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October 2015

Polluted Runoff Fees Help Fight Local Issues

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

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Polluted runoff from agriculture and urban/suburban sources, are the first and third leading causes of impairment to roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Hampden Township is the latest Pennsylvania municipality to address its flooding and clean water problems by implementing a polluted runoff fee, and asking residents to be part of the solutions.

Hampden Township is not alone. There are over 1,550 municipalities in the United States with similar fees, and local governments across the Commonwealth are lining up to implement their own. Philadelphia, Lancaster, Hazleton, Mt. Lebanon and Radnor townships, and Jonestown Borough have already instituted polluted runoff fees.

Polluted runoff fees are also referred to as stormwater fees, or the silly "rain tax." The term is deceptive, and downright inaccurate. While "rain tax" makes for a catchy headline, the term obscures real problems and derails honest discussions about how to fix them.

By any name, the stormwater fee is not a tax on rain, but a fee based on the amount of polluted runoff that impervious surfaces like roofs, streets, and parking lots generate and then shuttle into municipally-owned storm sewers. From there, it's often sent directly to the nearest river or stream, carrying with it dirt, garbage, animal waste, oils, lawn chemicals and other pollutants into streams and rivers, threatening drinking water.

Regular flooding from uncontrolled runoff inflicts human, economic, and property damage, which affects hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth.

For municipalities, the revenue is a local solution to local problems.

Hampden Township has more than 75 miles of storm pipes and 250 outfalls that must be inspected and maintained. Stormwater pipes in the area are failing in six locations and causing erosion. The township hopes to remedy flooding issues in at least one area.

The Cumberland County municipality of 30,000 expects the fee to generate about $1.5 million annually. Funds will be used primarily to comply with clean water laws, for new and improved stormwater infrastructure, and to meet planning and reporting mandates.

Revenues from runoff fees are usually dedicated to the stormwater authority, and used only for polluted runoff issues within the municipality.

Polluted runoff fees also tend make management of runoff more equitable, in that they relieve taxpayers from bearing the entire burden. Because it is not a tax, the fee provides that tax-exempt properties pay their fair share. Hampden Township has $1 billion in tax exempt real estate. John V. Thomas, vice president of the Hampden Township Board of Commissioners, says taxes would have to be increased by 30 percent to offset potential income collected from the Navy base and West Shore Hospital alone.

Rates vary with the municipality and many, like Hampden Township, offer fee reductions if homeowners or businesses build rain gardens, plant trees, or install rain barrels on their property.

Each Hampden residence, for example, will pay a fee of $13.25 per quarter, based on the average amount of hard surface for area homes. The rate for larger, non-residential properties will be scaled upward relative to their amount of impervious surfaces and the amount of runoff they create.

Polluted runoff from agriculture and urban/suburban sources, are the first and third leading causes of impairment to roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth is perilously behind its clean water goals. Measures funded by polluted runoff fees are among those that can get us back on track.

Clean water counts. Polluted runoff fees are an investment in solving our own local problems. It makes sense that we kick-in our fair share to clean up polluted runoff and to reduce flooding of our streets, basements, and backyards.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director


Photo of the Week: It Could Be Lost Forever

Cliff and river by Bill Portlock

All photos by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff. 

Roughly halfway between Port Royal and Tappahannock, along Virginia's Northern Neck in remote Richmond County, an incredible thing happens. Stunning white and yellow bluffs rise up out of the Rappahannock toward piercing blue sky. High above these cliffs bald eagles glide through the air, their extraordinary wings stretched long and strong. In the river below, striped bass, white perch, and other fish spawn each spring. And there in a 17-foot Whaler I stare up, mouth agape.    

EagleBut a large part of this remarkable place, this jewel of the Rappahannock called Fones Cliffs, is at risk. A short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhouses. In fact, the proposed development includes 718 homes, 18 guest cottages, an 18-hole golf course and driving range, 116-room lodge with spa, 150-seat restaurant, a commercial center, a skeet and trap range, an equestrian center with stables for 90 horses, a 10,000-square-foot community barn, and seven piers along the river.

I don't have to tell you that rezoning this site would destroy this unspoiled stretch of the Rappahannock and all the wildlife that call it home. 

Join with us to tell the Richmond County Board of Supervisors we can't let this happen. Sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


This Week in the Watershed

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CBF oyster restoration staff in Harris Creek.

Walking across a stage to receive a diploma at any level of education is a milestone achievement. While the accomplishment should be celebrated, in reality, graduation is announcing an individual's ambition and preparedness to make a difference in his or her field of interest. In much the same way, there are points in time when we celebrate success of Bay restoration efforts while looking toward what the future holds.

Recently, the oyster restoration project in Harris Creek, a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River, reached a milestone by completing the construction phase. While it's inaccurate to say the creek is "restored," the oyster restoration project has made significant progress, and the creek's oysters are now prepared to make a difference both in the water quality and the oyster levels in surrounding waterways.

CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) also celebrated a major milestone, marking its 25th anniversary. With Pennsylvania second only to Alaska in the number of miles of waterways flowing through the state, it is critical that future leaders are motivated to improve their local water quality. The work to improve environmental literacy and cultivate a reverence for clean water throughout the watershed is ongoing. But with accomplishments such as the Harris Creek milestone and the SWEP anniversary, there are times to celebrate our success.

This Week in the Watershed: Oyster Milestones, Education Anniversaries, and Tiny Trash

  • The endeavor to restore the oyster population in Harris Creek, a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River, is celebrating a major milestone. (CBF Statement—MD)
  • It's the 25th year of the CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, where students get in touch with their local waterways. (Public News Service—VA)
  • The results are crystal clear—getting students outside improves learning and strengthens interest and respect for the environment. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • Finding bags, bottles, cans, and other visible signs of trash in our waterways is disturbing. But to grasp the bigger picture, you need to look closer. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Oyster restoration is tough work, but ultimately very fulfilling. CBF's Jackie Shannon can certainly testify to that. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • Two Hampton Roads area principals are bringing their experience with CBF this summer on Tangier Island back to the classroom. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

September 19

  • Gambrills, MD: Help CBF and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm. This 800-acre farm is the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was the old manure pond back when the farm was a dairy. Click here for more information.

September 22

  • Melfa, VA: The Eastern Shore of Virginia VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class on Tuesdays, starts September 22! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

September 26

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us in making the Choptank River cleaner and safer through a stream cleanup at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park. Click here to register!
  • Baltimore, MD: A vacant lot in West Baltimore is getting a facelift, with 4,000 shrubs, wild flowers, and grasses planted. Volunteers are needed for this urban restoration project that will reduce polluted runoff and beautify the neighborhood. Click here to register!
  • Solomons, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Solomon's Island September 26. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

September 27

  • Baltimore, MD: CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

September 30

  • York, PA: A good time is to be had by all at BrewVino. Residents can meet neighbors looking to protect local waterways and learn about new opportunities to get involved in ensuring clean water, healthy communities, and a thriving economy for York County. Oh, and there will be good food! Click here to register!

October 2

  • Annapolis, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Annapolis October 2. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

October 3

  • Easton, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Easton October 3. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Photo of the Week: Burgers and Brews for the Bay

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Fall on CBF's Clagett Farm. (Don't you want to be here right now?) Photo by CBF Staff.

In just a few short weeks, for many of you, this will be the incredible backdrop to your Sunday afternoon. On October 4, we're throwing a party celebrating fall, local food, clean water, and our sustainable Clagett Farm (hence the pretty pic above). And you're all invited!

Burgers and Brews for the Bay will feature delicious food created by area chefs using fresh, local ingredients and specially paired craft-brewed beers. Top that off with live bluegrass music, hay rides, and everything you ever wanted to know about how sustainable farming leads to healthier, cleaner waters, and you've got a fantastic fall afternoon on the farm. 

Tickets are selling fast. Click here to get yours!

Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 

Burgers and Brews Flyer FINAL_Crop


"Veterans on the Susquehanna" Event Honors Heroes and Local Waterways

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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Daniel Graff and his son, DJ, paddle the Susquehanna River, under the watchful eye of Joe Pegnetter of "Heroes on the Water" at Shank's Mare Outfitters in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Daniel and his family joined other veterans and their families at our first-ever "Veterans on the Susquehanna" event. Guests were treated to kayaking, fishing, fly-fishing casting lessons, live music, dinner, and refreshments. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Veterans and their families enjoyed a day of paddling and fishing, food, and live music at the first-ever "Veterans on the Susquehanna" event in Wrightsville, York County, on Saturday, Aug. 29. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Heroes on the Water–Central Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Cumberland Valley and Muddy Creek chapters of Trout Unlimited joined forces to host the day.

Shank's Mare Outfitters, along the Susquehanna River, was the ideal setting to honor the sacrifices made by veterans, to spend the afternoon on the water, and to appreciate why clean water counts in York County and across the Commonwealth.

Our "Clean Water Counts: York" campaign is underway in York County. Its goal is to make residents aware of local water quality issues and solutions, and to build and motivate advocacy to reduce water pollution in the county and across the Commonwealth. There are 19,000 miles of impaired waterways across Pennsylvania; 350 miles are in York County.

"The iconic waterways flowing through York County's diverse community are a part of the local way of life," said CBF's Pennsylvania Outreach and Advocacy Manager Amanda John. "'Clean water counts: York' is bringing together individuals, businesses, and organizations from around the county to make sure elected officials are made aware of pollution protections those waterways need."

York County commissioners Doug Hoke and Chris Reilly attended the event.

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Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited volunteers Andrew Kimsey, left, and Alan Howe offer fly-casting lessons to Sue Farrell of Mt. Wolf, at Shank's Mare Outfitters in Wrightsville. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Veterans and their families paddled the Susquehanna and fished under the watchful eyes of guides from Heroes on the Water. Heroes on the Water, many of them veterans themselves, also provided kayaks and fishing gear.

U.S. Army veteran Francine Praught of Lancaster was all smiles as she paddled out onto the Susquehanna. Praught admitted to catching more grasses than fish, and that getting out and enjoying time on the river was the ultimate goal of her day.

Air Force veterans Daniel Schaan of Washington, D.C., and Sarah Shaffer of Etters, shared the Susquehanna experience in a tandem kayak. Marines Corps veteran Daniel Graff of York and his son, "DJ," were guided on the water by Joe Pegnetter. Graff and his son later added fly-casting lessons to their experience.

Muddy Creek Trout Unlimited volunteers Chris Haag, Kelly Warren, Andrew Kimsey, and Alan Howe of Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited, helped guests get into the swing of things, by sharing fly-casting techniques with all who wanted to learn them. Joe Myers of Wrightsville and Sue Ferrell of Mt. Wolf attended the event for the fly-casting instructions alone. Myers had recently gotten a fly rod and was anxious to learn how to use it.

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U.S. Army veteran Francine Praught of Lancaster, enjoys her time kayaking on the Susquehanna River. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Not able to attend in person, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey sent his best wishes in a letter recognizing participants and organizers. "For nearly two and a half centuries, Americans have selflessly risen to answer the call of freedom," Senator Pat Toomey said. "From Lexington and Concord, to Gettysburg, Normandy, Korea, Vietnam, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq; American soldiers have gone to the ends of the earth to fight oppression and tyranny, and to uphold the cause of freedom. Many brave Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice for defending our freedoms and never returned home to see their families."

Senator Toomey added that, "It is fitting that we gather together on occasions like these to express our gratitude for all that our armed service members, current and past, have done to protect our way of life and keep our nation free."

"We're thrilled to partner with Heroes on the Water and local Trout Unlimited chapters and to see nearly 100 local veterans and supporters gain so much from their experiences on and around the water," CBF's John added. "We look forward to hosting a second annual 'Veterans on the Susquehanna' in 2016 to honor and celebrate the sacrifice and bravery of even more of these local heroes."

— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator


This Week in the Watershed

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CBF's Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD provides great examples of sustainable agriculture. Photo by Kristi Carroll/CBF Staff.

What images immediately come to mind when you hear the word, "Pollution?" For many, smokestacks, factory pipes dumping waste into streams, and leaks from wastewater treatment plants are the first thought. These are all examples of point source pollution, and while very serious, this type of pollution is not the leading culprit in harming the Chesapeake Bay. Rather, nonpoint source pollution is causing the most damage to the Bay and its rivers and streams.

This nonpoint source pollution occurs when rain runs off our streets, parking lots, and farmland, picking up pollutants of all sorts, and dumping them into our waterways. Specifically, agricultural runoff is the leading nonpoint source of pollution to the Bay. The good news is that while agriculture is the largest source of pollution, it's the cheapest to fix.

Step in, CBF's Clagett Farm. Using sustainable farming methods, Clagett is living proof that when agricultural best management practices are implemented, both the farmer and the environment stand to gain major benefits. With this example, and efforts to engage and educate farmers, it's our hope that the agricultural community will lead us to cleaner water.

This Week in the Watershed: Farming for the Bay, Warming Waters, and Poultry House Moratoriums

  • CBF's Clagett Farm is a special place, where environmental sustainability, economic vitality, community building, and education all coalesce together. (Enquirer Gazette—MD)
  • Climate change is impacting the blue crab and other fisheries in major ways. (Wilmington News Journal—DE)
  • The Berret's 25th annual crab race is in the books, raising an estimated $2,000 for CBF! (Virginia Gazette—VA)
  • A coalition of environmental groups called for a moratorium of new poultry houses on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. While CBF wasn't a part of this coalition, the rapid growth of the chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula is a problem the states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must address. (CBF Statement—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

September 12

  • Norfolk area folks, come on out for a fun-filled, family-friendly event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest 2015 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. To register, please email or call Tanner Council at TCouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

September 15

  • The Richmond VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class meeting on Tuesdays, starts September 15! This course will cover the history of the James, urban and rural runoff issues and solutions, practical methods to improve water quality in your backyard, and the critical importance of citizen action to saving the bay. Plus, there are field trips! Contact Blair Blanchette at 804-780-1392 or e-mail BBlanchette@cbf.org to register.

September 19

  • Help CBF and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm. This 800-acre farm is the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was the old manure pond back when the farm was a dairy. Click here for more information.

September 22

  • The Eastern Shore of Virginia VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class meeting on Tuesdays, starts September 22! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

September 24

  • The U.S. Green Building Council's National Capital Region is hosting "Building for Climate Resilience: Adaptions and Strategies." Part of USGBC-NCR's lead-up to Greenbuild Voices on Resilience Campaign, this event will feature a panel of expert practitioners discussing real-world examples of projects designed and engineered to withstand our changing environment. Click here to learn more!

September 26

  • Help CBF take out the trash! Join us in making the Choptank River cleaner and safer through a stream cleanup at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park. Click here to register!
  • A vacant lot in West Baltimore is getting a facelift, with 4,000 shrubs, wild flowers, and grasses planted. Volunteers are needed for this urban restoration project that will reduce polluted runoff and beautify the neighborhood. Click here to register!
  • Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Solomon's Island September 26. Returning gardeners can register to pickup spat. Click here to learn more!

September 27

  • CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Photo of the Week: Favorite Time of Day

FullSizeRenderThis was taken by the Severn River in Severna Park, Maryland. This is our favorite time to wander down to the river and watch the sun set.

—Cindy Fleet

Ensure that Cindy and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe 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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Photo by Nikki Davis

Complex problems require complex solutions. A frustrating, yet inescapable truth, this reality is encountered daily in our work to save the Bay and its rivers and streams. With a 64,000 square mile watershed home to 17 million people across six states, getting everyone working together on the same page can often feel like herding cats. Additionally, in tackling most regional issues, the old idiom of "You're only as strong as your weakest link" holds true.

This week the EPA released animal agriculture assessments for three states, finding that while Maryland has made solid progress in reducing polluted runoff from its farms, Delaware and West Virginia are drastically behind. Despite this news, we can find hope in the young voices who are already stepping up as the next generation of environmental stewards. The solutions won't get any easier, but as long as clean water matters, there will be those who fight for it.

This Week in the Watershed: Animal Agriculture, Young Voices, and Sewage Leaks

  • Reducing pollution from farms is critical to saving the Bay and our rivers and streams. One Pennsylvania farmer has made major strides in reducing agricultural runoff. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • Wrightsville, PA resident Brynn Kelly, 17, has stepped up as a voice for clean water in Pennsylvania. As she has witnessed, and the evidence attests, Pennsylvania has a long way to go to clean its waterways. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • In the past year, more than 1.5 million gallons of sewage has leaked into tributaries of the Potomac and Rappahannock River basins. Wastewater treatment infrastructures are an issue in Stafford County and beyond, causing multiple environmental and public health hazards. (Free Lance Star—VA)
  • Virgina's Chickahominy River remains largely untouched since the days Captain John Smith explored its banks. Take a trip down this beautiful waterway through this vivid account. (Prop Talk)
  • CBF's Clagett Farm is a living example that farming can be done in an environmentally responsible way. How do they do it? (Bay Journal)
  • A recent survey found that construction sites around Baltimore aren't meeting requirements to prevent erosion. Environmentalists, including your friends at CBF, are calling for stronger enforcement. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Assessments released by the EPA on the state of animal agriculture, found that Delaware and West Virginia are drastically behind, while Maryland has made solid progress. (Daily Times—MD)
  • Who doesn't love a crab race? The owners of Berret's Seafood Restaurant in Williamsburg, VA are big fans, hosting their 15th annual crab race Saturday, September 6. What's even better—proceeds from the event benefits CBF! (Williamsburg Yorktown Daily—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

September 9

  • A good time is to be had by all at BrewVino in York, PA. Residents can meet neighbors looking to protect local waterways and learn about new opportunities to get involved in ensuring clean water, a healthy community, and a thriving economy for York County. Oh, and there will be good food! Click here to register!

September 12

  • Norfolk area folks, come on out for a fun-filled, family-friendly event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest 2015 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. To register, please email or call Tanner Council at TCouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

September 15

  • The Richmond VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class meeting on Tuesdays, starts September 15! This course will cover the history of the James, urban and rural runoff issues and solutions, practical methods to improve water quality in your backyard, and the critical importance of citizen action to saving the bay. Plus, there are field trips! Contact Blair Blanchette at 804-780-1392 or e-mail BBlanchette@cbf.org to register.

September 19

  • Help the CBF and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm. This 800-acre farm is the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was the old manure pond back when the farm was a dairy. Click here for more information.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


During Sweltering Summer, Brock Center's Electric Bill Comes in at Just $17 a Month

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Photo by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

If you got sticker shock from your electric bill this summer, you'll want to check out the Brock Environmental Center's latest statement from Dominion Power. CBF's electric bills for the building have come in at only $17.19 a month the past few months. What's more, that's all administrative fees. Since April, the Brock Center's solar panels and wind turbines have actually produced nearly twice as much energy than was used. That extra electricity is then returned to the grid to help power other houses.

So how do you keep a 10,500-square-foot building running for just 57 cents a day in Virginia Beach's summer heat? In addition to taking advantage of abundant solar and wind energy, the building uses natural ventilation to catch refreshing morning and evening breezes. A geothermal cooling system utilizes the earth's constant 56 degree temperature.

Reducing energy and water needs is also a big part of it. Natural sunlight illuminates the space, while strategic summer shading prevents the sun from heating up the building. Super-efficient insulation makes sure it stays refreshing indoors even during sweltering weather outside. Through it all, temperatures in the office hover around a comfortable 76 degrees during the warmer months.

It's all promising as the Brock Center nears the halfway mark in its effort to earn Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute, a rare and demanding designation achieved by only a handful of buildings around the world. CBF started the clock on April 1 for the challenge, in which over the course of one year the center must produce at least as much energy as it uses and get all of its water from collected rain, among other strict requirements.

One of the most environmentally smart buildings in the world, the combination of renewable energy and extreme energy efficiency at the Brock Center is a model for how buildings can have a near-zero carbon footprint. Wouldn't it be great if all offices could be powered for well under a dollar a day?

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to check out how much energy the Brock Center is consuming in real time at the building's dashboard.

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A copy of a recent energy bill from the Brock Environmental Center.

Back to School Doesn't Have to Mean Back Inside

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Students from Dunloggin Middle School in Howard County learn about water-filtering oysters before releasing them into the Bay. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It's "that time of year" again. Students, teachers, and parents are preparing to go back to school. Over the next few weeks, millions of What I did on my summer vacation essays will be written by students describing the camp they joined, the river they swam in, the beach they visited, the neighborhoods they explored with friends. But all of that is over now, it's time for back to school. Time to go back inside and learn important things from adults, and books, and the Internet.

As I watch my own kids (ages 8, 12, and 14) reluctantly get ready, it raises some questions for me: Which learning is more valuable? Why is 98+ percent of all of our instruction done indoors? Why aren't more teachers and students learning outside?

Certainly, there are a lot of challenges to leaving the four walls of the school building for learning: lack of transportation, physical safety concerns, lack of teacher experience, lack of time due to testing schedules. But there are amazing benefits to using the outdoors for learning.  Learners of almost every type are more engaged and active when they are outside. There are more opportunities for practicing life-relevant learning. And we need the next generation to understand the value of a healthy environment and the impact of our choices on it.

Based on my experience as a classroom teacher and an environmental educator, we don't give our teachers support to utilize the environment or to create the expectation that students should ever learn outside beyond their PE classes. Education is a very traditional field with massive cultural inertia. We teach the way that we are taught, and the systems have grown to perpetuate the tradition of the teacher at the front of the classroom and students in rows of desks with books. (Replacing those books with iPads isn't all that revolutionary.)

There are many forward-thinking teachers, schools, and schools systems that are making strides to change their practice to a learner centered approach, but even many of these cutting-edge educators fail to challenge the basic assumption that school has to happen inside. When you think about it, we call it "school," not "learning." If we were designing a truly learner-centered approach, I would propose that we look to how students choose to learn when adults aren't structuring the experience. If your kids are anything like mine, that learning looks like outdoor exploration.

So what can you do? You can change that expectation. If you are a teacher, you can commit to trying your first outdoor lesson or challenging yourself to modify a lesson per quarter to use the outdoors, even if it's just on your own schoolyard. If you are a parent, ask the question of your teachers and principals: "Will my children have an opportunity to learn outside this year?" (And offer to support your school by chaperoning outdoor experiences.) Or incentivize your children to learn on their own. My sons are currently researching why their dad won't let them swim in our local river until at least 48 hours after a rainstorm, hoping to get me to slack up on the rules.

If you are a student, give your teacher some feedback on how you learn best, and if your school can't accommodate learning outside, find or create your own learning opportunities. Join or create an outdoors or environmental club. If you are a school leader and need other ideasget in touch with CBF or another environmental education organization, and we can share hundreds of ways to make your school greener.

I hope you get to learn outside this year with CBFor on your own. And to all CBF teachers and students, best of luck in starting what we hope will be another great year. We can't Save the Bay without you.

—Tom Ackerman, CBF's Vice President for Education