Conservation Efforts Support Healthier Farms, Cleaner Water

The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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Before a farm restoration project was completed with cost-share funding. Photo by CBF Staff.

Until last year, cattle would wade into streams and ponds to cool off on David Surratt's farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, this led to a host of problems. Trampled streambanks muddied the waters, while manure would flow downstream to the Shenandoah River. Calves would pick up infections from bacteria in the water, and two cows died after being stuck in the mud.

But all that has changed since Surratt placed three miles of fencing along the streams and ponds on Meadowdale Farm in Fishersville last year, a project supported by Virginia's agricultural cost-share program. Thirsty livestock now drink from several new watering stations across the farm installed as part of the project. The fences keep cattle out of the waterways, so water in the streams is now much cleaner. Importantly for Surratt, all calves were free of infections last year.

"It's really a win-win deal for us as well as the cattle," Surratt said. "Farmers have a responsibility to keep their cattle out of the streams and improve the water quality." State funding was key to making the project a reality. "There is no way I could have done it without the program funds, especially with cattle prices the way they are today," he said.

Addressing pollution from farms is the most cost-effective way to improve the health of local streams and rivers, as well as downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. It is also a key part of Virginia's plan to clean up the region's waterways under a federal-state partnership called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The state cost-share program funds a variety of conservation practices that lead to cleaner waterways, from cattle fencing to planting trees along streams to protecting soil with cover crops.

But in order to maintain progress, Virginia's farmers need robust and stable state investment in both the agricultural cost-share program and technical assistance from the local Soil and Water Conservation District staff who help implement these projects. In recent years, funding for the program has seesawed dramatically.

Providing ample and predictable levels of funding helps give farmers greater confidence when they consider adding conservation projects. It also gives local Soil and Water Conservation Districts the infrastructure and resources to put practices on the ground. Consistency ensures the program is carried out as effectively and efficiently as possible.

This month Virginia's legislators are making funding decisions that will decide the future of farm conservation efforts. The Virginia Senate is proposing a total investment of $46 million in agricultural cost-share. While a decrease from last year, that level that would still lead to continued success.

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After a farm restoration project was completed with cost-share funding. Photo by CBF Staff.

A separate proposal being considered would bring together a group of stakeholders to determine how to best ensure consistent and reliable funding for agricultural cost-share. This common-sense next step is sorely needed in the face of significant funding fluctuations.

Without continued state support for agricultural practices, Virginia will not be able to meet goals it has set for reducing pollution to waterways by 2025 under the Clean Water Blueprint. While Surratt's project is already making a difference in local streams, the impact grows as more farms do their part. "This project would really work great if all the farmers pull together on this," Surratt said.

However, though many farmers are eager to participate, they need state support to install these projects. In fact, two years ago so many farmers signed up that Virginia is still working through the backlog. Without funding, these farmers will be left waiting another year to install conservation practices.

It is important that Virginia live up to the commitments made to both healthy waterways and its farmers. But the heart of the matter is the fate of our rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Our waters have been slowly and steadily improving, thanks to a host of efforts. People all across Virginia are starting to benefit.

Good farm practices could lead to native brook trout returning to streams in the Shenandoah Valley. In Richmond, locals and visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, and paddling on the James River since it has become much healthier in recent years. In Hampton Roads, efforts to reduce bacteria levels have allowed for the resurgence of the oyster industry in places like the Lynnhaven River.

But this recovery can easily be reversed. Supporting farm practices that reduce pollution will maintain momentum. Let your legislator know that the decisions being made now will help ensure successful farms and clean water for future generations.

—Rebecca LePrell, CBF's Virginia Executive Director & Kendal Tyree, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Executive Director

Virginian legislators are meeting this week to discuss investing in these critical clean water programs. Take action now to ask them to make the necessary investment in programs that keep the Bay cleanup on target.


Five Important Advocacy Actions You Can Do Right Now

KarineAigner_iLCPPhoto by Karine Aigner/iLCP.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working. By all metrics, we are seeing progress. Citizens, businesses, and governments are rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution. And it is working.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Bay Report card issued last spring, our 2016 State of the Bay report, and the Bay Program's Bay Barometer all document improvements. Bay grasses and crabs are up, and the dead zone is trending smaller. But the recovery is fragile, and many clean water advocates are wondering what they can do to help progress continue.

In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that citizens let their elected officials know that clean water should be an important priority. That cleaning up local rivers and streams will reduce risks to human health, create jobs, and benefit local economies.

It is very important that our state legislators make the needed investments to reduce pollution. That our governors speak up for the Blueprint. And that our federal representatives ensure EPA's full participation in guiding and implementing the Blueprint.

Help ensure the Bay and its rivers and streams remain a priority. Do these five important things right now to Save the Bay:

  1. Find out who represents you by clicking here

  2. Call your state representatives and urge them to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  3. Call your governor and urge him or her to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  4. Call your federal representatives and urge them to seek federal investments for clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  5. Contact your friends and neighbors and urge them to do the same.

Bonus Action: One of the most effective ways to influence a politician is a personal visit to their office or a town hall meeting. While that takes time and might be out of your comfort zone, they will take note. And we'd be happy to help you plan a visit to their local office. Just click here and shoot us an e-mail.

Done the right way, citizens can have an impact. Elected officials do listen to their constituents. When contacting your representatives, be sure to explain why clean water is important to you. If they have supported clean water efforts, thank them and ask for their continued support. If they haven't been supporters, encourage them to do so in the future.

In these uncertain times, there is one thing that is certain, you can make a difference. Speak up and save the Bay.

 —Chesapeake Bay Foundation


Top 5 Facebook Posts of 2016

ByNickFornaro2Our favorite "beautiful swimmers" (AKA blue crabs) were quite popular in 2016! Photo by Nick Fornaro.

From shark sightings (yes, really!) to Supreme Court wins to increasing blue crab numbers, 2016 has been quite the year for the Bay and its rivers and streams
. To get an idea of all the stuff—both good and bad—that this year brought, we thought we'd take a look at our Top 5 Facebook posts of 2016. And here they are:

1. Life is sweet! Or so it appears to be in our Smith Island Cake video. Smith Islander and baker extraordinaire Mary Ada Marshall invited us into her kitchen and showed us (and the more than 282,000 other people who watched the video) just how to make the quintessential Chesapeake dessert. This video was our most popular Facebook post of the year, reaching more than 1.3 million people!

 

2. We love our "beautiful swimmers," and apparently so do you! News of the 35 percent increase in the Bay's blue crab population came in at our second most popular Facebook post this year, reaching more than 629,000 people.

 

3. In a huge win for the Bay (and for Facebook, reaching more than 420,000 readers), the Supreme Court decided in February to deny the request of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies to take up their case challenging the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. As CBF Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller said: "For five years we have fought in the courts to defend a commonsense solution to reducing pollution, a solution borne of a cooperative relationship between the states, the federal government, and the citizens of the Bay Region. Today, that fight has ended."

 

4. Giant Blue Crabs?! That's right! In October, we caught and released one of these beauties on the Susquehanna Flats. It got the attention of more than 388,000 blue crab lovers on Facebook.  

 

5. In June, we took a trip beneath the surface of the Severn River where we saw abundant grasses, scampering blue crabs, and thick, healthy oyster reefs — incredible signs of the Bay's recovery! Our River Reborn Video was an instant hit on Facebook, reaching more than 370,000 people and earning more than 213,000 views. I smell an Oscar!  

For those of you who made it all the way through our Top 5 list, congratulations! And make sure to follow us on Facebook (if you aren't already) for the latest and greatest in 2017 . . .

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


This Week in the Watershed: 2016 in Review

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A growing oyster with CBF's oyster planting boat, the Patricia Campbell, in the background. The Bay's native oyster population began to rebound in 2016, in large part to restoration efforts. Photo by Nick Caloyianis.

It's hard to believe, but 2016 is coming to a close. Time flies when you're saving the Bay, and thanks to the incredible support of our members, CBF accomplished an awful lot. Some highlights include:

  • Educating 40,000 students, teachers, and adults through CBF's environmental education program
  • Planting 17,000 trees in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia
  • Working with 386 farmers and landowners to install conservation practices to reduce agricultural pollution and create healthier, more efficient farms

Click here for a deeper dive into the work our supporters made possible in our interactive 2016 Year in Review!

And thanks to the amazing efforts from individuals, governments, and businesses working together to reduce pollution, the Bay and its rivers and streams are beginning to heal. Underwater grasses are up 21 percent. The blue crab population jumped 35 percent. And the Bay's native oyster population began to rebound, with harvests reaching a 30-year high! All signs point to the implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint bearing fruit.

But there is more to be done. Much more. The Bay is still a system dangerously out of balance, and finishing the job is going to be a tough one. Facing an uncertain future with a new administration coming to Washington, our work to save the Bay is more important than ever. Future generations deserve clean water, and we won't settle until the Bay and its rivers and streams are fully restored.

This Week in the Watershed: Clover for Cows, Endangered Shoreline, and 10,000 Pounds

  • Good news for farms in Maryland's Carroll, Frederick, and Washington counties, as CBF received a $1 million award to help farmers raise animals on pasture, rather than in confined areas. (Carroll County Times—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • A recent study found improving the crop diversity on the Eastern Shore would benefit the region's economic and environmental health. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • President Obama's prohibition of offshore drilling along the Atlantic is a win for the Bay given the terrible harm an oil spill could cause. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Bravo to the volunteers who conducted 25 cleanups along the lower Appomattox River, removing more than 10,000 pounds of trash. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • An aging, overwhelmed sewer system in Alexandria, VA is drawing criticism for the millions of gallons of sewage-fouled stormwater pouring into the Potomac River and its tributaries. (Bay Journal)
  • A survey found that while more Pennsylvania farmers have implemented best management practices on their farms than previously thought, it's still not enough. (Bay Journal)
  • As underwater grasses are vital to the health of local waterways, CBF is recruiting volunteers to grow grasses as part of our Grasses for the Masses restoration program. (Alt Daily—VA) Bonus: Workshops for this program are being held throughout Virginia. Register today!
  • Laws to protect Maryland's shoreline are at risk of death by a thousand cuts. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

January 5

  • Easton, MD: Listen to state legislators and numerous regional organizations discuss their preservation, land, and water goals for the 2017 Maryland General Assembly's Regular Legislative Session. The event includes beer, wine, heavy hors d'ourvres, and snacks, as well as a a tour of the Eastern Shore Conservation Center. Click here to register!

January 11-February 11

  • Throughout Virginia: Help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers by participating in CBF's Grasses for the Masses program. Participants grow wild celery, a type of underwater grass, in their homes for 10-12 weeks. After 10-12 weeks of grow-out, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. With workshops held throughout Virginia, there's plenty of opportunity to get involved! Click to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Happy Thanksgiving!

At this special time of year, we're reminded of how grateful we are for all of you and your support of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

This year alone, you helped plant more than 46 million water-filtering oysters on reefs and 17,000 trees across the region. And you helped give 40,000 students and teachers unforgettable experiences on our rivers, streams, and Bay so that they will learn to love and protect these waters like we do. 

All of these things were only made possible through your commitment to clean water. So we're sending you a special thank you directly from CBF President Will Baker on this golden November day at the Merrill Center.

Thank you again for all that you do to Save the Bay. We never could have come so far or accomplished so much over the years without your dedication, passion, and generosity. 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at CBF!

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


Cumberland County Setting the pace for Farm Inspections in Pennsylvania's Rebooted Clean Water Strategy

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Before photo of a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm. Cumberland County is among 28 conservation districts inspecting farms for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans, as prescribed in Pennsylvania’s rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

Cumberland County is getting positive reaction from farmers, as one of 28 conservation districts conducting farm inspections as prescribed in Pennsylvania's rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture.

As conservation districts in nine counties opted out of doing farm inspections for fear of straining relations they have with farmers, the process within the Cumberland County Conservation District (CCCD) is going smoothly because of its familiarity with farmers.

"Our two technicians know the county, kinds of crops farmers are growing and the landscape," says CCCD board chairman Wilbur Wolf, Jr. "When they need to talk to farmers about future improvement, they can do it. If somebody from DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) comes to the farm, they are not as familiar with the county and the resources in order to make an informed decision when it comes to the best practices suited for that farm."

"We're acting as an intermediary to help farmers get into compliance," CCCD manager Carl Goshorn adds. Cumberland is the fastest growing county in the Commonwealth with about 500 farmers and 1,400 different tracts of land.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are damaged by pollution and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint goals. The Blueprint requires that 60 percent of pollution reduction practices be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025. The Commonwealth has acknowledged that it will not meet the 2017 goal.

As part of the Keystone State's strategy to get back on track, the DEP asked conservation districts to inspect ten percent of farms annually for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans. There are 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and DEP inspected less than two percent of them in 2014.

Conservation districts conducting inspections receive funding from DEP to support Bay technician staff and will inspect a minimum of 50 farms annually, per full-time person. DEP will inspect farms in counties where conservation districts declined to do it.

With one Bay technician, Brady Seeley, and conservation technician Jared McIntire, Cumberland County has a five-year schedule for inspections and thinks it will conduct more than the 50 required annually.

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After photo showing a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm after a concrete manure storage pit was installed for liquid dairy manure. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

One landowner with multiple, separate parcels of land could count as multiple inspections, as each agricultural operation is inspected separately.

Eight of first nine inspections in Cumberland County lacked manure management plans and three didn't have erosion and sediment plans. Goshorn said manure management plans have already been written for two of those farms.

In addition to checking that the farms have the required plans, inspectors may observe water quality issues. They may ask permission to walk around a property, but landowners are under no obligation to grant permission.

Cumberland County was one of four counties that helped shape the inspection process by participating in the pilot program. CCCD and DEP staff visited two farms in the county. "We wanted to see how it works," Goshorn says. "We figured it would be a better way of getting in touch with the farmers and maybe getting more practices involved if we were actually doing the inspections."

"We thought, if we aren't part of the process we can't have an impact down the road," board chairman Wolf adds. "As part of the pilot we made it better for other counties going out to do inspections because we have two people who have agriculture backgrounds (Seeley and McIntire) who could go out and relate, get a sense of how to make this work, and then go back to DEP and say, 'tweak it this way and everybody else will be better off'."

Seeley grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Pennsylvania, has a bachelor's degree in environmental resource management, and has been with CCCD for over two years. McIntire majored at Penn State University in agri-business management, manages a commercial turkey operation, and has been with CCCD for almost three years.

"We have a better rapport at the county level with our farming community than DEP does," says county commissioner Jim Hertzler, who also sits on the CCCD board. "In order for it to work and encourage a cooperative effort with respect to compliance, we prefer to work with our farmers as opposed to telling them 'you are going to jail' or 'we're going to give you a big fine if you don't do something.' To actually get these practices implemented is what the goal should be as opposed to handing out penalties or punishment."

Goshorn says conservation districts that passed on doing inspections, "Don't want to wear the black hat and be the bad guys. They said they were formed to provide technical assistance to the farming community. We feel things have changed over the years."

Seeley says the CCCD can do both. "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.' There really is no excuse to not be regulating and technical. You are already there having the conversation."

The district is able to offer some financial help. "The board has set aside money for developing these plans," chairman Wolf adds. "It's unique for a conservation district to do that." Cost share on erosion and sediment plans splits the cost with a cap of $1,000 per farmer, and $30,000 is available overall.

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Jared McIntire and Brady Seeley. Photos courtesy Cumberland County Conservation District.

"The reason we want to try to get ahead is hopefully we will have farmers coming to us volunteering to do these inspections," Seeley says. The CCCD got a dozen calls from its letter introducing the program. Farmers can schedule an appointment to have their plans reviewed.

One Amish farmer called to say he didn't have either plan. "That's really nice," McIntire says. "We get these guys not afraid to call us and say 'I don't have the plan' and then we can start the conversation with them to get the ball rolling. 'Do you need us to come out there?' 'Can you come to one of our workshops?' 'Do we need to turn it over to the private sector because time is tight with you'?" 

The Cumberland County Conservation District believes it can maintain its working relationships with farmers, by having familiar faces like Seeley and McIntire work through the inspection process with them, while advancing Pennsylvania's clean water efforts in challenging times.

"This is happening at a time in this county when ag prices are low, milk prices are low," board chairman Wilbur Wolf says. "We had the drought. Corn prices and yields are down. We're going out and talking to these farmers in a serious financial situation and we're getting positive responses."

Conservation districts participating in the farm inspection program are in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, and Wyoming counties.

The nine counties that declined to participate are Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Luzerne, Northumberland, Perry, Tioga, and York counties. 

Cameron, Somerset, and Wayne counties have a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and will be inspected by DEP personnel.

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


Photo of the Week: Only God Paints This

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Just thought I'd share this fall sunset picture with you. Tide reflection in our yard down Tylerton, Smith Island.

Absolutely beautiful. Only God can paint this!

—Joel Thiess

Ensure that Joel and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

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: A Major Investment

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Scenes like this one of Pennsylvania's Pine Creek in Lycoming County are an inspiration to keep fighting for clean water progress. This week, it was announced that Pennsylvania will benefit from an infusing of more than $28 million to jumpstart clean water efforts throughout the Commonwealth. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

This week, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council met in Boyce, Virginia. Composed of the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the mayor of the District of Columbia; representatives from New York, Delaware, and West Virginia; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Council meets annually to discuss the state of water quality improvement efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

While most states throughout the watershed are on track to meet their 2017 commitments through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, Pennsylvania is seriously lagging behind, already acknowledging they will not meet their goal. With roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania damaged by pollution, and with the Susquehanna River providing 50 percent of the Bay's fresh water, the Bay cannot be saved until clean water is flowing through Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.

Given this reality, we are thrilled that members of the council have announced an investment of more than $28 million dollars to enhance and accelerate pollution-reduction efforts in Pennsylvania. This is great news not only for Pennsylvanians but for everyone who cares about the Bay and its rivers and streams.

Plenty of plans to save the Bay and its rivers and streams have been made in the past, but good intentions devoid of action left us in a vicious circle of empty words and dirty water. To leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to fully implement the Blueprint. With greater investments in the right locations, targeting the most cost-effective pollution-reduction strategies, clean water is within our reach.

This Week in the Watershed: A Major Investment, BMPs, and A Growing Harbor

  • Anglers and conservationists are upset as their pleas for stronger regulations protecting shad and river herring have been rejected. (Bay Journal)
  • A farmer on Maryland's Eastern Shore has taken great strides towards sustainability, implementing several best management practices. (Carroll County Times—MD)
  • The Chesapeake Executive Council met on Tuesday. Pennsylvania was the focus, receiving an injection of $28.7 million to help fund their cleanup efforts. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay gave attendees a firsthand look and taste of farm-to-table food. (Chambersburg Public Opinion—PA)
  • A Virginia restaurant is making good use of their used oyster shells, recycling them to help restore the Bay's oyster population. (USA Today)
  • Oysters are growing in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, helping clean the water and providing a great engagement opportunity with local residents and businesses. (Baltimore Fish Bowl—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

October 8-9

  • Chesapeake, VA: CBF is looking for volunteers to tell others about the amazing bivalve that is the oyster at the Waterways Heritage Festival! Two people are needed per two-hour shift. Our booth will be displaying all of our restoration activities from shell recycling to reef balls to oyster gardening and more. Click here to volunteer!

October 9

  • Portsmouth, VA: Come on out to a fun-filled, family-friendly annual event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest '16 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. CBF is also looking for six to eight volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Shifts will be for three hours between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Please contact Tanner Council to register or for more information at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

October 17

  • Annapolis, MD: The Annapolis VoiCeS (Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards) class is back! Come "back-to-school" with CBF in a six-week, professionally taught course on all things clean water. Learn about Bay science and fisheries, pollution problems and solutions, and how volunteers can help restoration efforts in their local waters and the Bay. Click here to register! Deadline to register is October 13!

October 18

  • Easton, MD: The Eastern Shore VoiCeS (Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards) class is back! Come "back-to-school" with CBF in a six-week, professionally taught course on all things clean water. Learn about Bay science and fisheries, pollution problems and solutions, and how volunteers can help restoration efforts in their local waters and the Bay. Click here to register! Deadline to register is October 13!

October 19

  • Cambridge, MD: Join us at a workshop to learn more about best management practices (BMPs) to slow and filter polluted runoff. Facilitated by expert trainers with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, this workshop is designed for local government managers and field operators with instruction in BMP inspection, maintenance, and facility failure decision-making, Participants will increase their knowledge of effectively treating polluted runoff while complying with local, state, and federal stormwater management expectations. Networking with colleagues in neighboring Eastern Shore communities enhances opportunities to learn about locally relevant problems and solutions. Click here to register!

October 22

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Come on out to a sustainable living expo. This fun, family-friendly event is designed as a showcase for eco-friendly, sustainable solutions, crafts, and food, with many participating organizations. See ideas you can use at your home from edible landscaping and urban gardening to beekeeping and alternative energy. CBF is also looking for volunteers to help staff a CBF display and share information with attendees at the expo. This event is suitable for all volunteer experience levels, so come out, share, and learn. Email or call Tanner Council to inquire and volunteer at tcouncil@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Slowing the Flow: Fixing Flooding with Gardens and Wetlands

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

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Grace Baptist Church after the rain garden project was complete. Photo by Fran Geissler.

The three houses probably should never have been built on the low swampy ground in the James Terrace neighborhood in Williamsburg. Every time heavy rain fell, water filled crawl spaces, and yards flooded. At one property, the house would nearly become an island after storms. The site was developed in the 1950s, and because of poor drainage, it wouldn't pass muster for a new home today.

Church rain garden before (Google street view)
Grace Baptist Church before the project began. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Fortunately, with the help of a grant from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), homeowners, a local church, and James City County were able to work together on a holistic solution. The system of rain gardens and wetlands put in place has not only reduced flooding, it's also stopped polluted runoff and beautified the neighborhood.

The first step began with Grace Baptist Church, which sits on high ground above the homes. Rain would wash off the church's roof and parking lot, sending runoff down the slope into the neighborhood. This created a "domino effect" of flooding, said James City County Stormwater Director Fran Geissler.

"We wanted to slow down all of that water and catch it before it runs down the hill," Geissler said.

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A series of cascading pools to reduce flooding and polluted runoff in the neighborhood. Photo by Stephen B. Geissler.

The solution was to build a large rain garden on the side of the church facing the James Terrace neighborhood. The garden grows in a dug-out depression, which holds water flowing off the church roof and lot. It's filled with native plants that soak up and filter this runoff.

In the past, rains would turn the area into a muddy quagmire where cars often got stuck. But since the garden was completed, the spot brightens up the roadside. "It has addressed drainage issues on one side of the church and also allows us to contribute to the community in a way we haven't before," said Pastor Stephen Wiley of Grace Baptist Church. "The garden beautifies one side of the church and also helps our neighbors. The more water we hold back, the less flooding they will have downstream."

The next step was to address the downhill properties that were experiencing flooding, where three homes were built on a former swamp. The solution was to build two series of cascading rocky pools surrounded by shrubs and grasses, basically reconstructing

Church rain garden planting 3
Planting the rain garden at Grace Baptist Church. Photo by Fran Geissler.

those wetlands. "Parts of the yards were turned back into their natural state," Geissler said. The county worked closely with homeowners to make sure they were pleased with the result.

The garden and wetlands were completed last summer, and since then the area has experienced heavy rains. But the project is working, and has reduced flooding substantially, Geissler said. The county is now completing the final phases, which involve upgrading drainage downstream of the neighborhood.

The pools and the garden also filter out pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus and remove bacteria, which would otherwise flow into the James River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. These solutions are part of meeting Virginia's commitments to restore the Bay under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

State support from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund was crucial to making it all a reality, according to Geissler. "I doubt this project would have been built without SLAF funding," she said. "SLAF funding provided an impetus to county decision-makers to provide additional funds to address stormwater issues in the neighborhood."

The Numbers  
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Share $210,000
Construction Start October 2015
Project Completion  July 2016

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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The Bay is rebounding from a reduction in pollution. But more work remains. Photo by Steve Aprile.

It's no secret that the condition of the Chesapeake Bay is a far cry from when Captain John Smith first explored its fruitful waters in the 1600s. Over the centuries, a burgeoning population led to the over-harvesting of its bounty, habitat destruction, and an onslaught of pollution. But the Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it, are resilient.

This week we received good news, as newly released data reveals that pollution is down. With this drop in pollution, Bay grasses are booming, water clarity is improving, and critter populations are rebounding. It's a delightful reminder that as humans reduce pollution coming off the land, the Bay responds in an amazing way.

This progress is a testament to the hard work of the steps taken to reduce pollution by the states, farmers, local governments, and citizens in the watershed. But this is just the beginning. We cannot become complacent; conversely, we need to double down on our efforts. New challenges will inevitably surface, but this will present new opportunities to create jobs, improve local economies, and build bridges with a diverse group of stakeholders. With full implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, we will leave a legacy of clean water to future generations.

This Week in the Watershed: Good News, Sick Fish, and Keystone Funding

  • Two thumbs up to CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, which provides a platform for students to learn outdoors. (WMDT—VA)
  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway has fought for clean water in Pennsylvania for decades. His most recent fight is to declare the lower Susquehanna River impaired as a result of the failing condition of its once thriving smallmouth bass fishery. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • Data recently released found 2015 was the fourth-best year for overall Bay water quality since 1985. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • We couldn't agree more with the editorial arguing for the wise investment of cleaning up Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • A group of Pennsylvania state senators is working to provide extra funding for environmental conservation, recreation, and preservation projects around the Keystone State. (Chambersburg Public Opinion—PA)
  • While residents on Maryland's Kent Island are glad to see a public sewer system brought to their island, there are fears that it will spur expansive development. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Regulations on septic systems are being rolled back in Maryland, putting clean water at risk. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 24

  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, 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. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

September 25

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join us for a fun-filled afternoon with friends, live music, craft-brewed beers, and mouth-watering food created by area chefs using local ingredients at CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay. A family friendly event, it features live bluegrass music, hay rides, fish printing, and educational stations. Buy your tickets now! (online registration closes at 3:00 p.m. Friday, 9/23—tickets can be purchased at door if still available).

October 1

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant shrubs and wetland grasses for a recently constructed wetland at Chestnut Creek Farm. Volunteers will learn from the farmer about Chestnut Creek’s sustainable grass-based farm where sheep, beef cattle, and heritage pigs rotationally graze on pastures. Click here to register!

October 5

  • Chestertown, MD: A workshop for local government managers and field operators will provide instruction in best management practice inspection, maintenance, and facility failure decision-making regarding management of stormwater systems. Facilitated by expert trainers with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, participants will increase their knowledge of effectively treating polluted runoff while complying with local, state, and federal stormwater management expectations. Click here to register!

October 7

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant 500 native trees and shrubs to restore 1,000 feet of streamside forest buffer. This new buffer will help filter and clean runoff from adjacent farm fields and reduce stream bank erosion into this first-order stream system in the Monocacy River watershed. The mix of native tree and shrub species like sycamores, maples, oaks, dogwoods, alders, and chokeberry are all great for wildlife habitat. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate