Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake Bay: Partnerships for Success

The following originally appeared on USDA's Blog last week.

Water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay benefit the many species of wildlife that call it home. Photos by Tim McCabe, NRCS Maryland.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the largest estuary in North America, covers 64,000 square miles and includes more than 150 rivers and streams that drain into the bay. Roughly one quarter of the land in the watershed is used for agricultural production, and agricultural practices can affect the health of those rivers and streams, and ultimately the bay itself.

While the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved since the 1970s, excess nutrients and sediment continue to adversely affect water quality in local rivers and streams, which contributes to impaired water quality in the Bay.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with several agencies and organizations to test innovative water quality trading tools that will help improve the bay’s water quality, benefiting the more than 300 species of fish, shellfish and crab, and many other wildlife that call the Chesapeake Bay home.

In 2012, NRCS awarded Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to 12 entities to help develop water quality trading programs; five of these recipients are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

USDA is excited about water quality trading’s potential to achieve the nutrient reductions necessary to improve water quality at a lower cost than regulation alone. For example, a wastewater treatment plant could purchase a nutrient credit rather than facing higher compliance costs if structural improvements are required on site. This is advantageous because it saves regulated industries money, and can provide additional income for the agricultural community by supporting adoption of conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff.

The Chesapeake Bay grant recipients are the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; the borough of Chambersburg, Penn.; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation; and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

NRCS recently met with these organizations and agencies to share expertise and identify common obstacles and priorities. During the meeting, NRCS briefed recipients on trading tools and policies, and invited groups working on water quality trading programs across the country to share ideas. The Chesapeake Bay CIG awardees will continue to meet throughout the duration of their projects to share updates and collaborate on innovative solutions to water quality challenges in the Chesapeake Bay.

These grants are part of the largest conservation commitment by USDA in the bay region. NRCS works side by side with farmers and ranchers to improve water, air and soil quality through conservation. 

A Wastewater All-Star, Part 3

The following is the third and final part in a series about recent upgrades to an Easton wastewater treatment plant, and how these improvements have helped support our clean water efforts. Read the first and second parts in the series.

Comparison--raw sewage, final effluent, dried biosolids
A raw sewage, final effluent, and dried biosolids comparison. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.
It was clear in 2009 that the Easton plant was going to set a great example of enhanced nutrient removal sewage treatment, but we had an opportunity to stop by in May of 2012 to see how it was faring at the end of its fifth year of operation. "We learn every day," said Doug Abbott with a smile. "Enhanced nutrient removal is new. There isn't a lot of history yet. The challenge is still putting everything together to keep the processes consistent in spite of varying load and weather.


"There are many moving parts," he continued. "Every plant has its own characteristics. Our strong monitoring system allows us to tweak it, like fine-tuning a complex machine that also has living creatures that we must keep happy [the bugs]. We have to balance everything, resist the temptation to make changes too quickly when an alarm goes off, and build the history. We can't make a cookbook.

"We are, however, beginning to develop a computer model of the plant to use for predictions and as a 'flight simulator' for training new operators. MDE and the MD Center for Environmental Training (MCET) are supporting that project. And we're exchanging information and visits with other plant operators in both Maryland and Pennsylvania . . . the support we have received from the Town Council and the management of Easton Utilities has been very important. Because EU provides a wide range of services to the community in addition to sewage treatment—electricity, natural gas, drinking water, cable television, and internet connections, it can support our operation in many ways, especially in electrical work and information technology."

Eleven years into the project, Easton Utilities and its town appear to have used their Bay Restoration (AKA "flush fee") Funds well, to benefit the Choptank River and the Chesapeake as well as themselves. Planning ahead, piecing together the funding package, selecting capable engineering and construction firms, and then constantly striving to learn how to get the highest performance out of the plant's design, those elements together make for success. 

CBF's Eastern Shore Director Alan Girard commented further on "how progressive both Easton Utilities and the Town of Easton were in this project, from a process/adoption standpoint. The new treatment plant is a testament to how a few committed folks who want to do the right thing can build the momentum needed for success when they want to."     

It's no accident that both Doug Abbott and Geoff Oxnam bring special enthusiasm to their jobs in an area that many people would prefer not to think about. They are both confirmed water rats and racing sailors. Others on the staff are dedicated Bay anglers. All are proud that Easton's new plant is making a difference for clean water and a healthy Bay.

—John Page Williams
CBF's Senior Naturalist

Learn more about wastewater treatment plant issues here on our website.

Student Council Reps Save a Creek, Do a Little Dance

This article originally appeared the AnneArundelPatch earlier today.

DSC_0619Photo by Collin Kroh and Alyssa Morris.

Dirt is cold in March. The Harlem Shake is harder in a crab costume. A sycamore tree sapling is taller than a pin oak sapling. Those are just a few of the things you might have learned this past Saturday if you were Collin Kroh.

Kroh, a senior at Chesapeake High School, was one of about 20 student council representatives from several county schools who volunteered to plant trees at a farm in Gambrills. The effort was part of a growing collaboration between student councils around the state and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"Most of my friends Saturday morning are still sleeping, but my friends here and I did all this," said Kroh with a wave of his hand.

"This" was nearly 1,000 trees planted along Towsers Branch Creek where it runs in a gully through the Maryland Sunrise Farm. Those trees will help buffer the creek—stop nutrients from cow manure from washing into the creek, and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay. A herd of black Angus cattle watched the crowd at work Saturday.

"It's like cleaning up my home," said Kroh, referring to the Chesapeake Bay.

And that's the type of realization the collaboration is meant to foster. Kroh lives on Bodkin Creek, a tidal creek in Pasadena. While his home is a 30-minute drive inland to Sunrise Farm, Kroh has realized that nutrients from inland sources make their way downstream and eventually to the Bay. Nutrients produce algae blooms which result in dead zones—low oxygen for aquatic life. And some types of nutrient pollution also carry bacteria which can make Bodkin Creek or any water body unsafe for swimming, or other recreation. So what happens on the land impacts the water which impacts each of us.

CBF and the Maryland Association of Student Councils (MASC) started working together formally this past year. MASC is a student-run organization composed of high school and middle school students from throughout the state. Many MASC members have taken CBF field education courses through their schools. Leaders in the group recognized many more students would benefit from the learning and service opportunities offered by CBF.  In turn, CBF recognized that a group of energetic, responsible youth could be great ambassadors for the Bay. The collaboration began.

Last year a core organizing group of MASC students took a trip to one of CBF's education centers on the Maryland Eastern Shore. Some also participated in a lobbying day at the Maryland General Assembly, learning how to advocate for strong Bay legislation. MASC chose CBF as its Charity of the Year for 2012.

Saturday's tree planting continued that collaboration, with the aim of providing a fun, hands-on learning experience, but also an opportunity to spread the news about Bay problems and solutions.

Sarah Lily, a senior at Chesapeake High School, said she had learned some things about the Bay in fifth grade at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. But it wasn't until ninth grade that she learned more. Then last year, she attended the multi-day experience at the CBF education center in remote Dorchester County on the Shore, and learned by doing: investigating crabs, sea grass, menhaden and other aquatic life from the deck of a workboat, or canoe, or on a marsh "muck." The trip sparked two questions: How can I can keep learning about this stuff, and what more can we do? She e-mailed a CBF staff member who led the Dorchester trip, Jeff Rogge. A second trip was planned—to CBF's Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro. And then the lobbying event.

Now Lily says the focus is getting more students involved. So she Tweets about tree plantings, and other happenings, and solicits blogs from students. Kroh attempted a time-lapse video of Saturday's planting to post on YouTube.

And together with other organizers they planned a Harlem Shake video shoot after all the planting was done Saturday, with all 20 students participating, complete with crab costumes and other props.

"The interest is there for fun," Lily says. "I think showing kids that helping out is fun is important."

Students came from Chesapeake High School, South River High School, and Arundel Middle School. In addition, about 20 employees of the Allegis Group, an equal number of "alternative spring break" students from the University of Maryland, and others also volunteered at Saturday's planting. The event was also part of a plan devised by CBF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make Sunrise Farm more environmentally friendly. The farm is the largest organic farm in the state. The farmer also raises cattle. It is the former Naval Dairy Farm.

—Tom Zolper
Maryland Communications Coordinator
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Come out and join us at other tree plantings across Maryland!

Photo of the Week: Urbanna Sunrise

Sunrise 11=12Photo by John H. Whitehead.

"This is a photo I took on 11/12/12 of a beautiful sunrise over the mouth of Urbanna Creek in Urbanna, Virginia . . . I've spent most of my life on the Bay and never tire of the adventures and pleasures it offers."

—John H. Whitehead

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

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Larry Simns: The Bay Has Lost a Leader


President of Maryland Watermen's Association Larry Simns (left) with MD Governor O'Malley (right) at a press conference last year. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.
We have known for months this day was coming, but it was still a shock when I heard that Larry Simns had left us. Maryland's watermen lost their spiritual leader. The Chesapeake Bay lost a piece of its spirit. 

I often said that Larry had the hardest job of any of us that worked on Bay fisheries.  Maryland watermen are as diverse as the state: Eastern Shore/western shore, upper Bay/lower Bay, fishermen/crabbers/oystermen/clammers. But somehow Larry was able to unite those voices around their common heritage of working the water. Just look south to Virginia where there are a dozen different watermen's associations to appreciate how hard that is. This unity of purpose aimed at preserving that heritage may be Larry's biggest legacy, and if the Maryland Watermen's Association is able to maintain it, that will be a fitting memorial to Larry.

Larry and I often disagreed. The MWA and the Bay Foundation often were at odds. We took our "turn in the barrel," as Larry called them, in his Watermen's Gazette editorials many times. Usually this was a result of disagreeing on short term issues, but in truth we shared the same long-term vision of a healthy Bay that supported vibrant fisheries. But even when our disagreements were strong, or even emotional, Larry could always find a way to put those things aside when we needed to work together on common interests like protecting the Bay. He was able to "agree to disagree" on some things and still work together on others better than anyone I know, and that trait served Maryland's watermen and Chesapeake Bay very well all those years.

Larry represented Maryland watermen. Sport fishermen and charter captain leaders represent those groups. CBF tries to represent the Bay. While there are plenty of differences between us, there is also a lot of common ground. In Larry's memory, I hope we can keep the focus on the common ground. That's the best recipe for saving the Bay and its fisheries.

—Bill Goldsborough
CBF's Director of Fisheries

Photo of the Week: A Dramatic Kent Island Sunset

IMG_1739Photo by Doug Edmunds.

A dramatic sunset on Kent Island from this past summer.   

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

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Localities Making Progress in Implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

Lila in the bayThe following appeared yesterday on Center Maryland.

How heartening it's been recently to watch many Maryland localities start to put their minds and shoulders into the difficult but critical work of finishing the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Knowing full well that restoring clean water is neither easy nor inexpensive, officials in many counties and towns throughout Maryland are rolling up their sleeves. They've found or are exploring ways to implement their share of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint is the regional agreement by six states and the District of Columbia to reduce pollution sufficiently to make the Chesapeake safe for swimming and fishing.

Howard, Anne Arundel, and Harford counties and Baltimore City are considering fees that would be dedicated just to reducing polluted runoff. Currently, residents throughout Maryland are advised not to swim in local creeks, rivers, and the Bay for two days after a summer thunderstorm due to the pollution that runs off the land. These localities realize investing in a solution now will pay off later.

The small town of Berlin on the Eastern Shore already has approved a similar fee. Berlin officials said upgrading the town's inadequate storm water system will help reduce flooding and clean up local creeks.

Harford County recently adopted a "tier map" for future growth that preserves farms and forest, but still allows enough room for development. Without this sort of managed growth, new development in Maryland will add more pollution to our water, and cancel out all our current expenditures and efforts. For instance, Maryland has spent $40 million to retrofit existing septic systems that discharge nitrogen pollution, yet all that money and work has been completely negated by the installation of new septic systems over the same period throughout rural areas, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.

Localities and individuals outside Maryland also are pulling their weight. Lancaster, PA, vowed to become "a big green sponge" for runoff pollution by making over the city with "green infrastructure." About 50 Amish farmers in Lancaster County are fencing their cows out of streams, and implementing other conservation measures.Charlottesville, VA, just approved a stormwater fee. Everyone is sacrificing something: money, a strip of valuable farmland, something. But so too will everyone get something in return: cleaner water.

Innovations also are emerging to reduce costs. Falls Church, VA, figured out how to reduce by 60 percent its initial cost estimates to upgrade its storm water system. Talbot County launched a pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to reduce pollution. That idea could save tens of millions of dollars from initial county cost estimates.

And just as heartening is the outpouring of support for such efforts from citizens around the state.

"We care about what happens to God's creation. We care about unemployment in Howard County, and we care about our youth," said the Rev. Robert Turner, senior pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, to the Howard County Council recently.

Turner and about 100 residents who belong to People Acting Together in Howard voiced support for the county's proposed stormwater fee, saying it will reduce both pollution and unemployment.

"Like most county residents, I do not like the thought of paying new taxes or fees," fisherman John Veil recently told the Anne Arundel County Council in support of a similar fee there. "At the same time, some problems will not be adequately addressed in the absence of a funding source."

But some localities still won't come to the table, preferring to criticize rather than cooperate, or to continue to look for a single solution rather than the regional approach which is the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

But here, too, residents are pushing these localities to do the right thing.

Over on the Eastern Shore, former Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest spoke up in Cecil County recently against the county's proposed plan to allow large subdivisions to sprawl throughout most of the remaining rural and agricultural areas of Cecil. It's precisely this sort of unmanaged development that is fouling local creeks throughout Maryland, and contributing to water quality problems in the Chesapeake.

This groundswell of support for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the quiet but resolute efforts of many localities throughout Maryland to implement the plan reaffirm my confidence we can finish the job of restoring the Bay.

Alison Prost
CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Photo by Heather Haffner.

Photo of the Week: "It Was That Beautiful"

ByMichaelRedmondPhoto by Michael Redmond.

"A winter Bay photo taken from Red Point, Maryland, looking across the Flats to Havre De Grace at 2 a.m. with some ice on the water. Thirty-second exposure. No Photoshop or Instagram. It was that beautiful...I am a life-long lover of the Bay and supporter of [CBF's] work."

—Michael Redmond

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

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

A Model for Conservation Practices on Amish Farms


Raymond king farm LS Lamonte Garber
Raymond King's home and farm. Photo by Lamonte Garber/CBF Staff.

Rambling across a scenic 75 acres in Lancaster County is the home and farm of Raymond King. King honors the Amish farming traditions that have inter-connected his family and community for many generations. At the same time, he is building on those traditions by incorporating conservation practices that will benefit his farm and the creek that runs through it for generations to come.


One such practice is the use of no-till planting techniques, which have been used on the farm since 1979. No-till has kept the soil in place and the crops in good condition. Contour strips also add extra benefit and improve crops. 

Working through CBF's Buffer Bonus program, and in partnership with NRCS and the Lancaster County Conservation District, King was able to plan and construct a variety of on-farm conservation improvements that will do for the rest of his farm what the no-till and contour strips have done for his fields; improvements like the construction of a new manure storage facility, a stormwater collection system, streambank fencing and crossings, and the planting of streamside trees and shrubs.   

Wendy Coons, Soil Conservation Technician for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has been working with King for two years. "When we first met," Coons says, "he wanted to better deal with barnyard runoff, and he also wanted to improve his manure storage capacity. He wanted to be able to store excess manure for up to six months, thus allowing him to get through the winter without having to spread it onto his fields. We got all of that work, plus a whole lot more done on the farm." 

Additionally, very important to any on-farm conservation improvement effort is having the required conservation and nutrient and manure management plans, which King now has. 

King says, "I'm particularly glad to have a certified nutrient management plan. I had previously been broadcasting nitrogen, which, I learned was wasting time and money. The plan saves me both by showing me the correct amount of nitrogen to apply, when to apply it, and exactly where to apply so that the plants get the most benefit. My nitrogen lasts a lot longer and I'm saving money.

Raymond King farm manure storage Lgarber
Manure Storage. Photo by Lamonte Garber/CBF Staff.
CBF hopes to demonstrate that on-farm conservation practices are very achievable within a community that has traditionally avoided interaction with government and outside groups. Lamonte Garber, CBF's Pennsylvania Agriculture Program Manager, says "Raymond's farm really addresses all the conservation needs that we might find on a Plain Sect farm and beyond. More and more farmers are willing to fence cattle out of their streams, but Raymond has restored a wider, forested buffer through the CREP program. He is even considering the option of permanently preserving the buffer to protect it for future generations. That commitment is to be commended."

Through the Buffer Bonus Program and all of CBF's watershed restoration work, CBF strives to create "clusters" of forested buffers and conservation improvements like those on King's farm on connected reaches of streams, in order to maximize impact. To do so means getting neighbors on board.

Ashley Spotts, CBF Buffer Specialist in Lancaster County, worked with King throughout the process and is encouraged by his willingness to install these conservation practices and his mindset toward sharing what he has learned with his neighbors and others. "As with any farming community, people learn about new techniques by watching what happens on their neighbors' farm and by talking to each other. We are encouraged by the prospect of installing a streamside buffer on a farm just downstream from Raymond. The neighbor has seen the changes happening next door and is now considering conservation practices on his farm."

Raymondking lgarber
Photo by Ashley Spotts/CBF Staff.
Wendy Coons continues, "I consider King's farm a success story because he 'gets it' [conservation] and wants to pass on what he has learned about conservation to other farmers."

The end goal of CBF's efforts is the restoration of entire stream systems--restoring water quality, bringing back fisheries and aquatic life, and in some cases even removing streams from the state impaired waters list.

King's farm is a model for conservation improvements. The work done approximates what will be required of all farms in order to meet our clean water obligations for Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay. It also demonstrates the benefits achieved through the collaborative efforts of agricultural and county agencies, nonprofit organizations, and conservation programs like Buffer Bonus.

—Kelly Donaldson

Conservation practices implemented on the King Farm:

  • a new manure storage facility; 
  • barnyard waste and run-off collection system;
  • stormwater collection system, including gutters and downspouts;
  • milk house waste rerouting system takes milk waste to newly constructed manure storage pit;
  • streamside tree planting of mixed native shrubs and trees;
  • streambank fencing and stream crossing;
  •  cropland terrace; and
  • grassed waterway.

Special thanks and credits to:

Mr. King and his family

Jim Saltzman, Kara Kalupson, Greg Heigel, Lancaster County Conservation District and Wendy Coons, Natural Resource Conservation Service: The dedicated staff from the Conservation District and NRCS provided a variety of technical services for this project including the design and construction oversight for the new manure storage facility, and other barnyard improvements. Staff also developed the overall conservation plan for Mr. King’s farm.

Raeann Schatz, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency: The streamside buffer established on Mr. King’s farm was made possible through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA).  Raeann Schatz is the FSA point person for CREP in Lancaster County, and her role is integral to achieving on-farm and water quality improvements. Meeting with farmers on their farms, and walking them through the program requirements and incentives has lead to a better understanding and increased interest in CREP in the Plain Sect communities of Lancaster County. Special thanks to Raeann for her efforts.

Chris Sigmund, Jeremy Weaver, TeamAg, Inc.: TeamAg is an agricultural consulting firm based in Ephrata, PA, and is a valued partner in our Buffer Bonus Program. Chris and Jeremy had early discussions with Mr. King regarding the creation a forested stream buffer on his farm. 

Photo of the Week: Sunrise on Back Creek

IMG_1350Photo by Doug Esposito.

Annapolitan Doug Esposito captured this moment on an early December morning leaving Back Creek and headed out to do some fishing. The trip resulted in a 45-inch rockfish! (See photo below.)

Ensure that Doug and future generations continue to enjoy early morning fishing trips like these in our watershed. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Doug rockfish