What You Can Do about Flooding

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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CBF volunteers plant a garden in Hampton in Fall 2016. Practices such as rain gardens and dry wells can help alleviate nuisance flooding while also improving water quality. Photo by CBF Staff.

A recent report that nuisance flooding is becoming more frequent in Hampton Roads comes as no surprise to most of us who live here.

Rainstorms regularly wreak havoc on traffic as water fills commuter routes, while king tides can flood streets even on calm sunny days. In my own neighborhood in the north end of Virginia Beach, flooding is so severe that even emergency vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks struggle to get through the high water.

Sea level rise is occurring on such a massive scale that it's easy to feel that there's nothing we can do as individuals. But there are steps you can take at home to alleviate flooding due to rainfall, a big part of the problem here.

Most of these practices involve holding excess water and allowing it to filter into the ground slowly. They include relatively easy and affordable steps like planting trees and installing rain gardens. What's more, such things also reduce polluted runoff, a major source of problems in local waterways.

I can tell you firsthand that they work. At my own home, those perpetual soggy patches in the yard have disappeared since I installed rain barrels and dry wells. While it may seem like a drop in the bucket, it's all about cumulative impact. If most of the homes in your neighborhood would implement these practices, you would notice a real decrease in nuisance flooding.

Each property is unique, but one of the following five things is likely to work for you.

  • Rain gardens are shallow basins filled with native plants. These gardens collect and absorb rainwater running off rooftops, driveways and streets, reducing flooding.
  • Planting trees in open or grassy areas creates a leafy canopy that intercepts rainfall and reduces runoff. The water is instead released slowly or later evaporates. A street tree can intercept from 760 to 3,000 gallons per year, depending on the size and species.
  • Permeable pavers, unlike traditional concrete or asphalt, are made up of porous materials that allow water to pass through. Using permeable pavers on a path, driveway, or street means rainfall can soak into the ground, instead of pooling and running off hard surfaces.
  • Rain barrels collect and store rainfall flowing from roofs and through downspouts. This water can later be used to water lawns and gardens during dry spells.
  • Dry wells are shallow trenches filled with stone or gravel that hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground.

While cities in Hampton Roads are making progress by addressing flooding on municipal property, governments can't do it all on their own. Most of the land in Hampton Roads is private property. That's why it is so important that homeowners and businesses do their part.

Fortunately, some local governments are recognizing the value of these techniques by offering incentives to property owners.

Norfolk recently took a big step in the right direction. The city approved a program to reduce the required stormwater fee for property owners who deploy techniques that reduce runoff, like the ones described above.

I hope that other cities in Hampton Roads will see this example and follow suit.

If we all are able to hold back excess water and rainfall at the source, at our own homes, we can make a dent in the flooding problem.

What's more, many of these steps also beautify the neighborhood, save money, attract wildlife and help clean up local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

—Thomas Quattlebaum, CBF's Sea Level Rise Fellow


Photos of the Week: Snowy Chesapeake Days

CBFThough this shot was taken after last year's Snowzilla, we were reminded of it after our recent snowy weekend.

This photo was take January 24, 2016, after the blizzard. It shows two Adirondack Chairs covered in snow.  

The Chesapeake means a great deal to myself and family simply because it's a way of life . . . we need to protect it so we can continue to enjoy its beauty.

—Carly Anello

Ensure that Carly 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!


Cultivating Creativity for the Bay

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Students quietly enjoy a Marsh Symphony as they listen to the subtle sounds of the salt marsh on Smith Island. Photo by Kathlean Davis.

Pablo Picasso once said, "every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." All of us are inherently creative, but like most skills, creativity requires cultivation, nurturing, and most importantly, practice. Making the time to practice our artistic creativity in adulthood is where many of us begin to fail our inner child. When I was growing up, there were two things that consistently filled me with awe, wonder, and inspiration–art and nature. I had aspirations to be an artist and was constantly outside drawing pictures of birds, frogs, and our family dog.

As an environmental educator with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I have retained my love of nature. Now, I'm trying to reconnect with that budding artist and bring back the awe and wonder I remember feeling about the natural world as a child. In next summer's Chesapeake Classrooms Art & Environmental Literacy course, I'll be challenging teachers from Anne Arundel County to do the same.

If you're thinking, "why art?" the reasons are as varied as the fish in the sea. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), "many factors are required as prerequisites for quality education. Learning in and through the arts…can enhance at least four of these factors: active learning; a locally-relevant curriculum that captures the interest and enthusiasm of learners; respect for, and engagement with, local communities and cultures; and trained and motivated teachers." The arts draw on the theory of "multiple intelligences;" encourage students to use all the dimensions of learning; and can strengthen student understanding, creativity, and ingenuity.

When considering dead zones in the Bay, climate change, or any other environmental challenges, it's imperative to remember our need to reach people. Quotes like "it takes all of us," "we are all connected," and "we need to act" demand our attention. In order to connect with and catalyze action among the masses however, it often takes different kinds of communication, requiring creativity and imagination. We need to foster these skills in our students, in our teachers, and in ourselves.

Participants in Chesapeake Classrooms' Art & Environmental Literacy course will visit museums and nature centers, engage with local artists and writers, and gather inspiration through hands-on experiences in nature writing, biological drawing, painting, sculpture, and more. These experiences will help teachers learn inquiry-based techniques to empower their students to investigate environmental problems, create awareness, and artistically communicate their ideas. Ultimately, this course will empower teachers to think creatively about how they share their passion for art, nature, and community in a way that continues to inspire their students, their colleagues, and others.

–Emily Thorpe, CBF's Pennsylvania Student Leadership Coordinator  and former Assistant Manager of the Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program.

Stay tuned for more information on all the Chesapeake Classrooms Professional Learning Summer Courses, including the Art & Environmental Literacy course. Registration will open January 19.


Photo of the Week: Changing Seasons

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Beautiful sunrise on Plum Point Beach. I drive by this barn every day and have taken so many pictures of it . . . it just never gets old. I love when the seasons change and the tree is full of leaves, and then when they are all snow covered. What a beautiful place I live! 

—Eve Shoemaker

 

Ensure that Eve 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!


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


What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Forster's Terns

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . .

Terns

Forster's terns appear to be staging for their fall migration in late November. Most will leave the Bay by mid- to late December, coinciding with the arrival of cold weather. These terns are buoyant in flight, especially when diving on small fish at the water's surface. In fall, they can be seen mixed in with several species of gulls diving over hungry rockfish, foraging on schools of menhaden, silversides, or anchovies. 

These medium-sized terns nest in marshes in summer and then winter along the southern U.S. coast. Their nests vary from being an unlined scrape in mud or sand to an elaborate raft of floating vegetation. Typically placed in clumps of marsh vegetation close to open water, they occasionally nest atop muskrat lodges.

Forster's terns' red-orange bill with black tip in summer changes color to black in winter and their summer breeding plumage black caps become comma-shaped black smudges on each side of their head. These are the terns we see most often up tributaries far from the Bay.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

What else is Bill seeing in the field these days? Click here to see.

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We're Halfway There: Coyner Farm

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Coyner
Ever since George and Ruth Coyner fenced their cows out of the streams on their farm in 2005, they've seen great benefits for their herd. What's more, there has been a marked improvement in the stream's water quality.

"I'll bet I could drink the water leaving our farm," Coyner exclaimed. 

The Coyners own and operate a commercial cow/calf operation in the headwaters of Porterfield Run, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  They also raise soybeans, corn, barley, and hay.

"Years ago, I remember a vet telling us there were herd health advantages for our cows if we fenced them out of the streams," Coyner said. "The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was available and we decided to enroll.  The program reimbursed us more than 100 percent of the costs, and they pay us rent every year for the land we fenced away from the cows."

"Since we fenced the cows out of the stream, we no longer have calves falling down in the stream at birth and dying. We no longer have old cows mired up to their bellies in the muck. They now drink clean water and there is no more mortality because of the stream," Coyner continued.

They fenced half a mile of stream, developed alternative watering stations, and built a stream crossing for the cows. The program required them to set a fence 35 feet from the top of the bank on each side of the stream. 

"One of my neighbors told me I was giving up good pasture by fencing the cows out," Coyner said. "But I told him I can get the cows into the barn so much easier now, they drink clean water, and I don't have any deaths because of the steep banks or muck." 

The Coyners are proud stewards of their land, implementing not only streamside buffers but also rotational grazing, grassed waterways, cover crops, and strip cropping.

"We are happy with the program and plan to re-enroll when our contract comes up for renewal in a couple of years," he added.

—Bobby Whitescarver

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

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


Photos of the Week: Chesapeake Birds

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These pictures were taken in a small creek off the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River. I'd never seen a blue heron or an osprey pose like that. I'd call it:  sun bathing on the 035Chesapeake. The [below] headshot is of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

On a personal level, for me, the Bay represents life! Just as we depend on each other for our short time on Earth, all the inhabitants of the Bay depend on each other. If people could see through the water's surface, they'd then come to understand the variety and magnitude of life living just below. They'd also then realize that they, and we, depend on each other—for life!  

—Rob McMillen

Ensure that Rob 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!

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This Week in the Watershed: Relishing the Benefits

Planting
Volunteers at the planting of Second Baptist Church's rain garden. Photo by Arthur Kay.

One of the beautiful things about efforts to improve the environment is they so often come with additional benefits. Second Baptist Church in Richmond bears witness to this truth.

Frustrated by high stormwater fees, the church worked with CBF to build a rain garden. A year later and not only were the church's stormwater fees slashed, but also the garden stimulated community, added a new revenue source from the food grown, and reduced polluted runoff and nuisance flooding. All along, the church was fulfilling a central element of its mission by inspiring congregants to be good stewards of God's creation.

At CBF, these opportunities to catalyze positive change beyond just environmental benefits excite us. Making energy efficiency improvements lowers our carbon footprint while cutting utility bills. Picking up trash alleviates polluted runoff from our waterways while beautifying neighborhoods. Fighting for environmental literacy in our schools cultivates the next generation of Bay stewards while providing students with treasured memories in the great outdoors. The list goes on and on.

We're inspired by the good folks at Second Baptist Church and we hope you'll join us in relishing the many benefits the work to save the Bay generates.

This Week in the Watershed: A Chesapeake Bay Legend, Grasses Recruiting, and An Inspirational Garden

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