CBF Building Exhibits a Resilient Future

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA was built with climate change in mind. Photo by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

This year's rough weather has battered Hampton Roads. It's not just the summer's brutal heat wave. It's the deluge of seven inches of rain that fell in just two hours in July, the high waters that surrounded buildings when Hurricane Hermine hit over Labor Day, and the 13 inches of rain that fell overnight in late September, or the massive amounts of rain that accompanied Hurricane Matthew.

Newscasts and the newspaper have been filled with images of water lapping around houses, submerged cars, and rowboats navigating flooded streets.

It's a window into the future.

But since opening nearly two years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach has remained undamaged. Sometimes, even as rains fell and the winds howled, locals gathered there to watch storms roll in over the Lynnhaven River. They knew that the CBF building is climate-change ready, designed to be resilient in the face of the toughest weather.

"After a bad storm, community members visit the Brock Center to see how it weathered," said Brock Center Manager Chris Gorri. "Severe weather becomes a teachable moment. People ask questions about the wind turbines or want to see how high the water is on the Lynnhaven River." Some want to learn how they can adapt their own homes to better cope with recurrent flooding.

Designed and built to withstand the effects some of the worst weather in the world, the center is a model for a region increasingly at risk. According to Old Dominion University's Center for Sea Level Rise, sea levels have risen 14 inches in Hampton Roads since 1930. Low lying cities, rising waters, and sinking lands are why.

The Brock Center is ready. It is raised 14 feet above sea level, staying high and dry during flooding. Its windows can withstand a collision with a two-by-four hurled at 110 miles per hour. Its grounds are designed to eliminate runoff.

Gravel paths and permeable roadways and parking areas let water soak into the ground. The Brock Center's one-of-a-kind rainwater treatment system filters rain falling on the center's roof for use as drinking water.

The building is set far back from the river, with a wide sandy buffer of grasses and shrubs that absorbs storm surges.

In early October, Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and up to 12 inches of rain in the region, inundating some roadways under several feet of water. Schools closed, power was out for days, and officials urged cutbacks on water usage because of stressed sewer systems.

At the Brock Center, that storm flipped over benches and knocked over a large sturdy sign. But the strongest flooding seen at Brock came a year earlier, as storms linked to Hurricane Joaquin sent water from the Lynnhaven River rushing knee-deep under the raised building. Neither storm damaged the building or its wind turbines.

The Brock Center also fights back against climate change with its residential wind turbines and solar panels, which produce far more energy than the building consumes and send clean excess energy to the grid. The center's energy conservation allows it to use 80 percent less energy than a typical office building of its size.

Thanks to these innovations, earlier this year the Brock Center achieved one of the toughest building standards in the world. Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute requires a building to produce more energy than it uses over the course of 12 consecutive months and meet a host of other strict criteria.

As we increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change, the Brock Center shines brightly as a solution. Sustainability means more than just energy efficiency. It means being able to sustain the extremes nature can and will throw at us. With Brock, we're proving that we have a choice to raise the bar, reduce pollution, and adapt to climate change.

And, we can do it in comfort and beauty.

—Mary Tod Winchester, CBF's Vice President for Administration


Farmer Spotlight: Eco-City Farms

File-1Miles from the countryside, surrounded by townhomes and busy city streets in Prince George's County, Maryland, one organization is working to serve as a model for urban farming operations. Deborah Wren and the team at Eco-City Farms are working to prove that farming in urban environments is not only viable but is greatly needed in these areas. Wren, the lead farmer of Eco City Farms, draws on her experiences growing up on a dairy farm and studying anthropology in college as she connects people of various cultures, backgrounds, and classes to fresher food in the city. Wren works to ensure that Eco-City's motto of "growing great food, farms and farmers," spans across the organization's two farms in the county.

The Edmonston Farm, the first property Eco-City worked, was founded six years ago on 1.25 acres. The farm started with hoop houses and a small outdoor growing space in a highly residential area. The second property in Bladensburg is larger at 3.5 acres and is known for its permaculture, garden beds, and edible forest. Both properties are Certified Naturally Grown, which is "a practice managed by a farmer collective where farmers from around the world hold each other to certain standards."

PhotoFarmer Wren credits her passion for farming to her upbringing. As one of seven children she was often working outside, helping her mother in the garden or helping her father with the cows. In her undergraduate studies in anthropology she traveled to a number of developing countries. She began drawing comparisons between urban areas such as those in areas like Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County to those in developing countries. The shocking similarities—lack of resources, environmental issues, and lack of access to essential resources such as food—motivated her to make a change upon returning to the United States. Wren began her career with Eco-City Farms as an apprentice just five years ago and is now the lead farmer in her third growing season.

As one can imagine, farming techniques are different for urban agriculture. For example, tractors do not till the soil and extensive sprayers do not water the crops. A part of changing farming into urban spaces is adapting the growing practices as soil, water, and even temperature are all different in the city. Eco-City Farms works with these changes to provide fresh sustainably grown produce year-round to its local community.

PhotoAdjusting to the land is just one factor as Eco-City Farms also works to appeal to different cultures. Nearly 48 percent of its customers and volunteers are Spanish speaking. The organization has an education and outreach coordinator who is fluent in Spanish as the farms are located in what many locals call "Little Mexico." Addressing the cultural differences and unifying people through food is something they hope to achieve as they look to reach a broader audience.

Eco City Farms offers two-size CSA shares and allow members to apply and pay weekly, providing more flexibility to those in lower income communities. In addition to their CSA share, it sells fresh produce at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market on Thursdays and the Port Towns Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Eco-City Farms not only works to deliver food to those with limited access but also provides resources such as nutrition-based education, training programs such as the Beginner Farmer Rancher Training program, as well as hosting composting workshops, and beginner farmers for apprenticeships. Eco-City Farms is a model for the future of urban farming, led by people who want to reconnect people to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their culture, class, or location.

—Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Deborah Wren

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

 


Trading Bad Habits for Better Water

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Litter, which often finds its way into local waterways, is high on the list of environmental pet peeves among CBF staff. Photo by Krista Schyler/iLCP.

Why is it that, while watering a lawn, people allow lots of water to hit the street, sidewalk, anywhere but the lawn? It happens a lot with automatic sprinklers.

Why do they cut down street trees that infringe on sidewalks, but aren't diseased or otherwise a nuisance or danger?

Leaf blowers! They're noisy and leave drains clogged. Why not mulch the leaves with a lawnmower?

While venting about such annoyances helps clear our mind in a therapeutic sort of way, correcting such nuisances can, more importantly, clean our water.

The Environmental Protection Agency reminded us recently that Pennsylvania is still significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint commitments to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in local rivers and streams.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffers in Pennsylvania shared some of their own pollution pet peeves, so that we might all consider some easy solutions that will reduce harmful runoff and address other practices that are damaging our waterways.

It peeves Emily "when people go out to 'enjoy' our waterways by fishing, paddling, and end up leaving behind their beer cans, trash, fishing line, etc.," she says. "If you can carry it in, please pack it out."

B.J. would like his neighbors to stop mowing their grass clippings into the street. "Are they too lazy to rake them up? Now the clippings may not only clog the storm drain, they add damaging nitrogen to the water. These are the same neighbors, by the way, who blow the snow from their sidewalks into the street in the wintertime, creating more stormwater runoff."

Bill says he has gone to great lengths with local township supervisors to slow the permitting of additional trucking warehouses/distribution centers in the Carlisle area. "In addition to the devastating diesel truck air pollution, another exhaust gas emission, nitrogen oxide, fills the air and is a source of the nitrogen pollution of local waters and the Chesapeake Bay," he adds.

Kelly O. notes that "When Harrisburg has heavy rains beyond what our ancient stormwater infrastructure can handle, raw sewage mixes with it and goes into the river. That includes everything that people flush down their toilets, like paper and pharmaceuticals," she says.

Ashley says litter is a huge concern, especially in Lancaster City. "It's a lack of common sense when people put out the trash. It's not tied down properly so it blows everywhere," she says. "Street cleaning is also important for a city and most people don't move their cars or care about it. It needs to happen to keep pollution out of the storm drains."

"The amount of excess salt applied to sidewalks and roads during a snowstorm," bothers Brent. "I understand this is a safety issue if the roads and sidewalks are icy, but I believe de-icing could be accomplished with less salt applied and in a more environmentally-friendly ways."

Clair isn't happy with people who don't pick up after their dogs. "Besides leaving landmines that everyone else walking in the neighborhood needs to dodge," she says, "animal waste left on sidewalks and lawns eventually washes into storm drains and then into local waters, contributing harmful bacteria that raises human health risks."

Frank wishes people would stop littering with their cigarette butts. "They end up in streams, storm drains and elsewhere," he says. "I do not enjoy it when I am fishing and a cigarette butt floats by me or I see one on the streambank. Having to put up with the stench of cigarettes is bad enough but seeing them in the water is even worse."

In fact, the same carcinogenic compounds in cigarettes that can cause disease in humans, leach into the water, some of which could be sources of drinking water.

About 19,000 miles of Commonwealth rivers and streams are polluted, and as we all have a stake in clean water, there is a lot of work ahead. People and government need to do their parts. Pennsylvania has a Blueprint to restore local waterways and we all need to make sure it's implemented.

Correcting our pollution pet peeves by working with others who are often at the root of them, can produce the legacy of clean water that we all deserve.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director


This Week in the Watershed

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CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach earned the distinguished designation of a "Living Building." Photo by Dave Chance.

Despite our world's obsession with growth, the reality is we live on a planet with finite resources. Right now, we're faced with significant challenges, namely climate change and accompanying sea-level rise. Into this picture steps CBF's Brock Environmental Center based in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

This week, the International Living Future Institute designated our Brock Center a "Living Building." From the ground up, Brock is the embodiment of sustainability. First, it was built on land that originally was slated for a massive condo complex. Saving this property from large-scale development not only was critical for the environment, it also preserved a public space for the community. Once construction began, only environmentally safe materials and low-impact building techniques were used. The building features many recycled and repurposed items donated by the Hampton Roads community, including old school bleachers, gym floors, sinks, lockers, and cabinets.

In operation, Brock is energy and water independent, producing twice as much energy as it consumes, and is the first commercial building in the continental United States permitted to capture and treat rainfall for use as drinking water. With an eye towards the future, Brock was built anticipating the effects of climate change, raised 14 feet above sea level.

Last but not least, Brock exemplifies its green roots through serving as the home to a new hands-on, field-based environmental education program. Not only do students explore the natural world surrounding Brock, but they explore the center itself, as the building serves as an inspirational model on sustainable living. One of the toughest building standards in the world, the Living Building Challenge certification demonstrates how buildings should be constructed given our finite resources.

This Week in the Watershed: A Living Building, Rainy Days, and a Failing Harbor

  • CBF President Will Baker writes on how agricultural pollution must be addressed if we are going to Save the Bay. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF's Brock Environmental Center, based in Virginia Beach, VA, was declared one of the world's greenest buildings, earning the elite title of a "Living Building." (The Virginian-Pilot—VA) Bonus: Daily Press—VA
  • The onslaught of rainy days has local farms, including CBF's Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, struggling to meet harvest quotas. (DCist)
  • A report released this week found that oyster restoration projects in Maryland's Choptank River are finding success. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • A new study suggests fish in the Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries face a greater risk from climate change than previously expected. (Bay Journal)
  • Pennsylvania joined Maryland and Virginia in recognizing the week of June 5-11 as Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week. (The Daily Review—PA) Bonus: CBF Press Release
  • Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director, writes on the important connection between soil health and clean water. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • Environmentalists in Maryland are alarmed at the considerable downward trend in enforcement of environmental laws. (Bay Journal)
  • For the third consecutive year, Baltimore's Inner Harbor posted failing grades in its water quality report card. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

May 15

  • Norfolk, VA: The Blue Planet Forum is an annual, free environmental lecture series held in Hampton Roads. Its mission is to educate and engage the public on important environmental issues affecting Hampton Roads and the nation. In the next installment of this very popular series, the audience will be treated to presentations by an expert panel on the topic: Water, Water Everywhere: exploring how water inspires and influences us. The event is free, but space is limited, so registration is strongly encouraged. Click here to register!

May 16

  • Baltimore, MD: Cruise the Inner Harbor aboard CBF's 46-foot workboat the Snow Goose as we explore the complex and fascinating relationship between the urban environment and the Bay's natural ecosystem. CBF staff will demonstrate the importance of this port as an economic lifeline for the state of Maryland and help participants appreciate the life cycles and needs of the thousands of birds, fish, crabs, oysters, and other organisms which share these waters. Click here to register!

May 17

  • LaPlata, MD: Join CBF at acrucial public hearing on the future of Charles County. This is your opportunity to provide comment to the Board of County Commissioners on the planning board's recommended Comprehensive Plan, which does not adequately protect the Mattawoman Creek, clean water, healthy forests, or quality of life in the county. Click here to register!

May 20

  • 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 by shaking off the dirt and debris 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!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


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


Appreciating Fall Foliage after the Color Is Gone

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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Putting fallen leaves to work is good for plants and properties, and contributes to the health of Pennsylvania waterways. Photo by Kelly O’Neill/CBF Staff.

The Commonwealth's northern tier is enjoying the season's burst of color as fall foliage reaches its peak there by mid-October. The palette will sweep southward, sharing its vibrancy with the rest of Pennsylvania as temperatures continue to cool and days grow shorter toward the end of the month.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) boasts that the Keystone State, with its 134 species of trees, has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than anywhere else in the world.

Folks travel for miles to marvel at the splendor of the changing leaves. There are ways to further appreciate what fall foliage offers, after it falls in our own neighborhoods.

Putting leaves to work is good for plants and properties, and contributes to the health of Pennsylvania waterways.

The Commonwealth is significantly behind in its clean water commitments and must accelerate its reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff into rivers and streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Urban/suburban runoff of pollutants is the third-leading cause of impairment to 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania waters; behind agricultural runoff and acid mine drainage respectively.

Trees play a key role in defending clean water by filtering pollution and absorbing runoff.

Making the most of fall leaves around the home and other properties can reduce the amount of fertilizers needed and enhance soil absorption, reducing the amount of runoff that carries harmful pollutants into waterways.

Autumn leaves are some of the best organic matter, are packed with trace minerals that trees draw from the soil, and can be a powerful benefit around the home.

Healthy compost is a valuable and plentiful alternative fertilizer and soil enhancement for flower beds and gardens. Leaves are an effective component of compost, which also reuses grass clippings, food and yard waste, and other natural ingredients. Carbon-rich leaves add balance to nitrogen-rich elements like fresh grass clippings.

Shredded leaves are multi-purpose. Shredding leaves reduces the volume, creates more surfaces for microbes to work, and more easily loosens the soil when worked into the garden. This invites earthworms and other organisms that are beneficial to productive soil. Shredding and mulching is as easy as piling leaves up and driving over them a few times with the lawnmower.

Against winter wind and cold, a six-inch blanket of leaves can protect tender plants. Some gardeners use leaves to insulate sensitive dahlia, iris, and other bulbs left in the winter garden.

Making "leaf mold" by simply raking leaves into pile is a low-maintenance process for augmenting soil quality. Shredding leaves allows them to decompose faster, but is not a requirement for good leaf mold. Over the period of a few years, fungus breaks the leaves down into a special compost that is high in calcium and magnesium. It also retains three to five times its weight in water.

To enhance your fall foliage experience, the DCNR website offers a weekly fall foliage map and reports, an explanation of why autumn leaves change color, and state forest maps with directions. After they've fallen, make the most of them.

Clean water counts in all seasons, and for many Pennsylvanians, fall is their favorite time of year. Putting leaves to work to reduce polluted runoff can extend our appreciation of fall foliage long after the color is gone.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

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


Photo of the Week: Burgers and Brews for the Bay

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Fall on CBF's Clagett Farm. (Don't you want to be here right now?) Photo by CBF Staff.

In just a few short weeks, for many of you, this will be the incredible backdrop to your Sunday afternoon. On October 4, we're throwing a party celebrating fall, local food, clean water, and our sustainable Clagett Farm (hence the pretty pic above). And you're all invited!

Burgers and Brews for the Bay will feature delicious food created by area chefs using fresh, local ingredients and specially paired craft-brewed beers. Top that off with live bluegrass music, hay rides, and everything you ever wanted to know about how sustainable farming leads to healthier, cleaner waters, and you've got a fantastic fall afternoon on the farm. 

Tickets are selling fast. Click here to get yours!

Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 

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During Sweltering Summer, Brock Center's Electric Bill Comes in at Just $17 a Month

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Photo by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

If you got sticker shock from your electric bill this summer, you'll want to check out the Brock Environmental Center's latest statement from Dominion Power. CBF's electric bills for the building have come in at only $17.19 a month the past few months. What's more, that's all administrative fees. Since April, the Brock Center's solar panels and wind turbines have actually produced nearly twice as much energy than was used. That extra electricity is then returned to the grid to help power other houses.

So how do you keep a 10,500-square-foot building running for just 57 cents a day in Virginia Beach's summer heat? In addition to taking advantage of abundant solar and wind energy, the building uses natural ventilation to catch refreshing morning and evening breezes. A geothermal cooling system utilizes the earth's constant 56 degree temperature.

Reducing energy and water needs is also a big part of it. Natural sunlight illuminates the space, while strategic summer shading prevents the sun from heating up the building. Super-efficient insulation makes sure it stays refreshing indoors even during sweltering weather outside. Through it all, temperatures in the office hover around a comfortable 76 degrees during the warmer months.

It's all promising as the Brock Center nears the halfway mark in its effort to earn Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute, a rare and demanding designation achieved by only a handful of buildings around the world. CBF started the clock on April 1 for the challenge, in which over the course of one year the center must produce at least as much energy as it uses and get all of its water from collected rain, among other strict requirements.

One of the most environmentally smart buildings in the world, the combination of renewable energy and extreme energy efficiency at the Brock Center is a model for how buildings can have a near-zero carbon footprint. Wouldn't it be great if all offices could be powered for well under a dollar a day?

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to check out how much energy the Brock Center is consuming in real time at the building's dashboard.

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A copy of a recent energy bill from the Brock Environmental Center.

Trees: The Cool Solution to Water Pollution

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

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Trees are critical to improving water quality throughout Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. Photo by Justin Black/iLCP.

These arid days of summer aren't so dogged, spent under the cool canopy of an old oak tree, a cold drink in hand and a refreshing breeze on your face.

While looking for relief and grabbing some shade, we might pause to appreciate the health, economic, and esthetic values that trees add to our lives.

Planting trees as stream-side buffers is one of the most affordable ways to reduce the harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment polluting Pennsylvania waters. The commonwealth is lagging well behind in its goals to reduce pollution of its streams and rivers and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

To get back on track, the state must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year. Trees and their roots can filter as much as 60 percent of nitrogen, 40 percent of phosphorus, and nearly half of sediment in runoff. A single mature oak tree can absorb more than 40,000 gallons of water per year.

Trees are the answer to multiple pollution reduction challenges in the commonwealth. To meet its commitments by 2017, Pennsylvania also must add 22,000 acres of forest and grass buffers to Penn's Woods. Another very tall task.

Stream-side buffers also help reduce erosion and provide shade, critical food and shelter for wildlife. Trees stabilize stream banks and lower water temperatures, which are vital to a thriving aquatic ecosystem.

Enhanced by the presence of trees, microbes and insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies in cool, wooded streams consume runoff nutrients and organic matter. Some native mayflies, for example, thrive at 68 degrees but perish at 70.

Native brook trout flourish in cool, clean water and are returning to streams where buffers have been installed.

Trees also are valuable around the home. When included in urban and suburban landscaping, trees absorb pollution and provide shade. A single large tree in the front yard can intercept 760 gallons of water in its crown, reducing stormwater runoff. The beauty of trees is evident in every neighborhood.

Trees provide benefits wherever they stand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one acre of forest can absorb six tons of carbon dioxide and put out four tons of oxygen, enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

Trees have economic benefits. The U.S. Forest Service reports that healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property's value, and when placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent.

Native plants are preferred and more than 130 native tree species grow across Pennsylvania. Popular types include the oaks, hickories, maples, dogwood, red bud, sycamore, and honey-locust.

Late summer and early fall are optimum months to plant trees in order to take advantage of cooler soil temperatures and the ability of trees to establish strong root systems.

In the meantime, enjoy the shade. Summer is the ideal time to consider new plantings and how and where more trees will make our lives better.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Take action now to ensure clean water restoration, like critical tree plantings in Pennsylvania, continues across the region. Take action for the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love!

 


New Challenges AND New Optimism for the Fuel of the Food Web

OspreyWithMenhaden2Osprey like this one above heavily rely on nutrient-rich menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea." Photo by iStock.

Once more those small, silvery, nutrient-rich fish called menhaden have taken center stage in fisheries management and Chesapeake conservation. On May 5, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which manages the coast-wide catch of menhaden and 23 other migratory fish species, met in Alexandria, Va., to revisit the way menhaden are managed. Specifically they met to discuss raising the harvest quota for menhaden after a recent stock assessment found an increase in biomass (the total weight of the population), but a decrease in abundance (the actual number of fish).

Often dubbed "the most important fish in the sea," menhaden are a fundamental link in the Bay's food web, serving as valuable sustenance for striped bass and many other fish, marine mammal, and seabird species. Their health directly affects the health of the entire ecosystem. 

We sat down with Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Fisheries Director, to get a better understanding of what happened at the meeting, and what it means for the fate of this critical fish.

  1. What happened at the meeting earlier this month?
    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to increase the current cap on menhaden harvest by 10 percent for both 2015 and 2016. It was a good management decision, because stakeholders on both sides seemed to be satisfied, but it was not a great conservation decision. CBF had urged ASMFC not to increase harvest quotas until measures were taken to ensure menhaden's ecological role in the Bay and beyond was protected.

    That said, a really good thing for menhaden conservation came out of this meeting. ASMFC initiated the process to amend the management plan for menhaden. With the amended plan, they are once and for all committing to developing ecological reference points (guidelines for optimal population levels and allowable fishing rates). The reference points we have right now are based on single-species management, designed to only account for the health and survival of menhaden alone, not the ecosystem as a whole. They do not fully account for menhaden's ecological value as an important forage fish that other marine creatures depend upon for food. Ecological reference points will effectively be more conservative guidelines for the fishery that will leave more menhaden in the water for the striped bass, osprey, and all the rest of the species in the ecosystem that depend on menhaden. This is huge . . . we've never had this level of commitment to develop and adopt ecological reference points. 

  2. How did ASMFC come to this decision?
    Graph
    The most recent menhaden stock assessment found an increase in biomass (the total weight of the menhaden population), but a decrease in abundance (the actual number of fish).

    Five years ago, a menhaden stock assessment found that we had a depleted stock of menhaden, and there had been a history of overfishing. This spurred ASMFC to establish a catch quota (the first time ever in the history of menhaden management) and to set it at a level 20 percent below recent harvests, beginning in 2013.

    Now we have a new assessment that's just come out. It's good science and much more comprehensive, but it includes some different assumptions. One in particular assumes there is a mass of larger, older menhaden in northern waters off the coast of New England that are outside the range of the fishery (large menhaden that are not often caught in the fishery but that have been seen in surveys done by northern states). The menhaden fishery is concentrated in the mid-Atlantic, especially in and around Chesapeake Bay. The net effect of these large, old menhaden is to increase the biomass estimate over what we thought from the last assessment. 

  3. So menhaden that reside outside the area where people actually fish are boosting the biomass number?
    Exactly. To me, the most insidious thing that I don't think we're paying enough attention to is that as a result of this finding of increased biomass, the fishing industry is saying that we can catch more fish, but a lot of the fish are outside the area where fishing occurs. We're increasing the catch in the area where we don't have that higher biomass. And, according to this latest assessment, in an area where there is actually a lower abundance of menhaden—fewer numbers of fish in the population. In fact, it's the lowest abundance in the 60-year history of assessing the menhaden population, according to this new model. So the assessment does show higher biomass, but it also shows low abundance. The way to think of it is there are relatively more big, old fish, but not a lot of fish total. And numbers of prey are what's important to predators like striped bass. So this is a dynamic that we have to come to grips with.

  4. What's next for menhaden?
    We have to stay on top of the process that will play out through 2016. The amended management plan won't take effect until the 2017 fishing season. This is going to be a long, methodical process. We want to get it right this time. 

  5. Why are menhaden so important?
    Menhaden are the fuel of the food web, and we control the flow. Too low and we have problems with striped bass nutrition, diseases, mortality, and so forth. For a predator like striped bass that depends a lot on menhaden, if they're not a lot of menhaden available, they will shift to something else that's probably not as nutritious. They might shift to blue crabs—is that better for the bigger picture? So it's a tradeoff between management objectives. You have to think in an ecosystem-sense rather than a single-species context for ecologically important fish like menhaden. One industry representative calling for a catch increase at a recent ASMFC meeting said, "Don't leave these fish in the water to die!" That short-sighted statement ignores the fact that leaving menhaden in the water to be eaten satisfies an important management objective to keep the ecosystem healthyYou get incredible value from leaving these fish in the water.

For the sake of the striped bass and the osprey, the bluefish and the bald eagle that rely on these small, but all-important fish, we are pleased that ASMFC will be taking the long view and considering the health of the broader ecosystem when amending the menhaden management plan. After all, a healthy menhaden population means a healthier Chesapeake Bay. 

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

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