Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.

Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.

The numbers speak for themselves:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.

Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.

The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.

Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


The View of an Oyster Sanctuary

The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.

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Maryland's oyster sanctuaries are under threat. Photo by Dave Harp.

The fate of Maryland's oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.

That's where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state's oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary. 

This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of 'sanctuary' oyster reefs to harvest.

As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.

The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial. 

The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.

Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O'Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can't be harvested. O'Malley himself was guided by scientists' warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.

With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O'Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia, oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O'Malley's new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen's earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.

There's no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests. 

Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.

CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary's River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn't start spending more money without knowing what's in your bank account. That's exactly what the proposal would do.

It would open up 1,277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent, and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank, and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.

It's only 11 percent, you might say. But it's 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That's not scientific. That's not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn't managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.

The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.

—Tom Zolper, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Stand up for oysters now! Ask your legislators to support a new bill that would stop changes to oyster sanctuaries from happening before there is sound science to back them up.


Speaking up for Clean Water

Just eleven years after Captain John Smith led the original exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, the Western Hemisphere's oldest legislative body was founded when Virginia's House of Burgesses met in 1619. Much has changed over the subsequent centuries, including the waning health of the Bay and its rivers and streams. The recent 2016 State of the Bay Report reveals the Bay is improving, but much work remains.

Approaching the quadricentennial of House of Burgesses, on February 9 over 50 people descended upon Virginia's Capitol in Richmond to advocate for clean water in Virginia's General Assembly. A crucial week in the legislative session, CBF partnered with the James River Association and Lynnhaven River NOW to bring Virginians from all over the Commonwealth to meet with their Senators and Delegates. They were gracious enough to share with us some thoughts on their experience.

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Brian Vincent Farmville, VA

"I'm a kayaker, I'm a kayak fisherman, I'm a canoeist. … You've got to protect the waterways in order for there to be areas that are worth recreating in."

"I think it's important for us to get out and actively engage in the process. That's what it's about. I'm tired of shying away from it and thinking I'll let other people take care of it."

 

 

 

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Carolyn O'Neal
Ivy, VA

"I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk. Over my lifetime, I'm 60, I've seen the Bay go from not so bad to really bad to better now and so I care a lot about it."

"Today I met my state senator and I spoke with the assistant of our state delegate and I feel so much more empowered. I can just go to their office and talk about it. They are human beings."

 

 

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Claire Neubert Hampton, VA

"We swim in the water, we boat in the water, we enjoy looking at the water, and we get a lot of sustenance from the water."

"This is the first time lobbying, but I always say that my passion puts me in some uncomfortable places."

 

 

 

 

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Liz Worsham Northumberland County

"We are concerned about clean water because we like to swim in our creek, for starters, and kayak, and fish. … It's really important for the businesses in the area and for the watermen."

"This is a great opportunity to have an impact and express my views to my representatives."

 

 

 

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Brad Worsham Northumberland County

"We love to eat crabs and oysters and we enjoy the ducks and the rockfish."

"It's nice to hear that our representatives are welcoming for us to visit them...We're cracking open the shell and perhaps we hope it fosters a more active relationship with our legislators in the future."

 

 

 

  —Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Couldn't make it to lobby day? Not to fear! Virginian legislators are meeting this week to discuss investing in these critical clean water programs. Take action now to ask them to make the necessary investment in programs that keep the Bay cleanup on target.


Chesapeake under Congressional Attack

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

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Critters like this blue heron depend on the implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Photo by Steve Aprile.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved anti-Save-the-Bay legislation that would turn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into a paper tiger when it comes to reducing Chesapeake Bay pollution. Fortunately, there was some good news. Every Maryland representative, on both sides of the aisle, voted against the measure.

The entire delegation understands the value of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the need for states that aren't making sufficient progress to be held accountable. A recent EPA report said Pennsylvania is failing to meet its pollution-reduction goals.

CBF thanks the delegation, especially Rep. Chris Van Hollen who immediately went public to decry the amendment and urged his colleagues to take a stand. Rep. Andy Harris also has spoken out in favor of clean water by voting in opposition to his Republican colleagues who proposed the amendment.

All six states in the Chesapeake drainage area and the District of Columbia voluntarily agreed to collaborate on the Blueprint and to be held accountable for lack of progress. EPA is charged with imposing penalties for failure.

The collaboration among states and federal agencies is working. Oysters are making a comeback. Bay grasses and summer oxygen levels are increasing to levels we haven't seen in decades. Congress should maintain the federal commitment to the Blueprint and fully fund its implementation. If not, the bay may go the way of Lake Erie, once declared saved but now worse than ever.

—William C. Baker, CBF President

The representatives below stood by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint voting against this bad amendment. If you live in their districts, please take a moment to thank them!

Representatives Beyer, Carney, Cartwright, Comstock, Connolly, Cummings, Delaney, Edwards, Forbes, Gibson, Hanna, Harris, Hoyer, Rigell, Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Scott, Van Hollen, and Wittman.


This Week in the Watershed

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A healthy future for the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams relies on the full implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, which faced a new obstacle from Congress this week. Photo by Mark Dignen.

It has often been said in some form since George Santayana first uttered the words in the early 20th century, that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Indeed, history is often cyclical, with one generation repeating the previous generation's blunders and mishaps. This was the case for decades in Bay cleanup efforts when main Bay states agreed to voluntary pollution reductions, but with no checkpoints or accountability, the well-regarded intentions were destined for failure.

The tide turned in December 2010 when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint took shape. Under the Blueprint, the EPA oversees enforceable pollution limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Each Bay state has their plans to meet those limits, with two-year incremental checkpoints, and crucially, consequences imposed for failure to meet pollution-reduction goals. Finally, efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams have teeth.

As with most efforts to change the status quo, the Blueprint has faced significant resistance. Within weeks of its release, the plan was attacked by special interests with enormous political influence, and by attorneys general from 21 states. After years of legal challenges and two resounding courtroom victories, the Blueprint has been affirmed as a tremendous example of cooperative federalism. And already, we have seen positive signs that the Blueprint is working. Underwater dead zones are smaller, oysters are rebounding, and Bay grasses are covering more bottom than they have in 35 years!

But no one said change is easy. Congress is the next challenge for the Blueprint, as an amendment was proposed this week on an appropriations bill that would cripple the EPA's ability to impose consequences on states failing to meet pollution-reduction goals. Essentially, the Blueprint would lose its teeth, condemning us to repeat the same cycle of voluntary agreements which time and again proved fruitless. Now is the time to double-down on the Blueprint, not abandon progress. We will continue fighting to defend the Blueprint with hopes and ambitions of leaving a legacy of clean water for our children and future generations. Click here to read CBF's letter to Congress in defense of the Blueprint!

This Week in the Watershed: Appropriations, Shrinking Dead Zones, and an Ancient Fish

  • An appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives threatens the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA is raising the bar for sustainable architecture. (Virginia Business Magazine—VA)
  • Dead zones are shrinking, as recently release data reveals the second best dissolved oxygen levels in Maryland's portion of the Bay since 1985. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • We couldn't agree more with this editorial condemning efforts to impede Bay cleanup efforts. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA) Bonus: CBF Letter to Congress
  • Municipalities in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County are receiving grants for projects to reduce urban stormwater runoff. (Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal—PA)
  • The Atlantic sturgeon, the oldest and largest fish in the Chesapeake Bay, is threatened by extinction. (Somerset County Times—MD)
  • Susquehanna County in northeast Pennsylvania became the latest county to adopt a Clean Water Counts resolution, becoming the 27th county in Pennsylvania to ask state officials to make clean water a priority. (CBF Press Release)
  • The resurgence of underwater grasses is worth celebrating! (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 21

  • Baltimore, MD: Join CBF and partners at a town hall meeting on the newly modified Consent Decree (CD) to address Baltimore's failing sewage system. The public is invited to attend this free meeting and ask questions, and to learn about what is being proposed and how the City plans to meet obligations detailed in the Consent Decree. Click here to register!

July 22, 29, and August 5

  • Shady Side, MD: Break a sweat and help Save the Bay—join CBF in cleaning the "homes" of the next generation of Chesapeake Bay oysters! Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells. We'll be shaking off the dirt and debris on shells so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This "shell shaking" event is a bit of a workout but a fun, hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with bad backs or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. Click here to register!

July 22

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Join CBF for an early morning outdoors! We are looking for volunteers to help with a variety of property maintenance at the Brock Center and Pleasure House Point. We can use your help anytime from 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. Activities will include cutting back phragmites around the site, removing Japanese sedge, and checking in on Libby's Garden and the rain gardens. If you are interested, please send us an email at rsvp@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964. Please share with us your name, home or cell number, and your email address so we can stay in touch in case of any changes. Also please let us know if you can come out for an hour or all three hours.

July 26

  • Annapolis, MD: Wondering how your favorite Bay critters are doing? Join CBF Fisheries Director Bill Goldsborough to learn the latest about what's happening underwater beneath your boat, kayak, or paddleboard! Our summer "Save the Bay" Breakfast features an ecology crash-course and updates on the health of three of the Chesapeake Bay's most iconic fishery species: oysters, striped bass, and blue crabs—plus a menhaden bonus! Come enjoy a delicious Boatyard breakfast and learn things you never knew about some of the Bay's most important—and tasty—inhabitants. Click here to register!

July 30

  • Norfolk, VA: Come on out for the 19th Annual Paddle for the Bay! Paddlers with kayaks to paddle boarders and all others in between, join in this Mid-Atlantic Paddlers Association certified competition to raise funds for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Click here to register!

August 4

  • East Pennsboro, PA: Get out on the water with CBF! This canoe trip will start just north of the city of Harrisburg near Ft. Hunter Park. The educators from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program will lead the way, winding through large islands. The trip will take the group under the historic Rockville Bridge and pass by one of the largest rookeries on the river, Wade Island. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Filtering through the 2016 Maryland General Assembly

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State legislators only have to take a quick stroll from the Maryland State House in Annapolis before arriving at the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Nikki Davis.

This year's Maryland General Assembly session was as expansive and varied as the Chesapeake watershed itself, covering the land, water, and air of this vast watershed we share.

We couldn't have covered such a sweeping agenda without the unflagging support of our members—thank you to all who advocated for clean water and the Chesapeake Bay right into the last hours of the session!

In the end, filters emerged as a key theme, with some of our most important bills covering the Chesapeake Bay watershed's natural filters for pollution—trees and oysters. These two bills went all the way into the evening hours on sine die (the session's last day):

The Sustainable Oyster Harvest Act (SB937/HB1603) passed in both the Senate and the House in bipartisan votes that reinforced the importance of oysters to clean water and the Chesapeake way of life. It requires the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to provide critical pieces of scientific data still needed to help inform management of Maryland's public oyster fishery. This information is essential to knowing what portion of the Bay's oysters are being harvested each year and whether those rates are sustainable for the population.

We also helped defeat several bills that would set Maryland back in the protection of our oyster population. Learn more about those bills here.

A bill (HB1197) that would have made an exception for specific development projects in Prince George's County to the Maryland Forest Conservation Act's replanting requirements never had a vote in the House Committee, effectively defeating it—proving that sometimes the best legislative action is no action. This bill would have set a bad precedent for others across the state arguing for the same exemption when replanting the trees cut down for development becomes too costly or inconvenient. We will continue to ensure that trees cut down for development will be replanted, renewing their benefits for water quality, air quality, wildlife habitat, and communities across Maryland.

Our biggest pre-session priority was the Poultry Litter Management Act (PLMA). While the PLMA didn't get beyond committee hearings this year, our work to bring clean water solutions to our Eastern Shore waters is far from over. As a result of the hearings, we achieved important goals in the effort to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Bay and Eastern Shore waterways. Learn more about what we accomplished.

Some of the other bright spots of the session that CBF helped achieve include:

  • The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act passed, and was signed into law by Governor Hogan while the General Assembly was still in session. This bipartisan bill commits Maryland to some of the strongest reductions in greenhouse gases in the nation.
  • The budget was passed by both chambers and includes stable funding for environmental agencies and programs that play key roles in Chesapeake Bay restoration.

We also defeated a raft of bad bills that would have endangered water quality and eroded the integrity of local waterways and the Bay. See here for a more in-depth list of key bills that CBF worked on this session, and how they turned out.

Looking ahead, we expect that our work on natural filters will be a highlight of the year to come, as we continue work to restore and help manage the oyster population to sustainable levels and to protect and replace Maryland's trees. Expect to hear more from us on policies and practices that impact these two important filters in the Chesapeake watershed, both within and outside of the legislative context.

Whew! And now it's done.

Thank you again to all our members who fought to keep clean water and the Bay front and center in the legislature!

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Take a moment to thank Maryland's legislators for demonstrating a continuing commitment to restoring our local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.


This Week in the Watershed

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Oysters, a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay, are the only public fishery not managed using scientific information. A new bill in the Maryland legislature seeks to change that. Photo by Dave Harp.

Oysters just might be the most important critter in the Chesapeake Bay. A keystone species, not only do they help clean the water (an adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water every day!), oyster reefs also provide critical habitat for other fisheries. Despite the unique and critical role oysters play in water quality, they are the only major public fishery in the Bay that isn’t managed using scientific information. 

To add science to oyster management, several Maryland legislators have introduced a bill called the Sustainable Oyster Harvest Act of 2016. The bill would put the public oyster fishery on the path towards more sustainable, science-based management by requiring a new study to determine the current oyster population and recommend appropriate scientific indicators for management.

Currently, scientists can only roughly estimate how many oysters are in the Bay. Compared with other fisheries, our lack of knowledge of the oyster population is startling. To ensure there is a sustainable oyster fishery in the Bay for generations to come, we need to incorporate sound science in our policy decision making. Take action by telling your legislator right now that you think science should play a role in how Maryland manages its oyster harvest.

This Week in the Watershed: Oyster Science, Pennsylvania Headaches, and Osprey Eggs

  • Laws are only as good as their enforcement, as evidenced by the lack of oversight of "mud pollution" leaching from construction sites in Baltimore County. (Bay Journal)
  • Live-streaming webcams are bringing the world of ospreys to life, including a recently installed webcam at CBF's Merrill Center in Annapolis. (Daily Press—MD)
  • A bill in the Maryland legislature to commission a scientific study to determine sustainable harvest rates for Maryland oysters is not without controversy. (Bay Journal)
  • Without a doubt, Pennsylvania has a long way to go in monitoring and regulating pollution from its farms. (WYPR)
  • Fort Detrick in Maryland is attempting to be a model for effective stormwater management. (Frederick News-Post—MD)
  • A controversial proposed development in Maryland has received preliminary approval to move forward despite environmental concerns. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • A survey of Pennsylvania farmers is attempting to identify how many farmers are implementing best management practices on their farms. (Reading Eagle—PA)
  • We couldn't agree more with this editorial advocating for using science in the management of Maryland's oyster fishery. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that ospreys are faring well despite traces of DDT and other chemicals being found in their eggs. Ospreys have made significant strides since an onslaught of DDT devastated their populations in the 1970s. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Good news out of Maryland, as Governor Hogan signed bills reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and restoring funding for a program to preserve open spaces. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • The rise of raising chickens on an industrial scale on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has made small family farms raising chickens a thing of the past. As residents are finding out, this is not without consequences to clean water and public health. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

April 9

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

April 14

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

April 15

  • Spring Mills, PA: CBF's Pennsylvania Restoration Program is partnering with the Clearwater Conservancy to plant trees in a streamside area near Spring Mills, PA. We are looking for volunteers eager to get their hands dirty helping us to plant trees to repair a forested riparian buffer. Click here for more information!

April 16

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

April 23

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

April 24

  • Annapolis, MD: Check out the 2016 Earth-Water-Faith Festival—a fun, family-friendly, interactive, interfaith celebration of Earth Day. Enjoy live music from Third Sunday Band, The Harmonic Fifth, and The All Children's Chorus of Annapolis, as well as activities including a "Scales and Tales" animal program, an oyster water-filtering display, kids' T-shirt printing, and celebratory readings. Free and open to the public! Click here for more information!

 —Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Restoring Virginia's Waterways Depends on Support This GA Session

The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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The James River and other Virginia waterways have improved, but funding is still needed for Virginia to meet its clean water commitments. Photo by Jillian Chilson.

As Virginians, we have much to be thankful for these days when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay and our rivers that feed it. We've witnessed the return of underwater grasses in some areas of the James River, the resurgence of our iconic Chesapeake oyster industry in many Virginia tributaries, and the arrival of surprisingly clear water in the bay just last fall.

But thousands of miles of our rivers and streams are still damaged by pollution and listed as impaired waters by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

With the General Assembly now in full swing, the commonwealth's legislators should fully fund the clean water projects that will continue the encouraging improvements we've seen.

Restoring Virginia's waters is the right thing to do. A federal-state partnership has developed the Clean Water Blueprint to clean up the region's waterways, and Virginia is making steady progress toward meeting its goals.

Programs underway across the state are helping Virginia meet its commitments to cleaner water. In Richmond and other urban and suburban areas, localities are better controlling polluted runoff washing off hard surfaces such as streets, parking lots and sidewalks. In a long-term successful program, Virginia's sewage treatment plants are installing technologies that ensure cleaner water in local rivers. In rural parts of the commonwealth, farmers are putting practices on the ground that keep pollution out of waterways.

All of these projects desperately depend on state dollars for success. It's a wise investment, given that the cost of implementing the Clean Water Blueprint is estimated to come back fourfold in economic benefits. In fact, Virginia stands to see an $8.3 billion increase annually in economic value from taking the actions necessary to restore water quality, according to a peer-reviewed report commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Cleaner waterways boost our economy through recreation, tourism, commercial fishing, higher property values, and better quality of life. Here in Richmond, we're starting to reap the rewards of a significantly restored James River—once closed down due to kepone and other pollutants and now the city's most popular attraction. Our river has become a mecca for boaters, hikers, paddlers, and fishermen; festivals are celebrated all summer along its banks; and the James is the focus of commercial and residential redevelopment projects.

This General Assembly session, Virginia's legislators are considering budget proposals to fund programs that will make a big difference. For example, some of the most cost-efficient steps to restore waterways are farm conservation practices like fencing cattle out of waterways, and planting waterside trees and cover crops. Farmers have been eager to do their share, with so many signing up for a state cost-share program to keep cattle from streams that there's now a hefty backlog in funding. Nearly 1,200 stream-fencing applications are still pending, according to recent numbers by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

We can't let these farmers down. Addressing this backlog will spread proven farm practices and help Virginia meet water quality goals. Legislators should approve budget amendments introduced by Sen. Lynwood Lewis and Del. Michael Webert that would increase funding for farm conservation practices to a total of $82.6 million next fiscal year and $86 million the following year.

State funding can also help localities make long-needed upgrades to reduce pollution from urban and suburban runoff. The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund provides matching grants to localities for effective, shovel-ready projects. This program needs $50 million annually, as reported by the coalition of businesses and conservation organizations VirginiaForever. Accordingly, the General Assembly should adopt budget proposals for stormwater funding offered by Sen. Emmett Hanger and Dels. Steven Landes and Alfonso Lopez.

Sewage plant upgrades are another potential success story. While the installation of new technology has helped wastewater treatment plants prevent untreated sewage and other harmful pollutants from entering our waterways, the modernization process isn't finished yet. To ensure that this vital work is completed, legislators should support the $59 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades proposed by the governor and included in bills introduced by Hanger and Landes.

Our rivers, our streams, and the bay are a key part of our culture; they provide recreation and water to drink, and they boost the economy. Please ask your legislator to support full funding for Virginia's clean water programs. The health of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay depends on it.

—Rebecca LePrell, CBF Virginia Executive Director


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 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

Md-va-state capitols
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