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.
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."
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."
"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
This week, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council met in Boyce, Virginia. Composed of the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the mayor of the District of Columbia; representatives from New York, Delaware, and West Virginia; and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Council meets annually to discuss the state of water quality improvement efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
While most states throughout the watershed are on track to meet their 2017 commitments through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, Pennsylvania is seriously lagging behind, already acknowledging they will not meet their goal. With roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania damaged by pollution, and with the Susquehanna River providing 50 percent of the Bay's fresh water, the Bay cannot be saved until clean water is flowing through Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.
Given this reality, we are thrilled that members of the council have announced an investment of more than $28 million dollars to enhance and accelerate pollution-reduction efforts in Pennsylvania. This is great news not only for Pennsylvanians but for everyone who cares about the Bay and its rivers and streams.
Plenty of plans to save the Bay and its rivers and streams have been made in the past, but good intentions devoid of action left us in a vicious circle of empty words and dirty water. To leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to fully implement the Blueprint. With greater investments in the right locations, targeting the most cost-effective pollution-reduction strategies, clean water is within our reach.
This Week in the Watershed: A Major Investment, BMPs, and A Growing Harbor
- Anglers and conservationists are upset as their pleas for stronger regulations protecting shad and river herring have been rejected. (Bay Journal)
- A farmer on Maryland's Eastern Shore has taken great strides towards sustainability, implementing several best management practices. (Carroll County Times—MD)
- The Chesapeake Executive Council met on Tuesday. Pennsylvania was the focus, receiving an injection of $28.7 million to help fund their cleanup efforts. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
- CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay gave attendees a firsthand look and taste of farm-to-table food. (Chambersburg Public Opinion—PA)
- A Virginia restaurant is making good use of their used oyster shells, recycling them to help restore the Bay's oyster population. (USA Today)
- Oysters are growing in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, helping clean the water and providing a great engagement opportunity with local residents and businesses. (Baltimore Fish Bowl—MD)
What's Happening around the Watershed?
- Chesapeake, VA: CBF is looking for volunteers to tell others about the amazing bivalve that is the oyster at the Waterways Heritage Festival! Two people are needed per two-hour shift. Our booth will be displaying all of our restoration activities from shell recycling to reef balls to oyster gardening and more. Click here to volunteer!
- Portsmouth, VA: Come on out to a fun-filled, family-friendly annual event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest '16 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. CBF is also looking for six to eight volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Shifts will be for three hours between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Please contact Tanner Council to register or for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-622-1964.
- Annapolis, MD: The Annapolis VoiCeS (Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards) class is back! Come "back-to-school" with CBF in a six-week, professionally taught course on all things clean water. Learn about Bay science and fisheries, pollution problems and solutions, and how volunteers can help restoration efforts in their local waters and the Bay. Click here to register! Deadline to register is October 13!
- Easton, MD: The Eastern Shore VoiCeS (Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards) class is back! Come "back-to-school" with CBF in a six-week, professionally taught course on all things clean water. Learn about Bay science and fisheries, pollution problems and solutions, and how volunteers can help restoration efforts in their local waters and the Bay. Click here to register! Deadline to register is October 13!
- Cambridge, MD: Join us at a workshop to learn more about best management practices (BMPs) to slow and filter polluted runoff. Facilitated by expert trainers with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, this workshop is designed for local government managers and field operators with instruction in BMP inspection, maintenance, and facility failure decision-making, Participants will increase their knowledge of effectively treating polluted runoff while complying with local, state, and federal stormwater management expectations. Networking with colleagues in neighboring Eastern Shore communities enhances opportunities to learn about locally relevant problems and solutions. Click here to register!
- Virginia Beach, VA: Come on out to a sustainable living expo. This fun, family-friendly event is designed as a showcase for eco-friendly, sustainable solutions, crafts, and food, with many participating organizations. See ideas you can use at your home from edible landscaping and urban gardening to beekeeping and alternative energy. CBF is also looking for volunteers to help staff a CBF display and share information with attendees at the expo. This event is suitable for all volunteer experience levels, so come out, share, and learn. Email or call Tanner Council to inquire and volunteer at email@example.com or call 757-622-1964.
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
The lazy, dog days of summer might be upon us, but saving the Bay never stops. Despite the out of office messages and plentiful distractions summer brings, we need you now. A critical pillar in our approach to save the Bay is advocacy. Put simply, your voice matters. In a world where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we need to make a lot of noise on several critical Bay issues.
We've said it many times—oysters are awesome. A water-filtering powerhouse, an adult oyster is capable of cleaning up to 50 gallons of water every day. Oysters also provide critical habitat for other Bay critters through the development of oyster reefs. Despite their numerous benefits, the Bay's oyster population is at less than one-percent of historical levels, after decades of disease, habitat destruction, and overharvesting. In efforts to save this precious bivalve, sanctuaries have been set aside, off-limits to harvest, to allow the oyster population to rebound. This week, Maryland's Oyster Advisory Committee to the Governor recommended continuing a small stretch of an oyster restoration project in Maryland's Tred Avon would benefit all stakeholders. A final decision by Governor Hogan is expected any moment. This good news comes with a grain of salt, however—a much larger stretch of this project still hangs in the balance, and even worse, there has been discussion on opening current oyster sanctuaries up to harvest. Stand up for Maryland's Oysters—TAKE ACTION NOW.
We've also said many times, as goes the Susquehanna, so goes the Chesapeake Bay. A critical economic resource and a bastion of cultural heritage in Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River provides 50 percent of the Bay's freshwater. For several months now we have been petitioning for the Susquehanna River to be declared impaired. Since 2005, diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found in the river. A recent study by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection found that endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, and pathogens and parasites are the most-likely causes of diseased and dying fish in the Lower Susquehanna. The state of the smallmouth bass fishery testifies to the devastating impact of pollution. An impaired listing for the Lower Susquehanna would allow the restoration process to begin in earnest, designating the river for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. TAKE ACTION BY AUGUST 31, and help save the Susquehanna River and its vital smallmouth bass fishery for future generations.
These are just two of the major issues we're engaging in our fight to save the Bay. That's not to mention our work to stop sewage spills in Baltimore, maintain a sustainable harvest quota for menhaden, and protect critical habitat area for the Atlantic sturgeon. Saving the Bay never stops. Raise your voice now for the Bay and its critters. The Bay is a national treasure, and through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and with your help, we will save it for our children and grandchildren.
This Week in the Watershed: Filtering Bivalves, Sick Bass, and An Important Fish
- CBF Pennsylvania Director Harry Campbell writes on how CBF is helping students chart a course for cleaner water. (York Daily Record—PA)
- Regulators for menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea," tabled discussions of reevaluating quotas until an October meeting. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA) Bonus: CBF Statement
- We couldn't agree more this editorial arguing that oyster sanctuaries remain restricted from harvest. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
- A Maryland commission agreed to continue oyster restoration efforts on a small stretch of the Tred Avon, a tributary of the Choptank River. A hearing will take place on August 9, regarding the future of a much larger stretch of the Tred Avon project. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Statement
- Pollution is plaguing not only the Susquehanna River, but many of its tributaries, including those in York County. (York Daily Record—PA)
- A report on Maryland's oyster population from the MD Department of Natural Resources reveals signs of revival in sanctuaries and decline in areas open to harvest. Troubling, the report leans towards recommending opening some sanctuaries to harvest, when the conclusions of the report indicate the opposite. (Washington Post—D.C.)
- The 19th annual Paddle for the Bay in Norfolk was a hit, with hundreds of paddlers on the water. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declined to list the Susquehanna River as impaired, despite decades of dismal pollution results, especially to the smallmouth bass fishery. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Statement
What's Happening around the Watershed?
- Easton, MD: Speak up for oysters! Restoration efforts in the Tred Avon oyster sanctuary are threatened and we need you to speak up for these amazing water-filtering bivalves. The work proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers includes both shallow water work on new sites and seeding on sites already in the project. The project and the public meeting are part of the Corps' future work planned for the Tred Avon oyster sanctuary. Click here for more details!
- Wrightsville, PA: Join CBF, Heroes on the Water, and local Trout Unlimited chapters for a day of fishing, paddling, and fly-fishing lessons on the Susquehanna River as we celebrate our veterans and the value of clean waterways. Veterans, community members, paddlers, fishermen, friends, and family are welcome at Shank’s Mare Outfitters from 1 to 5 p.m., to discover and appreciate the Susquehanna. From 5 to 7 p.m., CBF will host a dinner and open bar with live music for all participants. There is a $5 entrance fee for dinner and drinks. Click here to register!
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
Concern for clean water in York County was at high tide when legislators, business leaders, and other guests gathered at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville for a reception sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Pennsylvania office. The restaurant on Front Street was the ideal setting for the event; its outdoor patio overlooking the lower Susquehanna River.
"It was wonderful to see such a large and diverse group of citizens and leaders gathered to talk about why clean water counts," said Harry Campbell, CBF executive director in Pennsylvania and emcee for the evening.
Since last summer, CBF has been conducting its "Clean Water Counts: York" campaign in York County, to raise awareness of local water quality issues and solutions, and to motivate residents to take action to reduce water pollution.
The 70 people who attended the reception came together to talk about the successes and challenges of addressing the 350 miles of York County rivers and streams that are polluted by agricultural and urban/suburban runoff.
At the reception, CBF President Will Baker commended partnerships within the county, and hailed York County as a proven leader in conservation. He noted that York County was the first county to adopt the "Clean Water Counts" resolution, and lauded efforts to clean up Codorus Creek, work by the conservation district, and the planning commission's progress in managing polluted runoff.
Wrightsville teenager Brynn Kelly explained why, to her, clean water is a big deal. She grew up near the river and became excited about clean water after a trip to CBF's Merrill Center. The high school senior at Lancaster Catholic High School has spoken publicly about the value of reducing pollution, and wrote a letter to Governor Tom Wolf urging him to clean up Pennsylvania's waterways. Kelly also serves as president of CBF's Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council.
York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell offered insight as to how the board views and plans to address clean water challenges. She reminded the gathering that streams aren't bound by municipal boundaries, and that the commission is working to help municipalities collaborate on ways to reduce pollution.
Growing Greener Coalition Executive Director Andrew Heath said his group is looking for "champions" in the state House and Senate who would be willing to put together a Growing Greener III proposal that calls for revenue to pay for conservation efforts. He said Growing Greener funds would be spent primarily on improving water quality in Pennsylvania.
Heath also highlighted the "Clean Water Counts" statewide campaign that urges county commissioners to pass resolutions encouraging leaders in Harrisburg to make improving water quality a priority. He said 16 counties have passed resolutions and efforts will be renewed next month to enlist the remaining counties.
State Representative Stan Saylor offered one of the highlights of the evening in announcing that the York County delegation will introduce a House resolution to declare May as "Clean Water Counts Month." Rep. Saylor said the resolution is intended to outline the importance of clean water and the number of streams that need to be cleaned up in Pennsylvania.
Roughly 19,000 miles of river and streams in Pennsylvania are polluted.
Conversations about clean water took place throughout the two-hour reception.
A group of teachers met with CBF education staff to discuss strategy and messaging. "We discussed how CBF can be the storyteller for the incredible students that teachers bring on our programs every day," said CBF Education Outreach Coordinator Allyson Ladley Gibson.
"We want to tell the story about that student who has trouble participates in class, but comes alive when you ask them to help untie the canoes, paddle the boat themselves, find macroinvertebrates that will tell us about water quality, and be responsible for their own team that day," she added. "That student may start a whole new path because of the day with CBF and go on to find new passions, a certain type of education, and a career."
Staff members from "Heroes on the Water," attended the reception to show their support for clean water efforts. The veterans support group provided equipment and guidance at CBF's "Veterans on the Susquehanna" event in Wrightsville last summer.
CBF President Will Baker also told those at the reception that, "Clean water is unifier in a time when so much divides us."
The message was made clear by those who attended—clean water counts in York County and across the Commonwealth.
— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator
If the fight to save the Bay were a baseball season, there would be both victories and losses, with swings of momentum in every direction. These swings were witnessed in Maryland's General Assembly, presenting both successes and disappointments for clean water advocates over the 90-day session. Bad news first: the Poultry Litter Management Act (PLMA), a measure to hold large poultry integrators responsible for excess poultry manure, didn't get beyond committee hearings this year. Silver lining: the hearings for the PLMA started the conversation, and our fight to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Bay and Eastern Shore waterways is far from over.
Time for some good news: the Sustainable Oyster Harvest Act passed, which will provide critical pieces of scientific data still needed to help inform management of Maryland's public oyster fishery. Other good news: the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act has been signed into law, making Maryland one of the nation's leaders in greenhouse gas reduction; a budget passed favorable to many environmental agencies and programs that play key roles in Chesapeake Bay restoration, and several bad bills that would have endangered water quality were defeated. Learn more about the 2016 Maryland General Assembly.
In addition to the Annapolis happenings, there was more good and bad news from the watershed this week. Again, bad news first: we have known for some time the Susquehanna River is sick. The environmental group American Rivers agrees, declaring this week that the Susquehanna is the third most endangered river in the United States. A critical step to help the Susquehanna is officially listing it as an impaired waterway. An official impairment status will designate the river for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to list the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.
The good news: a survey by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources found that the blue crab population has grown 35 percent. While science tells us the current crab population is still below recommended levels, the increase in population is a positive sign of improving water quality by implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
As all baseball fans know, the season is quite long, and no team ever has, or ever will, go undefeated. But we will continue to fight for the Bay, and work to ensure along the way there are plenty more victories than defeats.
This Week in the Watershed: MDGA Closing Time, Threatened Susquehanna, and Growing Crabs
- Students got their hands dirty learning how to build reef balls, critical structures in oyster restoration efforts. (Capital Gazette—MD)
- Maryland's General Assembly wrapped up this week, with both victories and disappointments for clean water advocates. (Bay Journal)
- Oysters are a keystone species of the Chesapeake Bay, but scientists don't have any data on just how many oysters are in the Bay. That is going to change with the passage of a bill in the Maryland General Assembly which commissions a study to provide such data. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
- How we produce and consume food in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has a major impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, this editorial effectively argues. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
- The Susquehanna River, the largest source of fresh water to the Bay, was named the third most endangered river in the United States by the group, American Rivers. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal—PA)
- Lovers of Maryland blue crab received good news this week, as a survey by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources found that the blue crab population has grown 35 percent. We're not in the clear, however, as science tells us the current crab population is still below recommended levels. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Statement
- The seemingly never-ending struggle between increased development and preserving open space has visited Howard County, MD. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
What's Happening Around the Watershed?
- 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!
- 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 call it "shell shaking") by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This event is a bit of a workout, but a fun hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with a bad back or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. RSVP to Pat Beall at PBeall@cbf.org or 443-482-2065. Click here for more information!
- 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!
- 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!
- Baltimore, MD: Join CBF at its 3rd Annual Baltimore Members Meeting! With trash ubiquitous in the streets and waters of Baltimore, the focus of this year's meeting is the trash epidemic, its connection to clean water, and some potential solutions. Special guest Julie Lawson, Executive Director of Trash Free Maryland, will talk about current efforts to reduce trash and waste through social marketing, good policy, and more. Food, beverages, and music included. Space is limited, register now!
- Richmond, VA: Come on out for a Speakers Bureau training with CBF! With far more requests for speakers than we have staff or time, CBF relies on its Speakers Bureau volunteers to handle a variety of speaking opportunities. Whether you are current on the issues and ready to share our message, or just enjoy public speaking and would like to get trained, we welcome your commitment to this important and high-profile program. Join us to learn the facts and skills to share our mission to Save the Bay with local groups and organizations. We simply cannot do it alone! Click here to learn more and register!
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.
Pennsylvania has unveiled a new strategy for cleaning up its polluted waterways, and it will take the necessary investments from leaders in Harrisburg, and a unified effort across the Commonwealth, for the plan to succeed.
While this "rebooted" effort establishes a framework for success, it is just the first chapter of a long story.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) acknowledged that it alone cannot provide and protect clean water as called for in the new plan.
The plan's success requires a comprehensive approach involving the farmers, businesses, and homeowners. Resources, leadership, and commitment from Governor Tom Wolf and the legislature are essential to get Pennsylvania back on track toward its clean water goals.
Of the nearly 2,000 miles of creeks, streams, and the Susquehanna River that flow through York County, 350 miles are polluted. Agriculture is the source of pollution to 160 miles of waterways, and urban and suburban runoff is responsible for pollution in 130 miles of York County waters.
In 2010, the Bay states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. This came after more than 30 years of failed restoration commitments.
The states also made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress toward reducing pollution. The goal is to implement 60 percent of practices to restore local water quality in the Commonwealth by 2017, and 100 percent implementation by 2025. Unfortunately, the state will not meet its 2017 goal, as acknowledged by DEP Secretary John Quigley.
Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania have been damaged by pollution. Efforts to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are off-track by millions of pounds.
The new plan defines six immediate and longer-term actions designed to get Pennsylvania back on track.
The Commonwealth intends to significantly increase the number of farm inspections and establish a culture of compliance. At current DEP staffing levels, it would take almost 57 years for each farm to be inspected just once. The DEP will use conservation district staff and its own staff to accelerate its inspection rate to meet the EPA recommendation of inspecting 10 percent of farms annually. DEP inspected less than 2 percent of farms in 2014.
A voluntary farm survey, conducted by a partnership of agricultural entities, seeks to locate, quantify, and verify previously undocumented pollution reduction practices that have been put into place. The plan also establishes a Chesapeake Bay Office within the DEP in order to improve management focus and accountability.
The new plan also calls for accelerating the planting of streamside buffers, the most affordable solution for filtering and reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.
The plan addresses the challenges of polluted runoff from urban/suburban areas, including updated permit requirements and implementation plans by local governments, and the development of innovative financing opportunities.
If this new plan has a weakness, it is in identifying sustainable funding sources. According to a Penn State study, it will cost nearly $380 million per year, or $3.8 billion over the next 10 years, to implement just the agricultural practices that would get Pennsylvania back on track to meet its clean water goals for 2025.
If Pennsylvania is to make progress in providing and protecting cleaner water, the Commonwealth must invest in the new plan, in Governor Wolf's 2016-17 budget and in the legislature's follow-through. A new Growing Greener initiative would be a down payment for such efforts, but more resources will be needed.
Investing in clean water pays dividends. Conservation practices not only improve water quality, but can improve farm production and herd health, reduce nuisance flooding in communities, improve hunting and fishing, beautify urban centers, and even clean the air.
Adequate funding and technical assistance are critical to the success of this plan. The Governor and legislature must step up and ensure that the Commonwealth lives up to the clean water commitments it made to fellow Pennsylvanians.
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. Healthy families, strong communities, and a thriving economy depend on it.
—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director
The Susquehanna River is unquestionably the most important river in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To grasp the Susquehanna's sheer size and significance, take a glance at the numbers in the infographic above. Not only is this vital waterway a critical economic resource and a bastion of cultural heritage in Pennsylvania, it also has a tremendous impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, with the Susquehanna providing half of the Bay's freshwater flows.
In light of the importance of the Susquehanna, the current health of the river is concerning. Agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and polluted urban runoff are threatening this powerful economic engine. A glaring example of this is the health of the smallmouth bass found in its waters. One of the most prized freshwater sport-fish species, the Susquehanna's smallmouth bass fishery once attracted anglers from all over the world. Pollution has taken a toll however, as various diseases have wreaked havoc on the smallmouth bass, with bass being found with lesions, sores, and abnormal sexual development in which males grow eggs in their testes. When smallmouth bass are diseased, weakened, or otherwise stressed, we know things aren’t right.
It's long past time for the Lower Susquehanna to be listed as impaired. This listing would designate the Susquehanna for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to save this vital waterway by listing the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.
—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate
The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.
A new season of the Commonwealth's most popular, high-flying reality show is back online.
Millions are expected to log on to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) website and watch as live-streaming cameras show the drama of nature at several bald eagle nests in the Keystone State. The experiences open windows onto nature like never before.
People went online more than one and a-half million times last year to see a pair of bald eagles raise two eaglets in a nest near Codorus State Park. They saw the entire process, from "nestorations" in January, laying of the eggs in February, hatching in March, and the eaglets leaving the nest in June, as it happened. This is the tenth year for the nest and the second that cameras and microphones are there.
Another popular nest is in a Hackberry tree in the town of Hays, along the Monongahela River, near Pittsburgh. The camera and sound are sponsored by the Western PA Audubon Society. This is the third season a camera has watched the nest that eagles first used in 2013. Sadly, neither of the two eggs in the Hays nest were viable last year. But the year before, three eaglets thrived and successfully left the nest.
Those who lognon to the live cameras realize quickly that waterways play a key role in the lives of bald eagles and nesting sites are never far from water. Streams, lakes, and rivers are key habitat for bald eagles. In the winter, they congregate in tall trees near open water, to spot prey and shelter at night.
Fish make up almost 90 percent of a bald eagle's diet. Is there a more majestic sight than an eagle soaring and scanning open water, swooping gracefully downward, and then with their talons, plucking prey through the water's surface?
So it's no secret that the survival and recovery of bald eagles in Pennsylvania are dependent on clean water, and the availability of healthy fish and other aquatic life. It is yet another reason we must make progress in restoring the 19,000 miles of waterways in Pennsylvania that are polluted. About 350 miles of waterways in York County are impaired.
Also, consider findings of the latest multi-year study of the causes behind the deaths of young smallmouth bass, and lesions and spots on older smallmouths in the Susquehanna River. Some of those fish are served up in bald eagle nests throughout central Pennsylvania.
Endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, and pathogens and parasites, are the two most-likely causes of diseased and dying fish in the Susquehanna. They are part of a perfect storm of compounds such as cosmetics, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and hormones in animal and human waste, that find their way into the diets of bald eagles and other wildlife.
On the bright side, the resurgence of bald eagles nationally and in Pennsylvania is an endangered species success story.
Habitat destruction, contaminated food sources, and illegal shooting took bald eagles to the brink of extinction. The road to recovery took major turns when the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, and in 1978 when bald eagles were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
In 1980, there were only three known pairs of bald eagles nesting in Pennsylvania. Re-introduction began in the 1980's when the Game Commission brought 88 eaglets to the Commonwealth from Canada, raised them on specially constructed towers, and released them into the wild. Bald eagles were removed from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the lower 48 states in 2007.
By 2008 the number of nesting pairs in Pennsylvania had grown to 150. In 2013 there were nests in all but a handful of Keystone State counties and more than 270 nesting pairs.
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. It is a legacy worth leaving future generations of humans and bald eagles.
—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director
Bald eagles, other critters, and humans alike, depend on the health of the Susquehanna River. Take action now by asking Governor Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection to add the Lower Susquehanna to the Impaired Waters List.
Among the many dreams Bob and Maggie Cahalan have for their southern York County farm, protecting the water that runs through it is one of their most important.
With the help of CBF in Pennsylvania and restoration specialist Ashley Spotts, the Cahalans and their partners planted more than 300 native trees and shrubs on three acres, as buffers to trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise flow into Ebaugh and Shaw streams. The cool, babbling waters converge into Deer Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay.
CBF is emphasizing clean water efforts in York County through its "Clean Water Counts: York" program, which organizes and mobilizes residents to urge leaders in Harrisburg to show greater commitment to improving water quality, and focuses on the need to clean up York County's 350 miles of impaired creeks, streams, and rivers.
The Cahalans live in Greenbelt, Maryland, and with partners Eugenia Kalnay and Jorge Rivas, bought the 37-acre farm in Stewartstown, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in 2011. It is no longer a working farm, in that there currently are no crops or livestock to tend.
The forested and streamside buffers on Many Streams Farm are unique in the diversity of plants chosen. Various oaks and hickories, persimmon, paw paw, honey locust, and several types of berry-producing shrubs are among the 40 species.
With guidance from CBF, Many Streams Farm benefited from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which makes annual rental payments for land taken out of pasture or production and based on soil type.
"The CREP plan has everything they need to know, including tree and shrub numbers, maintenance requirements, contractor lists, tree lists, and reimbursement costs for the program," CBF's Ashley Spotts says.
"CREP had value beyond monetary value, because it had certain procedures that were developed and outlined," Bob Cahalan says. "We had to plant to a certain date and get 70 percent to survive."
The Cahalans intend to practice permaculture amid the farm's rolling hills, streams, and wetlands. They see permaculture as the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable and ethical way.
"Experimenting with restorative and re-generative soil building agriculture that does not depend on annual plantings for food sources is a major goal," Maggie Cahalan says. "We hope to foster increased use of perennial and tree crops as food sources for humans and animals. We think it is especially appropriate for the sloped land of this piedmont hill farm."
The Cahalans would like to produce half of their personal food on Many Streams Farm. They have plans for spiral orchards of varieties of apples and cherries; a medicine wheel garden of ginger, berries, witch hazel and other medicinal plants; a farm museum; and a greenhouse. They are installing 30 solar panels to generate energy for farm needs and even have a project to harvest acorns and make bread.
They also see the property as a place for environmental education, a nursery for heirloom and edible native plants, and an opportune place for senior citizens to contribute and integrate.
The Cahalans' interest in clean water and the Chesapeake Bay extends beyond their York County Farm.
They are very active in the non-profit CHEARS (CHesapeake Education, Arts, and Research Society), dedicated to the health of all who share the Chesapeake watershed environment. It is a vehicle for volunteer work to help the health of the Bay. The goal of the non-profit is to foster rural-urban linkages for the good of the Chesapeake watershed in urban, suburban, and rural areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
The Cahalans are also very much committed to Chestory (The Center for the Chesapeake Story), with roots in southern Maryland and the work of the late Tom Wisner. It is a group of artists, scientists, citizen activists, educators, poets, writers, and waterfolk who believe that art, song, and story can be the thread that binds people with the deep spiritual Chesapeake experience.
The Cahalans' passion for the Bay grew out of their reading CBF's State of the Bay report in 2005. "One of our first activities was to write an article for the little town we lived in, in Greenbelt," Maggie Cahalan says. "It was to summarize materials from the Foundation, and it galvanized us. I think the work of the Foundation in educating people is really important."
— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator