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Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Four

The following is the fourth and final part in a series of blogs about how a third-generation family nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first, second, and third parts of the series.

Warm Season Grasses & Hedgerow
Saunders Brothers' warm season grasses and hedgerow, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

The Saunders family certainly cares about the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries, but the family members especially love the mountains, the valleys, and the streams of their home county (just take a look at their blog). These are outdoor people, and it’s important to them to take care of the wildlife and aquatic habitats around them. They are keen hunters and anglers who also take great delight in the richness of non-game birds, mammals, and fish around them. One look at the kayaks hung under the front deck of the hilltop home that Tom shares with his wife, Lyn, confirms the degree to which Tye River water runs through his veins.

It’s no surprise, then, that over the years, Tom Saunders has developed some firm opinions about care of land, both agricultural and residential: “All farmers should have regular soil testing done on their properties. Applying nutrients without a soil test is like asking a doctor to prescribe a medication without seeing the patient. There are just too many people in agriculture who think annual application of the same amount of 10-10-10 and lime are the necessary tools for growing a crop of hay. Educating agriculturists to the soil’s satisfaction of building-block nutrients like P [phosphorus] and K [potassium] is essential."

More words of wisdom from Tom Saunders:

  • In urban and suburban America, homeowners should test their soils every three to five years. (What if soil testing results were required by retailers before lawn fertilizers were sold?)
  • Homeowners must understand that application of nitrogen on lawns in the spring is not a good idea.
  • Applications of nitrogen on turf are best in the fall.
  • Also applications of fertilizers prior to heavy rains do not do any good.
  • Weed-and-feed products may have to be altered to not carry fertilizer components during the March-August timeline. (This prescription is especially true when growing fescue and bluegrass sod.)
  • Companies who produce lawn-care products must direct their advertising to discourage fertilizer applications during the spring-summer months. They also must encourage soil testing. Soil testing for all is the key before nutrient application.

Tom also walks his talk on the land around his home, paying special attention to wildlife habitat improvement: “On a personal level, I have seen a remarkable jump in the numbers of quail and rabbits on my own property since I started killing stands of fescue [field grass] on field edges and planting native warm season grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass. I started this practice in 2008, working with Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage of Easton, Maryland. The habitat change has been remarkable. This year, I intend on killing more fescue and adding more warm season grasses.”

By hard work and deep commitment to good stewardship, Saunders Brothers, Inc. brings long-term value to its customers and to the lands and waters of the James River system, even as it helps to bring jobs and tax revenue to Nelson County. This company and the family behind it richly deserve our thanks for their stewardship of their lands and the waters to which they drain.   

John Page Williams

Nursery Road
The nursery road of the Saunders Brothers operation. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.



 


Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Three

The following is the third in a series of blogs about how a third-generation family nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first and second parts of the series.

Boxwoods in Greenhouse
Saunders Brothers' boxwoods in one of the many greenhouses. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

What about nitrogen, phosphorus, and the other nutrients that growing plants need? First and foremost, Saunders Brothers, Inc. bases all nutrient applications on soil tests from an independent laboratory. Meticulously analyzing the results of those tests, they import many grades of bark soils and potting mixes with ranges of pH and particle size that fit the needs of the huge range of plants that they grow. A majority of the nutrients for field application come from Shenandoah Valley poultry manure. The cost has been considerably less than that for commercial grade fertilizers. Once composted, the product has worked extremely well.  

Keeping track of what’s going on in the greenhouses during the growing season is a critically important element in the business. One highly-trained (and fleet afoot) worker serves as the scout, inspecting the plants in the 375 greenhouses once a week (he does them all in three days!) and plotting the results on a custom spreadsheet. Yes, record-keeping and computer databases are very much a part of the Saunders Brothers, Inc. operation.

The scouting reports are especially important to determine when to apply pesticides in the greenhouses. This careful attention to plant condition results in selective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) spray pesticide applications and thus reduced environmental pollution. Once an insect infestation reaches an “economic threshold” of damage, based on the scouting reports, trained workers determine the linear extent of the affected plants and mix only the amount of pesticide necessary to match the spray distance. To accurately measure the spray, they use a water meter at the filling site. To improve the pesticide’s odds of working, they water the plants during the day before pesticide applications, with the next night’s irrigation cycle skipped for those plants. In addition, spray applications take place after hours to reduce the chance of contacting other employees. Most of the application takes place with an enclosed cab tractor using an airblast sprayer that is equipped with lights. 

For post emergent herbicide application, selective backpack spraying is the ticket. Targeting the weeds present in designated areas and preventing them from going to seed has been the “ounce of prevention” at the Saunders Brothers nursery. All application equipment is calibrated annually.  

Between the computer, the automated systems, and the skilled, hard-working personnel, it's easy to understand why Saunders Brothers customers see continuity in quality, even with a constantly evolving product mixture. Despite the current hard times for the landscaping industry, Tom says, “the phone keeps ringing if you sell quality.”

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.

Lots of Greenhouses
Rows and rows of greenhouses stretch across the Saunders Brothers' Farm. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

 


Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Two

The following is the second in a series of blogs about how a third-generation nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first part of the series here.

Pallets of New Pots
Pallets of new pots. Photo by John Page Williams.

The Saunders Brothers' macro-site-design was only the first step. Next, the brothers switched the 200-acre nursery’s growing surface from gravel to plastic. They found that the plants’ containers dried out slower, thus reducing the amount of irrigation water needed, as well as the need for herbicides. Once a plant canopies the pot, its need for herbicide is reduced significantly.

Two more techniques for improving watering efficiency are grouping plants by container size and water requirement and using drip irrigation whenever possible. The Saunders Brothers distribute the ponds’ water through a sophisticated, computerized irrigation system designed to show vertical inches of water applied over a particular area during a set time.  The computer program has helped them know the exact amount of water scheduled for irrigation. As often happens with such conservation practices, Saunders Brothers, Inc. has realized significant operational cost savings from these investments.        

Last year, the family took a step further in irrigation efficiency. Tom takes up the tale: “During the summer of 2011, we invited two research professors from the University of Florida to help establish ET (Evapotranspiration) levels for all plants we grow. The work was the first of its kind in the United States and helped us establish definitive amounts of water needed by specific plants during the hottest times of the year. We plan to continue the work for two more years. Already we are seeing where we can cut irrigation levels, and we have found out that lower fertilizer levels due to the lower water requirement will actually grow an equally good plant at a savings.”

Between growing plants in plastic pots under plastic greenhouse covers and using plastic sheeting as the growing surface, the brothers found themselves accumulating a lot of that material. They are, however, innovative thinkers, so it’s no surprise that Saunders Brothers, Inc was the first container nursery in the United States to send its greenhouse film to Tyco Plastics in Monroe, Louisiana.

“In the early years,” Tom says, “our purchase of their plastic was dependent on them accepting our used plastic, which they then turned into garbage bags. We started this practice in 2002. For years, we have palletized and shipped our plastic propagation trays to the Canadian Poly Recycling Association. We also recycle plastic containers that we are not planning on reusing. Finally, we recycle all cardboard that plants or other products arrive in.”

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.



Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part One

The following is the first in a series of blogs about how a third-generation nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.  

 

Tom Saunders and his Border Collie
Tom Saunders and his Australian Shepherd "Gypsy" in the foothills on the "Sunrise Side" of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Photo by John Page Williams.


Environmental site design is a holistic concept increasingly adopted by landscape architects for their projects. If it makes sense for landscaping projects, shouldn’t it also make sense for the nursery that produces the plants for them? 

“Absolutely,” says Tom Saunders of Saunders Brothers, Inc., located along the Tye River—a major James River tributary—on the “Sunrise” [or East] side of the Blue Ridge foothills in Piney River, Nelson County, Virginia. “It took a lot of grading to make this operation fit the land.” That diverse venture of about 250 acres began with boxwoods (Tom’s father, Paul, is a world-class authority on them). They still form a major element in the nursery business, but Saunders Brothers, Inc. now also includes a broad range of woody ornamentals, flowers, and plants for wildlife plots. Also a newly added orchard with apples, peaches, and Asian pears, and a two-acre vegetable garden serves the Saunders Brothers Farm Market and a variety of wholesale outlets. 

Paul Saunders is now semi-retired while Tom and his brothers, Bennett, Jim, and Robert, run the day-to-day operations. The business mix is constantly evolving, as members of the family and the staff (now 100 people) visit and listen to their customers, attend trade shows, follow trends in the landscaping industry, serve on boards like the Virginia Agribusiness Council, generally “keep their eyes and ears open,” and use all of that input to plan strategically. It is, Tom says, “a good team.” 

The brothers stay close to several agriculturally-oriented academic institutions, especially Virginia Tech (Tom, a loyal alumnus, today drives the company’s maroon-and-orange Ford van), North Carolina State, and the University of Florida. They blend what they learn from these sources with professional advice from Charlie Thornton of Tellus Consulting, a Virginia-certified Nutrient Management Planner and Crop Advisor. “It’s important not to get complacent,” Tom says. “We learn a lot from trial and error. You get stung by the bee, you figure out what to do the next time,” he chuckles.         

“From the beginning,” he continues, “water conservation has been a big part of our container production philosophy. We pump water from the Tye to irrigate the greenhouses, but we designed the nursery to capture all runoff water and recycle as much of it as possible. We built four ponds and enlarged a fifth to supply our greenhouses [more than 375 of them].  Not only does this design allow us the ability to reuse water, it also allows sediment and nutrients in runoff to settle out of the water before any overflow makes it back to the Tye, downstream from our irrigation ponds. For years, part of our water management program has been checking the amount of nitrogen in this water before it reaches a public water source.  We take pride in knowing that the nitrate nitrogen has never reached levels unsafe for Virginia’s drinking water standard [8 milligrams per liter].” 

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read Part Two here.

Settling Pond
One of the four ponds the Saunders Brothers built to capture and recycle all runoff water. Photo by John Page Williams.



 


Bad Water at Oyster Harbor, Londontown

 The following appeared on AnnapolisPatch yesterday.

 Beach warning signs

A sign posted by the State Dept. of Health warns people against bathing or wading after high bacteria levels were discovered in the water. One young couple was particularly disappointed after packing for an afternoon of surf fishing. Photo by Andrea Moran/CBF Staff.


Variable thunderstorms, or possibly other reasons, made for pockets of very unhealthy water around the region this week. With the same weather pattern expected to continue today and tomorrow, remember to avoid contact with our local creeks and rivers for 48 hours if a significant storm hits your locale.

Oyster Harbor on the Chesapeake Bay had bacteria readings 13 times what is healthy, according to water monitoring tests on Wednesday by volunteers.

Bacteria levels on the South River in the Londontown area were ten times the healthy limits.

Those readings could have been the result of a heavy down pour in those areas earlier in the week. Rain washes human and animal waste laden with bacteria into area water. Poop from waterfowl also could have spiked bacteria levels.

Here’s the areas that had readings above safe levels. Click here for a Google map of these areas.

CHESAPEAKE BAY

Beverly Beach – 141*

Oyster Harbor - 1352

SEVERN

Carrollton Manor/Hillbottom Beach – 146

Olde Severna Park Drainage Ditch – 850

MAGOTHY

Cape St. Clair/Lake Claire – 329*

Mill Creek – 360

Dividing Creek – 450

SOUTH RIVER

Lontontown/Midland – 1008*

Pine Wiff/Almshouse Creek – 174

South River Manor/Broad Creek – 174

RHODE RIVER

High Island – 354

Camp Letts – 124

Holly Hills/Bear Neck Creek – 114

WEST RIVER

Westelee/South Creek – 118

*Tested by county monitors. All others by volunteers

The acceptable level for swimming and other direct water contact is determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Department of the Environment and the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. For bodies of water that the Department samples weekly and biweekly, the acceptable level of enterococci bacteria is 104 or fewer bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters of water. For areas that are sampled monthly, the acceptable level is 158 or fewer colonies per 100 milliliters. See Water Quality Fact Sheet. All the spots on the list above exceed safety levels.

Both the county health department and a network of volunteers test over 100 public beaches and other areas around the county for bacteria. The results from the county tests are put online here, and for the volunteer tests here for Severn and Magothy rivers, here for South River, and here for Rhode/West River.  All the sites listed above were tested by Watershed Stewards.

Bacteria that is ingested can cause an upset stomach. In some cases more harmful bacteria coming into contact with open wounds can cause serious infection.

Remember, water quality can improve or worsen significantly within days of water tests, depending on rain fall. Sites tested on Wednesday can be cleaner if the weather stays dry. Additionally, your local beach may have tested fine on Wednesday but could be unhealthy by the weekend if a thunderstorm moved through late in the week.

Have fun, stay safe.

—Tom Zolper

 Read our Annapolis water quality testing blog series.

 


From the Ground Up: Celebrating a 20-year Partnership Between CBF's Clagett Farm and the Capital Area Food Bank

Boys in field
Photo courtesy of the Capital Area Food Bank.

 Summertime scene: Kids riding a hay wagon arrive at a farm field and spread out excitedly to pick sweet corn, okra, and tomatoes, under the careful supervision of Carrie Vaughn, Clagett Farm’s Vegetable Production Manager. She shows them how to pick the produce respectfully.  They bring their prizes back to the wagon in bins and head to the farm’s washing station to clean them for transport to D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank.  

It’s no accident that most of these young people come from food-challenged families that receive produce through the Food Bank and its partner agencies. This scene is just one snapshot of From the Ground Up—a 20-year collaboration between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm and the Capital Area Food Bank that blends Bay-friendly, sustainable agriculture with social justice through environmental/nutrition education and enhanced availability of fresh produce for people living at or near-poverty levels in the Washington region. 

The base “operating system” for From the Ground Up is Clagett Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which customers buy shares of the harvest beforehand and collect whatever is in season weekly, from salad greens in early May through winter squash in November. Regular customers pay a rate that covers enough program expenses to allow the farm to donate 40-50 percent of its annual production (around 35,000 pounds) to low-income people through the Food Bank. 

Food Grant - Second Genesis Stocking Fridge
Photo courtesy of the Capital Area Food Bank.

Participants can pick up their shares either at an appointed place and time within the District or at the farm, which is only 14 miles east of the U.S. Capitol Building. In addition, the CSA offers Reduced-Price Shares and Workshares to low-income families, and an extensive group of volunteer weeders and pickers helps to keep the program’s operating costs low. The result is that people of all income levels in the Washington, D.C. region can receive top-quality vegetables and fruits from this local farm, while helping to support an extraordinarily effective and efficient food bank that speaks to the needs of people around our Nation’s Capital.

For its Fresh Produce Grant program, the Capital Area Food Bank carefully selects recipient member agencies food pantries, clinics, after-school programs, soup kitchens, and shelters  with the organizational strength and the facilities to maintain the quality and efficiently distribute a broad range of produce to their clients. For 2012, there are nine participating agencies in the District, Suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia. 

But the Fresh Produce Grants themselves are only the first step in the Food Bank’s approach to battling hunger.  Another vital element for recipient member agencies is education. Remember those kids on the hay wagon?  They are there because, as written on the Capital Area Food Bank's website: "...the Food Bank —and CBF —understands that food alone will not end hunger. The food bank couples food distribution with education and training in order to maximize the impact of that food.

Washing sweet potatoes
Photo courtesy of the Capital Area Food Bank.

The Capital Area Food Bank works with our partner agencies as well as low-income individuals directly to gain the skills and resources they need to be more self-reliant. The food bank offers a wide variety of educational programs. Some of these programs are in the form of classes and demonstrations, while others are structured as train-the-trainer in order to support community organizations and capitalize on the strong leaders in our local community."

The best testimony of the value of From the Ground Up, though, comes from those who receive the Fresh Produce Grants. This note from a lady in the District gives it eloquently: “I am submitting this letter to express my appreciation for the fruits and vegetables that I had the fortune to receive for the last six months. I cannot tell you the impact this has had on my life and health. I am a senior citizen on a fixed income, and I would not be able to afford the quality of produce I have received. I want to thank you very much and sincerely hope that the program can continue.”

 John Page Williams



New Pollution Regulations Aren't Enough for the Chesapeake Bay

The following op-ed appeared in The Baltimore Sun earlier this week.  

DSC_0010Students on a CBF education experience last fall witness first-hand excessive stormwater pollution. Photo by Tiffany Granberg/CBF Staff.

Action is needed to improve on the General Assembly's pollution-fighting initiatives

Good news about the Chesapeake Bay used to be as scant as oyster harvests. But in the past few years, headlines have brightened. The six bay states andWashington, D.C., all agreed to implement a blueprint for cleaning up the bay and its tributaries. The blue crab population surged. This spring, the Maryland legislature acted boldly to accelerate pollution reduction from sewage and stormwater systems, and from sprawl development.

This summer, Gov.Martin O'Malley, environmental and agricultural regulators, and a legislative oversight committee will make decisions that could sustain this momentum—or could slow our progress. They will determine the final shape of three critical new regulations governing pollution from farm fields, septic systems and Baltimore City.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation applauds the state for many parts of its new regulatory push. But we must strengthen these rules in several areas if we hope finally to put bad news about fish kills, dead zones, and beach closings behind us.

Resistance to these regulations from farmers, homebuilders and real estate interests is formidable. We all resist when we're asked to do more. But too much is at stake to relax our efforts. Try telling an unemployed waterman these changes are too burdensome. Tell him clean water and better harvests must wait several more decades. Also, many people already are doing more to reduce pollution. These new rules merely spread the burden fairly.

Here is how we view the three important pieces of regulation in the pipeline:

The septic rule is strong. It would require new homes with septic systems to use the best available technology. That makes sense since conventional septics aren't designed to control nutrient pollution at all. A top-line septic also is a bargain, relatively speaking. Building near a sewer system would be the best alternative for the environment as well as a community's budget. Homeowners on sewer pay up to $35,000 for their service. Best available technology for septics costs about $8,000 more than a conventional septic.

While septics currently contribute only about 6 percent of total nitrogen pollution around the bay, in some areas, such as Anne Arundel County, septics cause one-third of the pollution. Also, as we continue to sprawl into rural areas, septic pollution continues to grow and threatens to erase progress we've made reducing pollution elsewhere.

In contrast to the septic regulation, the rules for farms and for Baltimore City need improvement.

The farm regulations would better control pollution from fields where manure and sewage sludge are spread. Many farmers have made significant efforts to pollute less. But 39 percent of nitrogen pollution to the bay still comes from agriculture, about half of that from farm fields. Just as we're increasing our efforts to slow pollution from sewage plants, stormwater systems and sprawl, we must do more on our farms.

Some parts of the farm regulations are laudable. The rules would prohibit farmers from spreading manure and sewage sludge on the fields in winter when vegetation is not available to take up the nutrients.

But other aspects of the farm regulations need improvement. The state should strengthen rules for spreading manure and sludge in the autumn, and eliminate a loophole in a provision governing how close to a stream farmers can spread manure and sludge, among other changes.

Maryland also has proposed new rules on how Baltimore City discharges polluted runoff. Those rules, included in a new permit, need to be strengthened. Among amendments needed: Create performance standards that ensure specific pollution reductions; require more monitoring and accountability; and make sure that the discharges of runoff from city streets into waterways meet state water quality standards.

Strengthening these two regulations will ensure cleaner water, and all the economic and social benefits that flow from that. Clean water will benefit us and all future generations. If we don't keep making progress, we will jeopardize human health; populations of oysters, rockfish and crabs; and economies that depend on the bay—meaning thousands of jobs.

New, stronger regulations also will mean a more equitable sharing of the responsibility of cleaning up the bay and local creeks and rivers. Many Maryland homeowners already are paying higher fees to upgrade sewage and stormwater systems. Polls say the majority support this effort because it will pay off in the long term.

If we are going to finish the job of restoring our national treasure, all Marylanders—farmers, suburbanites and city dwellers alike—must increase their efforts. The watermen will thank us. Our grandchildren will thank us.

—Alison Prost
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

 

Learn more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best hope for a save Bay!



Virginia Makes Progress on Bay Clean-Up Goals

The following op-ed appeared in the Richmond-Times Dispatch yesterday.

VaFlag
Photo courtesy Public Domain Images.


The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams are polluted, evidenced by chronic algae blooms, oxygen-deprived dead zones and water that too often is unsafe for swimming.

The results of a polluted Bay include lost jobs and economic opportunities, degraded fish and shellfish populations and future generations that may never know the bay's full potential.

To clean up our waters, we must reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution originating from many sources. Those include animal waste and farm fields; runoff from urban and suburban development; wastewater treatment plants and septic systems; and air pollution from cars, trucks and power plants.

Some sources, particularly wastewater treatment plants, have made significant progress in reducing pollution, largely due to Virginia's commitment to set strict regulatory limits and finance plant upgrades.

But not all sources have made such progress. In fact, the history of Chesapeake Bay restoration remains one of long-term goals set, then missed.

Most recently, in 2000, the Chesapeake Executive Council (bay state governors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the District of Columbia's mayor) promised to restore the bay's health by 2010. However, in 2008 all acknowledged the effort would fail by a wide margin.

The Executive Council then recognized that setting only long-term goals lacked mechanisms for accountability and therefore was simply a recipe for failure. To address the missed goals, it charted a new course for the Chesapeake Bay's recovery.

* * * * *

First, by establishing targeted pollution reductions with state-specific plans (Clean Water Blueprints) on how to achieve them, states and local governments would have clearer, self-determined direction on how to achieve these goals.

Second, by committing to short, two-year goals, or "milestones," to reduce pollution in local rivers, streams and the bay, a mechanism for accountability was established.

In May 2009, bay state governors released their first milestones, a set of measures to be implemented by 2011 that would accelerate the pace of restoration and put the states on a trajectory to achieve full implementation by 2025.

Ensuring that Virginia and the EPA set effective milestone goals and actually achieve them is critical to the success of the state's Clean Water Blueprint. The public must hold state and federal governments accountable to the milestone goals.

Accordingly, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition worked together to evaluate and publicize Virginia's milestone progress. Our intent is to ensure that the long-term deadlines for bay cleanup are met by keeping the spotlight on the state's short-term goals and identifying policy solutions in the event that milestone goals are missed.

* * * * *

We selected several goals within three general pollution areas—agricultural runoff, urban/suburban sources, and wastewater treatment—based on their potential to provide substantial nitrogen and phosphorus pollution reductions and to offer important lessons moving forward. We reviewed Virginia's progress in implementing improvements in cover crops, forest and grass buffers, wetland restoration, lawn fertilizers, stormwater runoff controls, septic pump-outs and wastewater controls.

The analysis was not without problems. We had difficulty fully understanding basic units of measurement used to track progress, estimates of baseline accomplishments from which to compare progress, and the intent of certain milestone commitments.

Without sufficient transparency and clear explanations of data, units and sources, the ability of the public to hold Virginia and the EPA accountable for progress is severely compromised. This first analysis reveals many ways to improve presentation and access to milestone data.

That said, we found that Virginia met six out of the nine milestone practices we selected for evaluation, including milestone commitments for wetland restoration, grass buffers, septic pump-outs and wastewater reductions. Additional efforts, however, are needed for implementation of cover crops, forest buffers, and lawn fertilizers to stay on track to achieve 60 percent implementation by 2017 and full implementation by 2025. We also found that more work is needed to fully track stormwater runoff controls.

What's our bottom line? We're cautiously optimistic. Virginia is tracking and making progress on short-term goals. For those missed goals, policy changes can make a difference. For lawn fertilizers, a new state law already on the books will improve progress. For cover crops and forest buffers, enhancing incentive programs for farmers can also improve progress.

We know that Virginia is capable of achieving pollution reductions when the political will is there to do it. By doing our own homework assessing Virginia's short-term progress, and holding Virginia and the EPA accountable for their commitments, we can restore the Chesapeake Bay and our rivers and streams.

—Ann Jennings
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

AND

—Jacob Powell
Virginia Conservation Network and Choose Clean Water Coalition

 

Learn more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best hope for a save Bay!



Welcome Rain also Brings Curse of Bad Swimming Conditions

The following appeared on AnnapolisPatch yesterday.

Stormwater
Waves of the Chesapeake Bay break against a stormwater outfall that runs from the Ocean View beachfront directly into the Chesapeake Bay at Norfolk, Virginia. Photo by © 2010 Morgan Heim/iLCP.


Spotty thunder storms earlier this week washed enough pollution into some area creeks and rivers to make for unsafe swimming and other recreational activities. Click here for a Google map of the bad water spots.

 

Overall, dry weather continues in Anne Arundel County, keeping many public swimming areas and creeks and rivers healthy enough for summer fun.

But weather reports as of Friday show a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday and Sunday so all bets are off when that happens. Runoff from storms carries human and animal waste into nearby streams, spiking bacteria levels. County and state officials caution not to come into contact with water for 48 hours after a significant storm.

So here’s the list of places around the area where storms hit and raised bacteria levels this week. Remember, the water tests were conducted Wednesday, so bacteria levels are likely to have fallen by the weekend – UNLESS more thunderstorms roll through. Again click here if you want to look at the Google map of the places:

SEVERN RIVER

Old Severna Park -728

Hopkins Creek – 264

Brown’s Pond – 300

Back Creek – 112

Bembe Beach – 298

MAGOTHY RIVER

Mill Creek – 1404

Dividing Creek – 900

SOUTH RIVER

Pine Wiff – 188

Wilelinor – 140

RHODE RIVER

Holly Hills – 238

The acceptable level for swimming and other direct water contact is determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Department of the Environment and the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. For bodies of water that the Department samples weekly and biweekly, the acceptable level of enterococci bacteria is 104 or fewer bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters of water. For areas that are sampled monthly, the acceptable level is 158 or fewer colonies per 100 milliliters. See Water Quality Fact Sheet. All the spots on the list above exceed safety levels.

Both the county health department and a network of volunteers test over 100 public beaches and other areas around the county for bacteria. The results from the county tests are put online here, and for the volunteer tests here for Severn and Magothy rivers, here for South River, and here for Rhode/West River.  All the sites listed above were tested by Watershed Stewards.

Have fun, stay safe.

—Tom Zolper
Maryland Communications Coordinator
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

 


Farm Bill Is Key to Cleaning up Chesapeake Bay

The following appeared in Lynchburg's The News & Advance earlier this week.

Farm
An early morning on the farm. Photo courtesy CBF.

Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act,” commonly known as the Farm Bill. Thanks to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, Jim Webb and other U.S. senators from Chesapeake Bay states, the bill includes measures that ensure farmers in the Bay region receive critical cost-share dollars and technical assistance to reduce farm runoff pollution.

Much of the poor water quality in Virginia’s streams, rivers, and the Bay is directly related to an excess of fertilizer and other pollutants running off the land when it rains. This runoff pollution causes algal blooms, creates “dead zones” of oxygen-starved water, kills fish, crabs and oysters and results in lost economic opportunities.

Much of the excess fertilizer comes from agriculture. Despite farmers’ progress in limiting erosion and fertilizer runoff over the past several years, there is still more to be done.

That’s why in 2008, Bay state senators and representatives worked hard to ensure the last Farm Bill contained the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, a provision that guaranteed $188 million specifically for farm conservation programs that reduce runoff in the Bay region.

This year, however, agriculture committees in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have sought to strip that funding from the 2012 Farm Bill now before Congress. While everyone is rightly concerned about reducing federal spending, zeroing out conservation dollars that reduce water pollution is counterproductive.

Why? Water pollution kills jobs and drags down the economy. Consider the dramatic decline of Virginia’s once robust seafood industry and the billions of dollars in lost revenues as a result.

Consider the slow demise of the waterfront communities that depended upon once-abundant oysters, fish and crabs. Consider the public health threats and lost tourism and recreation dollars when summer beaches are closed because of bacteria pollution. And consider the growing costs to localities to provide clean drinking water, prevent flooding and treat wastewater.

Dirty water hurts fisheries, people and the economy. Cutting clean water programs jeopardizes our quality of life and our children’s future economic prosperity.

On the flipside, clean streams and rivers and a restored Bay are economic engines: people want to live, work, and play by clean waterways, they want to catch and eat the seafood from them, they want to vacation beside them, and businesses seek to locate near them.

Further, the very conservation programs that reduce pollution and clean up our waterways create new jobs and new economic activity.

A University of Virginia study concluded that every public dollar spent on conservation programs that reduce farm pollution produces $1.56 in new economic activity and, if implemented across Virginia to meet Bay cleanup goals, such investments could create 12,000 jobs of at least a year’s duration.  

That’s why all who care about clean water and a healthy economy should thank Sens. Warner and Webb and their Bay state colleagues for successfully restoring conservation funding for Bay region farmers in the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill.

Now it’s the House of Representatives’ turn, and last week, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen introduced H.R. 6068 aimed at providing similar conservation funding in the House version of the Farm Bill. The bipartisan bill has 16 co-sponsors, including Virginia Reps. Scott Rigell, Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran and Bobby Scott.

Virginia’s other House members—Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt, Eric Cantor, Randy Forbes and Morgan Griffin—need to sign on, too, and support clean water and Virginia farmers.

Virginia has set ambitious but achievable goals to reduce pollution in local streams and rivers as part of its Chesapeake Bay restoration blueprint. Reducing farm runoff by approximately half is a crucial part of the state’s plan. Virginia simply won’t succeed in providing clean water to its citizens and restoring the Chesapeake Bay without this important conservation assistance in the Farm Bill.

The time for all of Virginia’s members of Congress to step up is now.

—Ann Jennings
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Learn more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best hope for a save Bay!