Streams and Students in Pennsylvania

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SWEEP students enjoy the opportunity to paddle a canoe and investigate the health of local waterways through a variety of hands-on activities like up-close studies of the bugs and other species living in the water.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators Tom Parke and Emily Thorpe took advantage of an unseasonably warm winter day in Pennsylvania, to wash life vests, check canoes for needed repairs, and reflect on the Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program's (SWEEP) 26th year of connecting students with their local waterways.

SWEEP guides students in grades 6 to 12, college level groups, and teachers through a series of water quality experiences designed to reinforce in-class lessons and emphasize the importance of clean water.

Parke, Thorpe, and their fleet of ten canoes floated over 1,700 students across waters in Pennsylvania's portion of the Bay watershed during the spring and fall seasons in 2016. During the summer months, they hosted about 75 teachers at workshops and courses.

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SWEEP students enjoy the water and do their part to collect macro-invertebrates.

Since it began, SWEEP has conducted over 2,000 programs and involved about 45,000 participants in its spring and fall Environmental Education Days.

Thorpe says SWEEP's core purpose is to, "connect kids and people in general with their local rivers and streams, emphasize the importance that it has in their daily lives. It's this sometimes invisible system that we all rely on. The importance of watersheds is one of the big things they learn," she adds. "Everyone has an impact on that watershed and is affected by its health."

"We get out to a wide geography. Our goal is to connect people to their local rivers and streams and the mission of the organization to 'Save the Bay,'" Parke says. He has been with CBF for eight years. "That isn't going to happen unless you work throughout the entire watershed. You can't have a clean Bay without clean local streams."

Students enjoy the opportunity to paddle a canoe and investigate the health of local waterways through a variety of hands-on activities like up-close studies of the bugs and other species living in the water. They study the physical characteristics of the waterway, the shoreline, and adjoining lands. They use water chemistry tests to determine quality and use maps to orient themselves with their specific watershed.

Because of changing conditions, flexibility is important, even with a set curriculum. Low water levels across the Commonwealth contributed to the SWEEP lesson plans in 2016.

"The drought really made for a different canoe experience, sometimes not in good ways with having to get out and drag boats over rocks and things," Thorpe says. She will be with CBF for two-and-a-half years in the spring. "Sometimes it was cool and interesting that the river stayed really clear. Kids could see into the grass beds and see fish swimming all around in the river."

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SWEEP students take water measurements.

The outdoor learning environment brings out a different side of the students. "Students who are more problematic in the classroom, that may have difficulties keeping it all together in the classroom, are on task the entire time when they are outside, and teachers are always surprised by that," Thorpe says. "The students want to be outside or be more physically engaged doing something. All of the problems that may arise for the student in the classroom disappear once they are outside and engaged."

"You get city students completely out of their comfort zone," Parke says of their time on the water. "We go to western PA, northern Cambria County, these kids come out in camo and muck boots, every student in the group. Compared to your average Joe, these are outdoors students." 

Students learn and form their opinions from the discoveries they make. "Some kids have never held a fish or didn't know there were bugs that live in the water," Thorpe says. "So when they see that quantity of life, they might think that the water quality is really good. Maybe all we're catching are shiners or water striders, and Tom and I are thinking 'not such a good day on the creek.' But to that kid maybe it is showing them there is life out there that they didn't know about previously."

Critters are important to the curriculum. "It's like asking the locals," Parke says. "The life in the water lives there 24/7, so you use the life to gain a long-term perspective of what's happening in the water."

"It's a little easier to connect with critters than it is to data," Thorpe adds. "Living things are a little more charismatic. The more questions you can ask about it the more excited students get about it. If it has a funny mouth shape or funny color, they are gonna latch onto something about it and ask questions."

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Braving a rainy day, students react to an impromptu lesson on stream critters, given by CBF educator Tom Parke.

"Amphibians are always so important," Parke says. "Things like salamanders, because they respirate through their skin and are so vulnerable to their surroundings. They are fun critters to catch, hold, and see. The important thing is we are finding them. They are here for a reason."

"Brook trout are always exciting," Thorpe adds. "Even if the kids don't know what one is. We found one with the Steam Academy in York in this tiny tributary of Lake Redman and so it was very cool to see them there. We didn't know they were there."

In this outdoor classroom, size matters. "Get a 14-inch crappie and people are gonna be excited," Parke says. "Big hellgrammites and big crawfish. Big and dramatic."

Parke wants the takeaway for the thousands of SWEEP students should be "that water quality is determined by runoff and what's happening on the land, so they are thinking about the connection to the land and how it affects the water."

In SWEEP, fun is an important tool for connecting young people with water quality. "We're always pushing enjoyment when on the water and that's where we see the connection take place," Parke adds. "If they enjoy it, they want to protect it."

SWEEP's fleet of canoes will shove off again in March.

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


The Smell of Saving the Bay

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Hundreds of baskets full of adult oysters and spat-on-shell were planted in the South River last week.

Approaching a ragtag team of CBF volunteers and staff, my first observation was the putrid stench lofting from the truck lovingly called the, "Spatmobile." On a mild December day last week, CBF partnered with the South River Federation to plant 200,000 spat-on shell and 87,000 adult oysters

Covered in oyster "goo"—a combination of oyster refuse, mud, and algae—volunteers tackled the dirty work of oyster planting with vigor. Like a well-oiled machine, volunteers cut open bags of oysters, dumped them into baskets, and carried them to the dock to await transport on a skiff to their eventual new home in the South River. 

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Volunteer Bill Wheeler cuts open a bag of spat-on-shell.

These oysters are crucial in the fight to save the Bay. 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.

Volunteer Bill Wheeler learned that while this oyster planting was a small step in the right direction, restoring the Bay's native oyster population won't happen overnight. "One thing I found out about oysters that's just fantastic is they start out as all male and then they change sex later on. So it's important that when you reseed a reef you have to do it over a couple years because they can't breed if they're all males." Indeed, sanctuary reefs are critical in oyster restoration efforts.

As the group wrapped up the oyster planting, I finally commented on the stench. Without missing a beat, Pat Beall, CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist exclaimed, "This is the smell of saving the Bay!" The foul odor largely consists of oyster poo—the oysters clean the water by consuming pollutants and either eating them or shaping them into small, mucous packets, which are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. So quite literally, the stench is the smell of a saved Bay.

I don't particularly look forward to the next time I get a whiff of the Spatmobiles precious cargo, but with the support of our dedicated volunteers and generous members, I'm grateful that with every oyster we plant, we'll generate cleaner water, vital habitat for critters, and ultimately, a healthier Bay.

Join us in this critical oyster restoration work. With programs in both Maryland and Virginia, volunteer opportunities include oyster gardening, shell shaking, and oyster planting. And with holiday feasts approaching, there is more opportunity to help by recycling your oyster shells.

—Text and Photos by Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

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CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist Pat Beall unloads bags of spat-on-shell from the "Spatmobile." 
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Baskets of adult oysters and spat-on-shell await departure for their new homes in the South River.
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Chesapeake Conservation Corps Intern Jaclyn Fisher delivers a basket of adult oysters and spat-on-shell to their new home in the South River.

 Click here for more photos from this oyster planting in the South River!


Creating Jobs—and Environmental Awareness

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

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CBF's Snow Goose in Baltimore Harbor. Photo by Captain Craig Biggs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is proud to be part of the BLocal campaign ("A commitment to 'BLocal' in Baltimore," April 8). While small by comparison to other partners, we recognize that our business choices can help support our city's economy.

CBF is uniquely qualified to assist in another way. We have committed to train BLocal interns through our on-the-water Baltimore Harbor Education Program. Interns will be exposed to a hands-on estuarine science curriculum on board our 46-foot bay workboat, the Snow Goose.

CBF's widely acclaimed education program was recognized by President George H.W. Bush with the nation's highest environmental honor—the 1992 Presidential Medal for Environmental Excellence.

The Baltimore Harbor program, one of 15 across the region, was launched in 1979 at the request of the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

For 49 years, over a million students have received training at one of our environmental education centers. Now, BLocal interns will have the opportunity to study the remarkable array of creatures that live in the harbor, conduct water quality tests, and discuss the challenges of an urban environment. It is a great investment in Baltimore's future.

—William C. Baker, CBF President


Maryland Leaders Protect Funds for Bay Cleanup

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2.5 million oysters were planted on Cooks Point Sanctuary Reef near Tilghman Island in 2009. The recent appropriations bill secured funding for critical projects such as oyster restoration. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

The following first appeared in The Baltimore Sun.

Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, along with Rep. Steny Hoyer, deserve our thanks for securing funding in the recent omnibus appropriations bill to keep Maryland on track to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams ("For better or worse, spending bill passes," Dec. 15).

We are making progress, but the work is expensive and federal dollars are critical.

The bill includes significant funds for oyster restoration, sewage treatment upgrades, and assistance to farmers and suburban communities as they reduce polluted runoff. Dollars also are targeted for continued restoration work at Poplar Island and watershed education and training.

Investments in cleaning up our water such as these will pay off. The region will see $22.5 billion in additional economic benefits when we fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the plan for finishing the bay cleanup.

We thank Maryland's entire congressional delegation for their commitment to this effort.

—Will Baker, CBF President


Dumpster Diving to Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Huffington Post.

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A collection of salvaged materials were used in the construction of the Brock Environmental Center.

Imagine taking the world's largest cruise ship and dumping it into a landfill 700 times a year.

Every year.

That's how much trash new building construction and demolition produces in the U.S. alone - that's approximately 160 million tons of sometimes toxic trash.

When we think about building for the future and what kind of legacy we're going to leave for our children, we need to revisit simple solutions like reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Twelve months ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation broke ground on the Brock Environmental Center—what will be one of the most energy efficient and environmentally smart education and community centers in the world. When completed later this fall, the center intends to meet the strictest LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge environmental standards.

When people think about cutting-edge architecture and design, they often think about high-costs and space-age technology. But a key component of the Living Building Challenge is to use as many recycled and reusable materials as possible to save natural resources, energy, and costs.

So for past year and a half, we've been dumpster diving to salvage and use materials for the Brock Center that otherwise would go to the local landfill. Here are just a few of the materials we've been able to reclaim along with the help from our builder and the Hampton Roads community: used sinks, doors, mirrors, counters, and cabinets from office buildings about to be remodeled or torn down were salvaged and will find new life in the Brock Center; old wooden school bleachers were saved and used as trim for the new center's doors and windows; maple flooring in the gymnasium of a former elementary school was removed, reinstalled, and resurfaced as new flooring in the center; used bike racks came from a local parks department; hundreds of champagne corks were collected for use as knobs and drawer-pulls in the center; student art tables will be used as counter tops; and old wooden paneling will be made into cabinets.

Our most unusual find, however, was the "sinke2014-10-10-Picture2-thumbr cypress" logs recovered from rivers and bayous in the Deep South. The logs are from first-growth cypress trees cut down more than a century ago but lost when they fell off barges and sank on the way to Southern sawmills.

The recently recovered logs—some of which are 500 to 1,000 years old—have been milled and used for the exterior siding of our new building. Instead of lying submerged forever in the mud of a Louisiana river bottom, these ancient cypress logs provide beautiful, natural, chemical-free weather-proofing for the new building.

The biggest lesson I've learned from all of this work is that you don't need new materials to build a new building. Twenty-first century buildings should use as much salvaged materials as possible in order to reduce waste and pollution and ensure that we can pass along a healthy planet to our children and grandchildren.

Our salvage and recycling efforts at the Brock Center, along with other innovative, cutting-edge technologies (solar and wind power, rainwater reuse, composting toilets, and natural lighting and ventilation, to name a few) reflect a deliberate effort to live our "Save the Bay" mission. The goal of the Brock Environmental Center is to integrate and support the surrounding Chesapeake Bay environment.

By engaging the greater community in our recycling efforts for the Brock Environmental Center, we're also helping educate citizens on smarter ways to build, live, and work near sensitive ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay. The Brock Environmental Center not only raises the bar on smart buildings; it can serve as a replicable model for raising community awareness in localities around the country and the world.

—Christy Everett, CBF's Hampton Roads Director


A Litigation Boost

Ariel-Solaski_180In our fight to save the Bay, the litigation team just received a boost, thanks to the recent addition of CBF's first Litigation Fellow Ariel Solaski. The fellowship is designed to give the litigation team increased capacity to identify and address legal issues surrounding the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best, and perhaps last, chance for real clean water restoration in our region.  

Jon Mueller, Vice President for Litigation, welcomed Ariel on board, saying, "Ariel comes highly recommended from Vermont Law School which has been identified with having the country's premier environmental law program. We are very excited to have her as Ariel has the smarts and training to provide CBF with superior legal counsel, plus, she has the right measure of grit and humor to work well with our team."

We sat down with Ariel to ask her a few questions about what drew her to environmental causes and to CBF.

Q: What first made you interested in environmental issues?
A: I spent every summer of my childhood at Watch Hill, Fire Island, a barrier island beach along the south shore of Long Island, New York. It is a federally designated National Seashore so there's very little development. The peacefulness and beauty of the undeveloped barrier beach, with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other side, is the most important place to me on earth. Then, as a young adult, I spent time in the private communities at the other end of the island that didn't have the same environmental protections. It was a very different scene and led me to realize the importance of protecting the natural environment.

Q: Why did you take this position as CBF's first Legal Fellow?
A: I went to law school to study environmental law and I knew that I wanted to participate in the environmental movement using legal tools. While in law school I found that water law was what really interested and excited me the most, and I took every opportunity to be involved in water law programs and courses. The Litigation Fellowship is perfectly focused on what I want to do in my career as an environmental lawyer.  

Q: What do you hope to achieve during your time at CBF?
A: I hope that as the first Litigation Fellow I establish the value of this position to the litigation team and the organization as a whole. In helping contribute to CBF's mission to save the Bay, I'm particularly interested in working on land use measures that preserve natural filtration systems. Examples of this include green infrastructure to filter out stormwater and other runoff, and filtration systems that encourage source water protection to protect drinking water supplies and habitats.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Pennsylvania Discovery Trips: What's in Your Backyard?

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Photo by Kim Patten/CBF Staff.

Pennsylvania has more miles of rivers and streams than almost any other state in the nation, and summer is a great time to get out and experience the tremendous beauty and unique habitats our waterways have to offer.

CBF invites you to join us on an upcoming "Discovery Trip" for members and friends.

On our June trip, participants enjoyed all the wonder of the Yellow Breeches. Fantastic weather set the stage for sightings of deer, wood ducks, egrets, kingfishers, and several wood turtles.

There are two more opportunities to get out on the water--join us if you can:

    1. Thursday, July 24 on the Swatara Creek in Dauphin County, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

    2. Saturday, August 2 on the Susquehanna River near Port Treverton, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Participants paddle a three- to five-mile stretch of a local creek, stream, or Susquehanna River. Each trip is led by CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) staff, who provide everything you'll need for a fun and safe adventure. This includes, but is not limited to, canoes, paddles, lifejackets, snacks, and an introductory paddling instruction. Any paddling skill level is welcome, no experience necessaryThese are family-fun events!

Click here to learn more and to register. We'll see you out on the water! 

—Kelly Donaldson and Kim Patten, CBF Staff

 


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Houseknecht Family Farm, Bradford County, PA

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The Houseknecht Family. Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

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

Bill Houseknecht and his family live on and operate a 400-acre dairy farm in Bradford County that his father started 30 years ago.

Bill shares that "farming can be one of the hardest jobs out there--the hours are long, profits are narrow, and the tasks are physically demanding." But, he will also tell you that it is the most rewarding job, and the only one he and his family can imagine doing.

Long hours and narrow profits are two reasons why Bill is finding ways to make his farm operation more efficient. "Being extra conservative with valuable time and resources allows our business to succeed and gives my family time to do the other things we love--off of the farm--like coaching my kids' soccer team."

Farm Bill Helps Houseknecht Farm Reduce Manure Runoff
Funding provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and assistance from CBF's voucher program enabled Bill to do something he didn't think possible--store manure until he was ready to use it by installing a manure storage facility. The installation cost for a storage facility can easily top $100,000. "That would have been pretty hard to put out completely on our own," Bill says.

The new storage facility allows him to store nearly 1.4 million gallons of manure, roughly the equivalent to seven months worth of manure. "We used to have to spread two loads a day throughout the year. Now we store it until we need it, spreading it primarily in the spring and summer, and maybe a little bit in the fall if we've got something growing," Bill said. "It's been a tremendous labor savings for us, especially in the winter when you don't have to worry about spreading it on the snow."

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Photo by Steve Smith/CBF Staff.

Conservation Funding Programs Benefit All Pennsylvanians
It's not just farmers who are benefitting from Farm Bill conservation programs; the public also reaps the benefits of investing in farm improvements. "This farm is in the northern part of the Bay watershed, and like they say, everything flows downstream," said Steve Smith, Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "When farmers are better able to control runoff from their farm--water quality locally and downstream improves. So making these investments is a win for everyone."

Through CBF's Buffer Bonus Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Bill was able to plant forested stream buffers in his pastures and fence the livestock out of the stream that flows through his property to Mill Creek. This will not only improve herd healthy but also the stream quality.

—Steve Smith
CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist 

Ensure that people like the Senators are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill! 

 

 

 


Good Things Are Happening!

Across the watershed, from Pennsylvania to Virginia, people are pulling together to restore the Bay and its waters. Through a variety of innovative, collaborative clean water projects, good things are starting to happen! Take a look below at this photo series of some of these successes . . .

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Students from Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia, develop their own Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint during their Bay studies aboard "Baywatcher," CBF's James River education vessel. Photo by CBF Staff.
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State Representative Todd Rock and Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher joined CBF, the Antietam Watershed Association, and Washington Township to plant 600 seedlings at Antietam Meadows, a community park located in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. CBF, the Antietam Watershed Association, and Washington Township are working to establish an 11-acre streamside forest buffer along the Antietam Creek. Photo by Kelly Donaldson/CBF Staff.
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On Maryland's Eastern Shore is a model for what a small rural community (4,200 people) can do. So far, the town of Centreville and nearby residents have built 350 residential rain gardens to slow down and soak up runoff; protected nearly 5,800 acres of farms and forests from future development; and increased the use of cover crops on farms to more than 5,000 acres a year. Forty homeowners also grow pollution-filtering oysters in more than 220 cages hanging from piers and docks. Photo by CBF Staff.
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CBF, the Harrisburg Community Action Commission, Danzante Urban Arts Center, and the United Way of the Capital Region partnered to educate 25 Lower Dauphin High School students about stormwater, how rain barrels can help alleviate stormwater, and ways that communities can improve their environment and local water quality by implementing green infrastructure projects—like rain barrels. The students then constructed and painted 12 rain barrels to be used in a downtown Harrisburg community. Photo by Kelly Donaldson/CBF Staff.
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Many livestock farms in Maryland are deciding to raise their cows, sheep, and other animals the old fashioned way—on pasture rather than in confined animal operations. The switch helps lower pollution to nearby streams and helps rural counties meet Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals for agriculture. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.
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The Town of Ashland, Virginia, recently resurfaced much of its municipal parking lot with thousands of permeable pavers and installed a bio-retention basin to capture stormwater runoff. The project allows runoff to soak into the ground and be filtered naturally rather than run off into nearby Stony Run, a Chesapeake Bay tributary stream. One of several low-impact projects in the town, the "soft" parking lot reduces flooding, lowers nearby air temperatures, protects streams, and captures runoff pollution targeted by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Photo by Chuck Epes/CBF Staff.



 


Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake Bay: Partnerships for Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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