Bay 'smart' buoys scuttled by Obama

The Chesapeake Bay'slong-suffering "smart" buoys, which have come back after being shot up and hit by boats and ships, now face perhaps their most serious threat yet - the budget knife.

President Obama's spending plan for fiscal 2013 proposes cutting the $300,000 to keep the fleet of 10 buoys afloat in the bay, where they monitor water quality, weather conditions and serve as guides for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.


The elimination of funding for the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System is just the most visible of the deep cuts planned in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay efforts.

Overall, the Annapolis NOAA office is proposed to receive $3.4 million in the coming year, down from this year's funding allocation of $5.1 million and less than half the $7.1 million the office received the year before.


Funds for oyster restoration work, fisheries research and to support environmental education also are targeted for reductions or elimination in the NOAA budget.

The proposed bay-related cuts in NOAA's budget stand in contrast to increases proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency's bay program and in other federal agencies - though environmentalists point out cuts are also proposed in water and sewer funding and in agricultural conservation programs that could affect the bay cleanup effort.

Peyton Robertson, director of the NOAA bay office, said the buoys will have to be decommissioned unless other agencies or organizations step up to pay for maintaining them.

Since first installed five years ago, the buoys have provided real-time measurements of water quality, winds and waves.

They're "really kind of the sentinel for what's happening in the mainstem of the bay," Robertson said.  In addition to helping scientists monitoring the bay's health, they assist the National Weather Service with its marine forecasts, and deliver pre-recorded messages about the bay's history for John Smith trail users.  The buoy in the James River in Virginia also has been rigged to detect tagged migratory fish, notably the endangered Atlantic sturgeon that still appear to be spawning there.

The buoys have had to endure past insults.  The one at the mouth of the Patapsco River near Baltimore had to be replaced after it got shot up, and it and at least one other have been struck by boats or larger vessels.

Besides the buoys, the president's budget proposes trimming NOAA funds to support fisheries research from $2.5 million $1.5 million to $420,000.  In the past year, NOAA has underwritten research on the status of the bay's native oyster population and on the impact to other fish of the introduction of blue catfish in the bay.  Robertson said he hoped to be able to continue funding the oyster assessment, as the bivalves are considered by many a keystone bay species. (Corrected)

The NOAA office, however, is slated to lose funding to support oyster restoration projects.  The federal agency provided $1.2 million to the state Department of Natural Resources last year, Robertson said, and in years past has funneled as much as $4 million into creation and enhancement of oyster sanctuaries in Maryland waters.

Finally, the budget proposes cutting funds for NOAA's environmental education grants, which could spell the end to bay-related work with schools in Annapolis and Virginia Beach.