters being grown for restocking by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at the Sarah’s Creek Oyster Farm. Manager Tommy Leggett said the water turned the color of his red Dodge Ram pickup…

In France, authorities warned last week that the killer heat wave that struck over the summer will be felt at Christmas 2008 — because millions of evergreen trees that would have been cut in five years for Christmas trees died in the summer drought…

Our Creature Feature comes from Greece, where a headline last week proclaimed: “Baby Turtles Die Disco Death.” That’s a story to be read, and what we found was a sad tale of loggerheads hatching on the beach of Laganas and then heading straight for brightest thing they could see.

Usually, it’s the foam of waves under the stars. But in this case, it’s the clubs and cafes built, ironically, for tourists who come to see the turtles. Conservationist Anders Kofoed told Reuters: “Some turtles crawl up the beach the wrong way and die of dehydration or get eaten by seabirds or dogs. The park isn’t working properly.”

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated September 18, 2003 @ 2:30am