Dam threats

Conowingo Dam has divided the Susquehanna River from the Chesapeake Bay since it was built in 1928 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conowingo_Dam). For 84 years, silt and whatever else flows down the river has accumulated behind the dam. The Dam is due for re-licensing in 2014. The threat to the Bay is well understood, but remedies are difficult, expensive and have been consistently put off for years.

Each significant weather event leads to increased releases from higher flows and to reduce strains on the dam. That sends an assortment of toxins, nutrients and debris down the Bay. Those releases can cause health and safety risks to sailors and others who recreate on those waters in addition to damages to Bay resources including clams, oysters and crabs. The frequency of significant releases is increasing as the storage capacity of the dam decreases. Remedies are needed now not later…….

Conowingo Dam

For a more complete story, see the article by Karl Blankenship, editor of the Bay Journal – http://www.bayjournal.com/article/conowingo_damreleasing_pollutants_at_more_frequent_rate

Sandy as an object lesson

Storm clouds moving in


For as long as there has been weather on the planet, there have been storms – some small, some big, but always a fascination to us. As the current storm ‘Sandy’ approaches the east coast, I’m following the commentary, warnings and other hype with some interest. First, I’ve taken the practical steps of securing my boat against possible damage from winds and rising waters. I’ve also cleared the house roof and gutters of the Fall leaf crop – twice-  to allow the heavy rains to run off as intended.

Because we have inexorably intruded with our occupation of flood plains and low lying coastal areas, much of the focus has been on the potential damage. Wiser planning and developing would have minimized such negative impacts. Instead of describing imminent disaster, we might be talking about the positive and constructive effects of storms that clean and  refresh the atmosphere and rebuild beeches and marshes. They have in the past, and may still do move plants and animals, small and large, to new territories.   These natural events are essential to planet health and only become disasters where we have chosen to stand in their path on vulnerable ground.

Here’s hoping all are safe in the aftermath. Perhaps too much to hope (too late) that we learn a lesson or two about where to take up residency…..


Hotter can be better

The complexity of natural systems, and the lag times between actions and results often makes our tendency toward short-term perspectives suspect. With so much focus in the media about the extreme heat and immediate consequences, it’s worth noting there is another side. The following report makes a useful point in connecting longer term conditions with current observations. So, enjoy the hot weather, knowing that it has been a good respite for the Bay!



Drought and heat good for the Chesapeake Bay

Rich Keller, Editor, Ag Professional  |  July 17, 2012

This summer the Chesapeake Bay has some of the cleanest water it has experienced in a long time, and the lower pollution is being attributed to a mild winter, dry and hot spring and some of the hottest summer days on record.  see for more …. http://www.agprofessional.com/news/Drought-and-heat-good-for-the-Chesapeake-Bay-162609436.html

A brief note on environment and economics


Maryland Department of The EnvironmentA recent Baltimore Sun editorial highlighted the Bay restoration effort and its link to the economy. “Efforts to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay too often are cast as environmentalism versus economic opportunity. Whether it’s restrictions on poultry waste; increasing the “flush tax” to pay for upgraded sewage treatment; or requiring new, more effective septic systems, opponents can be counted on to complain of “job-killing” regulations or tax increases. But that’s not really true — and a fish kill in the Inner Harbor demonstrates why. It’s not just the health of fish or crabs that’s at stake, but the livelihood and well-being of people.”


The Baltimore Sun is to be commended for addressing a very complex issue and framing it against a simple example – a fish kill in the Inner Harbor. Clearly, a bad smelling environment is not conducive to high customer traffic.

How to rationally balance the need for a clean and healthy environment against legitimate economic objectives when those goals appear to be in conflict is not always so simple, and is not a trivial question. Proposed solutions that address either goal, absent consideration for the other fail the rationality test.

Too often cases are made by advocates that environmental goals trump any economic considerations. After all, who could argue against a clean environment?  Economic interests point out that associated costs may be beyond their capacity to absorb, and jobs may be lost and businesses closed. Seeing such issues as either/or choices is polarizing and can unnecessarily generate conflict. The fish kill example shows one instance where investment in environmental improvements can also yield economic benefit. There are certainly many other such examples if we have the will to look.

Yet, one size does not fit all, and regulations that do not recognize diversity of conditions rarely produce anything but more conflict. Traditional advocacy approaches, which often lead to litigation, are usually the least cost-effective paths to broadly supported solutions. In the worst case, litigation can leave it to the courts, which have the least relevant expertise, to craft solutions.

The important message is be sure we support cooperative processes that create effective collaboration between those with environmental and economic expertise. Invariably, when such collaboration occurs, open-minded individuals can find and agree to sensible and cost-effective solutions. Each case, where conflicting interests occur, merits such consideration. And, sufficient regulatory flexibility should be provided to allow for unique and imaginative resolution to those conflicts. 

Some thoughts on water, climate and our choices

If you aren’t giving serious attention to matters that affect the waters of our planet, perhaps you should. The water world is a constantly changing place. Those of us who sail on it should be intimately aware of that, and also of the critical importance of that resource for its quantity. distribution and quality.

Whatever you think about changing climate and its causes, the documented warming trend and rising sea level warrants your attention. Increasing ocean temperatures and receding polar ice cover are not trivial changes. The implications for the sailing community are substantial – not necessarily all bad. Frankly, I could use a bit more water depth at my slip. Costs that the Corps of Engineers bear to dredge and maintain navigable commercial channels might go down. But, fixed docks could be submerged and many marinas with them. As a cautious person, I think I’d be building floating docks right now – just in case.

More important are the predictions for increasing frequency of weather extremes. Consider that more named storms means more costs to BoatUS for the haul outs they subsidize, and the likely increase in insurance costs. The winter of 2012 brought exceptional warmth to much of North America, while Europe experienced among the coldest on record, with remarkable snow accumulations. Long-standing records fell at both ends of the spectrum. In the mid-Atlantic region, which harbors many thousands of boats, it was mostly a waste of effort to have winterized those boats. Sub-freezing temperatures occurred only briefly, and little if any ice resulted from the occasional dips south of 32F.

Governments at all levels have, or are beginning to develop, plans to accommodate these predicted changes. Changes may be especially troubling to communities like New Orleans that lay at or below the current high water mark, but also to all the coastal communities with many economic ties to their waterfronts.

That we have the ability to affect water quantity and quality on a very large scale should be clear. We’ve caused rivers to run dry, the Aral Sea in the USSR has gone from the second largest sea in the world to a desert – ironically for the sake of agricultural production.  Many lakes and rivers are simply not safe to swim in. Close to home, living resources in the Chesapeake Bay have been reduced substantially from historic times with the loss of associated economic benefits. On a positive note, we can and have stopped, and even reversed, some of these trends which demonstrates our ability to have large scale effects on natural systems.

It’s not a time to follow the motto for the intellectually uncurious – ‘What, me worry?’  But worry is only constructive if it leads to effective action.  Constructive response is what is called for if we’re to make sensible plans for a possible future. Let’s agree that changes are happening, that there are good reasons to believe that the trends are real and may well continue at least long enough to produce some unpleasant outcomes. If so, contingency planning for predicted outcomes is prudent.

Given the magnitude and complexity of the issues, what should/can we do about it personally? For most of us it means lending support to, or voting for those who will make the decisions. With that comes personal responsibility to be sufficiently educated about the issues such that we can lend informed support. While doing so, be aware that philosophical and political biases often lead to unwise solutions, and partisan stereotypes about solutions to and views about environmental challenges are often not good indicators of effective policy.