Three Examples Show How Ripples Can Become Waves to Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

The saying goes: "It takes a village." To fully implement the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, governments, businesses, and citizens all must do their part. Every day, I meet people working to reduce pollution and restore local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake. What I have learned is that Bay's village is huge. Few get the credit they deserve. As we enter the new year, I would like to share three stories. There are many thousands more.

Brad Seeley

Chesapeake Bay technician Brady Seeley is on the frontline, conducting farm inspections in Cumberland County as part of Pennsylvania's renewed effort to get pollution reduction back on track. The state Department of Environmental Protection asked conservation districts to inspect 10 percent of farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Bay watershed for the required manure management and erosion and sediment plans.

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Technician Brady Seeley’s familiarity with farmers and his experience growing up on a small dairy farm serves him well during his farm inspections in Cumberland County, PA.

Some conservation districts opted not to do inspections, fearing they might strain relations with farmers.

But the process has gone smoothly in the Cumberland County Conservation District, thanks to Seeley's familiarity with farmers and his experience growing up on a small dairy farm in the Keystone State. He has been with the district nearly three years.

He is finding areas that need to be improved. After meeting with one farmer, Seely said, "He had a conservation plan but not a manure management plan and agreed to seek technical assistance to get it written. You can go out and tell the farmer he is in violation and then it's not hard in the next sentence to tell the farmer let us help you get those plans."

Mark Foster

Mark Foster is the founder and executive director of Second Chance, Inc. in Baltimore. His nonprofit aims for a "triple bottom line." It strives to give people, material, and the environment a second chance at new life. Second Chance provides green collar jobs to some of the city's residents who find job seeking most difficult, including those coming out of prison and those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. The workforce deconstructs houses and salvages materials for sale at a Ridgely Street warehouse near M&T Bank Stadium.

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Mark Foster, founder and executive director of Second Chance, Inc., hires those whose past makes it difficult to find a job. They deconstruct houses to save materials from going into landfills.

Foster started Second Chance 13 years ago. He was a homeowner trying to refurbish a house built in 1902. He found it difficult to find replacement pieces and parts. Most old homes were simply demolished, and the remains dumped in landfills. Now, Second Chance workers demolish more than 200 homes a year, saving nearly everything for resale and have kept 10,502,118 pounds of post-construction waste out of landfills so far in 2016.

Foster is determined that Second Chance stretch its environmentalism even more. Next year, Second Chance plans to install rain gardens in its parking lot and solar panels on its roof. Inspired, in part, by volunteering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation when he was in high school, Foster said that he wants to help the Chesapeake get a second chance.

The Carcamo Family

In Richmond, Efrain Carcamo and his three children walk the banks of the James River several times a month to hunt litter. On each trip, they fill bags with beer cans, plastic bottles, and other trash. For years, Carcamo has repeated this routine in a personal effort to clean up the river.

Growing up on a farm in El Salvador, Carcamo learned to respect the environment. Since moving to the United States as a teen, he's been drawn to restoring the rivers and streams that flow to the Bay.

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In Richmond, Efrain Carcamo, a single father, has passed on his love of nature to his children (l-r), Elysha, Emaya and Eljah, who pick up trash along the James River.

Carcamo's contribution to clean water stretches beyond the untold amount of trash he has removed from the James. He's inspiring others to take action. That starts with his three young children, who eagerly join in efforts to fight pollution.

By being out regularly along heavily used stretches of the river, he's also an example to the many people who see him cleaning up. "I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds out here, from all levels of society, different races," he said. After speaking with him, some follow in his footsteps. "When they realize there is someone doing it, they get courage and they start doing it themselves," Carcamo said.

We all know that the Bay's problems are larger than trash or inadequate manure management. Nonetheless, these individuals are demonstrating the difference they can make and the good they can create. They are Chesapeake Bay stewards.

As we reach the midpoint of the Clean Water Blueprint, we are seeing progress. The water is clearer, the dead zone is getting smaller and Bay grass populations are up significantly. But there is much more work that needs to be done.

In 2017, it will be more important than ever that our elected officials know that we value our rivers, streams and the Bay. So please contact them to let them know that clean water is not a luxury, it is a right.

—Will Baker, CBF President


Baltimore by the Numbers

111,000 oysters! 3,000 perennials! 250 paddlers! Read on for all that we've accomplished in Baltimore just in the last month . . . 

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Planting 111,000 water-filtering oysters in Baltimore Harbor sure does get us excited! Photo courtesy of Terry Cummings/CBF Staff.

The water was a thick mahogany brown as we loaded 20,000 juvenile oysters onto CBF's workboat the Snow Goose for a trip to the Fort Carroll oyster sanctuary reef, their soon-to-be permanent home 18 feet below on the Patapsco River bottom just below the Key Bridge. 

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Planting oysters in Baltimore Harbor. Photo courtesy of Terry Cummings/CBF Staff.

The trip was one of six to the reef to plant the oysters, which were grown from tiny baby spat to quarter-sized juveniles in cages hung from docks around Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Two years ago, CBF and the Waterfront Partnership established the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership to bring more notoriety to this most critical bivalve, which is at historic lows, and engage Baltimoreans in raising them. Last year we planted about 80,000 oysters at Fort Carroll. In 2016, 150 oyster gardeners raised 111,000 oysters in 10 locations from Canton to Locust Point. When they grow to adults in two years, those oysters will filter more than 5,500,000 gallons of water a day, helping to improve water quality while creating acres of valuable fish habitat.

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Turning a vacant lot into a community garden in West Baltimore. Photo by Jay Fleming.

Ten days later, across town, 45 volunteers helped plant 3,000 coneflowers, black-eyed-susans, white aster, and goldenrod on a renovated vacant lot. CBF and 11 partner organizations replaced 10,000 square feet of concrete and asphalt with tons of new topsoil, almost two dozen trees, 50 native shrubs and the 3,000 perennials to help reduce polluted runoff by 242,000 gallons a year. This planting culminated the 18-month project and set the stage for more restoration work by engendering the Westside Collaborative, a partnership to improve neighborhoods and the green infrastructure in West Baltimore.

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Passionate paddlers at the Baltimore Floatilla. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Downstream from the lot the following weekend, a host of paddlers gathered at Canton Waterfront Park for the 2.5-mile paddle to the Science Center in the Inner Harbor as part of the Waterfront Partnership's  first-ever Baltimore Floatilla. Another 100 paddlers from Tide Point joined the Canton group on its way to meet the infamous Mr. Trash Wheel and start the rally for clean water. Roughly 250 paddlers converged around the solar-powered, floating trash collector (which, by the way, scooped up 238.8 tons of trash last year). Under a bright blue Baltimore sky, participants in the Floatilla shouted "Fix the Pipes," demanding Baltimore City fix its century-old broken and leaky sewage and stormwater systems. To date, millions of dollars have been spent and millions more will be spent within the decade to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the harbor.

CBF recognizes and thanks the hundreds of volunteers and many partner organizations involved in our Baltimore restoration efforts. And we encourage everyone in Baltimore's neighborhoods to help in the restoration of the city and its waters. Together we will restore, plant, and paddle for healthy, clean, and sustainable communities and waterways.

—Terry Cummings, Director of CBF's Baltimore Initiative

Check out more photos and video of the Baltimore Floatilla!

 


Creating Jobs—and Environmental Awareness

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

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CBF's Snow Goose in Baltimore Harbor. Photo by Captain Craig Biggs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is proud to be part of the BLocal campaign ("A commitment to 'BLocal' in Baltimore," April 8). While small by comparison to other partners, we recognize that our business choices can help support our city's economy.

CBF is uniquely qualified to assist in another way. We have committed to train BLocal interns through our on-the-water Baltimore Harbor Education Program. Interns will be exposed to a hands-on estuarine science curriculum on board our 46-foot bay workboat, the Snow Goose.

CBF's widely acclaimed education program was recognized by President George H.W. Bush with the nation's highest environmental honor—the 1992 Presidential Medal for Environmental Excellence.

The Baltimore Harbor program, one of 15 across the region, was launched in 1979 at the request of the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

For 49 years, over a million students have received training at one of our environmental education centers. Now, BLocal interns will have the opportunity to study the remarkable array of creatures that live in the harbor, conduct water quality tests, and discuss the challenges of an urban environment. It is a great investment in Baltimore's future.

—William C. Baker, CBF President


Millions of Gallons of Sewage-Contaminated Water Overflowing in Baltimore

How Baltimore City's Delayed Consent Decree Threatens Human and Environmental Health

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Photo courtesy of Blue Water Baltimore.

 It's horrifying: During heavy rains, Baltimore's failing sewer system continually overflows, contaminating residents' homes, local waterways, and Baltimore Harbor. In fact, after a recent February storm, 12.6 million gallons of sewage-laden wastewater steadily flowed into Baltimore's rivers, streams, and harbor. As appalling as this was, this wasn't the first time this has happened in Maryland's largest city.

We find this ongoing sewage overflow problem simply unacceptable. Baltimore City and its waters are still suffering from a 19th century problem in the 21st century. The city was supposed to have put an end to this problem by January 2016 yet the city's government, EPA, and MDE have let that deadline pass with little action.

CBF is demanding that a new consent decree be issued immediately with near-term, enforceable deadlines and that meet water quality standards. We have sent a letter to agency heads, city officials, and state legislators detailing what we hope to see in the new agreement. Click here to read it. It is our expectation and hope that current and future elected leaders in Baltimore make this the priority it needs to be.

In order to better understand this issue, we took a look back at how Baltimore got into this appalling situation...

What Is the Baltimore City Consent Decree?

Because Baltimore City's sewage system was allowing pollutants to enter local waterways and Baltimore Harbor, the United States and the State of Maryland sued the city to require that the problem be remedied to bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. To avoid a court trial, the city entered into a Consent Decree (CD) with the United States and the State of Maryland on September 30, 2002. A CD is the settlement of a lawsuit in which a party agrees to take specific actions without admitting fault or guilt for the situation that led to the lawsuit. 

The Baltimore City CD required the city to eliminate all existing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and combined sanitary overflows (CSOs) to prevent raw sewage from entering the waterways around Baltimore City. Additionally, the city was required to undergo comprehensive sewer evaluation and rehabilitation programs and perform continuous upgrades to their operations and maintenance.

Progress Toward Completing the Consent Decree

The CD provided a 14-year timeline, with all upgrades to be completed by January 1, 2016. The city missed the final deadline under the CD. According to a recent quarterly report, the city is a long way from completing the work required under the CD—it has only completed 31 of the 55 projects with deadlines provided in the CD.

Baltimore's failure to address the unresolved SSO and CSO structures is a significant water quality and human health hazard. Raw sewage from these structures flows into the Inner Harbor and Baltimore waterways and, on numerous occasions, has backed up into city homes. This not only leads to potentially harmful fecal bacterial and viral contamination, but causes financial losses, stress, and health risks to vulnerable residents in the affected areas. 

The sewage backups in homes pose a tremendous human health risk. What's more, those residents in Baltimore's wealthier suburbs do not see the same disregard from local authorities when sewage backs up in their homes. Baltimore City has challenged the majority of claims arising from damage caused by backed-up sewage (approving only nine percent of the damage claims). In the Grove Park, West Arlington, and Glen neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore, residents filed 34 claims—all affected by sewage backups into their homes in the last three years and all of which were denied or unaddressed by the city for more than a year.

The Future of the Consent Decree

EPA and MDE are now working with the city to develop a new deadline to achieve the requirements of the CD. Baltimore has already asked for lengthy extensions in the deadlines for some of the CD's required construction projects, some reaching as late as 2019 and beyond. A short timetable and a new deadline for the CD is imperative to cleaning up the water around Baltimore and alleviating the harm to homeowners and residents of the city. Stretching the deadlines for construction projects many years into the future leaves residents susceptible to financial harm and health risks and puts the Inner Harbor and the waterways around Baltimore in danger of fecal bacterial contamination.

There is no reason to delay further. The current situation constitutes nothing less than a serious crisis for Baltimore City, the harbor, and the Bay. It is time to bring Baltimore into the 21st century with a sewage system that doesn't degrade its waters and the health and well-being of its citizens. 

—Gaby Gilbeau, CBF's Litigation Fellow

Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in Baltimore's streets.

And we want to hear from you! If you have experienced flooding in your basement, on your property, or on your street as a result of these sewer overflows, please send an e-mail with details to our Baltimore Director Terry Cummings at TCummings@cbf.org. We're working on documenting real stories and incidents related to these overflows, and your story could play a critical role in ensuring the new legal agreement to clean up Baltimore's failing sewage system is strong, timely, and has real consequences for failure.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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Millions of gallons of sewage have been dumped into Baltimore's Inner Harbor. We are calling fortransparency and accountability from elected officials and environmental agencies to ensure Baltimore's sewage problem is fixed. Photo by CBF Staff.

Transparency and accountability. It's hard to imagine having any success in the fight for clean water without those essential ingredients. Unfortunately, Baltimore residents are living proof of this. Despite increasing sewer bills, their city's sewage problem has only gotten worse. For the past 14 years, promises to fix the city's aging pipe system have gone unmet, leaving noxious sewage spills a regular occurrence, especially after major rain events. These spills are not only a smelly inconvenience but a significant threat to clean water.

We have heard this story before. For decades, voluntary agreements to clean the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams were signed between the Bay states. With no teeth behind these agreements, deadlines were inevitably missed, and no consequences were enforced. It wasn't until December 2010, when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was signed, that two-year, incremental pollution-reduction goals—known as milestones—were required, with consequences imposed for failure.

Baltimore needs similar transparency and accountability if they are ever going to fix their sewage problem. CBF is calling for deadlines for specific action on this issue to ensure the city is held accountable for progress. Baltimore residents have a right to a full and transparent accounting of money spent, work accomplished or not, and sewage spills still occurring. Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies working on this issue that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in Baltimore streets without over burdening citizens.

This Week in the Watershed: Moving Ospreys, Potomac Grades, and Charm City Sewage

  • With spring gardening around the corner, weeds are inevitable. There are several environmentally safe, and non-back-breaking, methods to beating the pesky plants. (Northern VA Daily—VA)
  • Virginia has a reason to celebrate, with over $140 million allocated to clean water measures, such as funding to help farmers implement best management practices, and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF is gearing up for its 28th annual Clean the Bay Day in Virginia. Volunteers are needed! (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Friends of the Potomac River received some good news this week when the Potomac Conservancy's report card declared the river has earned its highest grade yet: a B-. (Bay Journal)
  • With ospreys returning to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, some inevitably build their nests in inconvenient locations. One such location happened to be in the parking lot of CBF's headquarters in Annapolis. (CBS Baltimore—MD)
  • As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. In that light, we are excited the U.S. Geological Survey, along with state and regional agencies, are exponentially expanding the number of sites where they acquire water samples to assess pollution trends. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF's Alison Prost writes on the need for transparency and accountability in treating Baltimore's sewage problem. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • We're big fans of using modern farm technology to reduce polluted runoff, such as one farm in Frederick County, MD. (Frederick News-Post—MD)
  • As we celebrated World Water Day, we agree with this editorial that there still is a long way to go in cleaning up our waters. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

April 2

  • Virginia Beach, VA: The Brock Environmental Center (BEC), one of the world's most energy-efficient buildings, is looking for tour guides! We are looking for outgoing individuals who will be trained, tested, and ultimately designated official BEC Tour Guides! To RSVP, e-mail Chris Gorri at CGorri@cbf.org with "Tour Guide" in the subject line, or call 757-622-1964.
  • Cambridge, MD: Come plant trees with CBF at Jones Farm. Over 1,200 native trees will be planted on six acres to restore the riparian buffer. This area is critical habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel and coastal-dependent birds including salt marsh sparrows and American black ducks. No tree planting experience is necessary, and all materials and supplies are provided. Families and children welcome. Click here to register!

April 9

  • Frederick, MD: Come plant trees with CBF in Frederick! This project consists of the restoration of approximately 1,500 linear feet of the Little Tuscarora Creek. The stream system has been impacted by cattle in the stream, adjacent row-crop fields input of sediment, and the lack of a riparian buffer. No tree planting experience is necessary, and all materials and supplies are provided. Families and children welcome. Click here to register!

April 14

  • Wrightsville, PA: Join neighbors, businesses, and elected officials for a lively discussion about local clean water issues. This event is open to all residents of the Commonwealth looking to make a difference in their local community and to take action for clean water. This town hall reception will be a forum where local elected officials will address constituents' concerns about water quality in York County. Click here to register!

April 16

  • Cambridge, MD: Help CBF make the Choptank River cleaner and safer for the whole community during this river cleanup event. All supplies will be provided. Families and groups are welcome to attend. Click here to register!

April 23

  • Monkton, MD: Come help CBF plant 1,200 trees to restore six acres of forest on this new farm. The Little Gunpowder is a natural reproducing trout stream, and the restoration of this farm will help protect this cold water fishery. No tree planting experience is necessary, and all materials and supplies are provided. Families and children are welcome. Click here to register!
  • Church Hill, MD: Come paddle with us on the Blackwater River in Dorchester County, Maryland. Blackwater River is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore river, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. All canoes and paddling equipment will be provided. Children ages 10 and up are welcome to register, but must be accompanied by an adult. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels. Click here to register!

 —Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


No Public Accounting for Baltimore's Sewage Problem

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

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A sewage treatment plant in Baltimore County, MD. Photo by Garth Lenz/iLCP.

Baltimore residents have done their part. For the past 14 years they have paid their water and sewer bills, often with clenched teeth. The city tripled rates during those years. In return, residents expected the city would fix a massive problem in the network of ancient pipes underneath the city. Sewage spills are a regular occurrence in Baltimore after a big rain storm, the result of water penetrating into, and human waste escaping from, 100-year-old pipes. These failings threaten to give the city a third-world reputation—and smell. Residents were willing to pay higher rates so raw sewage would no longer overflow into their basements and streets and into the Inner Harbor.

In 2002, then Mayor Martin O'Malley signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA), committing the city to update the pipe system in the city no later than by January 1 of this year. The city has failed to meet that deadline. Reports indicate Baltimore may be seeking an extension of as much of a decade.

It's maddening enough that the job isn't done. What is equally frustrating is the lack of clear information coming from the city on this issue. It seems astonishing, for instance, that we still don't know definitely how much the city has collected in revenues for the project or how much it has spent to date. Estimates for revenues range all the way from $1 billion to $2 billion. The city apparently also doesn't alert the public about the vast majority of major sewage overflows as required by state and federal law, according to an investigative report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

And perhaps most aggravating is we still don't have any clear idea of the city's plans for finishing the sewer project. The EPA and the city have been negotiating behind closed doors a changed deadline for the work and an amended work plan. But that draft hasn't been made available to the public.

Everyone realizes this project is daunting. It includes fixing 420 miles of sewage pipes. The city also discovered during its repair work a stunning additional problem apparently no one knew about in 2002. A massive feeder pipe to the Back River sewage plant is misaligned, sometimes causing a 10-mile backup.

Still, the city, state, and federal governments owe the public a full and proper accounting and a timetable for finishing this important work. For that reason, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is calling for deadlines for specific action on this issue. The city must be held accountable for progress. Among other steps, the authorities must:

  • Immediately hire a third-party auditor to track progress and expenditures;
  • By January 2017, complete an open public accounting of the finances of the project and of all work finished or scheduled;
  • By 2020, fix the Back River plant's feeder pipe. By that time the city also must stop intentionally releasing sewage into the Jones Falls as a means to relieve pressure;
  • And by 2025, complete all remaining upgrades identified in the consent decree. This date is realistic, and appropriate given the regional plan to clean the Chesapeake Bay requires all jurisdictions to have strategies in place by then to reduce pollution.

Baltimore residents deserve this much and more. They have a right to be angry that after spending at least $700 million on this problem since the signing of the agreement with EPA in 2002, the city continues to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into the Inner Harbor. They have a right to a full and transparent accounting of money spent, work accomplished or not, and sewage spills still occurring.

Baltimore's sewage problem is just one of hundreds of pollution problems that must be solved by 2025, the deadline for all states and local governments in the region to meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Each jurisdiction has its particular challenge. There is no one silver bullet solution to our befouled waters. The blueprint was meant to enlist everyone in a regional clean-up effort, and to hold us all accountable.

Baltimore can't be exempted from that effort.

Sewage in the streets doesn't befit Charm City. Let's get this problem fixed.

—Alison Prost, CBF Maryland Executive Director

Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies working on this issue that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in our streets without over burdening citizens.