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Entries in Potomac River (17)

Monday
Aug042014

Scientists Find More Mutated Intersex Fish in Nation's Waters

All scientists have to do is search new waters, it seems, and the mystery of mutated intersex fish grows more disturbing.

Most recently, they’ve found male smallmouth bass carrying eggs in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna, Delaware, and Ohio river basins, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Male fish at every site sampled had immature eggs in their testes, with the highest percentage in the Susquehanna. Previously in the Chesapeake Bay drainage, research revealed evidence of the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the Potomac.

Vicki Blazer, lead author of the study, said that the pollutants affecting bass, as well as white suckers, “are most likely complex mixtures form both agriculture sources, such as animal wastes, pesticides and herbicides, and human sources from wastewater treatment plan effluent and other sewage discharges.”

"The prevalence and severity of the immature eggs in smallmouth bass corresponded with the percent of agricultural land use in the watershed above the collection sites," the scientist said. "Chemical compounds associated with estrogenic endocrine disruption, in particular estrone, a natural estrogen, were also associated with the extent and severity of these effects in bass."

Meanwhile, a toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency office in Denver reported that her research on fathead minnows is suggesting that “a very potent synthetic female hormone . . . can wipe out fish populations over several generations, and it’s the male fish that are most affected.”

Previously, Kristen Keteles added, studies had shown that male fish below wastewater treatment plants can lose masculine characteristics and become indistinguishable from females when exposed to estrogen and other endocrine disruptors.

“Our new study found that a potent form of female hormone estrogen used in prescription drugs not only causes the males to look female; it also appears to be toxic to male fish and these effects may impact future generations of fish.”

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female. B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female. Photo by Adam Schwindt

These disturbing discoveries regarding fish, which could portend similar problems for other species, began to emerge in the late 1970s, with anglers fishing wastewater lagoons in Great Britain, according to Whitney Jacobs, a former Conservation Associate at B.A.S.S. who researched the effects of environmental estrogens on male fish while doing graduate work in fisheries at the University of Georgia.

But the first reports of intersex was not documented in scientific literature until 1994 and the first major national assessment of the problem was not published until 2009,  she added.

“Widespread occurrence of intersex in black basses (Micropterus spp.) from U.S. rivers, 1995-2004” revealed intersex in 3 percent of fish collected and in 4 of 16 species--- largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, common carp, and channel catfish.

“However, it was most prevalent in largemouth and smallmouth bass,” Jacobs said. “The study also found the greatest incidence of the condition in the southeastern U.S.”

More recently, a 2014 report from scientists at the University of Georgia revealed these mutations aren’t confined to rivers. In “Survey of Intersex Largemouth Bass from Impoundments in Georgia USA,” they said that 48 percent of male largemouth bass collected from 11 reservoirs without direct municipal or agricultural wastewater inputs were intersex. Additionally, they found the condition in nine of the fisheries.

“The high incidence of intersex males in small impoundments demonstrates the condition is not confined to rivers and suggests that factors other than those previously associated with intersex (i.e., municipal wastewater) may be involved,” the researchers concluded.

Scientists hope that future research will reveal those additional factors. Meanwhile, they believe that fish that live downstream of wastewater treatment plants are most at risk, because of chemicals that can’t be filtered out of discharges.

“Humans excrete hormones and medications, which often end up in our rivers and streams from sewage,” said Keteles, adding that flushing medications also contributes to the problem.

“The water is treated, but many hormones and pharmaceuticals are not completely removed by wastewater treatment plants,” she said.

“My team is trying to determine what this means for fish, and ultimately for people, too.”

How to dispose of medicines properly

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Jun122014

Pollution Reduced, But Goals Not Reached for Cleaning Up Chesapeake Bay

Progress is being made in reducing the pollution flowing into Chesapeake Bay, according to a report. But the news is not all good, as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced, “Many jurisdictions fell short in implementing practices that reduce pollution from agricultural sources and urban and suburban polluted runoff.”

In 2010, the Bay states--- Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia --- and the Environmental Protect Agency set pollution limits that would restore water quality in the Bay, as well as the rivers that feed it. Additionally, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the agreed-upon pollution reductions.

Reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants exceeded 2013 goals, but “our analysis shows that implementation of some important practices like forested buffers and urban stream restoration lag behind what is necessary to achieve long-term goals,” CBF said.

What’s at risk if those long-term goals aren’t achieved? The list is long. For starters, there are the multi-million-dollar bass fisheries in the Bay’s many tributaries, with the Potomac being the most notable.

And how about this? Five-hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Bay. Also, it’s one of the few places left in the world where an industry exists harvesting oysters from the wild.

Additionally, this unique ecosystem supplies as much as 1/3 of the nation’s blue crabs annually, and striper fishing carries an economic value to the area of about $500 million per year.

“We are not on pace anywhere to meet our 2017 and 2025 goals,” said Jill Witkowski, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “If we’re planning to run a race, so far we’ve done a good job on our couch to 5k. But if we want to run a marathon, we have a long way to go.”

Runoff from farms is one of the biggest threats to the continued health of the Bay, as close to one-quarter of the land in its watershed is devoted to agriculture. Thus, it is the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay.

“While conventional tillage, fertilizers and pesticides can be beneficial to crops, their excessive use can pollute rivers and streams, pushing nutrients and sediment into waterways,” CBF said.

Key Findings:

• Maryland met or exceeded five of seven selected goals, including animal waste management systems, forest buffers, grass buffers, upgrading stormwater systems and septic regulations. It failed to meet tree-planting goals and didn't set a goal for urban forest buffers.

• Delaware reached or surpassed four of its seven selected goals, wetland restoration, cover crops, bioretention and urban tree planting. It fell short on animal waste management, grass buffers and septic system connections.

• Virginia met two of eight milestones evaluated: stream access control with fencing and urban stream restoration. It fell short on forest buffers, conservation tillage, composite agricultural practices, modern stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and composite urban practices.

Thursday
Jun052014

Snakehead Numbers Decline

Maryland DNR photo Good news from the snakehead front, as the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that catch and distribution of the exotic predator in the Potomac River was lower in 2013 than in 2012.

In announcing the finding from the Tidal Bass Survey, biologist Joe Love said, “The 2013 observations represent the first decrease in catch and distribution since the species was first discovered in the Potomac River (2004). It is not clear whether the cause of the decline is increased angling effort or other factors.”

But angling effort has increased considerably in recent years, aided by initiatives from both DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Additionally, the state is providing more incentive for catch and harvest of snakeheads by instituting a state record program and including an invasive species category for awards in the Maryland Fishing Challenge.

Not all the news regarding snakeheads is good, however, as two adults were captured by electrofishing for the first time ever in the Wicomico River. Anglers had reported catching them there as early as 2011.

“It appears that it takes two years between angling reporting and collection by Maryland DNR’s Tidal Bass Surveys,” Love said.

Additionally, adult snakeheads were collected from the Patuxent, in numbers similar to 2012.

“Based on suitable habitat for northern snakehead and the population estimate, we calculated that there were about five per acre of suitable habitat,” the biologist explained. “Reports for Little Hunting Creek and Anacostia River ranged from four to nine northern snakehead per acre.”

The invasive fish also was collected “in relatively small numbers” from the Rappahannock, Rohde, Blackwater, and Nanticoke Rivers.

A small snakehead was captured in a trap from a ditched area that connects the Blackwater to the Little Choptank. This suggests that the fish could use this pathway to also colonize the latter, the biologist said.

Wednesday
Mar052014

In Keeping Our Waters Clean, Let's Be Realistic

Photo by Robert Montgomery

We all live downstream.

Thus, pollution poses an exponential threat to our waters and our fisheries. And in a perfect world, no one would pollute.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

As a consequence, we pollute, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes flagrantly. Along the Potomac River, signs once warned that just touching the water could be hazardous to human health. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire. And Lake Erie was known as a “dead sea.” The list of waters degraded and almost destroyed by pollution is a long and shameful one.

We, however, also have learned to clean up after ourselves, prompted by the federal Clean Water Act of1972. Erie now is one of the nation’s most productive fisheries. The Potomac is nationally known for its bass fishing. And the Cuyahoga, a river once devoid of fish, now is home to 44 species. The list of waters enhanced and restored is a long and hopeful one, and we arguably do more to protect our aquatic resources than any other country in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve done as much as we can or should do to minimize pollution. But neither are we living in a time when rivers are catching on fire and as much needs to be done or even can be done, for that matter.

But that doesn’t keep some from trying, especially those who believe that more big government is the solution to our imperfections. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to expand the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to include water on private property.

Additionally, under new proposals, jurisdiction would extend to streams regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, as well as to ditches, gullies, and just about any low spot where moisture collects on a seasonal basis.

And that’s why the move is being heartily endorsed by environmental groups, who argue that court rulings have weakened the CWA.

“It’s taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world,” said Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action.

But just how far do you allow the federal government to intrude on the rights of private property owners? Those rights are a cornerstone of who we are as a nation and why so many from all over the world want to live here.

“The EPA’s draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S,” said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas. “This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever.

“If the draft rule is approved, it would allow the EPA to regulate virtually every body of water in the United States, including private and public lakes, ponds, and streams.”

While I understand and even sympathize with the environmental side of this argument, I do not support such an expansion of power using regulations written by anonymous, unelected bureaucrats. Such decisions should be left up to Congress, which represents the people.

Additionally, many who want to impose ever more strict environmental regulations upon industries, agriculture, municipalities, and now private property owners do so with unrealistic expectations. In their never-ending quest for perfection, they want to reduce pollution limits to levels that can’t even be measured.

“These folks live in la-la land,” said Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation. “If you attack these things (regulations) as unrealistic, you are evil.

“What I’d really like to see is for them to sustain themselves on their own little happy ¼-acre subdivision lot. I’d be willing to bet every single one of them has a nice, cozy temperature-controlled house, pantry full of food, a sink with a spigot full of safe drinking water and a shower and toilet that take away all that nasty that they just can’t think about, much less live with, while they point fingers at everyone else.”

So . . . would I like to see an end to all pollution?  Absolutely. After all, we all live downstream.

But I believe that’s an unrealistic expectation, considering our prevalence and dominance as a species on this planet. Let’s keep trying to reduce our pollution footprint, but let’s do so with consent of the governed and with realistic standards, not those imposed by anonymous bureaucrats who live in “la-la land.”

(This opinion piece was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Feb282014

Protection From Pollution or Power Grab?

Photo by Robert Montgomery

We all live downstream.

Thus, pollution poses an exponential threat to our waters and our fisheries. And in a perfect world, no one would pollute.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

As a consequence, we pollute, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes flagrantly. Along the Potomac River, signs once warned that just touching the water could be hazardous to human health. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire. And Lake Erie was known as a “dead sea.” The list of waters degraded and almost destroyed by pollution is a long and shameful one.

We, however, also have learned to clean up after ourselves, prompted by the federal Clean Water Act of1972. Erie now is one of the nation’s most productive fisheries. The Potomac is nationally known for its bass fishing. And the Cuyahoga, a river once devoid of fish, now is home to 44 species. The list of waters enhanced and restored is a long and hopeful one, and we arguably do more to protect our aquatic resources than any other country in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve done as much as we can or should do to minimize pollution. But neither are we living in a time when rivers are catching on fire and as much needs to be done or even can be done, for that matter.

But that doesn’t keep some from trying, especially those who believe that more big government is the solution to our imperfections. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to expand the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to include water on private property.

Additionally, under new proposals, jurisdiction would extend to streams regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, as well as to ditches, gullies, and just about any low spot where moisture collects on a seasonal basis.

And that’s why the move is being heartily endorsed by environmental groups, who argue that court rulings have weakened the CWA.

“It’s taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world,” said Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action.

But just how far do you allow the federal government to intrude on the rights of private property owners? Those rights are a cornerstone of who we are as a nation and why so many from all over the world want to live here.

“The EPA’s draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S,” said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas. “This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever.

“If the draft rule is approved, it would allow the EPA to regulate virtually every body of water in the United States, including private and public lakes, ponds, and streams.”

While I understand and even sympathize with the environmental side of this argument, I do not support such an expansion of power using regulations written by anonymous, unelected bureaucrats. Such decisions should be left up to Congress, which represents the people.

Additionally, many who want to impose ever more strict environmental regulations upon industries, agriculture, municipalities, and now private property owners do so with unrealistic expectations. In their never-ending quest for perfection, they want to reduce pollution limits to levels that can’t even be measured.

“These folks live in la-la land,” said Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation.  “If you attack these things (regulations) as unrealistic, you are evil.

“What I’d really like to see is for them to sustain themselves on their own little happy ¼-acre subdivision lot. I’d be willing to bet every single one of them has a nice, cozy temperature-controlled house, pantry full of food, a sink with a spigot full of safe drinking water and a shower and toilet that take away all that nasty that they just can’t think about, much less live with, while they point fingers at everyone else.”

So . . . would I like to see an end to all pollution?  Absolutely. After all, we all live downstream.

But I believe that’s an unrealistic expectation, considering our prevalence and dominance as a species on this planet. Let’s keep trying to reduce our pollution footprint, but let’s do so with consent of the governed and with realistic standards, not those imposed by anonymous bureaucrats who live in “la-la land.” 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)