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July 14, 2000     Cape Gazette
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July 14, 2000

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6 - CAPE GAZEITE, Friday July14: July , 20C0 Inland bays Continued from page 1 massive bloom of sea lettuce that carpeted the bottom. But efforts continue to successfully establish the grasses which provide good habitat and which help anchor the bay bottom, thus reducing turbidi- ty. Sea lettuce also caused a mas- sive clam kill in the inland bays approximately two years ago. But a test planting of oysters at the James Farm near Cedar Neck Road in 1999 proved successful. The oysters grew fat and sassy in an amazingly short time and a' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant of $40,000 will be used to plant more oysters which can help clean the bay by feeding on algae. All in all, it is a mixed environ- mental picture. But there is plenty of bad news and there has been nothing but bad news recently. Rep. Shirley Price, D-Millville, owns a tackle shop and she has spent most of her life on the water. Few people have witnessed the changes in the bays as intimately as the legislator. "I feel a great sadness," she said. "I see the changes and they are not good..It didn't use to be this way." Much has been done in the last 20 years to preserve Rehoboth Bay, Little Assawoman and Indian River. Whether it has helped is a debatable point and we intend to explore the existing problems and potential solutions in this series. But for this week, we will focus on describing some of the efforts so far to clean up the inland bays. As far back as 1983, then Gov- ernor Pete du Pont had appointed a task force to study the inland bays. That task force pre-dated the Center for the Inland Bays, The Inland Bays Estuary Program and the Inland Bays Monitoring Com- mittee. So, what has been done? One of the most significant ac- tions has been by that of Sussex County, often maligned for having no environmental conscience at all. The county has spent massive amounts of money to create sewer districts within the inland bays watershed. Those sewer districts are con- sidered far better environmentally than septic systems and they have been constructed at great cost in many areas that have either had sewer failures or groundwater concerns. Districts have been cre- ated along the Route 1 corridor (known as West Rehoboth), in Ocean View, Holts Landing, Long Neck, and very recently, in Oak Orchard. Sussex County Finance Direc- tor David Baker said that the county's districts have removed 37,000 EDU's from septic sys- tems. An EDU is an equivalent dwelling unit, which translates roughly to one single family home. Baker said the county has spent $232 million on the sewer proj- ects. The Route 1 or West Re- hoboth district alone has exceed- ed $80 million in costs. Another major action has been land acquisition by the state of Delaware. Gov. Tom Carper's As- sistant: Press Secretary Jim Smith said that since 1990, Delaware has acquired 4,470 acres of land in the inland bays watershed at a cost of $33.4 illion. There were 38 separate land transactions, including the pur- chase of Thompson Island at the head of Rehoboth Bay, the last large undeveloped tract of land in that area. Other transactions have involved smaller, less significant tracts. But another major effort has been the acquisition of land bordering Cape Henlopen State Park to provide buffers for the park. What else has been done? Rehoboth Beach has spent more than $1.4 million to upgrade its sewer plant. That discharge is still considered a major source of nu- trients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, which are linked with blooms of sea lettuce. But the discharge into the Lewes-Re- hoboth Canal is far cleaner than it used to be. Delaware removed its EPA mandates states clean up waters and set standards By Jim Cresson Delaware's water woes, cited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997 as highly overloaded with nutrient runoff and other contamination, will likely be the subject of more in- tense scrutiny next year as the re- sult of a July 11 EPA major rule regulation to bring new water quality standards to each state. The EPA issued the new water pollution, rules and published them in the Federal Register, July 13, making them official, provid- ed Congress does not recall them within 60 days. EPA Administrator "Carol Browner predicted Congress would not vote to stop the rules if it involved "a full review, and a public review." A New York Times report July 12 revealed that, although the new rules drew opposition from many in Con- gress, even some of the opponents conceded Browner was probably right. It would take a two-thirds majority vote to block the new water regulations. The new water quality rules call for each state to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) to achieve an improvement in wa- ter quality that would make every body of water fishable and swim- mable. But instead of using feder- Continued on page 17 DEWEY BEACH 307 307 LONG 1 Irons Lone Landir REHOBOTH BAY INDIAN RIVER BAY P STkT PMJ{ ! DAGSBORO Delaware Seashore State Park discharge at Indian River Inlet earlier this year. The state park discharge was only on outgoing tides, but it was the only state sewer discharge into the inland bays and that rankled many offi- cials. It was not considered a major problem, but County Councilman George Cole, Sen. George Bunting Jr., D-Bethany Beach, and other officials argued that the state had to clean up its own act. Beginning this summer, that treated sewage is being shipped to the county's South Coastal Treat- ment Plant where it is to be dis- charged at an existing ocean out- fall a mile offshore. Other news includes: Delaware's nutrient manage- ment commission is working to develop nutrient limits for farm- ers, an effort that gained wide- spread public attention last year. Sussex County has increased minimum lot sizes without central sewer to 3/4 acre. The state re- quires only a half acre. Perdue-AgriRecycle plans to develop a facility near Seaford to turn poultry litter and manure into pellet fertilizer to be shipped out of the state. Delaware bought a sea lettuce harvester to harvest the nuisance sea lettuce, but even the biggest supporters of a harvester call it a band-aid that treats the problem temporarily while doing nothing to treat the cause of the blooms .of seaweed. In 1997, that harvester gathered 185 tons of seaweed be- fore stopping in mid-to-late sum- mer because of concerns that sea- life-like crabs were also being harvested. Jim Cresson photo Tons of odorous decomposing sea lettuce, an algae that blooms and grows on the bottom of the inland bays when wa- ter quality is not up to standard, is being harvested this month from Rehoboth Bay and loaded onto trucks for dispos- al. It is one of many undesirous results from an overload of nutrients in the shallow and poorly flushed inland bay s . BETHANY BEACH "This is the worst I have ever seen it," said John Monteith on Thursday, June 22. The Rehoboth Bay Community resident estimat- ed that a mass of sea lettuce 2,000 feet long and 100 feet wide was cloggjng its shores at that time. Sussex County is considering a conservation zone requiring larger lot sizes near waterways like the inland bays. The county could require lots as large as two acres in areas without central sewer in order to reduce density around the bays. But the bad news is that the idea has languished for many months without any action. Sussex Coun- ty Administrator Bob Stickels said this week that the county is awaiting the advice of the Depart- ment of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). Fish kill hits; pfiesteria ruled out as a cause By Michael Short For the second time in less than a week, fish kills have been found in the inland bays. Low levels of dissolved oxygen is the likely culprit in both fish kills. Suspicions that Pfiesteria piscicida was present in the most recent kill now have been ruled out. Lesions found on some of the menhaden found in the second kill indicates the possibility of Pfiesteria, an extremely toxic or- ganism once labled the "cell from hell" by the popular press. Continued on page 18