Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 11

March 14-20, 2002

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Across Southern Maryland and beyond, prolonged drought has led to low water levels in creeks, rivers and reservoirs, worrying farmers and increasing the likelihood of mandatory water conservation.
photo by Cristi Pasquella
How Dry We Are

We’re in the middle of what’s being called the worst drought in 70 years. Stream levels are at all-time lows, wells are drying up and the Bay is getting saltier. Farmers are figuring loss. Bay scientists are fretful, fearing oxygen-eating algae and disease-ravaged oysters.

But for most of us, faithful pipes keep the water flowing to our faucets, shower heads, garden hoses. Without turning on the television or picking up the paper, many people wouldn’t know how bad the drought is — or what they can do about it.

“We haven’t even gotten enough rain to settle the dust,” said bedding-plant grower Betty Knapp of Loch Less Farm in Owings. “If the drought continues, you’re going to see an economic impact on everybody who farms. You’re going to see an impact on every homeowner.”

This year’s drought is leaving past ones in the dust. During the last drought in 1999, Gov. Parris Glendening declared a statewide drought emergency, imposed water restrictions and established a Water Conservation Advisory Committee. This week, he predicted issuing a drought emergency for Central Maryland within seven days. The rest of the state, under a drought watch, could follow.

Monthly water levels in parts of the state are lower than they were during a record-setting 1960s’ drought. Others fall below records from the 1930s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

How will the record lows affect the Bay’s intricate ecosystems and all who depend on them? The answer is as cloudy as the water will be after the first good rain.

“It’s like looking into a crystal ball to figure out exactly how drought is going to impact the Bay,” said Carin Bisland of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which is based in Annapolis. “The good news is that while the drought is happening, you have less nutrients and sediment getting into the Bay. But when it does rain it will get whooshed into the Bay all at once,” she said.

The drought also causes saltier water, which has its plusses and minuses. Jellyfish love saltwater and will travel farther up the Bay as the salinity increases. But the drought is both good and bad news for oysters.

“Oysters tend to reproduce better in higher salinity,” said Stew Harris, Maryland fishery scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But if the salinity stays high enough for long enough, we could potentially see increased disease in oysters, and we could potentially see fish kills.”

As salt water moves farther up the Bay, the freshwater fish are confined to smaller areas, and there is a chance that they could use up the oxygen in the water and die, he said.

“People who use the Bay as a livelihood potentially can be affected by reduced harvests of fish,” Harris said.

With the planting season quickly approaching, farmers, too, are becoming more and more uneasy about the persistent drought.

“An early spring drought is really scary. Farmers are very concerned because we’re coming into the planting season and there’s very little water in that ground,” said Tony Evans, emergency services officer for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

How do we know exactly what the effects of the drought will be? It all depends on when we get rain, how much we get and what the temperature is like when it falls. If the rain all comes at once, much of the water could run off the land, lending little help to farmers. Nutrients could then overwhelm the Bay, causing potentially harmful algal blooms.

The forecast might not be so bleak. “If we continue to be in a drought, maybe we’ll just slowly come out of the drought and the Bay is able to moderate and deal with that,” Harris said. “It’s difficult to predict. It’s a very dynamic system.”

No matter how bad the drought becomes, a seemingly endless supply of water will very likely still gush out our faucets. But water is not unlimited, and the severity of the drought may make water usage a more deliberate decision.

The governor this week called on “all Marylanders, businesses and private citizens to begin voluntary water conservation across the state.”

Conservation can make a difference, the Bay Foundation’s Harris said. “If we conserve more water and if we’re very, very careful about how we use water, we can actually help to moderate the effects of the drought.”

People who know the land and weather still hold out hope. “It all depends on what the spring and the early summer bring,” Knapp said. “We’re dry, but we’re not dead.”

— Davene Grosfeld

Tartuffe actors Jennie Ramey, as Elmire, and Jeff Vargo, as Elmire’s brother Cleante.
photo by Gary Pendleton
Frenchifying a Little Theater

After serving my time as both producer and as a cast member in the Twin Beach Players’ production of Little Women last December, I was ready for a break. But I heard so many interesting things about the current production, Tartuffe, that I decided to drop in on a rehearsal session and see for myself.

“This is a French restoration comedy of manners,” said director Jeff Larsen to Chuck Eaton in particular and everyone else upstairs at Vic’s Italia by the Bay restaurant. It was the first rehearsal for Eaton, the last member cast for Tartuffe. The author, Moliere, Larsen continued, “came out of the comedia del arte tradition” of physical humor and stock characters. Moliere included many familiar stock characters in this play: a hot-headed young man (that would be Eaton), a smart-aleck maid and a middle-aged cuckold.

“This is not exactly psychological realism,” Larsen said with a touch of sarcasm. “It’s very broad.” Larsen repeated himself for emphasis, but for the Twin Beach Players Tartuffe is no joke.

Larsen expects a lot from the seasoned cast: “A dance-like discipline. Every gesture should convey meaning,” he instructed.

The Players’ spring 2002 production will be the group’s first attempt at classic theater. “This may be a bit of a stretch for this group — and the audience, too,” Larsen told me. He might have added that the talented and experienced cast is up to the task.

A few minutes earlier I had been sitting with Luke Woods downstairs at the bar where Luke, who plays Tartuffe, was having a pre-rehearsal drink. I asked if the character reminds him of anyone. Not knowing the play, I wanted to get some understanding of the character from the actor’s perspective. Luke was ready with an answer. He finds a similarity between Tartuffe and Groucho Marx. Both are wickedly funny, and they share an affinity for taking great pleasure lampooning the pretensions of the privileged class.

Later, I asked the director what he thought about a 17th century Groucho. Larsen is an open-minded guy, but he wasn’t buying the idea. He did allow that if it works for the actor, that’s fine.

“Let’s just say it is not completely ridiculous,” he said.

Productions of Tartuffe are often set throughout time, with a recent off-Broadway production set in the 1930s. Larsen is keeping the original time period, around 1660, for the Players’ production.

Costumes could have complicated that decision, but the Annapolis Opera saved the day, providing high quality costumes only about 50 years off.

The right costumes matter, says director Larsen, who taught theater arts at Culpepper High School in Virginia. He and other board members want to offer an educational, entertaining show with lessons in theater history as well as a glimpse into a particular period.

Funding for Tartuffe is being provided in part by Calvert County Arts Council, The Chaney Foundation and the Maryland State Arts Council. The grant makers “seemed to like the educational idea,” too, Larsen said.

Find out for yourself April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14, when Twin Beaches Players bring Tartuffe to the Reid Building on Mt. Harmony Rd. in Huntingtown: 301/855-0009 •

— Gary Pendleton

Meeting weekly in Annapolis, Anne Arundel Green Party members discuss platform issues and campaign strategies, including that of David Gross, bearded and second from left, who plans to run for delegate of Maryland’s District 30 — provided he can gather enough signatures in a petition drive to be placed on the ballot this November.
photo by Cristi Pasquella
The Greening of Anne Arundel County

Apparently Kermit was right. It’s not easy being Green.

The Anne Arundel County Greens, a local chapter of the Maryland Green Party, have been finding that out since they were officially recognized as a political party in 2000.

In the November election for Maryland General Assembly, Green Party candidate David Gross will try and overcome the burdens and barriers of being Green to earn a seat in the House of Delegates.

The biggest of these is the petition requirement that state law imposes on all Green candidates. They are a recognized party, and people can register Green, but a major petition drive must be completed before the party can place a nominee’s name on the ballot.

“It’s a burdensome requirement created by Democrats and Republicans to prevent other parties from running candidates,” Gross says.

He should know. Gross — who lives in downtown Annapolis and is running in District 30 — is gathering his signatures right now. Under Maryland law, he must collect the signatures of one percent of the eligible voters in his district just to get on the ballot.

In the case of a statewide office, such as governor, the barrier would rise some 27,000 signatures high.

The Anne Arundel Greens, who meet every Tuesday night in Annapolis, are helping him with this task.

At their 7pm meetings in the back room of 49 West coffeehouse, they discuss methods for gathering signatures, but they also talk about upcoming speakers in the area, workshops, film festivals, fundraisers and their stances on issues. It is not uncommon for a spirited debate to arise; in this group, debate is encouraged.

The Greens operate on 10 key principles: ecological wisdom; social justice; grassroots democracy; nonviolence; decentralization; community-based economics; feminism; respect for diversity; personal and global responsibility; future focus.

These are basic tenets, but according to Anne Arundel Green co-chair Erik Michelson, the party does not impose them.

“There can be disagreements among reasonable people. As candidates, they can speak on their own behalf,” he says.

Gross is no stranger to the Green process; he ran in 2000 for a seat in the U.S. Congress, as the first candidate in Maryland’s Green Party.

As well as gathering petitions, Gross is raising money for his campaign. This is another aspect of being Green that is not easy.

Unlike Democrats and Republicans, they do not accept contributions from Political Action Committees or corporations. Instead they depend on small donations of money and big contributions of time and effort. The party accepts contributions only from individuals and only in amounts not to exceed $100.

Petition-gathering is a big part of the time and effort because, according to Gross, the average hour of going out and trying to get petitions signed results in 10 signatures. He also uses the time for passing out literature and organizing his campaign.

Four pressing issues motivate him, he says, in running for the Maryland House of Delegates: health care, transportation, the budget deficit and education. Health care, he believes, is everyone’s right. Coverage should not depend on a person’s employment.

Transportation is another plank in Gross’ platform. “The idea of endlessly building new roads will never solve our transportation problem,” he says. “We need quality transportation, specifically trains.”

Gross calls himself a citizen-candidate, because he also works full-time as a service coordinator for people with developmental disabilities. “My biggest problem is my time,” he says.

Hard though his road is, Gross sees a bright future — for himself and for his party. “I think Maryland voters are ready for something new,” he says of his chances to pull a Ralph Nader on one of the three liberal Democrats now working for District 30: Michael Busch, Virginia Clagett and Dick D’Amato.

In the 2000 presidential election, Green Party candidate Nader helped George W. Bush to victory by claiming votes that in a two-candidate election would have more likely been cast for Al Gore.

As for the Greens, “we’re young,” he says. “We’re still growing. We don’t have things established as well as Republicans and Democrats, but we’re gaining ground.”

Kermit would be proud.

— Amy Mulligan

Update: A New Oyster for Our Old Bay

There’ll be no new oyster in the beds of Chesapeake Bay this year. But legislatures in both Maryland and Virginia had the Asian wonder oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis [Vol. X, No. 3, Jan. 17-23], on their legislative plates this session.

In Virginia, where disease has devastated the traditional industry, what the lawmakers saw looked so good that they gave scientists three years to find fault with the fast-growing, disease-resistant Asian cousin to our native oyster, Crassostrea virginica.

“If such research fails to prove, within three years, that the Crassostrea ariakensis will be harmful,” Virginia’s House Joint Resolution 164 concluded, “the General Assembly suggest the introduction of the reproductive disease-resistant Crassostrea ariakensis into the public waters of the Commonwealth.”

In Maryland, where oysters and oystering survives, though enfeebled, temptation has not pushed the General Assembly so far. The big step here is to extend research beyond the sterile Asian oysters to include the benefits and risks of reproducing oysters.

“It’s an attempt to ensure research in a timely manner so when we do make a decision, we have more information,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Stew Harris of Maryland’s decision.

So far research has been limited to sterile Asian oysters for fear that reproducing aliens would bring unforeseen plagues of their own on the troubled Bay. But many Virginia scientists and watermen agree with their legislators that only reproducing oysters will revive the Bay’s oyster economy and ecology. And for that, right now, they say ariakensis is our best hope.


Way Downstream …

In New Jersey and Delaware, officials declared drought emergencies like Marylanders will be facing. New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey said water restrictions may follow, and he urged people to take shorter showers and to wash the cars with a bucket and sponge rather than the hose. In Delaware, which called for voluntary cuts, fisheries expert Roy Miller said his state was close to its worst drought in history …

In New York, the only photographer granted free rein at the World Trade Center devastation has an idea for a “living memorial” for the people who lost their lives in the September 11 attack. “I would like to see a forest of 3,000 trees, meandering like a brook. Each tree would have a name on it, so any person who lost someone could go and see their name,” said Joel Meyerowitz, the “official” Ground Zero photographer …

In Israel, vets are prescribing valium for dogs suffering panic attacks amid the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence. Reuters reported that dogs are howling, becoming aggressive and refusing to eat amid the popping of gunfire …

Our Creature Feature comes from Puerto Rico where a polar bear was seized by U.S. wildlife officers last week and spirited away in a refrigerated truck before being sent to the Baltimore Zoo. Alaska, an 800-pound female, was one of seven polar bears performing acts for a Mexican-based circus operating in tropical heat that reached triple digits.

Television actress Pamela Anderson is one of the celebrities campaigning to free the bears. Wildlife officials said they hoped Alaska's seizure would bring about the release of the rest of the bears from life on the road. This week, a bill was introduced in Congress that would ban the use of polar bears in circuses and traveling shows.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly