EASTON -- Initial reports about the effects on the Chesapeake Bay after Hurricane Sandy might not be as bad as some feared, according to a statement released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Dr. Beth McGee, a scientist for the foundation, said the major effects of the storm are on local streams that are flooding, as opposed to a systemic effect on the Bay.
Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Environment, said though there was devastating damage in areas of New Jersey and New York, the Eastern Shore didn't have anything near the damage it got last year after Tropical Storm Lee.
Apperson said aside from power outage issues resulting from a storm the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy, sewage overflow also can be a problem. When there's a lot of rainfall over a short period of time, Apperson said the water can infiltrate the sewage pipes, which can overwhelm the capacity of those pipes, causing overflow.
The department got 49 reports of problems associated with the storm, including sewage treatment plants, pumping stations and even manhole covers that overflowed.
“When you have a heavy rain and you have additional runoff, that can carry contaminants into the waterways, among them bacteria,” Apperson said.
Since the storm's passing, some areas of the Bay were closed off to harvesting oysters for a few days, including the Little Choptank River, Tred Avon River and Hudson Creek, among others. Watermen were able to start harvesting out of those areas on Saturday.
Apperson said it's standard protocol to prohibit harvesting when an inch or more rain falls in a 24-hour period.
McGee said harvesting is prohibited for a short time because of the fear of human health impact. She said the bacteria that flows into the Bay from runoff could be taken up by the oysters and then harm the people who eat the oysters. So harvesting is closed for a few days to allow the oysters to recover.
McGee said timing of the storm also plays a role into how little damage was done to the Bay.
Sediment, one of the major pollutants of the Bay along with nitrogen and phosphorus, was feared to cover the underwater grasses after the storm, but since most of the underwater grass has died off already, the concern is gone.
Still, both McGee and Apperson said there's a need to reduce pollution in the Bay.
“When you have something like this, the good thing is that storms this big are rare, but it really underscores the need to address the pollution sources on a day-by-day basis,” said Apperson. He added that if people focus on resolving issues like storm water runoff and other sources of pollution it can “allow us to reduce our pollution to create a more resilient Bay and waterways so storm events like this are less damaging.”