Previous month:
November 2013
Next month:
January 2014

Photo of the Week: "A Favorite Place of Mine"

IMG_5927Photo by Thomas Buchanan.

Taken just after sunrise on Queen's Creek in Matthews, Virginia. This is a favorite place of mine. I've been drawn to it my whole lifethe Bay.

—Thomas Buchanan

Ensure that Thomas and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, 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!

 

 


Lag Times' Impact on Bay Cleanup No Drop in the Bucket

 

Lag201312a
A cold, gray dawn gives way to an eruption of light over the Blackwater River on December 21, 2012, the Winter Solstice. Groundwater moves more slowly on the Bay's Eastern Shore, slowing the effects of cleanup actions. Photo by Dave Harp.

The following first appeared in Bay Journal News earlier this month. 

Actions may take days to decades to show results depending on where they are taken.

Pull a bucket of water from the Chesapeake, and each drop will most likely be from a different place and tell a different story about how it got there.

For some, it's been a pretty short trip that started as a drop of rain that smacked into a parking lot, then flushed quickly into a local stream and reached the Bay a few days later.

Some may have soaked into Piedmont soil a decade ago and only recently emerged in a stream after traveling through groundwater.

Some drops from the Eastern Shore may have fallen as rain when John F. Kennedy was president, seeped into the Delmarva's slow-moving aquifers, and now, after 50 years, made it to the Bay.

A few may have even started their journey before the United States was a country.

Collectively, they offer more than a history lesson; they also provide a cautionary tale about how rapidly people should expect to see significant water quality improvements in the Chesapeake.

All of the drops of water absorbed nitrogen, which readily dissolves in water. But they likely all contain different amounts of nitrogen, because they absorbed the nitrogen at different times, in different places, when more or less was being applied to fields and when nitrogen-reducing management practices might not have been in place.

For example, the "youngest" water in the bucket might carry reduced amounts of nitrogen because cover crops, an effective nitrogen reducing practice, were in place when it fell as rain. But older water that predates cleanup actions may contain higher levels of nitrogen.

Those older waters are, in effect, time capsules that reflect activities that took place on the land years ago. In extreme cases, the nitrogen levels entering streams from groundwater that is many decades old could get worse before they get better, because it comes from a period when the amounts of nitrogen being applied to fields was rapidly increasing and often exceeded the amount that plants could use, meaning more nitrogen entered the groundwater.

"It's really a mixture of water ages that ends up in a stream," said Scott Phillips, Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. "Some water travels over the land as storm runoff and is really young. Even the groundwater discharged into the stream is a mixture of ages. It is a complicated situation of many ages of water and associated nitrogen going into a stream."

That mixture complicates efforts to sort out overall water quality trends because improvements are often masked by "old"—often dirtier—water that is still moving through the system.

Scientists refer to the delay from when a pollution control action is taken to when it actually results in a water quality improvement as a "lag time." The concept is not new, but recent reports suggest lag times may delay the attainment of Bay cleanup goals longer than previously recognized—bedeviling efforts to show that billions of dollars of investments are reaping significant benefits to the Bay and its tidal rivers.

"The potentially long periods of these lag times do not constitute an excuse for inaction, but they do constitute a reason for being patiently realistic about the time scale for observing results," said a recent report from the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee.

A new study from U.S. Geological Survey scientists showed just how much patience may be needed. It found that so much of the rainfall on the Delmarva Peninsula soaked into the groundwater, and its groundwater moved so slowly, that roughly a third of that water is more than half a century old.

That means much of it still predates the spike in agricultural fertilizer use that occurred in the 1960s and '70s. As a result, even though some "young" groundwater is part of the mix, the overall nitrogen concentrations reaching Eastern Shore rivers through groundwater are continuing to rise, and in many places it will take decades for that "old" groundwater with high nitrogen concentrations to be flushed from the aquifers.

The study, led by USGS scientist Ward Sanford, concluded that a 13 percent reduction today in the amount of nitrogen reaching groundwater was needed simply to keep overall nitrogen levels steady in 2050.

A diet with lag times?

A bucket of water pulled from the Bay in 2025 will likely be cleaner than one pulled out today—just as one pulled out today would, in most areas, be cleaner than one in 1990. But it likely will have far more nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment than was prescribed by the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet.

That diet, or total maximum daily load, sets limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that can enter the Bay from each state and major tributary. Those limits are intended to help the Bay and tidal portions of its tributaries meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and chlorophyll a (a measure of algae). Those standards are aimed at protecting aquatic life.

The TMDL calls for all actions needed to reduce pollution levels to acceptable levels to be in place by 2025. But because of lag times, the TMDL made no prediction of when water quality standards would actually be met throughout the Chesapeake.

The suite of environmental models and other tools used by the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program to establish the TMDL and to guide the states' development of watershed implementation plans—the strategies that guide nutrient and sediment reduction efforts—do not factor in lag times.

Failure to account for lag times can have consequences in making such decisions. Modeling done for the TMDL showed that, pound for pound, nutrients from the Eastern Shore have a greater impact on dissolved oxygen levels in deep waters of the Bay than a pound from any other river except the Susquehanna. But time lags were not a factor in the allocation decision. To the extent that nutrient reductions from the Eastern Shore are necessary, full attainment of Bay water quality standards (as well as those in Eastern Shore tributaries themselves) will be delayed.

While the practical impact on the Bay is small—total nutrient loads from the Eastern Shore are dwarfed by those from the Susquehanna and other rivers—it illustrates the potential effect of not accounting for time lags when making nutrient reduction allocations among river basins.

If lag times are not factored into decision-making and better communicated with the public, support for cleanup efforts could be undermined, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee report cautioned. "We have to do a better job of communicating that these anticipated lags are in the system and that improvement is not going to happen overnight," said Gene Yagow, a senior research scientist in Virginia Tech's Biological Systems Engineering Department, and one of the lead authors of the STAC report.

The report noted that the lag times impact fundamental activities of the Bay Program. While installing best management practices to control runoff has been a priority for years, the Bay Program lacks a complete inventory of installed practices—particularly when it comes to those installed without government funding which often are not reported to agencies. It also often lacks precise information about where those practices are located. Practices near streams tend to yield benefits more quickly than those farther away.

Without that information, it is hard to fully estimate the extent to which lag times are delaying water quality improvements. "You can't estimate the lag time of something that you can't quantify," Yagow said.

The Bay Program has embarked on an effort to better account for BMPs in the watershed with a focus on nongovernment-funded practices.

Lag times have other implications as well. The STAC report noted that lag times complicate nutrient trading. In a trade, a wastewater treatment plant operator may want to offset increased discharges by paying farmers to do more. But the increased discharge would be immediate, while the nutrient reductions from BMPs may not result in water quality benefits in the Bay until many years in the future. Trying to factor the impact of lag times into a trade, the report said, "would add an extra layer of complexity making point-to-nonpoint source trading even more difficult to implement."

"A lot to ask"

The extent to which lag times will influence future Bay decision-making remains to be seen. The Bay Program partnership is planning a "midpoint assessment" of progress toward meeting the 2025 nutrient reduction goals that is to be completed by the end of 2017.

But the "principles and priorities" that have been established to guide the reassessment focus on ensuring that nutrient reduction practices will be in place by 2025—not when those practices will achieve the TMDL's water quality goal.

That could change. "Given this new information coming out, we are going to bring forward time lags and see how our partners want to tackle that issue in the context of the midpoint assessment," said Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA's Bay Program Office.

New tools being developed, including new groundwater models by USGS scientists, can help better predict where nutrient control actions will have less of a lag time than others. Targeting BMPs that become effective quickly toward those areas could help reduce lag times.

Still, as a practical matter, there are only so many places with shorter lag times, and while they can be prioritized for implementation, it would also require landowners to want to implement the practices that produce the fastest results.

"That is a lot to ask," Batiuk acknowledged.

The issue is further complicated because some of the places with the greatest lag times—the Eastern Shore and, to a lesser degree, Western Shore—are, ironically, those closest to the Bay. Asking places farther upstream from the Bay to do more would be, at best, challenging.

"The politics of that would be difficult," said Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "And the decision more politics than science."

McGee, like others, said she is concerned about maintaining public support if tangible progress is slow. "How are you going to maintain momentum when currently we are hard-pressed to point to many success stories?" she asked. "I think the solution is to look for success stories, to find areas where we have done a lot of implementation and where we expect things to turn around."

Bay officials are seeking to bolster their communication of the difficult issue. The Bay Program is working to complete a "lessons learned" report that highlights how local actions influence local water quality responses. They are also looking to highlight other areas of rivers or shallow waters of the Bay that may be more likely to show early responses to cleanup actions.

The Bay Program has developed a new water quality indicator to better highlight incremental water quality improvements around the Bay, rather than simply showing whether or not water quality standards are being fully attained. "Obviously, water quality standards attainment is the ultimate goal," said Jon Capacasa, director for water quality protection with EPA Region III. "But the public can derive a lot of benefits from the incremental reductions in nutrients and sediments to the Bay along the way. It is not one big on/off switch in 2025."

EPA officials are also pushing efforts to better quantify the level of water quality improvement that can realistically be expected in 2025. While the Bay wouldn't fully attain water quality standards by then, such predictions could help show that actions are having expected responses.

Water quality efforts should get a boost in coming years. Efforts to upgrade wastewater treatment plants have progressed rapidly, and officials expect most to be upgraded by the end of next year.

But after 2014, most of the nutrient reductions will have to come from nonpoint sources—mainly runoff from farms, urban and suburban areas and other land uses. With each passing year, smaller portions of the nutrient control actions being implemented will be fully felt in the Bay and tidal rivers by 2025. Portions of those improvements will continue to be offset by "old" nutrient pollution emerging from slow-moving groundwater.

But over time, the hypothetical bucket of water drawn from the Bay should increasingly reflect improvements from the nutrient controls efforts now underway—and those that will be taken in the near future.

"People like myself, we wouldn't be in this business we are in if we didn't have some level of optimism," Batiuk said. Lag times, he said, provide a reason to keep taking action—not to give up.

"Two generations back, they didn't see the level of degradation that would be caused by high nitrate levels in the groundwater," he said. "Yes, it might be a future generation that is actually going to see the full effect of what we do today. But we have to do it."

Sidebars:

The only constant thing about lag times is that they are not the same

Lag times vary from place to place, by type of pollutant and by the routes pollutants take to the Bay.

Nitrogen

Nitrogen readily dissolves in water, and the time it takes to reach the Bay is closely related to water flow.

In much of the Bay watershed, about half of the rain makes it to streams within a year, either quickly running off the land after a rain or by traveling through shallow groundwater. About a quarter of the precipitation travels through deeper groundwater, taking anywhere from a couple of years to a decade to reach the stream. The rest can take one or more decades. The exact time varies from place to place, and is heavily influenced by geology.

On the flat Coastal Plain soils of the Eastern Shore, for example, the lag time is much longer. About 90 percent of the rain travels through groundwater, and because the land is so flat, it moves slowly. While the average groundwater travel time in the Piedmont and Ridge and Valley region is a decade, the average on the Eastern Shore is 20–40 years.

Portions of the Western Shore which, like the Eastern Shore, are also located in the sandy Coastal Plain—generally an area south and east of Interstate 95—and are characterized by slow-moving groundwater. The flow here, though, is probably not quite so slow as the Eastern Shore because the region is hillier.

Phosphorus

Much of the phosphorus running off the land is attached to fine particles of clay and silt. It is washed into streams by rainfalls that are heavy enough to cause erosion. Once in the stream, it moves downstream, step by step, during heavy rains that resuspend those particles and carry them farther downstream until they settle on the bottom, waiting to be moved by the next storm.

Where in the watershed the particles originate and how far they have to go affects how long it takes them to reach the Bay, but it can take years or decades. Again, the trip can be longer on the Eastern Shore, despite its proximity to the Bay, simply because it is so flat, the particles do not move so far.

Phosphorus lags are also created when high concentrations build up in soils over time. Areas with high phosphorus soil “reservoirs” can continue to lose phosphorus to water for years or decades.

Sediment

Soil, silt, and sand particles largely move in episodic events. But how fast they travel depends on the weight of the particles. Fine sediments, those typically associated with phosphorus, are lighter and stirred up by smaller storms; they travel farther before they settle to the stream bottom. Heavier particles, like sand, are moved by larger storms and typically travel shorter distances. So heavier sediments can take longer—potentially many decades—to reach the Bay.

Also contributing to the sediment lag time is that material can be stored in stream banks or trapped behind dams for long periods of time before being dislodged by particularly severe storms. For heavy particles, the travel time to the Bay can range from decades to centuries.

Implementation lags

Various runoff control actions, usually called best management practices or BMPs, can also have lag times before they become fully effective. For instance, a stream forest buffer may take years to develop the root system it needs to intercept nitrogen moving through the ground. But fencing livestock out of streams can result in quick nutrient reductions.

So even when a best management practice is installed, it may take several years before it begins affecting the amount of nutrients leaving a field. A recent Bay Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee report said that when transport lag times associated with various geological settings are combined with lags for various BMPs to become fully effective, "lag times of one-to-three decades [are] common."

That doesn't mean that there are no quick benefits. Even on the slow-moving Eastern Shore, a portion of the benefit of an action can quickly be seen—about 10 percent of the rainfall runs off the surface rather than going through groundwater. And while a forest buffer may not become fully effective for years, the mere step of transforming a field into a buffer will produce benefits before trees take root. It's just that achieving the full benefit becomes a drawn-out process—and it is more drawn-out in some places, and with some practices, than others.

Some actions produce almost immediate results, such as wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Wastewater treatment plant discharges go straight into rivers, where they reach tidal waters in hours, or days, depending on their location. So when a plant is upgraded, there is no lag for water-quality benefits. Recent studies also suggest air pollution reductions can result in rapid nutrient reductions.

In places like the Western Shore, which has many large wastewater treatment plants, upgrades can help counter the lengthy groundwater lag times that delay the effectiveness of runoff control efforts. Unfortunately, across the Bay on the Eastern Shore, wastewater treatment plants are fewer and smaller, limiting their ability to counter lag times.

What happens in 2025?

In 2025, it is possible that all of the nutrient and sediment control actions outlined in state watershed implementation plans will be implemented. But it's probable that much of the Bay will fall short of water quality standards because of lag times, which delay the beneficial effects of many pollution control efforts.

In that event, any portions of the Bay that fail to meet water quality standards will remain on the federal impaired waters list. Waters can only be removed from the so-called "dirty waters" list based on water quality monitoring—not the predicted future benefits of actions put in place.

As long as it is on that list, the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load would remain in place. But whether states would be asked to do more to attain standards, or be allowed to wait to see whether water quality goals are eventually met, is uncertain.

"I think it is really premature to say exactly what the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership would do in 2025," said Jon Capacasa, director for water quality protection with EPA Region III.

Determining whether the Bay has met its water quality goals is not simply an "on/off proposition," he said. In fact, the Bay TMDL is not a single TMDL but a compilation of individual TMDLs for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment covering 92 individual "segments" that make up the Bay and the tidal portions of its rivers. Some of those have better water quality than others.

Every two years, states are required to assess each tidal Bay segment to see whether they attain water quality standards and then file reports with the EPA. In the case of the Bay, the water quality standards are for specific levels of dissolved oxygen; for water clarity and underwater Bay grasses; and for chlorophyll a (a measure of algae).

"We are not waiting until 2025," Capacasa said. "If a segment is meeting standards, it is taken off the list sooner than that. We fully expect to see more segments in attainment of water quality standards before 2025."

But segments with the most severe water quality problems—particularly deep waters with chronic low oxygen problems or shallow water sites with very poor water clarity—would likely remain on the list until greater nutrient and sediment reductions are achieved.

Continued monitoring will help determine whether segments with the most stubborn problems are on the right track, Capacasa said. If not, he said, "Bay Program partners, as well as EPA, can take stock of what segments remain impaired and if there is anything more that we could be doing, or should be doing."

Karl Blankenship  


We're Halfway There: Tri-S Farms, Inc.

11-26-2013 1-22-49 PMThis is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Steve Sturgis is a fourth-generation farmer and president of Tri-S Farms Inc. on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Tri-S grows 150 acres of corn, 400 acres of wheat, and 450 acres of soybeans. Sturgis is also president of the Northampton County Farm Bureau.

"If you show us that our fertilizer or our soil is washing into a waterway, we will try our best to do what it takes to prevent this loss," he says, explaining why Shore farmers have requested a water quality specialist for Virginia Tech's Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter, Virginia.

Sturgis is also a partner in a business that supplies Cherrystone Aquafarms with several million clams a year. "Water quality is important to me," he says. "I don't leave ground bare, and I leave my own buffers."

One of the things Sturgis stresses to farmers is to leave wider buffers around their crop fields.

"That's one thing that really bothers me—when I see farmers tilling right up to the edge of the ditch. We need to leave more buffer along our crop fields to capture and filter runoff."

Such farm conservation practices are nothing new to Sturgis.

"My dad started no-till farming back in the '70s, and we continue this conservation practice today because it saves time and money," he says.

He also practices nutrient management and has installed water control structures to capture runoff water to reuse for irrigating his crops. Recently he installed special nozzles on his spray rigs to reduce chemical drift and over-application of product.

A federal Farm Bill program helped Sturgis construct a "hoop house," which allows Tri-S to supply local restaurants with greens, carrots, and other fresh produce. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shared in the cost of the structure.

"We participate in the programs offered by both USDA and the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District," Sturgis says. "These programs are voluntary and help farmers with the stewardship of their land. It's good for the land and for the Chesapeake Bay."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Saxes are able to continue doing this good work on their farms.
Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!


Photo of the Week: Franklin Manor Sunrise

FranklinManorSwimPierPhoto by Sharon Hensley. 

This is a photo of the Franklin Manor swim pier in Churchton, Maryland, just after sunrise on November 14, 2013. The tide was so low that I was able to walk on the exposed mud to get this view.

To me, the Chesapeake Bay means enjoyment of all its natural wonder as well as the necessity of protecting it.

—Sharon Hensley

Ensure that Sharon and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, 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!


River Herring Making a Comeback in Patapsco River

 

Herring201312a
Steve Minkinnen, head of the USF&WS Maryland Fishery Resource Office holds a hickory shad caught during the survey. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The following first appeared in Bay Journal News earlier this month. 

Presence of wild fish raises hope for full-scale stocking program.

Given the traffic roaring by along Interstate 895 as a backdrop and century-long reputation as a dumping ground, the Patapsco River, where it runs beside Baltimore's South West Area Park, hardly seems a likely haven for rare fish.

Yet the river this year became the only place around the Bay to stock river herring.

River herring—alewife and blueback herring—were once among the most abundant species in the Chesapeake, but their populations are so low all along the East Coast that they were recently considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Stocking river herring is a unique part of the Patapsco project, which also stocks American and hickory shad. Shad—which are a popular sport species—are stocked in several tributaries around the Bay, while there have only been a couple of experimental efforts to rear and release river herring in recent decades.

"We haven't done a full-scale herring project, so this is all kind of new for us," said Brian Richardson, who oversees hatchery operations for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The stocking takes place in the portion of the river upstream from Baltimore Harbor and is funded with mitigation money from the Masonville Dredged Material Containment Facility constructed to hold material dredged by the Maryland Port Administration.

The port's mitigation efforts have also supported numerous other projects in the area, including the restoration of wetlands and other areas around nearby Masonville Cove, which was recently designated as the nation’s first urban National Wildlife Refuge.

Those projects are helping to bring back the highly urbanized river, which has suffered from pollution, development, sewage discharges, and outright dumping. Even refuse from the massive 1904 Baltimore fire was dumped nearby.

"When I grew up, it smelled like an open sewer," said John Gill, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Maryland Fishery Resource Office, who was raised near the river in Ellicott City, a few miles upstream. "It was an open sewer. You didn’t swim in it."

Some problems, such as wastewater discharges, have been cleaned up. "The river is a lot better than it used to be," Gill said.

Still, it is far from pristine. Biologists were reminded of the river's degraded legacy as they towed nets in the water. Sometimes they passed under trash dangling in trees overhead—debris left by the flood of stormwater flushed off streets and parking lots after heavy rains. And the water is often murky with silt.

Nonetheless, the actual biology in the stream tells of a river that has managed to hang onto some of the key components of its ecosystem. In surveys this spring, biologists caught 158 adult shad and river herring.

"It's much more productive than we assumed," Gill said. "It's not dead."

Shad and herring are anadromous fish, which live most of their lives in the ocean but return to their native river to spawn. Finding adult shad and herring suggests the Patapsco, despite decades of insults, has managed to hang onto small breeding populations of the fish.

"Our results so far are surprising to me," said Steve Minkkinen, who heads the USF&WS Maryland Fishery Resource Office. "The fact there are adults here means there is still reproduction and survival going on, which is cool."

This year, about 1.8 million hatchery-reared shad and herring larvae and juvenile fish were stocked in the river. Surveys later in the year found scores of juvenile fish, both from the hatchery and fish produced from the "wild" population already in the river, showing the Patapsco also supports young fish, which are often more sensitive to environmental conditions than adults.

Biologists are hoping that the stocking effort will jump-start the spawning population. Juvenile herring and hickory shad stocked this year could start returning to spawn in about three years, while American shad could start coming back in five.

"If our experience is similar to other tributaries," said the DNR's Richardson, "we are able to create juvenile populations, and they can result in returning adults. Certainly, catching hatchery-origin juveniles is a good first start, but of course it is way early in this process."

The mitigation funding is supporting three years of stocking by the DNR, upgrades to its hatcheries and five years of monitoring by the USF&WS.

Herring, in particular, may also benefit from the planned removal of Bloede Dam a few miles upstream in Catonsville. The funding for the project was recently announced by the USF&WS. Two other upstream dams, Simpkins and Union, were removed in 2010, and when Bloede comes out, most of the river will be open to migrating fish.

"The river herring use much smaller streams and go farther upstream," Minkkinen said.

Once among the most abundant fish in the Bay, shad and river herring populations are at record lows along the East Coast. The decline of river herring in particular has sparked growing worries because of their importance as food for larger predators.

But if the little fish make a comeback in the Patapsco, their success will provide hope not only for a long-beleaguered river, but also that similar stocking efforts might help restore populations of river herring in other places.

"If you can stock them here, in a small, urban watershed and show success," Minkinnen said, "it might lead to the opportunity to stock them somewhere else as well."

Karl Blankenship  


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Houseknecht Family Farm, Bradford County, PA

IMG_0058
The Houseknecht Family. Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Bill Houseknecht and his family live on and operate a 400-acre dairy farm in Bradford County that his father started 30 years ago.

Bill shares that "farming can be one of the hardest jobs out there--the hours are long, profits are narrow, and the tasks are physically demanding." But, he will also tell you that it is the most rewarding job, and the only one he and his family can imagine doing.

Long hours and narrow profits are two reasons why Bill is finding ways to make his farm operation more efficient. "Being extra conservative with valuable time and resources allows our business to succeed and gives my family time to do the other things we love--off of the farm--like coaching my kids' soccer team."

Farm Bill Helps Houseknecht Farm Reduce Manure Runoff
Funding provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and assistance from CBF's voucher program enabled Bill to do something he didn't think possible--store manure until he was ready to use it by installing a manure storage facility. The installation cost for a storage facility can easily top $100,000. "That would have been pretty hard to put out completely on our own," Bill says.

The new storage facility allows him to store nearly 1.4 million gallons of manure, roughly the equivalent to seven months worth of manure. "We used to have to spread two loads a day throughout the year. Now we store it until we need it, spreading it primarily in the spring and summer, and maybe a little bit in the fall if we've got something growing," Bill said. "It's been a tremendous labor savings for us, especially in the winter when you don't have to worry about spreading it on the snow."

IMG_0066
Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

Conservation Funding Programs Benefit All Pennsylvanians
It's not just farmers who are benefitting from Farm Bill conservation programs; the public also reaps the benefits of investing in farm improvements. "This farm is in the northern part of the Bay watershed, and like they say, everything flows downstream," said Steve Smith, Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "When farmers are better able to control runoff from their farm--water quality locally and downstream improves. So making these investments is a win for everyone."

Through CBF's Buffer Bonus Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Bill was able to plant forested stream buffers in his pastures and fence the livestock out of the stream that flows through his property to Mill Creek. This will not only improve herd healthy but also the stream quality.

—Steve Smith
CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist 

Ensure that people like the Senators are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill! 

 

 

 


Photo of the Week: Friday Morning on the Patuxent

Friday_MorningPhoto by Sailuk Joe Breese.

My wife Shiny and I have the good fortune of living in St. Mary's County, along the banks of the Patuxent River at Drum Cliffs. Our beach and pier sit almost directly across from the tip of Broomes Island. This photo was taken from the boat on the Patuxent, between Broomes Island and Drum Cliffs on Oct. 4 . . . the scenery gets more beautiful [here] as each day goes by.

—Sailuk Joe Breese

Ensure that Sailuk and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, 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 Is What a Well-Functioning Riparian Buffer Looks Like

Indigo2compressed
Photo courtesy of Bobby Whitescarver.

The following recently appeared on field conservationist Bobby Whitescarver's blog. For more information, please visit his website.

There are many definitions of a riparian buffer. In this post and the video linked here we offer the elements of a well-functioning buffer and show what they look like. Riparian buffers are one of the most effective Best Management Practices to abate non-point source water pollution. The word "riparian" comes from Latin and means "adjacent to water."

I learned about buffers and effective buffer widths when I worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service but I did not know how important native tree leaves were to the aquatic ecosystem until I heard Dr. Bern Sweeney talk about his research at the Stroud Water Research Center.  Did  you know that macro invertebrates are “leaf” specific?  Visit their website to learn more about it.

Our farm is in the Middle River watershedat the beginning of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It is my belief that if we had well-functioning riparian buffers along all our streams we could de-list our river from the state's dirty water's list or the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load). Farmers have been installing riparian buffers for a long time and that is partly why agriculture is half-way in doing its part to restore the Chesapeake Bay. They have done this through voluntary programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and each state's Best Management Practices programs. These are funded through the Farm Bill, EPA, states, and non-profit organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Here's my definition of a riparian buffer: A vegetated area adjacent to a hydric feature capable of reducing the impact of adjacent land uses and providing the hydric feature with sufficient inputs to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

Riparian buffers need to be wide enough to do the job which means the plants in the buffer take up or filter out pollutants entering the buffer. Scientists believe the minimum width needs to be somewhere between 35 and 100 feet; this is on both sides of the stream or hydric feature. It needs to be stocked with native trees with a sufficient density to create canopy closure and livestock must be excluded from the buffer area.

Contact your local USDA office, local Soil and Water Conservation District or me to find out more about riparian buffers.

Bobby Whitescarver

Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website or e-mail him at bobby.whitescarver@gettingmoreontheground.com.


Why the Severn River Needs Anne Arundel's Watershed Protection & Restoration Fund

  

18_NDP_CBF_8
Polluted runoff from urban and suburban streets finds its way to our rivers, creeks, and Bay. Photo by Neil Dampier/www.neildampier.com.

Author's Note: This story speaks of the effects of polluted runoff to the Severn River above Annapolis, one of the short tidal rivers that drain the largely and fast-developing suburban land along Anne Arundel County's Bayshore. But the problems described herein--and their effects--apply to MANY other areas around the Chesapeake, from Harford and Baltimore Counties in the north to Williamsburg and Hampton Roads in the south and even Eastern Shore communities like Easton on the Tred Avon River, Salisbury on the Wicomico, and Princess Anne on the Manokin. Runoff is the only category of Chesapeake pollution that is still increasing, and we are only just now beginning to address it with the vigor that it requires. If we want healthy streams, creeks, rivers, and Bay, we must find ways to deal with polluted runoff NOW.

When I was in elementary school in Richmond's West End, my friends and I played every day in a small stream just off the campus that we named the Tiber River (we were studying Rome in History class). My mother warned me, though, that the Tiber's water was "dirty" and asked me to stay out of it. And then it disappeared. Some workmen from the city dug a trench, put in a pipe to carry the water, covered the pipe with dirt, and planted grass. Years later, I found out that the Tiber, still flowing through its pipe, is a tributary of Upham Brook, which flows into the Chickahominy River, one of my favorite Chesapeake waterways

That narrative has been repeated tens of thousands of times in the Bay's watershed over the past century, and one lesson stands out: As a society, our approach throughout that century has been to put polluted runoff into pipes and send that dirty water into the Chesapeake's streams, creeks, and rivers. In other words, we have spent billions of dollars to put that pollution Out of Sight, Out of Mind, when we could have directed those public dollars to cleaning it up at its sources. For way too many years, we didn't think that polluted water mattered to the Bay ecosystem.

Today, we know better, but a suburban river like the Severn around Annapolis has several hundred Tiber River-like tributaries encased in pipes that send everything that falls onto their paved headwaters straight to sea level and tidal waters. In the two pie charts below, consider how much of the nitrogen and sediment that flow into the Severn in a year comes from polluted runoff, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program's Bay Model. 

Sediment
Severn River 2011 Suspended Sediment Sources. Chart courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Nitrogen
Severn River 2011 Suspended Nitrogen Sources. Chart courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Now consider these results:

  • A warm-weather oxygen-depleted dead zone that removes viable habitat for fish and blue crabs from all waters deeper than 15-18'.  [See fishfinder image below.]
  • Algae blooms on and off from March through November that cloud the water, hampering growth of the river's underwater grasses, allowing warm-weather brown algae blooms to leave ugly "bathtub rings" on boats' waterlines, and prompting public health advisories against people swimming in the water within 48 hours after a rain storm. [See algal bloom image below.] 
  • Wild, lethal five-day swings in dissolved oxygen as the algae bloom dies (these swings are especially damaging to the river's headwaters, wiping out virtually all of the juvenile yellow perch spawned there each spring and making its otherwise rich salt ponds uninhabitable for crabs and white perch for much of each summer). [See NOAA's Annapolis Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy graph below.]
  • Jabez Branch Canyon 0711
    A deep, polluted-runoff-caused gorge in the Severn's Jabez Branch just west of I-97. Photo by Michael Robinson.
    Heavy loads of sediment sent into tidal creeks by high-velocity runoff from paved surfaces that causes a hundred or more deeply eroded "head-cut canyons" in Severn tributaries. [See photo at right.]

The improvements of the past 20 years clearly show that the Severn—and other Anne Arundel rivers—WILL respond to programs that reduce pollution.

But this river could be so much richer—and more valuable to Anne Arundel County residents who crab, fish, paddle, sail, cruise, and live along it—if we as citizens support our county's government in putting the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund to work.

—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist

Polluted runoff from storms is one of the most harmful—and least understood—sources of pollution to the Bay and its rivers and streams. And it's an ever-growing source of pollution to the waters we all love. Learn more about this troublesome water quality threat, and what you can do about it.
 
Severn Dead Zone
This image shows dense schools of baitfish (mostly menhaden) and some larger fish (probably rockfish) suspended high in the water column over a 40’ hole in the Severn River about a mile above the Route 50 Bridge on Aug. 1, 2010. The fish are swimming at depths between 10’ and 18’, where they have water as cool as possible (around 81 degrees instead of 83 degrees at the surface) and enough dissolved oxygen to "breathe." The dissolved oxygen level in the zone where the fish are holding is 2-5 mg/l, low enough to cause stress to the menhaden and rockfish but not enough to kill them. Below 18’, the dissolved oxygen tails off to lethal levels of 1.7 mg/l at 20’ and 0.9 at 35’ (image from the fishfinder on my boat, water quality readings from a YSI 85 meter).

 
Chase Creek Algae Bloom 031408 III
An algal bloom in the Severn’s Chase Creek in March, 2007. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

 
Annapolis DO 0813
This graph comes from the dissolved oxygen sensor on NOAA’s Annapolis Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy, located in the Severn River's mouth a mile east of Greenbury Point. The wild oscillations of August 18-23 come from a dense algae bloom. The conditions that followed after the bloom died ranged from stressful (3-5 mg/liter) to downright lethal (below 3 mg/liter). Note that this sensor is on the buoy, at the surface. Dissolved oxygen levels on the bottom, 20’ below, would have been worse. August 28 was an especially bad day for critters in the area.

 
 

Photo of the Week: Beauty, Promise, and Peril on Tangier Island

Tangier.Is.S-BlakelyTangier Island, Virginia. Photo by Steve Blakely. 

The highest point of land on Tangier Island is only four feet above sea level, and the small community here is fighting hard to hang on: The ground is sinking, and the ocean is rising. To me, the beauty, promise, and peril of the Chesapeake are all captured in this one amazing place.

—Steve Blakely

Learn more about Tangier Island here.

Ensure that Steve and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, 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!