This Week in the Watershed

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Fairness is a principle that virtually everyone endorses. Synonyms for fairness include justice, equality, and impartiality. These virtues are at the foundation of an ethical, righteous, and moral society. When fairness isn't present, people tend to get angry, feeling they have been exploited, abused, and manipulated. With this backdrop, we can't help but look at how poultry litter is handled in Maryland and come to one conclusionit's not fair.

Currently, large poultry companies require farmers who grow the chickens under contract to dispose of the birds' litter at their own expense. Taxpayers also help foot the bill, with subsidies provided to the small farmers to transport some of the manure. Meanwhile, the massive poultry companies making record profits are getting off scot-free.

This week the Poultry Litter Management Act was introduced with the support of more than 50 legislators. The bill would require poultry companies to take responsibility for manure produced by their chickens. Farmers would still be able to keep and use any manure for which they have a state-approved plan.

The consequences of excess poultry litter are severe. While some manure can be applied to fields as fertilizer, many of the fields are over-saturated with phosphorus, and the excess nutrients runoff into local rivers and streams, ultimately reaching the Bay. The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently estimated about 228,000 tons of excess manure are currently applied to crop fields in Maryland.

These excess nutrients cause algae blooms that threaten public health; harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters, and fish; and create an enormous "dead zone" in the Bay. Throughout Maryland, residents and businesses are making sacrifices to help clean our waters. Stormwater management fees help fund upgrades to stormwater treatment plants and reduce polluted runoff, homeowners and businesses reduce runoff through installing rain barrels, and dog owners "scoop the poop," as a shining example to Maryland poultry companies. As Senator Richard S. Madaleno stated, "Everyone must do their part to mitigate pollution into our state's iconic natural treasure." We couldn't agree more.

Tell your elected leaders today that you support the Poultry Litter Management Act—and they should, too.

This Week in the Watershed: Poultry Poop, Dead Fish, and Crab Pot$$$

  • Maryland has lost $1 million in federal funding for oyster restoration due to the delay in the Tred Avon oyster restoration project. The Hogan Administration inexplicably asked for the project to be delayed in late 2015. The loss of funding also puts in jeopardy federal funding for future years. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • A tragic fish kill in Maryland is directly tied to the onslaught of polluted runoff. The kicker? Only days after the death of 200,000+ fish, the County Council where the fish kill took place voted to cut funds to reduce polluted runoff. (CBF Press StatementMD)
  • The Poultry Litter Management Act was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly this week. If passed, the bill would require big poultry companies to be responsible for the manure produced by their chickens. Currently, the manure is the responsibility of small contracted farmers. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • This year's "Bay Barometer" from the Chesapeake Bay Program reveals that the Bay is making progress in several areas, but there is still work to be done. (Daily Press—MD)
  • Rescuing empty oyster shells from the trash can saves a valuable tool in oyster restoration efforts. A county executive in Maryland wants to further incentivize oyster recycling efforts. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • Shortly after Pennsylvania released a new plan for cleaning up the Keystone State's waterways, the EPA restored $3 million in program funding to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. (CBF Press Release—PA)
  • With Maryland and Virginia legislative sessions in full swing, there are plenty of Bay-related issues being addressed. (Bay Journal
  • Turns out that all the plastic that is landing in the ocean has extremely negative consequences for baby oysters. (Washington Post—DC)
  • We love this editorial in support of the Poultry Litter Management Act. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • A recent poll revealed that Virginians highly support funding for conservation and clean water, considering projects on these environmental issues top-spending priorities even when the state budget is tight. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • A program to retrieve abandoned crab pots has proved to be a worthy investment. (TakePart)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

January 16-February 6

  • Across 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 growing, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. Workshops are being held throughout Virginia. Click here to find one near you!

February 6

  • Salisbury, MD: Join CBF at Poultry Litter Management Act information session to learn more about this important legislation and what you can do to help. Coffee and pastries will be served! Please RSVP to Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410-543-1999.

February 8-11

  • Western Shore, MD: Join us at one of our upcoming "State of the Bay" legislative briefings for an evening of information, discussion, and action. Learn about the current "State of the Bay" and your local waterways. Dive deep into the issues at play in the current session of the state General Assembly—including the Poultry Litter Management Act—and what you can do to be involved in those decisions. Information sessions are being held in Towson (2/8), Ellicott City (2/9), College Park (2/10), and Severna Park (2/11). Click here to register!

February 16

  • Annapolis, MD: The inaugural Annapolis "Save the Bay Breakfast" will feature an update on the current State of the Bay and the hottest topics affecting the future of the Bay and its rivers and streams in this year's Maryland General Assembly session. We hope you will join us and other fans and friends of the Bay for good food for the body and mind. Click here to register!

February 18

  • Richmond, VA: Join the CBF Hampton Roads office for a special "Lobby Day" in the state capital. Participate in the legislative process from the inside out. Meet your representatives, see the delegation in session and committee, and raise your voice for water quality issues in your community. Interested? Contact Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964, ext. 3305.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


This Week in the Watershed

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This week the Legislative Sessions opened in Annapolis, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia. Photos by Nikki Davis and Chuck Epes.

With the turning of the calendar to a new year comes new Legislative Sessions in two of the main Bay statesMaryland and Virginia. The outcomes of Maryland's 90-day session and Virginia's 60-day session will have a major impact on the Chesapeake Bay and each state's rivers and streams. Here at CBF, with the support of our members, we have several important priorities to advance.

In Maryland, CBF's top priority will be asking legislators to make big chicken corporations responsible for the excess manure their chickens produce. These corporations making big profits need to do their part to clean up the excess manure—instead of leaving small local farmers and Maryland taxpayers holding the (poop) bag. Some of our other priorities include working to ban plastic bags at retail stores, stopping unfair raids on funds for environmental programs that support the Clean Water Blueprint, and supporting efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Click here for a complete Maryland Legislative Session preview.

In Virginia, many of our priorities involve ensuring there is proper funding in place to implement best management practices to reduce pollution. These include supporting state funding for conservation practices to reduce pollution from farms, and increasing funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. In addition to funding efforts, some of our other priorities include moving menhaden management from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, supporting upgrades at wastewater treatment plants, and advancing oyster restoration and expanding sustainable oyster harvests. Click here for a complete Virginia Legislative Session preview.

Not to be forgotten, while Pennsylvania's Legislature meets on a year-round cycle, we are still hard at work fighting for clean water in the Keystone State. Our top current priority is pushing for the promised "reboot" of water quality efforts which will accelerate pollution reductions to the level that will get Pennsylvania back on track. Other efforts include working with farmers to reduce pollution, advocating for adequate funding for restoration efforts, and pushing for the Lower Susquehanna River to be listed as impaired.

No matter where you live in the watershed, we'll need your support for the elected leaders of your state to uphold their commitment to clean water in the Bay and local waterways. Stay tuned for important updates and calls to action in the coming weeks.

This Week in the Watershed: Legislative Sessions, Oyster Uproar, and Coal Ash

  • Despite uproar from hundreds of local citizens, Virginia's State Water Control Board approved permits for Dominion Virginia Power to dump drain water from coal ash ponds into the James and Potomac Rivers. (Roanoke Times—VA)
  • A coalition of environmental groups are coming together in support of a Maryland bill that will require large poultry companies to take responsibility for the manure their chickens produce. (WGMD—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Release.
  • There is still major concern among the environmental community regarding the decision by the Hogan Administration to delay oyster restoration efforts on the Tred Avon River. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: Bay Journal recap of the Tred Avon oyster restoration delay.
  • Menhaden will be a central topic in the upcoming Virginia Legislative Session, along with several other environmental issues. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • CBF is lending a hand in the development of an artificial reef in Smoots Bay, off the Potomac River. Reef balls will be the building blocks for the reef. (ABC News WMARMD)
  • Nutrient trading is a new concept in the world of Maryland agriculture. Time will tell how effective it is in reducing pollution. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • With the Maryland Legislative Session now upon us, what's on the wish list of several environmental organizations? (Star Democrat—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

January 14-16

  • College Park, MD: Join Future Harvest CASA for their 17th annual Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed conference. One of the region's largest farm and food gatherings, you'll be able to experience seven different conference tracks, interact with other farmers and food lovers, and enjoy local fare. Click here to register!

January 16-February 6

  • Across 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 growing, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. Workshops are being held throughout Virginia. Click here to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


CBF Pennsylvania Carries Restoration Message to Nation's Capital

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Standing outside the Washington, D.C., office of Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania are, from left: CBF PA Executive Director Harry Campbell; Lee Ann Murray, CBF PA assistant director and attorney; Liz Hermsen, senior policy advisor to Senator Casey; Clair Ryan, CBF watershed restoration program manager; and restoration specialists Steve Smith, Ashley Spotts, and Kristen Hoke. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Frank and Kandy Rohrer's proactive approach to improving the land and water quality on their Lancaster County farm, sets a positive example for others.

Since 2000, the Rohrers have installed two streamside buffers on their 200-acre farm, taking advantage of Pennsylvania's Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP) to help reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into nearby waters. They also put in grassed waterways, cover crops, and employ no-till production.

Restoration specialists from CBF Pennsylvania carried the Rohrers' success story, and others, to the nation's capital Dec. 2 and 3, to demonstrate the importance and challenges of their work to the two U.S. senators from the Keystone State.

The Pennsylvania field staff took the opportunity to meet with staff members for Senators Robert Casey, Jr., and Pat Toomey, while in Washington, D.C. for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Nationwide, CRP encompasses over 23 million acres, with 625,000 contracts on 410,000 farms. Pennsylvania's CREP is part of CRP.

CREP participants receive funding to create buffers, wetlands, wildlife habitat, grass filter strips, native grass stands, and more. The program pays up to 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually between $40 and $240 per acre/per year.

Through CREP, CBF and its partners have planted more than 1,800 miles of streamside buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In Bradford County, the partners under CREP planted over 3,000 acres of trees, making the county a conservation leader in Pennsylvania.

For Alix Murdoch, CBF's federal policy director, getting field staff together with top federal legislators was exciting. "It's the first time I've been able to bring in restoration staff, who I consider the source for where the action is really happening for us," Murdoch said. "Getting the final link in the chain in where our power, engineering and contributions come from, all the way up to the Hill where decisions are made on the federal level.

"Restoration staff spoke specifically about their experiences, where they work and what they do," Murdoch added. "It was totally relevant to the federal program and is the type of feedback that federal members need to hear."

Restoration specialists Steve Smith, Ashley Spotts, and Kristen Hoke emphasized the value of the CREP program, the importance of stream buffers, and the need for funding, when they met first with Liz Hermsen, senior policy advisor for Senator Casey, in the Russell Senate Office Building.

"It was a privilege to be asked to represent restoration staff and to tell them how CBF really does walk the walk and puts money into restoration," Hoke said. "We're not just telling people to put money toward restoration. For me, talking about the projects I've work on gives me new hope that my workload and the interest in CREP will pick up and I can be a method for that and help facilitate that."

Hoke works in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Franklin counties. Spotts works in York, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Chester counties. Smith is in Potter, Tioga, and Bradford counties. Restoration specialists Jennifer Johns and Frank Rohrer were unable to make the trip.

Other CBF Pennsylvania staffers making the trip to Washington, were Harry Campbell, executive director; Lee Ann Murray, assistant director and attorney; and Clair Ryan, watershed restoration program manager.

A key message delivered to top legislators from Pennsylvania, was that CBF's passion and commitment to clean water in the Commonwealth, is implemented by Pennsylvanians themselves.

"It's that local connection, understanding that we work for CBF, but we are Pennsylvania residents, concerned about Pennsylvania rivers and streams and that we want to work with farmers to get them to do what they ultimately want to do. And help their bottom line," Lee Ann Murray said. "It's that more local connection that maybe in the federal government gets lost in the process. It is important that they understand that what we are doing back home in the state is relevant and important and is a good use of funds. This visit puts a face to the work. That there are real people doing the work with real people who are constituents, and farmers."

The Pennsylvania contingent then met with Tyler Minnich, aide to Senator Toomey, in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Ashley Spotts spoke about the projects on the Rohrer farm, and detailed cooperative efforts to implement conservation practices on Amish farms in Lancaster County. "It was nice to finally be recognized that we are doing good things in our state," Spotts said. "I want to do right by my farmers and landowners and I want to help them as best I can."

Clair Ryan emphasized that CBF and farmers get good value when farmers participate in CREP funding. "It seems like the whole game with government programs is to do more with less and that is what we were explaining, how we do work on these programs, in a very efficient manner," Ryan said. "We bring private funds to the table that wouldn't be leveraged otherwise and we're committed to being good partners on these programs."

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CBF staffers met with Tyler Minnich, aide to Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

"These are the types of things that farmers by and large want. Most know it will be helpful to their bottom lines and to their operations," Harry Campbell told Tyler Minnich. "It's just that they don't have the time because of the demands of the work that they do, nor the resources necessary to do it on their own. Barnyard improvements, for example, are something that farmers recognize they have to get to, but when will they fit it in and get the assistance for it?"

Earlier in the day, Steve Smith attended a luncheon sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, honoring landowners participating in CREP. Smith and his family have owned land near Mansfield, Tioga County, and participated in CREP for 25 years.

Smith said there was a real diversity of conservation groups and landowners from different states at the luncheon. Smith had the chance to talk with USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse, about the need for additional funding. Smith was happy to tell the Undersecretary and senators about, "The importance of keeping CREP going and about the needs we have in Pennsylvania," Smith said. "The Bay situation and our shortfall in Pennsylvania is the most important thing to stress to them. We need funding to get there."

The Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitment. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution, specifically the runoff of harmful nitrogen and sediment into Pennsylvania rivers and streams. 

At a reception that evening commemorating the 30th anniversary of CRP, the CBF staffers heard Undersecretary Scuse say the program does what many hoped it would do when it was created. "It solved problems," he told the gathering. "But it also added improved qualities to many American lives. There are not many provisions in laws implemented that can lay claim to so many unanticipated benefits. I'm proud to that we can show that American farmers and ranchers are directly involved in addressing this very critical social issue of climate change."

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was in his fifth year as a member of the House of Representatives, when he introduced legislation authorizing CRP as the Farmland Conservation Acreage Preserve Act of 1985. "CRP not only encourages producers to conserve marginal farm land, but proved a valuable safety net to producers during some of their most difficult times," Roberts said. "An important aspect of CRP now includes a variety of initiatives that address specific conservation challenges such as improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species." 

Through success stories about working with landowners like the Rohrers and Plain Sect farmers, the message made clear to legislators by the restoration contingent, was that clean water counts in Pennsylvania.

"I would hope we continue to meet with other legislators within our PA delegation, while differentiating ourselves from other national organizations that are conservation or environmentally-minded, that they typically hear from," Harry Campbell said. "This sets us apart in their minds as to who we are and what we do, and also what we are trying to accomplish."

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


It's Time for PA to Reboot Its Commitments to Bay Agreement

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

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A promised "reboot" of pollution-reduction efforts in Pennsylvania is desperately needed to get the Keystone State back on track so that we have clean, healthy waters now and for generations to come. Photo by Daniel Hart at Pennsylvania's Ricketts Glen State Park.

As Pennsylvania's executive and legislative branches of government are embroiled in a budget stalemate that lingers well beyond the June 30 deadline, the commonwealth remains significantly behind in its commitment to meeting its obligations for reducing water pollution in the central Pennsylvania counties that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A promised "reboot" of pollution reduction efforts by the commonwealth has the Chesapeake Bay Foundation guardedly optimistic that water quality will rebound in the Keystone State.

Since 1983, Pennsylvania and the other Bay states have agreed five times to reduce pollution. It is unacceptable, then, that Pennsylvania's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban runoff remain considerably off-track.

The most promising of those agreements came in 2010 when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was established. At that time, Pennsylvania and the other Bay signatories committed to specific actions, two-year incremental targets and a 2017 midterm mark. The commonwealth must greatly accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of pollution reduction practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. Both are obligations of the Clean Water Blueprint.

The reboot will map out the commonwealth's plan for acceleration.

Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this challenge when he took office in January, but CBF has strong expectations that the new administration will enact the necessary reform to get the commonwealth back on track.

Among agency leaders, state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding has acknowledged that a reboot is imperative. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley reiterated the commonwealth's commitment to accelerated efforts during his address to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council this summer. His agency is responsible for the draft plan of the clean water reboot.

The DEP has stated that a reboot of Pennsylvania's clean water efforts is imminent.

Three things are key if a reboot is to reinvigorate clean water efforts in the commonwealth: leadership, commitment, and investment.

  • Leadership. While Pennsylvania certainly has made progress since the mid-1980s, leadership by elected officials has been inconsistent. Renewed leadership will be necessary to bring sectors such as agriculture and urban communities into compliance with existing state clean water laws. Informal DEP estimates conclude that roughly 30 percent of the commonwealth's farms are meeting such standards.
  • Commitment. There is no simple solution. Meeting the commonwealth's obligations requires the commitment to solve the problem from all pollutant source sectors and all levels of government. Historically, Pennsylvania has attempted to reach its Bay goals without localizing responsibilities. As a result, for many the effort has felt as far away as the Bay itself.
  • Investment. Pennsylvania knows what needs to be done — decades of science and experience have led to the road map that is the Clean Water Blueprint. Investing existing resources where it makes the most sense and committing new resources to fully implement the blueprint will reap returns.

CBF is asking for an immediate infusion of at least $20 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be invested in agricultural best management practices. Since 2008, the USDA has directed more than $255 million toward conservation practice implementation in the Susquehanna River Basin.

CBF also believes that, in the revised plan for Pennsylvania, the legislature should provide more adequate funding by making a greater down payment in the second year of the Wolf administration, including efforts to ensure an accurate accounting of BMPs already in place.

The federal government has outlined a number of consequences should Pennsylvania continue to fall behind its clean water commitments. The EPA, for example, could require additionalupgrades to sewage treatment plants or more urban/suburban pollution reduction.

Pennsylvania needs a reboot that gets the commonwealth back on track to meeting its clean water promise to its citizens and to people downstream. We look forward to a robust plan from Wolf and working with the legislature and administration in ensuring its implementation.

Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. It is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

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


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

 

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Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Will Baker, CBF President

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

 


Susquehanna River: Making the Case for Impairment

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A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a large cancerous tumor. Photo by John Arway.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) image on May 4 of a smallmouth bass with a significant malignant tumor on its lip, left anglers and those who care about water quality speechless.

The fish was caught in November of last year on the Susquehanna River near Duncannon, PA. The PFBC said it is the first time this type of cancer was found on a smallmouth bass in the Commonwealth.

The discovery is another find that illustrates a world-class fishery is suffering.

Anglers first reported diseased and dying smallmouth bass in the river in 2005. Young-of-the-year and adult bass continue to bear sores and lesions, and the population continues to plummet. Researchers have also been finding intersex fish—adult male bass with female eggs in their testes—since the early 2000s.

Now, a fish with cancer.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the PFBC and others believe that 98 miles of the lower Susquehanna River must be declared impaired, so that the timeline for its recovery can begin. The Susquehanna provides half of the fresh water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has resisted recommending an impaired listing of the river, citing a lack of definitive scientific evidence of the source and cause of the smallmouth bass problem.

CBF's report Angling for Healthier Rivers, concluded that Commonwealth smallmouth bass are threatened by a "perfect storm" of high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, pesticides, parasites, and hormones in animal and human waste. They also face endocrine disrupting chemicals found in certain herbicides, cosmetics, detergents and medicines.

According to DEP, sediment and nutrient pollution significantly damage 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams, including those which drain into the Susquehanna. Agriculture is the largest source.

But, there is a plan.

In 2010, EPA established science-based limits on the pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. States also developed individual plans to achieve those limits and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions they will take to achieve success. EPA promised consequences for failure. Together, the limits, plans, and milestones make up the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Pennsylvania must accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of the pollution reduction practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track. Pennsylvania appears to be on track to meet its phosphorus reduction goal.

It is imperative that the Commonwealth achieve the pollution reduction goals in the Clean Water Blueprint. A healthy Chesapeake Bay does not exist without a healthy Susquehanna flowing into it.

CBF makes the analogy of smallmouth bass and pollution in the Susquehanna to that of canaries in the coal mines. Caged canaries killed by otherwise undetectable deadly gas, were harbingers of a treacherous environment and miners knew to get out.

CBF and others concerned about the water quality of the Susquehanna and the fishery, would hope that significant scientific data that triggers river impairment and improvement, catches up to the power of images of smallmouth bass with open sores and tumors.

Reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and achieving the goals in the Clean Water Blueprint will not solve the smallmouth bass issue, but doing so will improve water quality and reduce at least one source of stress on the fishery. It will also result in a $6.2 billion return on investment for the Commonwealth.

The smallmouth bass issue is a physical manifestation of the challenges many of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams face. Restoring and protecting our waters will have meaningful impacts to our economy, health, and quality of life.

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

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


When They're Debating the Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can't Forget Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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A boy takes a dip in a creek near Lightstreet, PA. Photo by Michelle Yost.

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, wanted to know how the Wolf administration plans to meet Pennsylvania's obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 11, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to "reboot" efforts on behalf of the Bay.

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth's water quality commitments.

Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Wolf and legislators to honor the Commonwealth's commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.

The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.

By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place.

Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania's efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas—agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.

But Pennsylvania's deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania's farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that. But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.

In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth's rivers, streams, and the Bay. But on average, it's also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.

Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.

A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction.

But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.

Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania's clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.

It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.

In his inquiry, Everett asked why Wolf's proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses.

At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked the same question.

While Pennsylvania's leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.

This is simply unacceptable. We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania's farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.  

Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.

Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint. 

Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts.

There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the clean-up goals. Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.

CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to clean water.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

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


Council Opts for Reason on Stormwater

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

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Stormwater is an issue that can't be ignored. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Is it possible? Has the long stormy winter of "rain tax" propaganda finally passed? Is the spring of reasonable thinking here?

I hope that is the take-away from the April 6 vote by the Anne Arundel County Council to affirm the importance of the county's stormwater fee program. The council rejected two bills that would have repealed the county stormwater fee and the program it enables.

The program, three years in the making, is overhauling the county's vast but long-neglected drainage system. Prior to this program, public dollars traditionally focused on maintaining the sewer or water systems. But when your basement or street floods, or your local creek is too polluted for safe swimming, that's often at least partly due to the poor condition of the county's stormwater system. Runoff from storms doesn't properly drain or filter into the ground. It washes pollutants straight into creeks and rivers.

That all changed in 2013 when the county started collecting a fee dedicated exclusively to improving the stormwater system. Numerous projects are now underway throughout the county as a result of this revenue stream. Had the council voted differently, all those projects would have been canceled.

County Councilmen John Grasso, Andrew Pruski, Pete Smith, and Chris Trumbauer showed real leadership. In voting to continue the county's stormwater upgrade program, these four dismissed the rain tax rhetoric for was it was: electioneering. It swept into Maryland like a nor'easter in 2013, uprooting facts and flooding newspapers with misinformation.

A March 13 statewide poll by OpinionWorks found that the rain tax disinformation campaign in Maryland was clever and effective. The poll found one out of every two Marylanders still believes he or she will be taxed when it rains. Not true, of course. A stormwater fee is similar to any other public utility fee — like paying for garbage collection or sewer service. A stormwater fee charges a mall more than a mom-and-pop grocery because the mall parking lot produces more polluted runoff. But talk of a rain tax was brilliant propaganda.

That's why the April 6 vote was a breath of fresh air. The four councilmen who defeated the repeal didn't just stick their fingers up to gauge the prevailing political winds. Reasonable thinking won out. And there's evidence in other parts of Maryland of the same change in the political climate. The storm is passing.

On March 23, for instance, the Salisbury City Council voted unanimously to start collecting a stormwater fee. The vote was grounded in facts. The city hired the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to explore ways Salisbury could finance an upgrade of its 105-year-old, badly neglected stormwater system. The EFC concluded a dedicated fee was the smart way to go. Salisbury joins nearly 1,500 communities nationwide that have opted for a stormwater fee to attack polluted runoff.

Also, representatives from Prince George's County spoke out forcefully in legislative hearings this spring to defend their own stormwater program from meddling. That county has estimated that by collecting a stormwater fee it actually could cut costs of upgrading its drainage system by 40 percent. Such fees typically are the preferred means of financing major capital expenses.

We just hope the leadership shown by Anne Arundel, other jurisdictions in Maryland, and across the country will inspire elected officials in places such as Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Frederick counties to finally face facts. Polluted runoff is the main cause of fouled, unhealthy water in many urban and suburban areas of the state. The Maryland Department of the Environment still warns us not to swim in local creeks and rivers for 48 hours after a rainstorm.

A campaign of distortions doesn't actually change the condition of our streams any more than a house of mirrors makes us skinnier. We can only do that by dedicating real dollars to put real projects in the ground.

Let's stop talking and get to work.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director


Talbot County Should Fund Ditch Project

The following first appeared in the Star Democrat.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

The Talbot County Council has been presented a golden opportunity. Other local governments would be green with envy at such a gift.

Talbot has been offered the chance to significantly reduce pollution to local creeks and rivers at a cut-rate price. In the expensive world of Chesapeake Bay restoration, it's like winning the lottery.

We urge the county council to take advantage of this opportunity.

The gift-horse in this case is a proposal to convert roadside ditches in the county into pollution filters. Talbot has about 370 miles of county roads that are lined by such trenches. They channel rain water from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks and rivers. The trouble is that runoff in these ditches also contains lots of pollution—oil, exhaust particles, fertilizer, and manure.

The county engineer has proposed a solution—one already proven in other areas of the country. Ditches could be modified slightly to soak up pollution before it reaches the creeks. This is low-tech, common sense, high-efficiency innovation. It's the kind of ingenuity for which Americans were once famous, farmers especially.

Maybe that's why Talbot farmers such as John Swaine, chairman of the board of supervisors at the Talbot Soil Conservation District, are in support of the proposal.

The ditch work would be focused on stretches of ditches where pollution is worst, making the strategy all the more cost effective.

There are several techniques available to turn the ditches into filters. One popular one used widely in agricultural ditches in the Midwest is to enlarge the ditch just enough so runoff has more space and time to soak into the ground. The county, along with The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working on pilot projects to ensure this "two-stage ditch" technology and other similar approaches would work here.

The price to convert 150 of the most polluted ditches would be about $3 million—paid for in small increments over 30 years.

That's a bargain compared to many other strategies to clean up local water. For example, the price tag for upgrading the Easton sewage plant in 2007 was about $40 million. And polluted runoff is a particularly expensive type of pollution to reduce using traditional methods. But under the ditch program, county staff estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved over conventional techniques, reducing costs an estimated 90 percent.

The ditch program also could create jobs—for engineers, heavy equipment operators, and laborers.

Given all this you'd think the Talbot County Council would be embracing the proposal whole-heartedly. It's the kind of smart investment any smart businessman would recognize. But the council has not revealed its position.

The council's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released on April 14. Whether or not that budget will illustrate a firm commitment to cleaning up Talbot's polluted rivers is uncertain. We can only hope the council isn't penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Talbot council rejects the ditch program, the hundreds of miles of trenches will remain a problem. They will continue to sluice pollution straight into our local waters where we swim, where crabs and oysters try to survive.

We hope the council sees the wisdom of spending smart now in order to save money long term.

With rivers such as the Choptank getting more polluted, it's time for action in Talbot County. The ditch program not only is cost effective, it's inspiring. It will provide an example to other communities around Eastern Shore and throughout the region. On the Shore we have plenty of ditches, but too often a shortage of political will to act for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!


Talbot County Ditches Can Help Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Talbot Spy.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

It seems the lowly roadside ditch can have a higher purpose in life—saving the Bay.

Talbot County, and much of the Eastern Shore, is replete with roadside trenches. They are so prevalent along Talbot's 370 miles of rural roads you hardly notice them. They have a humble purpose. They simply channel runoff from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks. But sometimes it's the humble among us who have the greatest promise.

A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal said parts of the Midwest have similar ditches. But in Indiana, Ohio, and other states people have discovered great potential in these otherwise ordinary gullies. The Nature Conservancy, local soil conservation districts, and local governments have discovered the ditches can help clean up storm runoff, not just flush it wholesale into creeks. With a few relatively simple tweaks, the trenches can become "wastewater treatment plants for farms," as one Midwest environmentalist called them.

In one county in Indiana, 11 farmers have reduced nitrate flowing out of their ditches by 31 percent, and phosphorus by 50 percent. Similar projects are underway in 21 counties in Indiana alone.

If only we could do this on the Eastern Shore, the Journal article suggested. Well, guess what? We can. And we are.

The Nature Conservancy, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other groups are working with the Talbot County government on pilot programs to modify roadside ditches, so they filter out pollutants that run off roadways and nearby farms.

The Talbot County Council has the opportunity to turn these experimental projects into a full-blown program. That's exciting. Talbot County could be a pioneer on the Shore in this promising, cost-effective method for cleaning up local creeks and rivers. The county is currently eligible to apply for a low-interest loan of about $3 million to do over 150 ditch projects at targeted locations over the coming years. The loan would be paid off in relatively small increments over 30 years. And county staff have estimated that using ditches in this way could save county taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over alternative pollution controls over the long term.

Converting a roadside ditch into a filtration system can be a pretty simple thing. One strategy is to widen the upper portion of the ditch and seed that shoulder area with native grasses and wetland plants. When it rains, water coming off the road spreads up onto the shoulder and soaks in, instead of gushing straight into nearby creeks. The modified ditch is called a "two-stage" ditch.

On a recent day, Talbot farmer John Swaine watched as a backhoe carefully created 400 feet of two-stage ditch along one of his fields adjacent to Bellevue Road in Royal Oak. Swaine, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the Talbot Soil Conservation District, agreed to the pilot ditch project on this property because he values clean water. He said he had watched for too many years as brown, muddy water flushed off his fields after a rain storm into the county ditches, and eventually into a creek near his home.

Also watching the construction at Swaine's farm was Talbot County Engineer Ray Clarke. He has proposed to the County Council that this sort of work could easily be underway throughout the county.

"We are in a position where we can make things happen," Clarke said.

The expanded ditch program won't be a "silver bullet," for clean creeks, Clarke said. The county will still need to potentially hook some failing septic systems to sewer lines, continue to upgrade sewage treatment, and take other steps. But simply turning ditches into filtration systems could be one of the more innovative, and cheaper strategies, he said.

The 150 potential ditch improvement sites have been carefully selected as current "hotspots" of high pollution flow. This means the dirtiest water will be cleaned up first. The Nature Conservancy used topographic imagery technology to map the hotspots. That's smart.

The pilot ditch projects suggest a broader program also would create jobs. Dan Kramer, the owner of Sweet Bay Watershed Conservation, the general contractor on the Swaine pilot project, said six men were working on the job. Think of the job creation if the Council approves over 150 projects. That's also smart.

But the Council's view of the proposed ditch program is uncertain. It likely will decide by April 14 whether to include the program in next year's budget.

We urge the Council to undertake this program. It is relatively cheap compared to other strategies for cleaning our water. It is effective. And it will show Talbot is willing to do its share to reduce pollution.

All counties in Maryland have been asked to contribute to meeting the state's goals under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. That's the plan to make the Chesapeake once again safe for swimming and fishing, with all strategies in place by 2025. But in some Shore counties like Talbot, efforts have been lagging. The Council's approval of the ditch program could help motivate the entire Eastern Shore to do its share for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!