They say all politics is local, and so is Chesapeake Bay restoration. If we’re going to clean up the Bay, we’re going to have to “go local” and clean up the smaller local creeks, streams, and rivers that feed into the Bay.
That’s not exactly rocket-science thinking, and it’s been understood for a long time. Still, much of the focus and publicity surrounding Bay restoration has centered upon federal, regional, and state efforts. Getting local governments and local residents across the six-state Chesapeake Bay watershed truly engaged in cleaning up backyard streams and rivers has been slower to happen. Until now.
In Virginia, those local plans were due to state officials Feb. 1. The state is compiling and assessing those plans and should use them to revise Virginia’s initial Bay cleanup plan (called a Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP) and to create a more detailed, comprehensive statewide plan (called WIP II) that, in theory, will be Virginia’s road map for achieving its Bay cleanup goals.
From the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) perspective, some of the local stream cleanup plans are better than others, although it’s difficult to judge because a) some localities combined their information into broad regional plans that make it difficult to tease out what specific cities, towns, and counties are (or are not) planning to do; b) some localities have yet to make their pollution cleanup plans public; and c) state officials have to date declined to share the local plans with the public.
This makes it hard for local taxpayers and voters to know what their locality is up to when it comes to cleaning up the streams and rivers so vital to local quality of life and economies and, ultimately, to the health of the Bay. (Note to citizens: if you don’t know what your city or county is up to, contact your local officials and ask to see their cleanup plan – make that your cleanup plan. After all, these are public documents prepared by public servants for the public welfare.)
To blow away a bit of this local fog, CBF hosted or participated in several public forums in Virginia this week for local citizens to talk about local water quality issues. One of the forums, an early Friday morning breakfast at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton, drew approximately 30 citizens for presentations about local pollution problems, the Bay restoration effort, and the importance of citizen involvement in local pollution-reduction efforts.
The forum also drew two staffers from the City of Hampton, who couldn’t have been more accommodating and informative about what their city is doing as part of the Bay cleanup effort.
Weston Young (below left), senior civil engineer for Hampton, outlined the city’s efforts to work with state and EPA officials to provide accurate local data to better inform regional cleanup progress. He spoke of the city’s plan to review and improve its runoff pollution policies, including eliminating unnecessary parking areas and installing pervious (water-absorbing) pavers; of efforts to identify priority needs, projects, and funding, and to brief the city’s elected officials so they can budget for them; to retrofit or design new projects; to plant more trees and rain gardens and to protect and expand runoff-trapping wetlands, natural shorelines, ponds, and ditches; to partner with Hampton University on research and monitoring; and to educate homeowners and businesses on how they can help reduce runoff pollution by installing rain barrels and rain gardens.
“The city is looking for any opportunity to reduce stormwater (runoff),” he emphasized.
Young also told the audience that Hampton’s local Bay cleanup plan submitted to the state earlier this month is posted on the city’s website (and will soon be on CBF’s website as well), making the city’s clean water efforts available and transparent to anyone and everyone.
Cris Ausink, environmental educator with the Hampton Clean City Commission, let everyone know she provides lectures, workshops, demonstrations, and outreach to any community group interested in rain barrels, rain gardens, and other runoff-reduction projects. She also coordinates local stream and litter cleanups and encouraged audience members to contact her for more information and assistance.
As for the citizens at the forum, they asked lots of questions, chatted with presenters for more than 45 minutes after the forum concluded, and filled out more than a few postcards indicating their interest in getting engaged in local clean water efforts.
That’s just the kind of local citizen interest and involvement that is beginning to happen -- and must happen -- across Virginia and the Bay watershed for local streams, rivers, and the Bay to be saved.
Want clean water? Get involved in your locality’s plans today.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation