Photo of the Week: Fading Late Summer Sunset

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I took this picture on Tuesday evening, September 20, on Spa Creek in Eastport/Annapolis. The Chesapeake creates lasting memories, and for these folks—the memory of a fading late summer sunset will no doubt carry them through the winter.

—Ted Morgan

Ensure that Ted and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


This Week in the Watershed

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The Bay is rebounding from a reduction in pollution. But more work remains. Photo by Steve Aprile.

It's no secret that the condition of the Chesapeake Bay is a far cry from when Captain John Smith first explored its fruitful waters in the 1600s. Over the centuries, a burgeoning population led to the over-harvesting of its bounty, habitat destruction, and an onslaught of pollution. But the Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it, are resilient.

This week we received good news, as newly released data reveals that pollution is down. With this drop in pollution, Bay grasses are booming, water clarity is improving, and critter populations are rebounding. It's a delightful reminder that as humans reduce pollution coming off the land, the Bay responds in an amazing way.

This progress is a testament to the hard work of the steps taken to reduce pollution by the states, farmers, local governments, and citizens in the watershed. But this is just the beginning. We cannot become complacent; conversely, we need to double down on our efforts. New challenges will inevitably surface, but this will present new opportunities to create jobs, improve local economies, and build bridges with a diverse group of stakeholders. With full implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, we will leave a legacy of clean water to future generations.

This Week in the Watershed: Good News, Sick Fish, and Keystone Funding

  • Two thumbs up to CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, which provides a platform for students to learn outdoors. (WMDT—VA)
  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway has fought for clean water in Pennsylvania for decades. His most recent fight is to declare the lower Susquehanna River impaired as a result of the failing condition of its once thriving smallmouth bass fishery. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • Data recently released found 2015 was the fourth-best year for overall Bay water quality since 1985. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • We couldn't agree more with the editorial arguing for the wise investment of cleaning up Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • A group of Pennsylvania state senators is working to provide extra funding for environmental conservation, recreation, and preservation projects around the Keystone State. (Chambersburg Public Opinion—PA)
  • While residents on Maryland's Kent Island are glad to see a public sewer system brought to their island, there are fears that it will spur expansive development. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Regulations on septic systems are being rolled back in Maryland, putting clean water at risk. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 24

  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

September 25

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join us for a fun-filled afternoon with friends, live music, craft-brewed beers, and mouth-watering food created by area chefs using local ingredients at CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay. A family friendly event, it features live bluegrass music, hay rides, fish printing, and educational stations. Buy your tickets now! (online registration closes at 3:00 p.m. Friday, 9/23—tickets can be purchased at door if still available).

October 1

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant shrubs and wetland grasses for a recently constructed wetland at Chestnut Creek Farm. Volunteers will learn from the farmer about Chestnut Creek’s sustainable grass-based farm where sheep, beef cattle, and heritage pigs rotationally graze on pastures. Click here to register!

October 5

  • Chestertown, MD: A workshop for local government managers and field operators will provide instruction in best management practice inspection, maintenance, and facility failure decision-making regarding management of stormwater systems. Facilitated by expert trainers with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, participants will increase their knowledge of effectively treating polluted runoff while complying with local, state, and federal stormwater management expectations. Click here to register!

October 7

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant 500 native trees and shrubs to restore 1,000 feet of streamside forest buffer. This new buffer will help filter and clean runoff from adjacent farm fields and reduce stream bank erosion into this first-order stream system in the Monocacy River watershed. The mix of native tree and shrub species like sycamores, maples, oaks, dogwoods, alders, and chokeberry are all great for wildlife habitat. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Targeted Funding to These Important Pennsylvania Counties Is Key to Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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Tim and Frances Sauder want to implement agricultural best management practices (BMPs) on their Lancaster County farm, but are in need of funding. The implementation of BMPs on farms throughout south-central Pennsylvania would make a major difference in cleaning the state's water. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Tim and Frances Sauder are doing their best to make ends meet while raising a young son and operating a small dairy farm in Lancaster County.

They tend to the 15 cows that provide the milk that becomes yogurt from Fiddle Creek Dairy, all the while paying close attention to the land and the water the flows through those hilly 55 acres.

"We made decisions on how we farm, in order to protect the watershed," Tim says. They have owned the farm for just four years.

"We want to farm in a way that's good for all layers of life, the water, the land, the plants, and the human community," Frances adds. "There's no easy answer and we're humbled by that."

The Sauders want to plant seven acres of trees as a 50-foot wide streamside buffer to protect the tributary to Big Beaver Creek that flows through the farm.

They also see the need to add manure storage and a composting facility, install more watering stations for the cows, and do something about the polluted runoff that floods across the road near their house after heavy rains.

Like many farmers in the Susquehanna River watershed, the Sauders understand that pollution flows downstream and want to do what is right to protect the water. But they cannot afford to pay for it all themselves.

Like other farmers too, the Sauders have applied for state and federal assistance. Sadly, there often isn't enough money to go around, so some projects never get onto the ground.

Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has identified the five counties that contribute the most pollution from agriculture and that would return the greatest reductions for new restoration dollars.

Lancaster is by far at the top of the list, followed by York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams.

The foundation is calling on federal partners, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to provide an initial, immediate commitment of $20 million in new restoration funds to those five counties.

This is money already in the USDA budget. In addition, our group is urging state and local governments to provide additional outreach, technical assistance, and funding.

Collectively, Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams counties contribute more than 30 million pounds of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay each year.

After analyzing federal data, the foundation determined that focusing additional investments in these counties could reduce nitrogen pollution by 14 million pounds.

That is more than half of the entire state's Clean Water Blueprint 2025 goal for reducing nitrogen pollution.

It's disappointing to hear the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wants to 'police' farmers

But to fully achieve the goal Pennsylvania has set, pollution reduction efforts must continue in all other counties of the Susquehanna watershed.

The Blueprint calls for 60 percent of pollution reduction efforts to be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025.

Additional funding for pollution reduction projects will also support and create jobs and improve local economies.

Suppliers that sell the trees for buffers and fencing materials benefit. Excavators and builders who improve drainage to reduce polluted runoff or install manure storage and barnyard improvements get work.

It is also a win for farmers. Funding to reduce polluted runoff leads to better soil health and greater farm productivity. Herd health is protected because livestock aren't standing in streams and drinking the water.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania have been damaged by pollution.

Such efforts as the planting of streamside buffers, that reduce nitrogen pollution, also reduce harmful phosphorus and sediment runoff.

The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, including the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, will meet on Oct. 4 to identify future restoration challenges. 

We expect the Council to take real action to reduce nitrogen pollution in Lancaster and other key Pennsylvania counties, and get the Commonwealth back on track toward its Blueprint commitments.

Investing in places, practices, and people like Tim and Frances Sauder and Fiddle Creek Dairy will give us the greatest pollution reductions and the clean water that Pennsylvanians deserve.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director


'Rain Tax' Helps Fight Polluted Run-Off in County Streams

The following first appeared in the Howard County Times.

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Young girls swimming at Cascade Falls this past June. Cascade Falls was one of several locations throughout the watershed where bacteria was found at unsafe levels. Photo by Maryann Webb/CBF Intern.

Excrement in Howard County streams and rivers isn't just a problem after a deluge like we had July 30. Water testing this summer by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found extremely unhealthy bacteria levels in several streams after typical summer thunderstorms. Some of those test sites were swimming holes.

The tests were commissioned by CBF, and conducted by Hood College in Frederick. The partnership tested Columbia lakes in the summer of 2015, finding modestly elevated bacteria levels. This summer, tests were focused on streams feeding the Patapsco River.

People may think waste in our water is only a problem occasionally when sewer lines break in heavy storms, such as the leak that occurred after the July 30 floods, or a problem isolated to big cities such as Baltimore. Not so. CBF tested six Howard streams and rivers after rain storms of as little as a half inch or rain. CBF also tested several times during dry conditions.

The results were troubling. Most sites had unsafe readings even during dry weather, but those readings spiked after ordinary summer storms. Readings at the Cascade Falls swimming hole in Patapsco Valley State Park were up to 300 times above safety limits after a one-inch storm on July 5.

Levels at another popular swimming area on the Patapsco River near Henryton were up to 450 times too high after a 1.5-inch rain a few days before the tragic July 30 storm.

Scientists say water with such high amounts of fecal matter poses health risks to swimmers and others, who can get stomach and intestinal illnesses.

And unfortunately, these high readings at swimming holes weren't atypical. We also found extremely elevated bacteria levels in a small stream running through a residential neighborhood in Elkridge, at the Sucker Branch running past prayer stations at Our Lady's Center in Ellicott City, and at the Plumtree Branch at Dunloggin Middle School, among other sites.

CBF also conducted tests in four other Maryland counties, and in Baltimore City. Additional sites also were tested in Virginia and Pennsylvania. A map of the Howard and other sites can be found at www.cbf.org.

What does all this mean? It means Howard County continues to have a problem with polluted runoff. That's the term we use for water that runs off the land during storms, and picks up all types of contaminants, including possible human and animal waste from leaking sewer or septic systems, pet or livestock waste, and other pollution.

Many of Howard County's local waters, including the Middle Patuxent River, the Upper Patuxent, the Little Patuxent and the Patapsco River Lower North Branch, are considered "impaired" by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Polluted runoff is a major culprit in this problem.

The good news is Howard County leaders stayed strong and retained the county's stormwater fee. Sometimes derided as the "rain tax," this funding source is used to upgrade the county's neglected stormwater system. That work is now underway.

The risks of flooding also will decrease around the county as this work is completed, a major benefit in addition to water quality improvements.

These sorts of upgrades to the county's drainage system take years to undertake, and residents should be patient. But the tests this summer underscore the urgent need for the work.

While we wait, families might heed the rule-of-thumb guidance of MDE: wait 48 hours after a significant rain storm to swim or recreate in any natural waters of Maryland. That unfortunate directive is necessary because polluted runoff remains a major problem for much of the state.

At least Howard County has dedicated significant funds to reduce that pollution.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director


Photo of the Week: Then It Was Gone

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Looking east out over the Chesapeake [Stingray Point to the left, Gwynn's Island to the right] with crisp fall light in abundance! Could not believe the light so late in the morning (around 10 a.m.). Looks like fall . . . then it was gone. 

—Dixie Hoggan

Ensure that Dixie and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


This Week in the Watershed

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Agricultural runoff from farms, such as seen here in York County, PA, is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. This week, CBF released a white paper on the top five Pennsylvania counties that should receive additional funding to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

As we discussed last week, one of the most cost-effective ways to rid our waters of pollution is to implement best management practices (BMPs) on farms throughout the watershed.

This week, we dove into where we need to focus these cost-effective efforts. Five Pennsylvania counties top the list of areas that need to reduce agricultural runoff, the largest source of pollution. But while implementing BMPs on farms is very cost-effective, it's still not free. Additional funding for these five south-central counties by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state and local governments would be a wise investment.

The pollution emanating from these counties and throughout the watershed pose serious consequences. Local rivers and streams are degraded. Aquatic life is harmed. And human health and drinking water are put at risk.

But with additional investments in priority areas and the larger implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, these consequences can be avoided. Learn more about what the data reveal as the most strategic, cost-effective opportunities for reducing pollution in Pennsylvania AND downstream.

This Week in the Watershed: Top Five, Cleaning Dirty Water, and SHARKS!

  • A Virginia teenager has earned her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, by working with CBF and other partners in launching an oyster shell recycling project. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • Pennsylvania students are getting an up-close look at the Susquehanna River through CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • The Hampton Roads Sanitation District is fighting both climate change and dirty water by making their wastewater clean enough to drink. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • A shark sighting, which was highlighted on CBF's Facebook page, has caused quite a stir. (WMDT—VA)
  • CBF's Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost writes on the need to dedicate funds to reduce stormwater runoff. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • A Pennsylvania state representative is pushing for a bill that would make it unlawful for farmers to allow their cows access to streams. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal—PA)
  • CBF released a white paper on the top five Pennsylvania counties that need to reduce pollution. Critical to their success is improved federal funding to implement best management practices on farms. (Keystone News Service—PA) Bonus: CBF Press Release
  • A new project in Maryland's Somerset County is working to convert excess chicken manure into energy. (Daily Times—MD)
  • A Baltimore area power plant is releasing chemical discharges and stormwater into a Chesapeake Bay tributary, to the chagrin of environmental activists and public health advocates. (Bay Journal)
  • A chicken farmer on Maryland's Eastern Shore has gone organic. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 16-18

  • Oxon Hill, MD: During this three-day event (September 16-18), we will build concrete reef balls designed to help restore fish habitat in Smoots Bay on the Potomac River. The final destination for the reef balls is the bottom of Smoots Bay, where they will be intermixed with various woody structures to provide an ideal habitat for various fish species, such as our native largemouth bass. Come for one day or all three! Building reef balls is a fun and exciting way to help restore our Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

September 17

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us at Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park to help make the Choptank River cleaner and safer. This is a family friendly event, but all children must be accompanied by an adult. Groups are welcome! Please wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and bring sunscreen and water. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!

September 24

  • Annapolis, MD: Head out on the water for a morning of fishing, learning, and fun! Spend the morning aboard the Marguerite in search of whatever is biting! Our experienced crew will provide all the knowledge and equipment necessary—just bring your enthusiasm! Gear and licenses are provided. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!
  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

September 25

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join us for a fun-filled afternoon with friends, live music, craft-brewed beers, and mouth-watering food created by area chefs using local ingredients at CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay. A family friendly event, it features live bluegrass music, hay rides, fish printing, and educational stations. Buy your tickets now!

October 1

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant shrubs and wetland grasses for a recently constructed wetland at Chestnut Creek Farm. Volunteers will learn from the farmer about Chestnut Creek’s sustainable grass-based farm where sheep, beef cattle, and heritage pigs rotationally graze on pastures. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Our Vision for the Next 50 Years

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Photo by Bob Miller.

As CBF approaches our 50th year (2017), we are simultaneously encouraged, worried, and determined. Encouraged, because Bay water quality and species abundance are improving. Many scientists believe the Bay has turned a corner and is on the road to systemic recovery.

We worry, however, about complacency and low expectations. The Bay and its rivers could easily slip backwards. We are determined to push even harder — to accelerate our education, advocacy, restoration, and litigation work. We must avoid what happened to Lake Erie, once declared saved and now worse than ever.

When CBF began, Bay fin and shellfish were abundant and diverse. But water quality was already declining. Sewage treatment was in its infancy and industrial discharges were rampant. Agriculture was less intense and therefore less polluting than today, but the movement to more concentrated animal operations was just beginning to generate more pollution. And farming practices which required ever more chemical fertilizers and pesticides were advancing. There was less development, meaning fewer hardened acres and less polluted runoff, but residential and commercial sprawl was starting to take off, beginning the destruction of natural filters, such as wetlands and forests.

Such was the backdrop for CBF’s birth and our Save the Bay slogan. CBF founders were ahead of their time as there was little public, much less political, support for across-the-board pollution reduction. Few people foresaw the system collapse that was on the horizon.

Fast forward to today. Science has given us a thorough understanding of Bay processes, the six watershed states and the District of Columbia are working together, and a Presidential Executive Order has established mandatorypollution-reduction requirements.

Improvement? Absolutely.

Done? Hardly.

 

The key to real success lies in focusing on water quality in Pennsylvania. Currently, about one-quarter of its rivers and streams (19,000 miles) are designated by the state as impaired. CBF has 20 full-time staff in Pennsylvania. We are clean water advocates in the General Assembly, and promoters of state-of-the-art sewage treatment. On the farm, we not only help landowners establish proven, cost-effective practices that reduce thousands of pounds of pollutants annually, but we also advance policies to take those practices to scale.

We believe in working smarter: spending available money more effectively by targeting agricultural cost-share dollars to the areas of greatest need. While this simple innovation seems obvious, it will require government to interrupt the status quo. If done well, tax payers will save millions, and water will again flow cleanly in Pennsylvania and downstream to the Bay.

Our vision for the next 50 years is a Chesapeake Bay that serves as a model for the entire world.

We can be a regional, non-partisan success story. The Chesapeake Bay can once again be the most productive estuary in the world, teeming with abundant and diverse fisheries while stimulating the economy and serving as a source of great pride to all Americans. It is within our reach, and we plan to be here to see it!

—Will Baker, CBF President

This story was originally published in the the fall 2016 issue of Save the Bay Magazine.

 


Photo of the Week: Wye River Morning

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Early September on the Wye River. 

Every sunrise brings a new, beautiful morning on the Chespeake Bay. Many memories [are captured] around the Bay, from land to sea. We need to preserve the Chesapeake Bay that was gifted to us.

—JoyAnn Line

Ensure that JoyAnn and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

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Atlantic Sturgeon: A Perfect Poster Fish for the Blueprint

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Photo by Jay Fleming.

The following first appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Save the Bay magazine.

"They need our help," explains Doug Myers, CBF Senior Scientist and in-house sturgeon expert. "Sturgeon have had a lot happen to their habitat over the years. Today, the Chesapeake's only confirmed breeding population is in Virginia's James River. We need to expand their reach so if something disastrous were to happen on the James, the fish wouldn't be wiped out."

A lot has happened, too, since we featured sturgeon in the Summer 2011 issue of Save the Bay magazine. The year after our article ran, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries listed Atlantic sturgeon as endangered.

In our story, "Last Refuge of the Dinosaur Fish," Matt Balazik—at the time a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate student and sturgeon census taker—was pictured tossing a 70-pound sturgeon back into the James River. Today Matt, now Dr. Balazik, an integrative life sciences Ph.D., is a faculty researcher at VCU's Rice Rivers Center. The next step for the fish, he says, is habitat designation. "We've learned a lot in the James. As of a couple months ago," Balazik says, "we've identified two spawning groups in the James." According to Dr. Balazik, each group has different staging and spawning grounds. One group spawns in the spring, the other in fall. "I think it's massive to protect the spawning grounds that we are zeroing in on using telemetry data." Although protecting the area "where the magic happens," is important, he says, "the whole river plays an important role in the health of the fish, from the headwaters to the mouth of the Bay where they spend their first years of life."

On the case at CBF is Doug Myers. While the endangered species listing goes a long way toward protecting the fish, Myers says NOAA also needs to designate critical habitat for sturgeon. Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is defined as "the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed on which are found . . . features essential to the conservation of the species." It can also include areas not currently occupied by the species but that are imperative to its restoration. In the Chesapeake Bay, 453 miles of river are proposed for critical habitat and include feeding and spawning grounds.

Rivers with areas under consideration for critical habitat include the Susquehanna, the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York, and the James. But the question arises: How are sturgeon to get to these rivers, especially the Potomac and Susquehanna, for the fall spawning season when the main body of the Chesapeake Bay suffers from annual low-oxygen dead zones in the summer?

Myers argues there is a direct link between the fish and the goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint"Once the critical habitat is designated, we'll have the Endangered Species Act . . . adding emphasis to the Blueprint."

"Because of their oxygen requirements, Atlantic sturgeon are the perfect poster fish for the Blueprint," says Myers. The Blueprint is a federal-state plan designed to improve water quality across the watershed by reducing pollution from agriculture, runoff, air, and wastewater. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the American Farm Bureau Federation's appeal attempting to throw out the Blueprint. The court's decision let stand two lower courts' rulings that the Blueprint stands on firm legal ground. Moreover, as a federal and state program, the Blueprint and its regulatory and funding provisions have a "federal nexus" to the sturgeon listing. So we expect that the critical habitat designation will force a more intimate coordination between federal agencies. 

Atlantic sturgeon require rough, gravely bottoms for spawning and clean, oxygenated waters. Polluted runoff, which carries toxins, bacteria, garbage, and sediment, flushes into our waterways after a rainstorm. This debris and sediment make its way to river bottom and threaten spawning grounds. By reducing the amount of pollution-laden sediment reaching these rivers, water quality improves for all species that reside and come to spawn. 

As bottom feeders, Atlantic sturgeon are dependent on benthic organisms like mussels, worms, and small crustaceans. And sturgeon depend on a minimum of 6 mg/L of oxygen in the water to survive. A NOAA Fisheries' critical habitat designation, however extensive and inclusive it ends up, is vital to sturgeon survival and will be another tool to combat the ills the Chesapeake Bay faces. 

Atlantic sturgeon doesn't reach maturity until age 10 to 15 and only spawns every two to three years, making recovery slow. Sturgeon are anadromous fish that enter the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and fall to spawn in the upper reaches of its rivers. At least that's what they use to do. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, driven by a demand for their eggs, otherwise known as caviar, Atlantic sturgeon were nearly depleted. The fish faced additional obstacles like dams blocking their way up river and reduced spawning grounds. Boat and ship strikes also threatened the large fish. The issues sturgeon have faced have brought the species near extinction.

Readers who want to witness a sturgeon, can contact Captain Mike Ostrander (mike[at sign]discoverthejames.com) and sign up for one of his sturgeon tours. The two-and-a-half hour, Thursday-night excursions are scheduled to leave Hopewell, Virginia, at 5 p.m. on September 1, 8, 15, and 22. Captain Mike has been a river guide on the James for 16 years. He "found it natural to want to share the opportunity to see a breaching sturgeon. When you see one," he says "it's like the end of a fireworks show."

This dinosaur-era fish has endured millennia. In spite of overharvesting and habitat destruction, we may be witnessing a comeback, but we need to protect and restore the historic spawning and feeding grounds and the sturgeon's pathways to and from those grounds so this species has a fighting chance.

—Jen Wallace, CBF's Managing Editor

UPDATE: On August 31, CBF submitted its official comments to the NOAA Fisheries office, urging them to make water quality a top priority as they designate critical habitat for the Atlantic sturgeon and manage it into the future. More than 8,000 advocates joined with us in standing up for this ancient and important fish—the Chesapeake's largest and oldest. Click here to see our letter and the signatures of those supporters. We expect to hear a final decision on the Atlantic sturgeon habitat designation by June 3, 2017. Stay tuned for updates!

 


Innovative Independent School Environmental Leadership Conference

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Top administrators from independent schools across the Chesapeake watershed gathered together this summer at our Port Isobel Island Environmental Education Center near Tangier Island, Virginia, to collaborate, learn, and be inspired. They discussed the all-important question: How can independent school leaders most effectively support the integration of high-impact environmental education within their schools?

JPF_4755Forged by a partnership between CBF and The Gunston School, this cutting-edge conference provided a diverse group of independent school leaders the opportunity to strategize, investigate, and reflect on how to start their 2016-2017 school years putting their best "green" foot forward! 

The central themes of this conference included: ecological consciousness, hands-on field experience, environmental education theory and pedagogy, integration of sustainability into school missions and philosophies, visioning, leadership, change management, and action planning through the identification of key goals.  The importance of facilitating outdoor, inquiry-based field investigations for students became abundantly clear as the group discussed current environmental issues that will require solution-based "systems thinking" learning. These school leaders sailed away understanding the value of environmental-based learning and its ability to build in students the skills needed to understand complex issues, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information, and ultimately, make responsible, informed decisions as 21st century citizens. 

JPF_6111The conference offered new ideas for effectively implementing environmental literacy objectives into curriculum, an expert network of support moving forward, and a wide array of tools to empower teachers to integrate environmental sustainability
learning into the classroom. This integration instills meaningful connections between students, their local communities, and the real world challenges facing society as a whole. 

"This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. I learned so much and came back professionally and personally reinvigorated about environmental sustainability," says Alice Drayton of the Naval Academy Primary School.  

Click here to learn more about the Independent School Environmental Leadership Conference.

 

—Text by John Lewis and Megan Fink; Photos by Jay Fleming

To learn more about the conference contact Tom Ackerman, CBF's Vice President for Education, at tackerman@cbf.org, John Lewis, The Gunston School's Headmaster, at jlewis@gunston.org, or Emily Beck, The Gunston School's Sustainability Coordinator, at ebeck@gunston.org.