Dock of the Bay

Volume VII Number 29
July 22-28, 1999

  • Drought Three Ways
  • Breaking up Boats: Some Derelicts Evicted from Rockhold Creek
  • FTC's New Hotline Seeks to Stop Sticky Fingers
  • Way Downstream ...

  • Drought Three Ways

    I. In Perspective

    In the 1960s, I remember a crushing multi-year drought, far worse than we've experienced - thus far - in 1999. The well at my then-inland home ran dry every few days, so that even washing clothes was a rationed activity. My mother's face was continually pinched with worry even about our cooking and bathing.

    The water, when it came, was often murky with sediment from the dregs of 30 years that lay below the intake pipe. My dad would often get up in the night to shut off the pump when it ran dry on the chance flush of a toilet, lest the motor burn out or the leather pump valves fail.

    Forest fires ravaged parts of the country, and for days our skies were unrelieved yellow-brown from smoke and smog generated hundreds or thousands of miles away. I was expressly forbidden to burn the huge pile of tinder-dry leaves I'd raked up for a Halloween bonfire. It sat for years in our north field and became eventually fine, rich leaf mold for our often-parched garden, long before composting was the 'in' thing.

    The 1960s' droughts came before society began using so much water. Today the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Indicators show that water use - like the number of miles we drive our cars - increases far faster than population. Municipal wastewater flows to the Bay in 1950 were 500 million gallons per day. Today flow from the metropolitan Washington sewage treatment plant at Blue Plains alone is in the order of 375 million gallons per day. Early in the next decade, flows are projected above 2.2 billion gallons daily, about a four-and-a-half-fold leap.

    There were no sidewalks at McDonalds and Giant being hosed daily into the parking lot then, virtually no car washes, residential dishwashers or installed lawn sprinkler systems and few swimming pools. This was with eight million people in the watershed, before our population in the Chesapeake Basin, outstripping early projections, headed for 16 million.

    How will we fare if this round of drought deepens to those levels this year and, say, for two years to follow? The statistics are there: we are about due for another one. If it's not this time, it's likely to be soon.

    -Kent Mountford

    II. In the Garden

    A family friend will be married this weekend and hot, dry weather is in the forecast. Since it is an outdoor, sunset wedding they are relying on their flowered landscape to put on a show - and they are watering like crazy.

    "This is the third drought in a row and the worst of the three. We're ending the century with a terrible drought," says Jon Traunfeld of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center.

    Against weeks of dry weather, two or three downpours make little difference. A scant .7 inches of July rain have fallen in Anne Arundel County, according to Maryland Department of Agriculture figures. All year, only 14.8 inches of rain have fallen, leaving us 3.5 inches below average.

    Lawns - even golf courses - have gone brown, shrubs wither, annuals droop and perennials wilt. With ground water getting to be about as scarce as rain water, you'll want to water more cautiously than my nuptial friends.

    In times of drought or extreme heat, you may have to prioritize your plants. Pay attention to newly planted annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs and new sod. "Determine which plants are most susceptible to water stress. High on your watering list should be plants that are valuable in terms of replacement cost, prominence in the landscape and enjoyment," advises David Clement, director of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Center.

    As July winds down, it's so dry that Traunfeld says "forget lawns. Don't even attempt to keep an established lawn green. It's futile and a waste of water. They'll come back."

    If your lawn is newly seeded or turfed, however, "if possible, keep it watered."

    Watering is your safest bet and most successful plant saver in dry times. Water more frequently so that not only the plant itself but also its underground root system is moist. Water when the soil is dry and when the plants first begin to wilt. Water during the coolest parts of the day, preferably early morning. Good timing eliminates the evils of midday evaporation and the fungal disease problems of nighttime.

    How much water is enough?

    "That's something you just learn by experience," says Traunfeld. "Bigger plants and fruiting plants need more water. When you have a hose out, you're not thinking about how many gallons. If you're using a watering can, each tomato, squash or pepper plant needs one to two gallons twice a week."

    If you've already tried most of these revitalizing methods and your plants are still shriveling in the sun, Homestead Gardens suggests a few more remedies.

    One weapon against our hot weather is a soaker hose. Attaching easily to the regular garden hose, they can be snaked among flower beds above or below ground. Soaker hoses water slowly, soaking the soil and eliminating runoff.

    For low-branch trees or shrubs, you might want to try a Gator Bag. These water-filled bags hug the base of your plants more lovingly than sprinkling. By slowly releasing moisture, these plastic wraps save water - they promise a 100 percent absorption rate - and reduce transplant shock in your newer plants. You can see them at work at Homestead Gardens.

    For answers to your gardening questions, including coping with drought, call University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service to talk to an advisor (8am-1pm Monday to Friday) or hear recorded advice: 800/342-2507.

    -Kristin Hagert

    III. For the Birds

    Like an infantry of highly trained soldiers, they approach with confidence and daring. Stealthlike and united, they penetrate a line rarely crossed, pursing a goal unnoticed until the victory is at hand. Civil War reenactors? Not at all. Just a band of bold robins encircling me with all the bravado of bandits.

    Just walking outside and picking up a garden hose these days prompts the birds we mostly think about in early spring (but here all year) to make interspecies contact. Generally, they're too flighty to pursue close relationships with us. Besides, they seem to say, who needs fickle friends who set their sights and feeders on exotic sounding birds like the rufous-sided towhee, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting or slate-colored junco?

    Sometimes we humans just take things for granted. My consciousness was raised by some in-my-face robins.

    How hot was it? Triple digits, some weather folks say, and birds and wildlife feel the effects just like humans - only we can escape to air conditioning.

    How much can you expect a bird to take of watching neighborhood kids float and flap in plastic pools while they sit high and dry overhead?

    I looked at the hose, then the birds, back at the hose again until I finally made the connection. As soon as I filled several birdbaths to the brim, the robins were ready to let the games begin.

    First, from the edge of the bath, a robin dipped low for a cool drink. Thirst quenched, it hopped in, starting easy with a macarena until the beat heated up to a full blown fandango. The lady in red became a whirling dervish before settling in for a long, quiet soak, seeming not to notice pressure from the sidelines or those waiting in line.

    Ah, the luxury of a bath. Reminds me of stopping at a roadhouse in Alaska and hearing this through the paper-thin walls over the sound of splashing coming from the next room: "Ain't it funny, Harry, how you can get dirty just sittin' in a truck all day?" Which just shows that robins aren't much different than humans.

    That familiar large bird distinctively called the American robin, which runs along lawns and parks from Alaska to Florida, may come running to you this summer. So if a band of robins gathers round you some evening, get out the garden hose or sprinkler. You'll be treated to a real show.

    -M.L. Faunce

    Breaking up Boats: Some Derelicts Evicted from Rockhold Creek

    photo by Russ Pellicot Marine contractors hoist derelict boats from county waters.

    "Thump." That's the sound of an abandoned boat's rotted and cracked hull finding a new resting place at the bottom of an empty barge.

    Broken and battered boats apparently love company. How else can you account for the fact that every few years, Maryland Department of Natural Resources has to clean out the nests where they habitually gather?

    However you account for it, it's a problem Maryland spends about $300,000 a year to solve.

    Which brings DNR to Rockhold Creek again, in the person of contractor R.L. Geisler Marine, removing and disposing of a half-dozen half-sunken, abandoned boats that litter our waters.

    Removing those boats in Deale is costing taxpayers about $17,800. This money comes from the state's five-percent tax on new boats. If DNR can determine who the owner is, the state can go to court to try to recover costs.

    The job makes quite a show, gathering on-lookers by other senses as well as sight and sound. You could make your way to the operation on Rockhold Creek alerted by the smell of dead fish and a boat full of decaying garbage. Also making themselves heard are the two gasoline-powered pumps that evacuate the forsaken vessel of the water it has taken on.

    Altogether, it's a much more complicated matter than plucking a boat out of the water and tossing it onto a barge to be carted off to the old boats' home.

    Each drained boat is dragged into position by the most important piece of equipment on the site: the crane. The boat must be placed in deep enough water so that the slings that will lift the boat into the barge can be put into place. A diver in scuba gear passes the two large, thick canvas straps under the boat, one near the bow and one near the stern. Once the slings are in place, they are attached to a pair of cables from the crane and the boat is almost ready to be lifted. Pumps are removed, the boat is untied from the pier and guide ropes are attached at the bow and the stern. The boat is then lifted clear of the water and wrangled into the barge by three men working as a team, one in the crane and the other two on the barge holding the guide ropes.

    Next the removal company relieves the vessel of its engines, fuel tanks and any other contaminants. Finally they smash up the hull and take it to an approved landfill site.

    Removing derelict boats sounds like a good idea and it is, but some citizens think it doesn't go far enough.

    photo by Russ Pellicot Divers pass a large sling beneath bow and stern of abandoned boats before lifting them from the water.

    "We wish they'd remove the other sunken boats spilling oil into the harbor," says Ann Wolfe of the Alliance for Rural Business. "The boats are clearly, totally unusable, but they sit and pollute the waterway and our environment because the state says they can't take them off private property. So we're all stuck with these eyesores. Don't owners have to maintain boats parked in public waterways?"

    Apparently not. Under Maryland law, a boat on public waterways must lay sunken for at least 30 days before abandonment charges can be placed. Threats to navigation, public safety or environment will be removed. Boats abandoned on private property without the owner's permission become derelict after 180 days and can be removed. But on their own property, boat owners can keep gems or derelicts.

    "If you have a car in your driveway and it's broken down and junked, you can still leave it in your driveway. The state or county does not have jurisdiction to remove it. On the roadway, on the other hand, there's opportunity for complaint and pick up. It's the same with boats," explains DNR spokesman John Surrick.

    The boat bouncers next stop will be Herring Bay, where we'll spend $3,700 to remove a boat that broke loose from its moorings on June 13 and ran aground in the shallows.

    -Russ Pellicot

    FTC's New Hotline Seeks to Stop Sticky Fingers

    Sticky fingers are constantly grabbing for your money through shady internet deals, cryptic classified ads, easy college money offers and too-good-to-be-true prize offers delivered in direct mail.

    Now you can retaliate with a finger of your own.

    Your dialing finger can now be used to blow the whistle on corrupted commerce by calling the Federal Trade Commission's new Consumer Help Line, 877/ftc help.

    The scams that have long plagued consumers have found a new and powerful venue with the advent of the internet. Cyberspace now allows more con artists to finagle more money from more people from anywhere. Between e-fraud and the more traditional forms of scams, consumers reported over 60,000 complaints to the Commission last year alone.

    Some common types of fraud that the Trade Commission points to have telltale signs. Scholarship money, guaranteed loan and prize giveaway schemes promise easy money, but only after you mail in a fee. A common internet ploy is to gather money from an internet auction and never send winning bidders the goods.

    This new hotline gives you a heads-up on what scam tactics to be wary of, thus keeping some consumers from being snagged and making those already victimized less likely to fall prey again. "Education is a powerful consumer protection," says Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

    Though the Help Line won't take on individual cases, it will see that the information you report gets to someone who can do something about it. Complaint calls fill out a database, drawn on by 200 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada to help hunt down the con artists and see justice visited upon them.

    If you feel as though a suspect peddler is targeting your wallet, or if one already has, dial up. Counselors take calls from 9am to 8pm weekdays. This is one complaint hotline that wants to field calls.

    You can also report fraud on the Federal Trade Commission's Website at or write FTC, Consumer Response Center, Washington, DC 20580-0001.

    - Mark Burns

    Way Downstream ...

    In Virginia, officials are working overtime to send those garbage trucks back to New York. State Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican, argues that New York City has violated the Constitution by closing its own landfill and flooding East Coast with garbage ...

    In Georgia, the body of a 16-year-old girl sucked into a hydraulic whirlpool beneath the surface of the Chattooga River in May remained wedged in a rock formation. Workers trying to free her narrowly escaped death when they, too, were sucked down. Now there's a debate whether to dam the free-flowing river to retrieve the body ...

    From Indonesia comes a cautionary tale about technology. According to the Wall Street Journal, fire sprung up around a man pumping gas and talking on his cellular phone when the phone's battery generated a spark that ignited fumes ...

    Malta won't be able to join the European Union in 2003 unless it takes strides to protect a well-known bird: the Maltese Falcon. Also known as peregrine falcons, they are hunted as a traditional pastime in the three-island nation ­ even during mating season ...

    Our Creature Feature, from Gastonia, N.C., is a story about a little piggy who didn't go to market. Rather, he went to a baseball game.

    The Charlotte Observer reported that a white piglet tipping the scales at under five pounds led employees on a one-hour chase around a ball diamond. Finally, they lured the elusive little porker with - what else? - a hot dog.

    But this little piggy won't wind up in a bun any time soon: A North Carolina woman said she'll adopt the cute little fellow.

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    Volume VII Number 29
    July 22-28, 1999
    New Bay Times

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