This Week in the Watershed: A Threatened Pennsylvania Hallmark

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Brook trout, a hallmark of Pennsylvania waterways and a great indicator of clean water, is threatened by both invasive species and warming waters as the result of climate change. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

One of my most vivid collegiate memories occurred on the banks of a central Pennsylvania lake. While out in the field for an environmental science class, the Professor pointed out a handful of geese pecking away at underwater grasses and asked the class, "What should we do with these geese?" Upon the reply of several students saying we should protect them, he bellowed out, "WRONG! We should shoot them all!"

Despite the crassness of his response, his point resonates—invasive species can have major consequences on the ecological health of our rivers, streams, and the native species that call them home.

This week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a study revealing that Pennsylvania's native brook trout is threatened by the invasive brown trout. Brook trout are commonly regarded as a "canary in the coal mine" for pollution, as they require cold and clean water for survival. As such, brook trout are particularly susceptible to warming waters as the result of climate change.

The USGS study found that the presence of the invasive brown trout is another significant challenge for the brook trout, as the brown trout has higher tolerance to warmer waters and competes with the brook trout for food sources.

Brook trout are a hallmark of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. As a great indicator for healthy water, their dwindling population is telling. In addition to the need for strong fisheries management to address harmful invasive species, we need to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Our children and grandchildren deserve clean water, and the proliferation of the brook trout will indicate we are headed in the right direction.

This Week in the Watershed: Oyster Balance, Eel Abundance, and A Pennsylvania Hallmark

  • Oysters present quite a challenge in striking a balance between the short-term needs of watermen and long-term needs of a sustainable fishery. (WRC—VA)
  • Invasive species combined with the effects of climate change are a brutal combination for Pennsylvania's native brook trout. (USGS Press Release)
  • Local residents in Maryland's Howard County are pushing for financial incentives to push commercial property owners to implement practices to reduce polluted runoff. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • Eels are returning in abundance to the Susquehanna River, leaving environmentalists hopeful other species such as mussels will follow suit. (Bay Journal)
  • Bravo to CBF's Bill Portlock, who received the Garden Club of Virginia's Elizabeth Cabell Dugdale Award for Conservation. Portlock has been with CBF since 1981 as an environmental educator, restoration leader, and accomplished photographer. (Free Lance Star—VA)
  • Amidst debates over oyster harvesting, Maryland is looking at Virginia for lessons learned. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF is working to clean Virginia's Hampton River through planting oysters. (Daily Press—VA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

November 20

  • 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 looking for 6-8 volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Please contact Tanner Council to register or for more information at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

December 3

  • Broadway, VA: Come on out and help us plant hundreds of native trees and shrubs on a picturesque farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Volunteers should bring a sun hat, sun screen, and work gloves. Volunteers are also asked to bring a packed lunch. Light refreshments will be provided. This planting event is suitable for children closely supervised by adults. Please RSVP by November 30 to Robert Jennings at 484-888-2966 or RJennings@cbf.org.

December 6

  • Norfolk, VA: Join us for a presentation on what is often called,"the most important fish in the sea"—menhaden. An expert panel will discuss why menhaden matter and the future prospects for the fishery. This event is part of the Blue Planet Forum — a free environmental lecture series with a mission to educate and engage the public on important environmental issues affecting Hampton Roads and the nation. The event is free, but registration is requested — Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Cumberland County Setting the pace for Farm Inspections in Pennsylvania's Rebooted Clean Water Strategy

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Before photo of a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm. Cumberland County is among 28 conservation districts inspecting farms for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans, as prescribed in Pennsylvania’s rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

Cumberland County is getting positive reaction from farmers, as one of 28 conservation districts conducting farm inspections as prescribed in Pennsylvania's rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture.

As conservation districts in nine counties opted out of doing farm inspections for fear of straining relations they have with farmers, the process within the Cumberland County Conservation District (CCCD) is going smoothly because of its familiarity with farmers.

"Our two technicians know the county, kinds of crops farmers are growing and the landscape," says CCCD board chairman Wilbur Wolf, Jr. "When they need to talk to farmers about future improvement, they can do it. If somebody from DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) comes to the farm, they are not as familiar with the county and the resources in order to make an informed decision when it comes to the best practices suited for that farm."

"We're acting as an intermediary to help farmers get into compliance," CCCD manager Carl Goshorn adds. Cumberland is the fastest growing county in the Commonwealth with about 500 farmers and 1,400 different tracts of land.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are damaged by pollution and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint goals. The Blueprint requires that 60 percent of pollution reduction practices be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025. The Commonwealth has acknowledged that it will not meet the 2017 goal.

As part of the Keystone State's strategy to get back on track, the DEP asked conservation districts to inspect ten percent of farms annually for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans. There are 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and DEP inspected less than two percent of them in 2014.

Conservation districts conducting inspections receive funding from DEP to support Bay technician staff and will inspect a minimum of 50 farms annually, per full-time person. DEP will inspect farms in counties where conservation districts declined to do it.

With one Bay technician, Brady Seeley, and conservation technician Jared McIntire, Cumberland County has a five-year schedule for inspections and thinks it will conduct more than the 50 required annually.

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After photo showing a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm after a concrete manure storage pit was installed for liquid dairy manure. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

One landowner with multiple, separate parcels of land could count as multiple inspections, as each agricultural operation is inspected separately.

Eight of first nine inspections in Cumberland County lacked manure management plans and three didn't have erosion and sediment plans. Goshorn said manure management plans have already been written for two of those farms.

In addition to checking that the farms have the required plans, inspectors may observe water quality issues. They may ask permission to walk around a property, but landowners are under no obligation to grant permission.

Cumberland County was one of four counties that helped shape the inspection process by participating in the pilot program. CCCD and DEP staff visited two farms in the county. "We wanted to see how it works," Goshorn says. "We figured it would be a better way of getting in touch with the farmers and maybe getting more practices involved if we were actually doing the inspections."

"We thought, if we aren't part of the process we can't have an impact down the road," board chairman Wolf adds. "As part of the pilot we made it better for other counties going out to do inspections because we have two people who have agriculture backgrounds (Seeley and McIntire) who could go out and relate, get a sense of how to make this work, and then go back to DEP and say, 'tweak it this way and everybody else will be better off'."

Seeley grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Pennsylvania, has a bachelor's degree in environmental resource management, and has been with CCCD for over two years. McIntire majored at Penn State University in agri-business management, manages a commercial turkey operation, and has been with CCCD for almost three years.

"We have a better rapport at the county level with our farming community than DEP does," says county commissioner Jim Hertzler, who also sits on the CCCD board. "In order for it to work and encourage a cooperative effort with respect to compliance, we prefer to work with our farmers as opposed to telling them 'you are going to jail' or 'we're going to give you a big fine if you don't do something.' To actually get these practices implemented is what the goal should be as opposed to handing out penalties or punishment."

Goshorn says conservation districts that passed on doing inspections, "Don't want to wear the black hat and be the bad guys. They said they were formed to provide technical assistance to the farming community. We feel things have changed over the years."

Seeley says the CCCD can do both. "You can go out and tell the farmer he is in violation and then it's not hard in the next sentence to tell the farmer 'let us help you get those plans.' There really is no excuse to not be regulating and technical. You are already there having the conversation."

The district is able to offer some financial help. "The board has set aside money for developing these plans," chairman Wolf adds. "It's unique for a conservation district to do that." Cost share on erosion and sediment plans splits the cost with a cap of $1,000 per farmer, and $30,000 is available overall.

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Jared McIntire and Brady Seeley. Photos courtesy Cumberland County Conservation District.

"The reason we want to try to get ahead is hopefully we will have farmers coming to us volunteering to do these inspections," Seeley says. The CCCD got a dozen calls from its letter introducing the program. Farmers can schedule an appointment to have their plans reviewed.

One Amish farmer called to say he didn't have either plan. "That's really nice," McIntire says. "We get these guys not afraid to call us and say 'I don't have the plan' and then we can start the conversation with them to get the ball rolling. 'Do you need us to come out there?' 'Can you come to one of our workshops?' 'Do we need to turn it over to the private sector because time is tight with you'?" 

The Cumberland County Conservation District believes it can maintain its working relationships with farmers, by having familiar faces like Seeley and McIntire work through the inspection process with them, while advancing Pennsylvania's clean water efforts in challenging times.

"This is happening at a time in this county when ag prices are low, milk prices are low," board chairman Wilbur Wolf says. "We had the drought. Corn prices and yields are down. We're going out and talking to these farmers in a serious financial situation and we're getting positive responses."

Conservation districts participating in the farm inspection program are in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, and Wyoming counties.

The nine counties that declined to participate are Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Luzerne, Northumberland, Perry, Tioga, and York counties. 

Cameron, Somerset, and Wayne counties have a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and will be inspected by DEP personnel.

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


Cuidando los Ríos

DSC_0588Click here for the English translation of the following blog post.

Efraín Carcamo y sus tres hijos cruzan rocas en la orilla del río James en Richmond, buscando basura que la corriente dejó entre piedras y ramas. "Este lugar es un filtro enorme," dijo Carcamo. "Atrapa mucha basura."

La familia busca metódicamente, y usan palos para recoger latas de cerveza y botellas de plástico, depositándolas en bolsas de basura. Por años, Carcamo ha repetido esta rutina varias veces al mes. Es su campaña personal para limpiar el río.

Su interés por la naturaleza empezó desde niño, cuando vivía en una finca en la sombra del volcán San Vicente en El Salvador. Desde mudarse a los Estados Unidos en 1989, ha estado fascinado con los ríos que desembocan en la Bahía de Chesapeake. "Llegué aquí y vi la belleza de este lugar y me enamoré," dijo mientras veía los pozos cristalinos del río James.  

DSC_0592Para Carcamo, cuidar los ríos también es una terapia. "Todos tenemos seres queridos que han fallecido," dijo Carcamo, quien perdió familiares en la guerra en El Salvador. La esposa de Carcamo falleció en un accidente en el 2008. Desde entonces él encuentra paz en los ríos. "Regresé a la naturaleza," dijo. "Creo que tiene el poder de consolar el alma y de cambiar muchas cosas en la vida. Creo que tiene un poder terapéutico."

Como padre, Carcamo ha enseñado el respeto de la naturaleza a sus hijas Elysha, 13 y Emaya, 11, y su hijo Eljah, 8. En los senderos de Belle Isle los niños buscan ranas y señalan donde una vez vieron un castor enorme. "Les enseño cuidar el medio ambiente," dijo Carcamo. "Ellos exploran, disfrutan, y ven con quienes comparten este planeta, no sólo personas, pero animales que debemos cuidar."

Carcamo también ha inspirado a más personas que quieren cuidar el río. "He conocido a mucha gente de todas las clases de la sociedad y todas las razas," dijo. Si le preguntan porque está limpiando, Carcamo explica que la basura daña los ríos y los animales. "Lo que digo les impacta … Regresan con sus bolsas de basura y limpian," dijo Carcamo. "Cuando se dan cuenta que alguien lo está haciendo les anima y ellos mismos lo hacen. Se siente bien."

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

 

 

 


This Week in the Watershed: A Major Investment

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Scenes like this one of Pennsylvania's Pine Creek in Lycoming County are an inspiration to keep fighting for clean water progress. This week, it was announced that Pennsylvania will benefit from an infusing of more than $28 million to jumpstart clean water efforts throughout the Commonwealth. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

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?

October 8-9

  • 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!

October 9

  • 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 tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

October 17

  • 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!

October 18

  • 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!

October 19

  • 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!

October 22

  • 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 tcouncil@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Slowing the Flow: Fixing Flooding with Gardens and Wetlands

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

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Grace Baptist Church after the rain garden project was complete. Photo by Fran Geissler.

The three houses probably should never have been built on the low swampy ground in the James Terrace neighborhood in Williamsburg. Every time heavy rain fell, water filled crawl spaces, and yards flooded. At one property, the house would nearly become an island after storms. The site was developed in the 1950s, and because of poor drainage, it wouldn't pass muster for a new home today.

Church rain garden before (Google street view)
Grace Baptist Church before the project began. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Fortunately, with the help of a grant from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), homeowners, a local church, and James City County were able to work together on a holistic solution. The system of rain gardens and wetlands put in place has not only reduced flooding, it's also stopped polluted runoff and beautified the neighborhood.

The first step began with Grace Baptist Church, which sits on high ground above the homes. Rain would wash off the church's roof and parking lot, sending runoff down the slope into the neighborhood. This created a "domino effect" of flooding, said James City County Stormwater Director Fran Geissler.

"We wanted to slow down all of that water and catch it before it runs down the hill," Geissler said.

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A series of cascading pools to reduce flooding and polluted runoff in the neighborhood. Photo by Stephen B. Geissler.

The solution was to build a large rain garden on the side of the church facing the James Terrace neighborhood. The garden grows in a dug-out depression, which holds water flowing off the church roof and lot. It's filled with native plants that soak up and filter this runoff.

In the past, rains would turn the area into a muddy quagmire where cars often got stuck. But since the garden was completed, the spot brightens up the roadside. "It has addressed drainage issues on one side of the church and also allows us to contribute to the community in a way we haven't before," said Pastor Stephen Wiley of Grace Baptist Church. "The garden beautifies one side of the church and also helps our neighbors. The more water we hold back, the less flooding they will have downstream."

The next step was to address the downhill properties that were experiencing flooding, where three homes were built on a former swamp. The solution was to build two series of cascading rocky pools surrounded by shrubs and grasses, basically reconstructing

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Planting the rain garden at Grace Baptist Church. Photo by Fran Geissler.

those wetlands. "Parts of the yards were turned back into their natural state," Geissler said. The county worked closely with homeowners to make sure they were pleased with the result.

The garden and wetlands were completed last summer, and since then the area has experienced heavy rains. But the project is working, and has reduced flooding substantially, Geissler said. The county is now completing the final phases, which involve upgrading drainage downstream of the neighborhood.

The pools and the garden also filter out pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus and remove bacteria, which would otherwise flow into the James River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. These solutions are part of meeting Virginia's commitments to restore the Bay under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

State support from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund was crucial to making it all a reality, according to Geissler. "I doubt this project would have been built without SLAF funding," she said. "SLAF funding provided an impetus to county decision-makers to provide additional funds to address stormwater issues in the neighborhood."

The Numbers  
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Share $210,000
Construction Start October 2015
Project Completion  July 2016

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

 


Healing Waters

Haz clic aquí para la versión en Español.

Efrain Carcamo and his three children hop across boulders along the James River in Richmond, hunting litter lodged by the current among rocks and branches. "This place is like a huge filter," Carcamo says. "It traps a lot of trash."

The family moves methodically, using sticks hardened in the sun to flick beer cans and plastic bottles into trash bags. It's a routine Carcamo has repeated several times a month for years, his personal effort to clean up the river.

EfrainHis connection with nature began during his childhood growing up on a farm in the shadow of the San Vicente volcano in El Salvador. Since moving to the United States as a teenager in 1989, he's been drawn to the rivers and streams that flow to the Bay. "I came up here and saw the beauty of this place, and I fell in love with it," he said, standing alongside the river's sun-splashed pools.

For Carcamo, healing the waters is part therapy. "We all have people who we love who have passed away," he said, listing family members killed in El Salvador's Civil War. Since losing his wife to an accident in 2008, the James River has been a source of peace. "I went back to nature," he said. "I truly believe it has the power to comfort your soul and for you to change your approach to a lot of things in life. I believe that it has therapeutic power."

A single father, he has passed on his love of nature to his daughters, Elysha, 13, and Emaya, 11, and his son Eljah, 8. Walking the trails of Belle Isle, the kids chase tiny frogs and eagerly point out where they once spotted a giant beaver. "I teach them to appreciate the environment," Carcamo said. "They get to explore, enjoy, and see who they share this planet with, not just other humans, but other animals that they need to take care of."

DSC_0592Others on the river are often inspired to action after seeing Carcamo. "I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds out here, from all levels of society, different races," he says. If they ask why he cleans up, Carcamo explains how litter damages rivers, how trash harms wildlife, and how important waterways are to everyone. "Somehow, they are affected by what I tell them . . . They bring their trash bags. They pick up," Carcamo said. "When they realize there is someone doing it, they get courage, and they start doing it themselves. That feels good."

—Text, photos, and video by Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Carcamo recently volunteered for his first CBF cleanup at Día de la Bahía, the first Clean the Bay Day event promoted in both Spanish and English. Click here to learn more about this special event where more than 50 volunteers picked up about 36 bags full of trash and debris along the James River.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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The Bay is rebounding from a reduction in pollution. But more work remains. Photo by Steve Aprile.

It's no secret that the condition of the Chesapeake Bay is a far cry from when Captain John Smith first explored its fruitful waters in the 1600s. Over the centuries, a burgeoning population led to the over-harvesting of its bounty, habitat destruction, and an onslaught of pollution. But the Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it, are resilient.

This week we received good news, as newly released data reveals that pollution is down. With this drop in pollution, Bay grasses are booming, water clarity is improving, and critter populations are rebounding. It's a delightful reminder that as humans reduce pollution coming off the land, the Bay responds in an amazing way.

This progress is a testament to the hard work of the steps taken to reduce pollution by the states, farmers, local governments, and citizens in the watershed. But this is just the beginning. We cannot become complacent; conversely, we need to double down on our efforts. New challenges will inevitably surface, but this will present new opportunities to create jobs, improve local economies, and build bridges with a diverse group of stakeholders. With full implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, we will leave a legacy of clean water to future generations.

This Week in the Watershed: Good News, Sick Fish, and Keystone Funding

  • Two thumbs up to CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, which provides a platform for students to learn outdoors. (WMDT—VA)
  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway has fought for clean water in Pennsylvania for decades. His most recent fight is to declare the lower Susquehanna River impaired as a result of the failing condition of its once thriving smallmouth bass fishery. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • Data recently released found 2015 was the fourth-best year for overall Bay water quality since 1985. (Bay Journal) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • We couldn't agree more with the editorial arguing for the wise investment of cleaning up Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • A group of Pennsylvania state senators is working to provide extra funding for environmental conservation, recreation, and preservation projects around the Keystone State. (Chambersburg Public Opinion—PA)
  • While residents on Maryland's Kent Island are glad to see a public sewer system brought to their island, there are fears that it will spur expansive development. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Regulations on septic systems are being rolled back in Maryland, putting clean water at risk. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 24

  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, 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. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

September 25

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join us for a fun-filled afternoon with friends, live music, craft-brewed beers, and mouth-watering food created by area chefs using local ingredients at CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay. A family friendly event, it features live bluegrass music, hay rides, fish printing, and educational stations. Buy your tickets now! (online registration closes at 3:00 p.m. Friday, 9/23—tickets can be purchased at door if still available).

October 1

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant shrubs and wetland grasses for a recently constructed wetland at Chestnut Creek Farm. Volunteers will learn from the farmer about Chestnut Creek’s sustainable grass-based farm where sheep, beef cattle, and heritage pigs rotationally graze on pastures. Click here to register!

October 5

  • Chestertown, MD: A workshop for local government managers and field operators will provide instruction in best management practice inspection, maintenance, and facility failure decision-making regarding management of stormwater systems. Facilitated by expert trainers with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, participants will increase their knowledge of effectively treating polluted runoff while complying with local, state, and federal stormwater management expectations. Click here to register!

October 7

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant 500 native trees and shrubs to restore 1,000 feet of streamside forest buffer. This new buffer will help filter and clean runoff from adjacent farm fields and reduce stream bank erosion into this first-order stream system in the Monocacy River watershed. The mix of native tree and shrub species like sycamores, maples, oaks, dogwoods, alders, and chokeberry are all great for wildlife habitat. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Our Vision for the Next 50 Years

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Photo by Bob Miller.

As CBF approaches our 50th year (2017), we are simultaneously encouraged, worried, and determined. Encouraged, because Bay water quality and species abundance are improving. Many scientists believe the Bay has turned a corner and is on the road to systemic recovery.

We worry, however, about complacency and low expectations. The Bay and its rivers could easily slip backwards. We are determined to push even harder — to accelerate our education, advocacy, restoration, and litigation work. We must avoid what happened to Lake Erie, once declared saved and now worse than ever.

When CBF began, Bay fin and shellfish were abundant and diverse. But water quality was already declining. Sewage treatment was in its infancy and industrial discharges were rampant. Agriculture was less intense and therefore less polluting than today, but the movement to more concentrated animal operations was just beginning to generate more pollution. And farming practices which required ever more chemical fertilizers and pesticides were advancing. There was less development, meaning fewer hardened acres and less polluted runoff, but residential and commercial sprawl was starting to take off, beginning the destruction of natural filters, such as wetlands and forests.

Such was the backdrop for CBF’s birth and our Save the Bay slogan. CBF founders were ahead of their time as there was little public, much less political, support for across-the-board pollution reduction. Few people foresaw the system collapse that was on the horizon.

Fast forward to today. Science has given us a thorough understanding of Bay processes, the six watershed states and the District of Columbia are working together, and a Presidential Executive Order has established mandatorypollution-reduction requirements.

Improvement? Absolutely.

Done? Hardly.

 

The key to real success lies in focusing on water quality in Pennsylvania. Currently, about one-quarter of its rivers and streams (19,000 miles) are designated by the state as impaired. CBF has 20 full-time staff in Pennsylvania. We are clean water advocates in the General Assembly, and promoters of state-of-the-art sewage treatment. On the farm, we not only help landowners establish proven, cost-effective practices that reduce thousands of pounds of pollutants annually, but we also advance policies to take those practices to scale.

We believe in working smarter: spending available money more effectively by targeting agricultural cost-share dollars to the areas of greatest need. While this simple innovation seems obvious, it will require government to interrupt the status quo. If done well, tax payers will save millions, and water will again flow cleanly in Pennsylvania and downstream to the Bay.

Our vision for the next 50 years is a Chesapeake Bay that serves as a model for the entire world.

We can be a regional, non-partisan success story. The Chesapeake Bay can once again be the most productive estuary in the world, teeming with abundant and diverse fisheries while stimulating the economy and serving as a source of great pride to all Americans. It is within our reach, and we plan to be here to see it!

—Will Baker, CBF President

This story was originally published in the the fall 2016 issue of Save the Bay Magazine.

 


Atlantic Sturgeon: A Perfect Poster Fish for the Blueprint

Juvenile Atlantic Sturgeon © Jay Fleming
Photo by Jay Fleming.

The following first appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Save the Bay magazine.

"They need our help," explains Doug Myers, CBF Senior Scientist and in-house sturgeon expert. "Sturgeon have had a lot happen to their habitat over the years. Today, the Chesapeake's only confirmed breeding population is in Virginia's James River. We need to expand their reach so if something disastrous were to happen on the James, the fish wouldn't be wiped out."

A lot has happened, too, since we featured sturgeon in the Summer 2011 issue of Save the Bay magazine. The year after our article ran, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries listed Atlantic sturgeon as endangered.

In our story, "Last Refuge of the Dinosaur Fish," Matt Balazik—at the time a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate student and sturgeon census taker—was pictured tossing a 70-pound sturgeon back into the James River. Today Matt, now Dr. Balazik, an integrative life sciences Ph.D., is a faculty researcher at VCU's Rice Rivers Center. The next step for the fish, he says, is habitat designation. "We've learned a lot in the James. As of a couple months ago," Balazik says, "we've identified two spawning groups in the James." According to Dr. Balazik, each group has different staging and spawning grounds. One group spawns in the spring, the other in fall. "I think it's massive to protect the spawning grounds that we are zeroing in on using telemetry data." Although protecting the area "where the magic happens," is important, he says, "the whole river plays an important role in the health of the fish, from the headwaters to the mouth of the Bay where they spend their first years of life."

On the case at CBF is Doug Myers. While the endangered species listing goes a long way toward protecting the fish, Myers says NOAA also needs to designate critical habitat for sturgeon. Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is defined as "the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed on which are found . . . features essential to the conservation of the species." It can also include areas not currently occupied by the species but that are imperative to its restoration. In the Chesapeake Bay, 453 miles of river are proposed for critical habitat and include feeding and spawning grounds.

Rivers with areas under consideration for critical habitat include the Susquehanna, the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York, and the James. But the question arises: How are sturgeon to get to these rivers, especially the Potomac and Susquehanna, for the fall spawning season when the main body of the Chesapeake Bay suffers from annual low-oxygen dead zones in the summer?

Myers argues there is a direct link between the fish and the goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint"Once the critical habitat is designated, we'll have the Endangered Species Act . . . adding emphasis to the Blueprint."

"Because of their oxygen requirements, Atlantic sturgeon are the perfect poster fish for the Blueprint," says Myers. The Blueprint is a federal-state plan designed to improve water quality across the watershed by reducing pollution from agriculture, runoff, air, and wastewater. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the American Farm Bureau Federation's appeal attempting to throw out the Blueprint. The court's decision let stand two lower courts' rulings that the Blueprint stands on firm legal ground. Moreover, as a federal and state program, the Blueprint and its regulatory and funding provisions have a "federal nexus" to the sturgeon listing. So we expect that the critical habitat designation will force a more intimate coordination between federal agencies. 

Atlantic sturgeon require rough, gravely bottoms for spawning and clean, oxygenated waters. Polluted runoff, which carries toxins, bacteria, garbage, and sediment, flushes into our waterways after a rainstorm. This debris and sediment make its way to river bottom and threaten spawning grounds. By reducing the amount of pollution-laden sediment reaching these rivers, water quality improves for all species that reside and come to spawn. 

As bottom feeders, Atlantic sturgeon are dependent on benthic organisms like mussels, worms, and small crustaceans. And sturgeon depend on a minimum of 6 mg/L of oxygen in the water to survive. A NOAA Fisheries' critical habitat designation, however extensive and inclusive it ends up, is vital to sturgeon survival and will be another tool to combat the ills the Chesapeake Bay faces. 

Atlantic sturgeon doesn't reach maturity until age 10 to 15 and only spawns every two to three years, making recovery slow. Sturgeon are anadromous fish that enter the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and fall to spawn in the upper reaches of its rivers. At least that's what they use to do. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, driven by a demand for their eggs, otherwise known as caviar, Atlantic sturgeon were nearly depleted. The fish faced additional obstacles like dams blocking their way up river and reduced spawning grounds. Boat and ship strikes also threatened the large fish. The issues sturgeon have faced have brought the species near extinction.

Readers who want to witness a sturgeon, can contact Captain Mike Ostrander (mike[at sign]discoverthejames.com) and sign up for one of his sturgeon tours. The two-and-a-half hour, Thursday-night excursions are scheduled to leave Hopewell, Virginia, at 5 p.m. on September 1, 8, 15, and 22. Captain Mike has been a river guide on the James for 16 years. He "found it natural to want to share the opportunity to see a breaching sturgeon. When you see one," he says "it's like the end of a fireworks show."

This dinosaur-era fish has endured millennia. In spite of overharvesting and habitat destruction, we may be witnessing a comeback, but we need to protect and restore the historic spawning and feeding grounds and the sturgeon's pathways to and from those grounds so this species has a fighting chance.

—Jen Wallace, CBF's Managing Editor

UPDATE: On August 31, CBF submitted its official comments to the NOAA Fisheries office, urging them to make water quality a top priority as they designate critical habitat for the Atlantic sturgeon and manage it into the future. More than 8,000 advocates joined with us in standing up for this ancient and important fish—the Chesapeake's largest and oldest. Click here to see our letter and the signatures of those supporters. We expect to hear a final decision on the Atlantic sturgeon habitat designation by June 3, 2017. Stay tuned for updates!

 


Top 5 Facebook Posts of Summer!

Underwater grasses rebounding, horseshoe crabs crawling, Maryland winning (in Rio that is) . . . it's been quite a summer on CBF's Facebook Page! So, back by popular demand, we decided to look back at our top five Facebook posts of the summer. What's got people excited about our Bay, its rivers and streams? Take a look:

 

1. A River Reborn: Take a trip beneath the surface of the Severn where we see abundant grasses, scampering blue crabs, and thick, healthy oyster reefs—incredible signs of the Bay's recovery! With more than 212,000 views, this inspiring video has already secured a spot on Oscars' shortlist.  


2.
Do a Little Seahorse Dance



3. Did Someone Say Scallops? In the Bay?!



4. What's in the Water: Measurements of 450 times higher than federal safety limits?! That's what we found at some beautiful swimming holes across Maryland this summer when we tested the water for harmful bacteria after rainstorms. Watch our video (98,956 other people did) to learn more. 



5. Ches-a-peake Bay! Ches-a-peake Bay! That's what we were shouting during this summer's Rio Olympics when Maryland (the ninth-smallest state in the country, mind you) brought home a record number of medals, many of which were gold. Not only that—athletes from Virginia and D.C. certainly helped make the whole Chesapeake region the true champion (but it always was in our book). 

 
Be sure to follow us on Facebook (if you aren’t already) for the latest and greatest this fall!

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media