Susquehanna Odyssey Is Testament to a Struggling River

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

Andrew Phillips grew up a block from the Susquehanna River, in Selinsgrove. He watched bald eaglets in a nest that hung over the river and never got tired of exploring the "huge, magnificent vein" of water in his own backyard. In his senior year of high school, he and a friend kayaked the 120 miles from his home to the Chesapeake Bay.

But Andrew wanted to know more about the river he loves. So earlier this summer, he and a buddy, Mauricio Martinez, kayaked the entire 464 miles of the Susquehanna, from Cooperstown, New York, to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Bay. It was the steamiest and stormiest two weeks of the season.

It was not an unusual feat for the adventurous, compassionate young man who says he'd "already drained the worry out of my family." When he's not studying environmental health at West Chester University or disappearing for days with his backpack, Andrew manages a community garden on campus.

The 20-year-old's odyssey down the living laboratory that is the Susquehanna River provides a true perspective of the problems, pleasures, and promises of a river in peril.

They found wildlife to be plentiful along the way, noting river otters, and more eagles than ducks. They were amazed that an American shad had gotten as far upriver as Harrisburg, although it was dead when they found it.

Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek.

The kindness of others provided fresh, clean water and portaging help around some of the more difficult dams. Andrew and Mauricio were awed at how the pristine trickle in New York became the mighty Susquehanna and almost a mile wide at Harrisburg. It even flowed northward at the Pennsylvania-New York border. Both remember the joy of reaching the wide expanse of the bay at Havre de Grace.

In the downstream transformation of the initial, crystalline stream they also saw firsthand the problems that plague the river that flows 20 miles per day, 18 million gallons per minute at Havre de Grace, and provides half of the freshwater to the Bay.

Andrew noted that the river seems burdened by pollutants, especially sediment. He noticed the effects of streambank erosion while still in New York waters.

Once into agricultural areas of Pennsylvania, they stopped using small portable filters and switched to bottled drinking water. "We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river, and the water is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through," Andrew says. "The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks, and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed."

Agriculture is the largest source of water pollution in Pennsylvania and the cheapest to fix.

The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track.

Andrew and Mauricio also found that kayaking near dams like Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo was brutal for the lack of current. They also took note of the water quality at the impoundments. "You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it," Andrew remembers. "Sediment builds up, and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Millions of shad historically swam hundreds of miles up the Susquehanna, which once boasted the largest shad spawning area on the East Coast. But because of dams, the shad's ability to reach spawning habitats has dropped 98 percent in the river basin. Fish ladders exist to try to relieve this problem, but fisheries managers admit they haven't been nearly as successful as hoped. Yet there is some good news: For 12 straight years Pennsylvania has led the nation in the number of dams removed from rivers and streams.

Andrew's adventure down the Susquehanna left him with a greater appreciation for that and all rivers. "They are living bodies themselves because of all the life that relies on them, is immersed in them, and revolves around them. This is our sacred space and deserves so much respect."

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

The Susquehanna River is sick. Urge Governor Wolf and DEP to push for the Lower Susquehanna River to be on EPA's Impaired Waters list!


The Incredible Journey

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Andrew Phillips (left) with friend and fellow adventurer Mauricio Martinez.

Andrew Phillips grew up with a love of adventure and the Susquehanna River.

The 20-year-old environmental health major at West Chester University disappears for days with his backpack, wants to join the Peace Corps, and has a mission trip to Guatemala under his belt.

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Andrew Phillips, finds there’s nowhere to go but down river during yet another downpour, at Great Bend, New York.

Phillips' lifelong interest in water was piqued in high school on a paddling trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, where students tested water quality and surveyed aquatic life in nearby Walker Lake.

His senior year of high school at Selinsgrove High School, Phillips and a friend kayaked 120 miles of the Susquehanna from Selinsgrove to the Chesapeake Bay. It left him wanting more.

So earlier this summer, Phillips and buddy Mauricio Martinez stepped into a crystalline stream at the southern point of Otsego Lake, New York, and began their trip down the entire length of the mighty Susquehanna. The 464 miles would take them from Cooperstown, New York, to where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland, during the most steamy and stormy two weeks of the season.

Phillips describes his extraordinary experience below in a series of observations . . . 

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There were memorable sunrises during the journey. This one was along Towanda Creek, Pennsylvania.

River runs north: "It was kind of disorienting to be kayaking downstream and yet, due north. [The river enters Susquehanna County then curves back northward toward Binghamton, New York.] When we saw the sun setting, it was on the wrong side of us. The river is so winding, you really only see a quarter mile at a time."

Changes: "The murkier water as we headed downstream was so different from the pristine clear water that was at the headwaters. The river seems burdened by the pollutant load, especially the sedimentation. We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river and it is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through. The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed. We could see so tangibly the problems we know exist."

Wildlife: "Peregrine falcons, snapping turtles, otters, a fox on the shoreline. Many species use the river so you are going to see a lot. I've seldom seen river otters so it was cool to see seven or eight. We saw more eagles than ducks."

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Andrew Phillips paddles the first few, narrow miles of the Susquehanna and past streambank erosion and farm fields.

A night like no other: "With only 100 miles to go, we were south of Selinsgrove in yet another storm--the straw that broke the camel's back. We took shelter in a duck blind and it had bees. We moved to under a tree that turned out to be poison ivy."

Flipped for Harrisburg: "I'd gone through that riffle before. It's kind of dangly and didn't leave much of an impression. It was the lowhead effect; you can't see it until you are on top of it. This drop was so abrupt that the nose of my 10-foot, 10-year-old recreational kayak went straight down. I wasn't embarrassed, 350 miles of brutal water tears that out of you. There were fishermen nearby and they were laughing."

Eats: "Spartan provisions. We anticipated catching fish but didn't due mostly to a lack of time. Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek. Uncooked Ramen noodles was our chief staple. Every night [we feasted on] a stew made of beans, Ramen noodles, coconut oil, and some adobo. Paddling for 12-14 hours a day you need a lot of fuel." [They also found their favorite mulberries along the way.]

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The area below the dam at Goodyear Lake, New York, provided one of the journey’s toughest portages.

Shad: "We saw a dead American shad on the shore below the small lowhead dam at Harrisburg. For the shad to have made it upstream through those dams is incredible."

Smallmouth bass: "With strange growths found on fish [recently], especially in my area [Selinsgrove], which was the smallmouth capital of the world, it's a huge tragedy. Mauricio still catches smallmouth occasionally near Danville."

Under cover: "Campsites are hard to plan for. The bridges were a lifesaver with all the storms we had. It was arid until we left, and then it was heavy storm after storm. [We had] maybe four nights when it didn't rain. It was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity."

Drinking water: "At the river's headwaters, a small portable filter is sufficient. As you move downstream it's recommended that you not use them after passing agricultural land. So we bought gallon jugs of water and refilled them along the way."

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A small cannon and plaque on a boulder near Cooperstown, New York, are the monument marking the official headwaters of the Susquehanna River.

Trip of the dammed: "The dams are a real threat to the [Susquehanna]. You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it. Sediment builds up and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Kindness of others: "We met interesting people along the way. When you are out on this trip and lacking human contact, it's easy to ask for help with portaging, water, and food."

Still waters: "Near the Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo Dams, the kayaking is brutal. [The river becomes] essentially lakes where there's no help from the current. In the headwaters and open areas we covered 40-50 miles a day, easily. At the dam, 30 miles is a stretch."

Grand finale: "It didn't dawn on me until we unpacked. At Havre de Grace, it's incredible. It was the promised land of sorts. The sky opens up and you see this huge, open Chesapeake Bay after being closed by mountains and cliffs for almost 500 miles. It's a really incredible sight."

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

The Bay: "Everybody is downstream. The Bay acts like the dipstick for the whole region. There are so many different threats from so many different angles. We were kind of like flotsam going down the river and saw how this system impacts the Bay itself."

Lasting impression: "Rivers are conveyor belts that show the health of the entire land. [The Susquehanna] is more than a cause that you reluctantly write a check for. This is our sacred space. There are settlements along the way, and they are fixed, but this river runs through them and refreshes itself. You really get a feel for it, like it's an old friend instead of a body of moving water."

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


We're Halfway There: Holy Cross Abbey, Cool Spring Farm


Holy Cross Abbey June 2015 (Clarke Co CD10)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.

Father James Orthmann is a monk at the Holy Cross Abbey, a 1,200-acre farm with nearly three miles of river frontage on the main stem of the Shenandoah River.

"In order for us to be spiritually sustainable, it is necessary for us to take care of the place where we live," he explains. The monks' "place" is Cool Spring Farm, located along the west bank of the river where the American Civil War Battle of Cool Spring occurred in the summer of 1864.

The Trappist monks of Cool Spring began their natural resources pilgrimage with a sustainability study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2009-2010.

"One of the first recommendations from the study was to get our cows out of the Shenandoah River and all the tributaries on the farm," Orthmann says. "How could we be true to our guiding principal of loving our 'place' with cows in the river and streams? The cows were polluting the water and ruining the streambanks.

"To achieve this, we first removed the cattle from the flood plain and leased that land to an 'all natural' produce farm. Next we contacted the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for assistance with fencing and watering troughs for the rest of the streams on the farm.

"With the help from these dedicated public servants, we were able to protect almost four and a half miles of streambanks, including the Shenandoah River and the historic Cool Spring itself."

The community of monks continued their sustainability journey by diversifying their operation. Not only do they produce cattle, fruits, vegetables, and timber, they also now have a "natural cemetery," a retreat house, gift shop, and the Monastery Bakery—the one that produces those famous Trappist fruitcakes.

"Sustainability works," Orthmann continued. "It's paying off economically, environmentally, and spiritually. As Trappist monks committed to this community and land for life, fencing the cows out of the stream was an easy first step toward a more holistic lifestyle."

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

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.

 


Time to Walk the Walk on Clean Waters

 

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Photo by Octavio Abruto/iLCP. 

At the recent annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program leadership, there was much talk about the importance of restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, but a shortage of commitment to specific actions that will get Bay restoration back on track.

And it is clearly off track.

After decades of failed Bay restoration efforts, there is now a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint includes pollution limits, state-specific plans to achieve those limits with two-year milestones describing the actions each state will take, and the consequences that the Environmental Protection Agency said it would impose if the jurisdictions failed to take the actions they promised.

As part of the Blueprint, the Bay jurisdictions pledged to implement practices by 2017 that will result in a 60 percent reduction in pollution, but at the current pace it is estimated that they will miss that mark on nitrogen pollution by 50 percent. And 80 percent of that shortfall is from Pennsylvania.

That is unacceptable.

Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this problem, but the 2017 deadline will occur on his watch. At the meeting, John Quigley, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), did acknowledge that the commonwealth needs to "reboot" its restoration efforts, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes he intends to do that. But the devil is in the details, and we are calling for Pennsylvania to lay out, in the next 30 days, a meaningful plan and timetable for implementation.

We are pleased that Pennsylvania recognizes that it needs to improve compliance with agricultural laws and regulations as well as modernizing record keeping and data collection. The commonwealth has some of the strongest regulations in the region for agriculture, but recent on-farm inspections by the EPA and DEP found only one in three farms in compliance. With current staffing, it would take DEP more than 150 years to inspect each farm in Pennsylvania's Bay watershed once.

CBF supports the call by Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase the technical and financial assistance to help farmers implement conservation practices that will reduce pollution.

Maryland and Virginia are closer to being on track, but an assessment of the critical practices they have committed to implementing in their milestones finds progress short of the mark in those jurisdictions as well.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban and suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, we call on the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe to ensure farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to create streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia also must increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is among the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, Maryland missed its 2014 milestone from both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the USDA agricultural census, population and land-use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Administrator Gina McCarthy, who was also at that meeting, spoke of EPA's support of the Blueprint, but refused to specify the actions the agency intends to take if the states fail to meet their commitments. If states fail to implement the plans each developed, EPA must impose consequences for failure. If not, we are at risk of yet another failed Bay agreement.

The leaders talked the talk; it is now time for them to walk the walk.

—Kim Coble, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration 

 


EPA Needs to Act on States' Inability to Reach Nutrient Goals

 

Bill Portlock
Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Since 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has applauded the transparency, accountability and consequences built into the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. But like any three-legged stool, take one leg away and it falls.

It is the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's job to establish the policies and financing for the restoration and protection of the Bay and its living resources and to be accountable to the public for progress, or lack thereof. The EPA's recent interim milestone assessment suggests that the Bay cleanup is dramatically off course: Since 2009, Bay states have achieved only 29 percent of the nearly 41 million pounds of nitrogen reductions needed by 2017.

When the council meets on July 23, its actions will determine if the stool continues to stand, or whether we are in danger of repeating the decades of failed restoration efforts from the first three Bay agreements. The disappointing progress to date suggests that the stool might soon fall. The council must soon take corrective action, or the legacy of an improving Bay will be lost once again.

Although both Virginia and Maryland are making progress, the EPA's recent assessment suggests that both states face shortfalls.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban/suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, CBF calls on the McAuliffe administration to ensure that farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to restore streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia must also increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is one of the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

Maryland data show phosphorus pollution increasing in the Choptank watershed, and the EPA recommends that Maryland consider additional reductions.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, the state missed its 2014 milestone for both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the United States Department of Agriculture agricultural census, and population and land use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Pennsylvania is the greatest source of nitrogen pollution and missed the mark on its 2012–13 milestones and again in its 2014 nitrogen milestone goal. Not surprisingly, the largest shortfalls are in reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff.

The shortfall in Pennsylvania is huge. When we look at how Bay states are coming up short, Pennsylvania is responsible for more than 75 percent of that deficit. And more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania's share of the shortfall comes from agriculture.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration inherited the commonwealth's water quality problems, they are nonetheless responsible for implementing solutions. Pennsylvania needs to aggressively advance efforts to ensure farmers are complying with existing laws. At the current rate of inspections, it will take more than 150 years for each farm in the Bay watershed to be inspected once.

Given that Pennsylvania has repeatedly missed its nitrogen goals, CBF is also calling on the federal government to take action. In 2009, the EPA outlined the consequences that it could impose if jurisdictions do not implement the plans. It is time for the EPA to impose the backstops to ensure pollution is reduced.

The USDA also has a key role to play. President Obama's Executive Order committed the USDA to target funding to key watersheds to assist states in meeting two-year milestones. The USDA must, therefore, target technical and financial resources to help Pennsylvania achieve its goals.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania will all be in office when the 2017 deadline is reached. Their legacy will be determined by the actions they take over the next two years. Their actions need to be solely focused on implementing the Blueprint. The Executive Council can never state that it didn't have adequate forewarning about the challenges we face.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell your Governor and EPA in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23 that clean water restoration must move forward!

 


We're Halfway There: Fort Stover Farm


Gibson June 2015 (Page Co CD6)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.

John Gibson is a man of the river. He founded one of the first canoe companies on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in 1974. He has been sharing the beauty of the river with others ever since.

In 1980 he was floating down the river and noticed an abandoned stone house on a bluff on the east side of the river. Research, perseverance, and being at the right place at the right time gave John the opportunity to buy the 1769 German "Flurkuchenhaus" (AKA hall-kitchen house) just one year later.

Eventually he acquired the surrounding farm and placed both the historic house and land in an open space easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. These cultural and natural resources are now protected forever from development.

"I bought a subdivision and turned it into a farm," Gibson laughs. "It can be done . . . turning it around. When we bought the farm it was divided into 243 lots, and cattle roamed all over the place. The tenant farmer's cows would wander up- and downriver and cross the river onto other people's property—it was a real nightmare."

Fort Stover Farm has a mile and a half of river frontage. One of Gibson's first conservation efforts was erecting a fence to keep the cows out of the river.

"As soon as we put a fence up along the river, the 1985 flood took it out. I decided then to get the cows out of the flood plain all together and just use it for hay," he says.

Gibson converted 50 acres of pasture to permanent hay and no longer worries about a flood taking out one of his fences. To water the cows he installed two alternative watering stations. This was all done without state or federal cost-share assistance.

"Being on the river, I saw firsthand the damage cattle do to stream banks," Gibson said, adding, "It's a negative aspect to my customer's adventure on the river."

Today, Fort Stover Farm produces not only healthier cows but also cleaner water and a more pleasant float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

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

A week from today our Bay cleanup leaders will be meeting in Washington. Send them a message before they meet urging they fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to providing farmers with the necessary assistance they need to make their farms and our waters healthier.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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Clean water is in our grasp with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint recently withstood a legal challenge from powerful special interest groups. Photo by Danny Motsko.

Conflict, and particularly conflict against a strong opposition, is fundamental to every good story. The story of saving the Bay is no different. Over the past several decades, voluntary commitments by states to clean their waterways were never met. Indeed, in a sea of good intentions, the water only became more polluted.

Enter the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The states in the watershed agreed to two-year incremental milestones of pollution reduction, with the EPA having the enforcement power to impose consequences for failure. Finally, the fight for clean water had some teeth. Shortly thereafter however, powerful special interests with enormous influence attacked the new agreement.

Led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, national agricultural and development industry groups challenged the Blueprint's pollution limits in court. In September 2013, Judge Sylvia Rambo ruled affirming the legality of the Blueprint. The fight continued as the Farm Bureau group appealed Rambo's decision, this time joined by attorneys general from 21 states supporting their efforts.

A new, and hopefully final, chapter in this conflict was written on Monday, with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denying the Farm Bureau group appeal. With this victory for clean water the work to save the Bay and it's rivers and streams continues, focusing our efforts on the implementation of the Blueprint—the Bay's best, and perhaps last chance, for real restoration.

This week in the Watershed: A Historic Victory for Clean Water, Restoring Streams, and Loving Trees

  • As already noted, the big news this week was the court ruling upholding the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. With such big news and accompanying coverage, it deserves a list of its own: CBF Press Release, Associated Press, Washington Post, Think Progress, Baltimore Sun, Bay Journal
  • We couldn't agree more with this editorial, claiming the need of the EPA's enforcement powers for the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Arlington County in northern Virginia has been doing great work around stream restoration. (Arlington Connection—VA)
  • As reported last week, CBF went to court in Virginia, suing the state to fence farm animals out of streams. Jon Mueller, CBF VP for Litigation, argued on July 2, "We got to where we are today [with a polluted Bay] because [agreements to clean the Bay] were non-binding." (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, discusses the importance of trees in the fight for clean water. (The Sentinel—PA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 11

  • Enjoy a leisurely guided hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A guest speaker will bring to life the history of this the second largest urban park in the country. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 7.

July 16

  • Attend the U.S. Green Building Council's National Capital Region's "A Midnight Summer's Dream" Gala. This annual fundraiser has been the premier summer networking event for the DC metro area’s green building community for over a decade. Click here for more information!

July 23

  • Join CBF for an evening of exploring the unique and beautiful lower Susquehanna River. Explore a unique stretch of the Susquehanna, paddling by plants and animals that call these unique ecosystems home while discussing how land use and pollution have affected the overall habitat of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Click here to register!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more! Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at TFord@cbf.org to reserve your spot!
  • Get on the water with a kayak trip on Bear Creek, near Baltimore. A unique experience on urban waters, you will see the impact of suburban development on the land and water, paddle close to the infamous Sparrows Point, and hear from a local environmental group about what's being done in the area. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 17.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Remembering Libby Norris

Libby NorrisThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation is greatly saddened by the passing of Libby Norris, CBF's Virginia watershed restoration scientist and agricultural specialist for the past 14 years, after battling breast cancer.

Libby was highly regarded across the state for her knowledge of farming, conservation practices, and technical assistance programs that help farmers reduce runoff pollution. She built a CBF program that has assisted hundreds of Virginia's farmers, fenced miles and miles of streams, and planted thousands of acres of stream buffers and wetlands. Quite simply, thanks to Libby's good work, today there are more healthy rivers and streams, more fish, crabs, and oysters, and more clean water for all of us across Virginia.

But more than that, Libby was beloved by everyone who knew and worked with her. Famous for her good nature and ready smile, Libby befriended farm families in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. She earned farmers' trust and provided them not only exceptional technical help but also a personal connection to the Bay.

Libby with Valley Farmer
Libby worked tirelessly with farmers across the Commonwealth.

She also got to know Bay watermen on remote Tangier Island, and hosted many farmer trips to Tangier as well as brought watermen to the Valley to meet farmers. She instinctively recognized that these two groups had more in common than they did differences and sought to build shared understanding.

Throughout her work, Libby always had two priorities: people and the environment. We at CBF know she was truly a very rare and special person who always thought of everyone on the team. She was a great teacher, mentor, and friend who remained positive no matter the challenges she faced.

Libby is survived by her husband David, daughters Colby and Dylan, her mother, brother, and a host of other friends and relatives.

One of the farmers who worked with Libby perhaps said it best:

"In life she was an inspiration to so many, a voice of reason in a sea of angry debate. In death she will be remembered as one who suffered without complaining and brought a smile wherever she went. Her legacy will be the bridges she built between opposing factions, and her headstone will be 10,000 trees growing across the Commonwealth, reminding us of what one individual can accomplish with vision and determination."

 

Watch our Farmers to the Bay—We're All in This Together video to see how Libby was so instrumental in connecting with farmers and watermen alike on critical clean water issues.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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Fencing animals out of streams is one of the most effective solutions in improving water quality. Photo by Justin Black/iLCP.

The work to save the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams can be extremely complex. From wastewater treatment plant upgrades to stormwater retrofits, some of the solutions are big, intricate projects that are downright expensive. At the same time, many of the solutions—often in agriculture, the  biggest source of pollution and least expensive to reduce—are surprisingly straightforward and economical.

One of these solutions is fencing animals out of streams. This prevents streamside erosion and keeps manure out of our waterways, making a dramatic difference. In Virginia however, the state is failing to protect its streams, rivers, and the Bay by allowing animals from large livestock farms unfettered access to streams. We're taking the state to court, asking that stream fencing, one of the most effective best management practices, is implemented and enforced on all large livestock farms.

In the end, ideas are only as good as their execution. Throughout the watershed we will continue to fight for common sense solutions to save the Bay and its rivers and streams for us and future generations.

This week in the Watershed: Going to Court for Fences, Pennsylvania, and Solar

  • CBF's Merrill Center is getting 370 solar panels installed on its roof! The project will reduce the building's energy usage by 30 percent. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • CBF is suing the state of Virginia to require large livestock operations to fence off rivers and streams from their animals. (Associated Press)
  • More info on CBF's legal action to challenge Virginia's rules for large livestock farms. (CBF Press Release—VA)
  • As has been reported, Pennsylvania is off track on pollution reduction. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • There is a clear consensus that Pennsylvania needs to accelerate its pollution reduction efforts. (Republican Herald Editorial—PA)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, writes that while Pennsylvania has fallen behind on its clean water commitments, there's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • CBF President Will Baker discusses the critical importance of the Susquehanna River and the need to save it for both Pennsylvanians and the Chesapeake Bay. (Huffington Post)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 9

  • 10,000 potted trees at CBF's Clagett Farm's Native Tree and Shrub Nursery need a little TLC! Come volunteer to help maintain these trees that will eventually be planted as a buffer against erosion, and a way to mitigate nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff into the Bay! Contact David Tana at MDRestoration@cbf.org to register.

July 11

  • Enjoy a leisurely guided hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A guest speaker will bring to life the history of this the second largest urban park in the country. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 7.

July 16

  • Attend the U.S. Green Building Council's National Capital Region's "A Midnight Summer's Dream" Gala. This annual fundraiser has been the premier summer networking event for the DC metro area’s green building community for over a decade. Click here for more information!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more! Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at TFord@cbf.org to reserve your spot!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Pennsylvania Leaders Must Step up to Meet Clean Water Commitments

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Agriculture and polluted runoff from sprawl development are two of the leading causes of water pollution in Pennsylvania. Photo by Garth Lenz.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) latest assessment of Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce pollution and restore its waterways that flow to the Chesapeake Bay, finds that the Commonwealth has fallen dangerously short of meeting its clean water commitment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes now is the time to galvanize leadership from all sectors of government, including federal partners like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and others, to truly invest in correcting the current course and reducing pollution.

As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, Bay states developed two-year incremental pollution reduction targets, called milestones, with the goal of implementing 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017 and finish the job by 2025.

EPA's review of Pennsylvania's reported progress in its 2014-15 milestones found that while on track for phosphorus reduction, there are significant shortfalls in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals.

The EPA found the most significant shortfall to be in reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture. To get back on track, the Commonwealth must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.

The report also shows that reducing pollution fromurban/stormwater runoff is off track. Using 2009 as a baseline, Pennsylvania committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from urban/suburban runoff by 41 percent by 2025. As of 2014, practices were put in place to reduce nitrogen pollution by only one percent.

The wastewater treatment sector has exceeded its obligations.

Agriculture is the leading cause of stream impairment, damaging more than 5,000 miles as a result of polluted runoff and eroded streambanks. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), 166 miles of York County's streams are impaired by agricultural activities.

Agriculture is also one of the least expensive sources of pollution to reduce. Farmers benefit from measures that improve water quality. For example, valuable soils and nutrients are kept on the fields with conservation tillage and cover crops.

In York County, 134 stream miles are impaired due to polluted runoff from urban and suburban development, according to DEP. Recent efforts to develop a regional plan to address the issue, led by the York County Planning Department, promise cost-effective solutions which can reduce flooding and beautify communities.

After decades of missing deadlines, Pennsylvania faces federal consequences for falling behind its clean water commitments. If efforts to reduce pollution in the Commonwealth are not meaningfully advanced, there could be significant impacts to taxpayers from increased sewage treatment costs and other actions.

Clean water counts. The health and economic benefits of achieving our clean water goals are huge. A peer-reviewed report produced by CBF showed a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth meets its commitments.

There's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track, if the accelerated effort begins now. Restoring water quality is a legacy worth leaving our children and future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!