Trees: The Cool Solution to Water Pollution

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

Black-trees
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

Stay tuned for updates on this important fish and all the other Chesapeake species it supports by signing up for our e-newsletter.


Our New Brock Center in VA Goes off Power, Water Grids

Brock-InfographicThe following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Last November, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation "unplugged" the new Brock Environmental Center from the power grid as part of the center's grand opening festivities in Virginia Beach. It was admittedly a purely symbolic gesture—the building remains hooked to the local electric utility.

But we wanted to declare to the world our intention to operate this cutting-edge center using only onsite renewable energy.

Last month, the CBF retired the symbolic plug and actually began walking the talk at the Brock Center. On April 1, we cranked the center's electric meter back to zero and began a yearlong effort to demonstrate that the building's solar panels and wind turbines can produce all of the electricity the building needs for a solid year.

Certainly, when it is cloudy, with no wind, the center likely will have to draw some power from the local grid. But on sunny, breezy days—and there are lots of them in Virginia Beach—the center will produce more electricity than it needs, sending the excess juice back to the grid. The goal at the end of the 12 months: net-zero energy.

We're also aiming to make the Brock Center net-zero water. The center employs two 1,700-gallon cisterns to collect rainwater. It is cleaned and stored on site for all of the center's drinking, washing and cooking needs. The Brock Center is the first commercial building in the continental United States permitted to treat and use rainwater as drinking water. As with energy, the foundations' goal is to demonstrate that we can be water-independent.

"We started the yearlong clock at 12:01 a.m. April 1," said CBF's Hampton Roads Director Christy Everett. "We intend to operate the center for the next 12 months using no more power than what the sun and wind generate and no more water than what rain provides. That will be an enormous challenge, and we know we may encounter some glitches along the way. We're attempting something that few others have ever done."

I invite everyone to join the CBF on this journey to zero impact. You can follow the progress of the first year challenge by visiting the Brock Center's online "dashboard," a real-time gauge of the building's energy and water use. The dashboard can be seen at cbf.org/brockdashboard.

What the dashboard won't show you are the many other features that make me believe the Brock Center is the greenest and smartest building in the world. Some of them include:

  • No-flush, composting toilets eliminate water use and produce no sewage waste.
  • Gray water from the center's sinks and showers goes into bio-retention gardens to be absorbed by native plants.
  • Rain gardens, sandy soils and permeable surfaces produce zero polluted runoff, eliminating harm to the nearby Lynnhaven River and Chesapeake Bay.
  • Geothermal wells, southern exposures, and windows and doors open wide to catch Bay breezes and help heat and cool the building naturally.
  • Super-efficient insulation and energy-conserving lights and appliances help the Brock Center use 80 percent less energy than office buildings of comparable size.
  • Toxic-free building materials result in a clean, healthy work environment.

Finally, we have used recycled and salvaged materials throughout the center. The wood from old bleachers, the flooring from an old school gym, the sinks and cabinets and desktops retrieved from office buildings slated for demolition are all given a new lease on life rather than being thrown away, wherever "away" is.

We want the Brock Center to achieve Living Building Challenge certification, a set of super-tough environmental criteria developed by the International Living Future Institute. Only a handful of buildings around the world have successfully done so.

We also have a larger, more visionary goal for the Brock Environmental Center. We hope the center can become an international model for sustainable building, a practical demonstration that we can live and work in true harmony with nature. Zero environmental impact is possible, and it's doable, right now, even in especially sensitive regions like the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

If we can demonstrate that buildings like the Brock Environmental Center can help save the Bay, perhaps others around the nation and the world will also be inspired to take the Living Building Challenge . . . and help save the planet.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Although the Brock Center is open for business, your support is critically needed to cover final construction costs and to help jump-start our environmental education and community outreach programs. Right now, The Cabell Foundation is matching 50 percent of every dollar donated toward the Brock Environmental Center. Please make a gift today and be a part of this remarkable project!


Inside CBF: Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller

1
Pollution from agriculture continues to be the largest source of pollution to the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love. It is also the most cost-effective to clean up, and the sector on which the Chesapeake's states are relying on most to achieve their Clean Water Blueprint-reduction goalsNow more than ever, it is critical to understand how healthy farming practices are intrinsically tied to a healthy Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it. As such we revisit a summer's day last year, when we got to visit with and learn from CBF's Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Read on . . .   

It's a particularly steamy early Friday morning on CBF's Clagett Farm. The cows are testy, lined up, and waiting expectantly when Farm Manager Michael Heller and I pull up in his '96 Ford Ranger, windows down, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture on the radio drifting across the fields on warm June air. The minute they see Heller, the cows are especially vocal. The herd of Red Angus and Red Devon are anxious to move on to the next field for grazing, occasionally nudging Heller with their noses as they pass. "Our cows are very gentle," says Heller with pride.

DSC_0045Besides providing affection, the cows do wonders for the soil and as Heller says, "Building soil quality is probably the single most important thing to improving water quality." As soon as Heller started at Clagett in 1982, he was determined to use truly sustainable farming methods to make a healthier, more productive farm starting with the soil. "From day one I have not used pesticides," says Heller. "I didn't want them for my children; I didn't want them for the students coming out here. There were just so many reasons not to use them . . . when that's you're starting point, you have to be ecological in how you do things." So the plant ecology major cultivated fields of orchard grass, timothy, clover, hairy vetch, and other diverse plant species that never have to be tilled, therefore they protect the ground, soak up nutrients, build the soil, and improve water quality.      

"The beauty of working on the farm here is it directly affects water quality and the Bay," says Heller, "but also it allows me and CBF to get a real perspective of what farmers need to be successful. Because we don't want to make farmers unsuccessful; we want to help farmers be successful and protect the Bay."

It was only natural that Heller wound up at Clagett. The Pennsylvania native grew up working on the farm next door, bird watching with his mother, and tending his garden: "My friends used to joke that I was the only high school quarterback with a wildflower garden."

DSC_0013After stints at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the University of Maryland, the avid environmentalist got a call from CBF asking him to run its newly acquired Clagett Farm. Here he would not only manage the 285-acre farm but run the education program and write grants. "It was a wonderfully impossible job," says Heller with a glowing enthusiasm, "and here 30 years later, the learning curve keeps going up and up . . . I still feel like I'm just getting started!"

We might argue otherwise considering Heller's substantial contributions to the farming and environmental communities thus far. He was instrumental in starting both Future Harvest, a regional sustainable agriculture organization, and Maryland Grazer's Network, a mentorship program where farmers learn from other farmers about successful and sustainable farming practices. In his downtime, Heller co-authored a cookbook about grass-fed beef, started Clagett's CSA (in which 40 percent of each year's harvest is donated to the Capital Area Food Bank), became a Johns Hopkins visiting scholar, raised three bright children, and spent as much time as possible either on a tractor or in a canoe. "I love to hang out in a canoe. I'm never happier than when I'm in a canoe, in a marsh, listening to marsh wrens and bitterns and rails calling." 

When asked why it's so important for future generations to come out and get a taste of Clagett Farm, Heller doesn't take long to answer: "I just know that my kids are different for having grown up on a farm. I wish every kid could grow up on a farm. When students come out here, they always work a little bit . . . I think they see that there's a tangible result to work. And they get a real sense of a connection between the land and what's happening in the water."

—Photos and Text by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

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


Gardening and the Bay: A Future in the Making

Lindsay Bushong, a junior at Drexel University, shares her story of encountering a love for gardening, and the role CBF played along the way.

Gardening-2
Some of the Backyard Beds in Philadelphia, PA

In high school, I took a half day field trip with CBF. I had a blast and when they talked about the summer programs they offered, I knew I had to go. Fast forward a year and I'm two days into a week long adventure down the James River in Virginia. We did various things to learn about the Bay, digging in the detritus, not leaving any trace at our campsites, going to leadership workshops. However, what I remember most is our visit first to a large organic farm, and then to a smaller, urban garden in Richmond. I grew up in a really rural community, but had never seen an organic garden to the scale of the one we visiting in Virginia. There was a beautiful rainwater catchment system and rows upon rows of lush, gorgeous veggies. In the city, we learned about the benefits of having nature in an urban setting, how its good for both people and the environment. While I didn't realize it then, the idea of the "triple bottom line benefit" would follow me to Philadelphia.

I recently began my own social entrepreneurship project, Backyard Beds. Backyard Beds came into fruition for a number of reasons. Having moved to the city from an agricultural community, I was astounded at the lack of fresh food in my neighborhood. Through my academic studies I began to learn about food deserts and food insecurity, which really sparked my interest. My freshman year I worked on an urban farm, and this experience seemed tie together all my passions into one amazing social venture. Through professors, mentors and classmates, I soon found myself managing a small garden only a few blocks from my house at The Dornsife Center. While gardening there, I got to meet a lot of amazing people, but most importantly, I got to meet Mantua (my neighborhood) area residents. These are long-term residents. One afternoon a neighbor was asking how she could build her own raised garden beds, I immediately offered to help, and thus Backyard Beds was born from this interaction.

10389421_10202921601498456_3774585674133425063_n
Harvested radishes from backyard beds

Our seed funding came from a fellowship with The Resolution Project, an amazing organization helping young people start really cool projects around the world. In the summer of 2013 we built five gardens for five families. Not only are these gardens beautiful and relaxing, but they provide practically free fresh, local produce. Something most Mantua area residents lack. The gardens also decrease stormwater runoff and the heat island effect. We hope to create a small food distribution competent to the project that helps move the food more efficiently around the neighborhood.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been pivotal in my growth and development. I would have never discovered my passion and interests without my experiences in and around the Bay. This project has brought my studies and experiences full circle, giving me the opportunity to create real, meaningful change. In high school, after I got back from I trip I knew I wanted to start a little organic garden. CBF helped me do this, leading to me earning a Certificate of Environmental Leadership. The ways in which CBF facilitate and support students are incredible, and I wish every student could take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer.


On the Front Lines of Mitigating Climate Change

The following first appeared on EcoWatch.

Brock_1200CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach. Photo by Roberto Westbrook.

Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia are rising at a rate more than twice the global average. Since 1960, the area has experienced a 325 percent increase in "nuisance flooding" that disrupts business by closing roads and flooding parking lots and putting undue stress on infrastructure, like storm water drains, roads and sidewalks.

Some of this recurrent flooding is due to the land settling, the geologic results of a massive meteor strike here 35 million years ago. But there's little doubt the Virginia coast is also on the frontline of climate change, surging waters and more intense storms. It's no longer a question if and when the sea will rise here; the challenge is how much and how to adapt.

The Chesapeake Bay is our nation's largest estuary and home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, including thousands of acres of valuable coastal marsh and wetlands. Scientists anticipate Virginia will lose 50-80 percent of these wetlands in the next 50 years at the current rate of sea-level rise. And it isn't just the beautiful vistas we'll lose, but everything else these wetlands provide—protection from erosion near waterfront property; flood control; filtration of runoff and removal of pollutants; and the food, water and habitat for the critters that call the wetlands home.

The busy Hampton Roads area is the second most populated region at risk from sea level and related storm damage after New Orleans. And it is home to the world's largest Navy base. During a speech at the College of William and Mary, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) remarked that in another 25 years, the main road into Naval Station Norfolk, will be under water three hours a day.

Thus, climate change not only threatens our way of life, but it's threatening our national security as well. We need to mitigate its effects with short- and long-term strategies. We need to adapt to these changes by developing environmentally smart infrastructure that not only allows us to live in a rapidly changing world, but minimizes climate changing pollution for the future.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach is designed to do just that by minimizing CO2 emissions, limiting environmental impacts and adapting to rising sea-levels. The center is built on pilings more than 14 feet above sea level and 200 feet back from the river's edge (double the 100 feet clearance required by Virginia law), safe from both rising sea levels and storm surges.

The Brock Environmental Center also utilizes existing technology and common-sense design features to meet the Living Building Challenge, the highest standard for environmentally smart building. Two small wind turbines and roof top solar arrays generate enough energy to power the building. Geothermal wells, windows that open and close according to temperature needs, super-insulated walls and floors, and natural ventilation features—heat and cool the building.

And rain cisterns and a filtering system make the Brock Environmental Center the first project in the U.S. to receive a commercial permit for drinking filtered/treated rainwater in accordance with the federal drinking water requirements. In fact, the center uses rainwater for all its water needs.     
The builders also extensively used recycled and salvaged materials to reduce waste, and they excluded more than 300 hundred toxic materials typically found in common building materials.

Finally, the building was designed to prevent site disturbance—there is no parking lot on site, and it is landscaped in native trees, shrubs, and grasses to restore years of displaced wetlands. The natural landscaping allows flood waters to rise, settle and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Now open for business, the Brock Environmental Center allows the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to continue its groundbreaking work saving the Bay in Hampton Roads while providing a national model for smart building, energy efficiency, and climate-change adaptability.

—Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director

Click here to watch a drone fly through of the completed Brock Environmental Center!


Remembering Why We Do What We Do on #GivingTuesday


ElaineYes, today is #GivingTuesday—that day celebrated around the world that reminds us that this time of year isn't just about getting, it's also about giving . . . giving gifts, giving time, giving kindness, giving . . . whatever. 

And as I thought more and more about this day, I found myself looking for inspiration from all my favorite writers and leaders and poets and philosophers. (Yes, I even resorted to googling "famous quotes about giving.")

And I can spew out some pretty fantastic ones: Take Maya Angelou's "I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver." Or Albert Einstein's "It is every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it." 

And Ralph Waldo Emerson's ever-thoughtful "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself . . . Serve and thou shall be served."

JenBut often what's more real, more inspiring, more tangible than those giants of ideas and idealism that, these days, live only in books and on the Internet, are those people around us, every day doing their work quietly but with great passion and pride. 

I asked Elaine Lutz, our Maryland Office attorney, what brought her to CBF, and why she does what she does. Her simple six-word answer speaks for itself: "I believe in Nature's intrinsic value."

Our Managing Editor Jen Wallace listed the names of her two children, eight-year-old Martha and five-year-old Eamon, as her reasons for getting up every morning and doing what she does.  

Jocelyn Tuttle, our Baltimore Harbor Program educator, spoke of the rivers and streams that inspire her everyday to teach the next generation of Bay stewards.  

LucasOur Student Leadership Coordinator Lucas Johnson wholeheartedly gives his time and energy to Saving the Bay because he loves exploring the great outdoors.   

All of these colleagues inspire me as I work alongside them for a healthy, restored Chesapeake now and for generations to come

Whatever your reason may be, we hope you'll think of the Bay and its rivers and streams this Giving Tuesday.     

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media
 

What inspires you? Click here to send us your clean water story.

Jocelyn


Rethinking Coastal Development in Virginia Beach

The following first appeared in The Daily Caller late last week.

Brock_brusa_1200
The Brock Environmental Center at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by Deanna Brusa/CBF Staff

Intense storms, winds, and waves increasingly threaten waterfront homes up and down the East Coast. But many communities refuse to recognize the risk. Instead, they are kicking the can down the road and leaving the problem to our children and grandchildren.

Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seems to be looking the other way. NBC News reported earlier this year that FEMA has remapped more than 500 waterfront properties from the Gulf of Alaska to Bar Harbor, Maine, "removing" them (at least on redrawn maps) from the highest-risk flood zone. That saves the owners as much as 97 percent on premiums they pay into the financially strained National Flood Insurance Program.

This remapping amounts to expanding the subsidy to the rich for building expensive waterfront properties or luxury condominiums in environmentally fragile areas. This is one issue where environmentalists and conservatives who favor small government should agree – government subsidized flood insurance wastes taxpayer's dollars and harms local ecosystems.

Such policies seem perverse. Sometimes it takes local citizens and community groups to take matters into their own hands and find smarter, more commonsense solutions to coastal overdevelopment. Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Va., could be a model for doing just that.

Pleasure House Point is a 118-acre peninsula of beach, marsh, and trees on the Lynnhaven River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the last undeveloped waterfront parcels in Virginia Beach, developers purchased it years ago and planned to build "Indigo Dunes," a massive development of more than 1,000 new high-rise condos and townhouses, despite the fierce opposition of nearby neighborhoods and the City of Virginia Beach. By 2008, Indigo Dunes and its thousands of new waterfront residents, cars, and streets seemed only a matter of time.

Then the housing market collapsed, the Great Recession loomed, and building plans came to a halt. Bankers eventually foreclosed on the property and took ownership of Pleasure House Point. "Indigo Dunes" was dead, but there was a silver lining.

Seizing the opportunity, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation partnered with the City of Virginia Beach, the Trust for Public Land, and the local community in a plan to buy Pleasure House Point. This public-private coalition rallied, raised $13 million and purchased the site from the bank in 2012, preserving it for passive recreation and education.

The City of Virginia Beach quickly designated Pleasure House Point as a natural area, creating a public green space of inlets, beaches, forests, and trails that today teems with wildlife. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation bought a small corner of the property, a sandy upland of old dredge spoils, and created the Brock Environmental Center. When this innovative environmental education and community center opens in November, it will be one of the most environmentally smart buildings on the planet. Our hope is that the Brock Center will be a model of energy independence, climate change resiliency, and super-low environmental impact. In fact, it's designed to complement the surrounding environment, not harm or fight it.

—Christy Everett, CBF's Hampton Roads Director


Imagine a Building as Efficient and Beneficial as a Tree

10734192_10152730427875943_234172962746341259_nPhoto by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

Imagine a building as efficient and beneficial as a tree.

Imagine saving one of the last natural areas in Virginia Beach from development.

Imagine producing all the power you need from nature.

Imagine eliminating the nastiest chemicals from where you work.

Imagine drinking rain water.

You don't need to imagine anymore. We've done it.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center, now open at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, is one of the most energy efficient, environmentally smart buildings in the world.

DSC_0264
CBF's President Will Baker leads the ceremonial "unplugging" symbolizing the opening of the Brock Environmental Center. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

With its solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns, waterless toilets, and natural landscaping, the center is an international model for energy- and water-efficiency. Elevated 14 feet above sea level, it is also a prototype for coping with climate change in a region increasingly prone to flooding.

"We hoped to raise the bar for environmentally smart buildings when we envisioned the Brock Environmental Center," CBF President Will Baker said. "And I think we've done that with this remarkable building."

Named after Virginia Beach philanthropists Joan and Macon Brock, the Brock Center houses CBF's Hampton Roads staff and that of Lynnhaven River NOW, a Virginia Beach conservation group. It also provides meeting space for community discussions and serves as headquarters for CBF's award-winning environmental education programs for Hampton Roads teachers and students.

Rooftop solar panels and wind turbines generate all power for the center, and even return surplus clean, renewable energy back to the grid. The center uses rainwater for all its water needs, including drinking water. It is believed to be the first commercial-scale building in the continental United States to do so.

Any excess rain water and "gray water" flow into nearby rain gardens of native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Even the center's bathrooms use waterless toilets that compost waste in waterproof bins until the odorless, harmless compost can be spread on the grounds.

Anticipating more regional flooding, the center is raised 14 feet above sea level. There are no paved parking lots to interfere with natural drainage; staff and visitors park on nearby streets and walk to the center on a natural path through the woods. Any code-required handicap and emergency access areas use permeable pavers that let water soak in rather than run off. More importantly, the surrounding sand, shrubs, and trees remain largely untouched, allowing flood waters to spread and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Today's opening of the Brock Environmental Center concludes a successful community effort to save the 118-acre Pleasure House Point tract from development. As recently as 2008, developers intended to build more than 1,100 new high-rise condos and townhouses on the property. The collapse of the housing market in 2009, however, led bankers to foreclose on the property. A community partnership with CBF, the City of Virginia Beach, and the Trust for Public Land purchased the land from the bank in 2012, preserving it for open space and environmental education.

Welcome to the Brock Environmental Center. Come explore and learn. We think you will be amazed. We know you will be inspired.

Chuck Epes, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Partnering with CBF to create the Brock Environmental Center were SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction, Skanska, and WPL Site Design all partnered with CBF to create the Brock Environmental Center.  


Dumpster Diving to Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Huffington Post.

2014-10-10-Picture1-thumb
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