Teachers on the Bay

Image003Last summer, I participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms course, Teachers on the Bay, thanks to a scholarship from the Garden Club of the Northern Neck. My goal was to bring some of the participatory lessons CBF teaches back to Northumberland County Public Schools, specifically middle schoolers and my 6th grade Community Problem Solving team, which I tasked with taking on a Chesapeake Bay-related problem.

Some of my students come from families who have worked on the Chesapeake Bay for generations; others have never been out on the water. What most students and I have in common is a lack of hands-on understanding of the Bay.

The week-long teachers education program began on the Rappahannock River where we learned how to test water quality and watched the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries electrofish to monitor species, most of which were invasive blue catfish. We listed types of marsh grasses, species we sighted, including 50 bald eagles in our first hour out on the water and a nesting pair of peregrine falcons that live under the Robert O. Norris Bridge in Tappahannock. We motored part of a route once traveled by Captain John Smith, some of which has barely changed. We also learned about the threat of development to the river and Fones Cliffs, where we spotted most of the eagles.

After two days on the Rappahannock, we went out on the Bay and tested the water at about 126 feet, one of its deepest points. We spent the rest of our time at CBF's Fox Island Education Center in the middle of the Bay. We learned the purpose of marshes and climbed into thick gooey mud holes, a practice known as marsh mucking (highly recommended!). At one point, I was buzzed by what turned out to be a peregrine falcon on its way to harass some oyster catchers.

Image002Across the water, watermen from Tangier and Smith Islands scraped Bay grasses for crabs, a method that glides a mesh bag over grass beds. We, too, scraped the underwater grasses, bringing aboard oysters, crabs, pufferfish, and the occasional seahorse to observe, study, and then release. In a few months my 6th grade students would be doing the same thing, punctuated by squeals of delight, though some still apprehensive about handling a crab swiping at them.

Last year, Virginia Gov. McAuliffe signed an executive order, establishing the Environmental Literacy Challenge, a voluntary effort to increase meaningful, outdoor experiences and sustainability projects to improve student knowledge about their environment. Finding school time and money to accomplish this is a task, but I found there are resources from grants, support from local businesses as well as state and local officials who will volunteer their time.

In our county, a local environmental group, Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship funded a fall trip for a group of 7th and 8th grade students aboard a Waterman Heritage Tour. The trip along the Little Wicomico River and out to the Bay was modeled after the CBF teacher's program. Students counted species, learned how water quality is tested from a local shellfish sanitation official, and toured a working oyster aquaculture farm and oyster house. 

Also in the fall, my 6th grade Community Problem Solving team of 14 students spent three days at CBF's Port Isobel Education Center. Students crabbed, scraped, tried out a new tow net, did a night walk and marsh mucked. They spent time on Tangier Island visiting Mayor "Ooker" Eskridge's crab shanty where they saw shedding crabs and tried wrangling his eels. They walked the island to get a feel for life there and watched a movie at the museum about how the island is disappearing from rising sea levels, subsidence, and erosion. They were touched by the experience and back at school they announced their problem solve would be to "Save Tangier Island."

IMG_0337Their resulting two-year project encompasses raising awareness through education and fundraising to build a living shoreline to help the people of Tangier remain on their home or to help them move if it ever comes to that. The students have partnered with Tangier Town Manager Renee Tyler and participated in a webinar and other interactions with the Norfolk Division of the Army Corps of Engineers to learn more about living shorelines.

Last month, Tangier Town Manager Tyler invited the students to meet with the crew of the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Hōkūleʻa expedition when the Polynesian voyaging canoe visited Tangier. The resourceful students held a bake sale, got a grant from NAPS, and another $100 from the school superintendent so they could hire a heritage waterman to take them to Tangier. They then invited Norfolk Army Corps Commander Col. Jason Kelly, Corps Scientist David Schulte, and Virginia Institute for Marine Science Scientist Molly Mitchell. Along with Tangier's 6th graders and educators from the Hōkūleʻa, the group sat together and discussed climate change and Tangier’s fate along with the potential loss of its heritage and culture.

Community Problem Solving teams are a great way to align environmental literacy with classroom work, and CBF's teacher professional learning courses enabled me to use new lessons (and those shared by other teachers) to do just that. I have about one hour each week to pull students out of a morning class to work on their project. My team's work is entirely student driven while I coach. The students conduct research or bring in experts and plan field trips. The program usually runs for the length of a school year, but this time students are committing two years to the project due to the complexity of their problem. Community Problem Solving and environmental literacy are a great way to keep students motivated and focused on a project as they become active and knowledgeable members of their community.

 —Pamela D'Angelo Hagy
Hagy is a journalist covering the Bay for public radio and various publications as well as a part-time educator.

If you'd like to participate in a Chesapeake Classrooms teacher professional learning course this summer, see the schedule and course descriptions at www.cbf.org/CCsummer. There are still openings on a few courses!


This Week in the Watershed

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Trees and underwater grasses are indispensable in the fight for clean water. Photos by Justin Black/iLCP (left), and Jay Fleming (right).

Today we want to take a moment to celebrate some unsung heroes of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. While we love blue crabs, oysters, and ospreys, there are other species that deserve our love. This week, underwater grasses are getting the recognition they deserve as a survey found that grasses are at their highest total in three decades. Underwater grasses are not only a strong indicator of water quality, they also help prevent erosion, absorb excess nutrients, trap suspended sediment, and provide critical habitat to critters in the Bay, including the beloved blue crab.

In addition to this good news, we can't forget today is Arbor Day. Trees are crucial to the overall health of the watershed—they slow down runoff and the erosion of soil, absorb pollutants to our rivers and the Bay, and help alleviate flooding through stabilizing the soil. Trees and forests also provide habitat for wildlife and help to cool stream temperatures.

Trees and underwater grasses are two of the best natural tools we have to filter pollution and help clean up our rivers and streams. In the fight for clean water, they are truly indispensable. Indeed, the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint relies on these natural tools to alleviate pollution. So raise a glass (of clean water!) today and celebrate trees and underwater grasses as unsung heroes of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

This Week in the Watershed: Soaring Grasses, Trucking Fish, and Transformed Surfaces

  • Thanks to efforts from Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 passed with bipartisan support from the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This legislation will provide important tools and resources for states and municipalities to achieve pollution-reduction goals under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Additionally, it provides crucial support for oyster restoration efforts. (CBF Statement)
  • A Chesapeake Bay Program survey found a 21 percent increase in underwater grasses—the highest total in three decades. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Statement
  • With the creation of the dams, fish have been unable to complete their migration upriver to spawn. This week however, an agreement was reached to provide fish lifts and trucking of migratory shad and river herring on the Conowingo Dam. (Bay Journal)
  • We received good news a couple weeks ago that a winter survey found the blue crab population is up 35 percent, but scientists remind us the species has not fully recovered. (Smithsonian Insider)
  • While it is encouraging to see pollution reduction from agricultural runoff reforms and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, there is still much room for improvement. (Lancaster Farming—PA)
  • We love this public-private partnership to transform impervious surfaces to green spaces in Washington, D.C. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

April 30

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join CBF for our Spring Open House at Clagett Farm! Members and the general public are invited to join us for farm tours, hayrides, and to meet our new baby calves and lambs! The event is free and open to all. Click here for more information!

May 1

  • Richmond, VA: Come on out for a Speakers Bureau training with CBF! With far more requests for speakers than we have staff or time, CBF relies on its Speakers Bureau volunteers to handle a variety of speaking opportunities. Whether you are current on clean water issues and ready to share our message, or just enjoy public speaking and would like to get trained, we welcome your commitment to this important and high-profile program. Join us to learn the facts and skills to share our mission to Save the Bay with local groups and organizations. We simply cannot do it alone! Click here to learn more and register!

May 3

  • Annapolis, MD: Join CBF for our spring "Save the Bay Breakfast" to learn about some simple things you can do to "Save the Bay at home," and to dive deeper into Bay-friendly landscaping and gardening with the smart, helpful experts from the Anne Arundel County Master Gardeners' "Bay-Wise" program team. Click here to register!

May 6

  • 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. RSVP to Dan Johannes at DJohannes@cbf.org. Click here for more information!

May 12 and 19

  • Annapolis, MD: Join CBF for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack the Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks in order to Save the Bay. Click here to register! (Note: these are the only two dates that have not been sold out!)

May 14

  • Baltimore, MD: For nearly two years, CBF has been working on renovating a vacant lot in West Baltimore into a green space. Join us as we put on the finishing touches and celebrate! The morning will include final planting of perennials followed by an opening ceremony. Everyone is welcome to join the fun and help finish the planting, be inspired by our community leaders, and eat some hotdogs, potato salad, strawberries, and watermelon. Click here to register!

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!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


"Clean Water Counts" Is the Message at CBF Reception in York County

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Those who attended the reception shared their thoughts and ideas about how to address the 350 miles of York County rivers and streams that are polluted. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Concern for clean water in York County was at high tide when legislators, business leaders, and other guests gathered at the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville for a reception sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Pennsylvania office. The restaurant on Front Street was the ideal setting for the event; its outdoor patio overlooking the lower Susquehanna River.

"It was wonderful to see such a large and diverse group of citizens and leaders gathered to talk about why clean water counts," said Harry Campbell, CBF executive director in Pennsylvania and emcee for the evening.

Since last summer, CBF has been conducting its "Clean Water Counts: York" campaign in York County, to raise awareness of local water quality issues and solutions, and to motivate residents to take action to reduce water pollution.

The 70 people who attended the reception came together to talk about the successes and challenges of addressing the 350 miles of York County rivers and streams that are polluted by agricultural and urban/suburban runoff.

At the reception, CBF President Will Baker commended partnerships within the county, and hailed York County as a proven leader in conservation. He noted that York County was the first county to adopt the "Clean Water Counts" resolution, and lauded efforts to clean up Codorus Creek, work by the conservation district, and the planning commission's progress in managing polluted runoff.

Wrightsville teenager Brynn Kelly explained why, to her, clean water is a big deal. She grew up near the river and became excited about clean water after a trip to CBF's Merrill Center. The high school senior at Lancaster Catholic High School has spoken publicly about the value of reducing pollution, and wrote a letter to Governor Tom Wolf urging him to clean up Pennsylvania's waterways. Kelly also serves as president of CBF's Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council.   

York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell offered insight as to how the board views and plans to address clean water challenges. She reminded the gathering that streams aren't bound by municipal boundaries, and that the commission is working to help municipalities collaborate on ways to reduce pollution.

Growing Greener Coalition Executive Director Andrew Heath said his group is looking for "champions" in the state House and Senate who would be willing to put together a Growing Greener III proposal that calls for revenue to pay for conservation efforts. He said Growing Greener funds would be spent primarily on improving water quality in Pennsylvania.

Heath also highlighted the "Clean Water Counts" statewide campaign that urges county commissioners to pass resolutions encouraging leaders in Harrisburg to make improving water quality a priority. He said 16 counties have passed resolutions and efforts will be renewed next month to enlist the remaining counties.

State Representative Stan Saylor offered one of the highlights of the evening in announcing that the York County delegation will introduce a House resolution to declare May as "Clean Water Counts Month." Rep. Saylor said the resolution is intended to outline the importance of clean water and the number of streams that need to be cleaned up in Pennsylvania.

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CBF President Will Baker, center, spends a moment at the York County reception, with state representatives Kristin Hill, left, and Stan Saylor, right. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Roughly 19,000 miles of river and streams in Pennsylvania are polluted.

Other York County legislators in attendance were state representatives Keith Gillespie, and Kristin Hill.

Conversations about clean water took place throughout the two-hour reception.

A group of teachers met with CBF education staff to discuss strategy and messaging. "We discussed how CBF can be the storyteller for the incredible students that teachers bring on our programs every day," said CBF Education Outreach Coordinator Allyson Ladley Gibson.

"We want to tell the story about that student who has trouble participates in class, but comes alive when you ask them to help untie the canoes, paddle the boat themselves, find macroinvertebrates that will tell us about water quality, and be responsible for their own team that day," she added. "That student may start a whole new path because of the day with CBF and go on to find new passions, a certain type of education, and a career."

Staff members from "Heroes on the Water," attended the reception to show their support for clean water efforts. The veterans support group provided equipment and guidance at CBF's "Veterans on the Susquehanna" event in Wrightsville last summer.

CBF President Will Baker also told those at the reception that, "Clean water is unifier in a time when so much divides us."

The message was made clear by those who attended—clean water counts in York County and across the Commonwealth.

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


This Week in the Watershed

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Lovers of blue crab raised their hands (or claws) in triumph this week, after receiving the good news that a survey found Maryland's blue crab population has increased 35 percent. Photo by Brian Brown.

If the fight to save the Bay were a baseball season, there would be both victories and losses, with swings of momentum in every direction. These swings were witnessed in Maryland's General Assembly, presenting both successes and disappointments for clean water advocates over the 90-day session. Bad news first: the Poultry Litter Management Act (PLMA), a measure to hold large poultry integrators responsible for excess poultry manure, didn't get beyond committee hearings this year. Silver lining: the hearings for the PLMA started the conversation, and our fight to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Bay and Eastern Shore waterways is far from over.

Time for some good news: the Sustainable Oyster Harvest Act passed, which will provide critical pieces of scientific data still needed to help inform management of Maryland's public oyster fishery. Other good news: the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act has been signed into law, making Maryland one of the nation's leaders in greenhouse gas reduction; a budget passed favorable to many environmental agencies and programs that play key roles in Chesapeake Bay restoration, and several bad bills that would have endangered water quality were defeated. Learn more about the 2016 Maryland General Assembly.

In addition to the Annapolis happenings, there was more good and bad news from the watershed this week. Again, bad news first: we have known for some time the Susquehanna River is sick. The environmental group American Rivers agrees, declaring this week that the Susquehanna is the third most endangered river in the United States. A critical step to help the Susquehanna is officially listing it as an impaired waterway. An official impairment status will designate the river for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to list the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.

The good news: a survey by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources found that the blue crab population has grown 35 percent. While science tells us the current crab population is still below recommended levels, the increase in population is a positive sign of improving water quality by implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

As all baseball fans know, the season is quite long, and no team ever has, or ever will, go undefeated. But we will continue to fight for the Bay, and work to ensure along the way there are plenty more victories than defeats.

This Week in the Watershed: MDGA Closing Time, Threatened Susquehanna, and Growing Crabs

  • Students got their hands dirty learning how to build reef balls, critical structures in oyster restoration efforts. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • Maryland's General Assembly wrapped up this week, with both victories and disappointments for clean water advocates. (Bay Journal)
  • Oysters are a keystone species of the Chesapeake Bay, but scientists don't have any data on just how many oysters are in the Bay. That is going to change with the passage of a bill in the Maryland General Assembly which commissions a study to provide such data. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • How we produce and consume food in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has a major impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, this editorial effectively argues. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • The Susquehanna River, the largest source of fresh water to the Bay, was named the third most endangered river in the United States by the group, American Rivers. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal—PA)
  • Lovers of Maryland blue crab received good news this week, as a survey by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources found that the blue crab population has grown 35 percent. We're not in the clear, however, as science tells us the current crab population is still below recommended levels. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Statement
  • The seemingly never-ending struggle between increased development and preserving open space has visited Howard County, MD. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

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 21

  • Shady Side, MD: Break a sweat and help save the Bay— join CBF in cleaning the "homes" of the next generation of Chesapeake Bay oysters! Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells (we call it "shell shaking") by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This event is a bit of a workout, but a fun hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with a bad back or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. RSVP to Pat Beall at PBeall@cbf.org or 443-482-2065. Click here for more information!

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!

April 28

  • Baltimore, MD: Join CBF at its 3rd Annual Baltimore Members Meeting! With trash ubiquitous in the streets and waters of Baltimore, the focus of this year's meeting is the trash epidemic, its connection to clean water, and some potential solutions. Special guest Julie Lawson, Executive Director of Trash Free Maryland, will talk about current efforts to reduce trash and waste through social marketing, good policy, and more. Food, beverages, and music included. Space is limited, register now!

May 1

  • Richmond, VA: Come on out for a Speakers Bureau training with CBF! With far more requests for speakers than we have staff or time, CBF relies on its Speakers Bureau volunteers to handle a variety of speaking opportunities. Whether you are current on the issues and ready to share our message, or just enjoy public speaking and would like to get trained, we welcome your commitment to this important and high-profile program. Join us to learn the facts and skills to share our mission to Save the Bay with local groups and organizations. We simply cannot do it alone! Click here to learn more and register!

 —Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Nurturing Principals to Lead the Way in Environmental Education

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Administrators on a CBF Principals Program. Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young is on the far right.

Nurturing is undoubtedly an important word in the environmental world. And as much as the Bay needs it, so do people . . . even principals. Yes, they are powerful, intelligent figures in the community, but when providers like CBF nurture, support, and steward those smart, passionate people into environmental education, worlds collide and "they can change a community," says CBF's Teacher Professional Development Coordinator Cindy Duncan

Duncan has been leading CBF's three-day Environmental Leadership for Principals course since the program began 11 years ago. A classroom teacher herself for more than 20 years, she has seen the power of working with administrators who go back to their school community after being part of the CBF experience. Through experiential learning, resource investigation, and collegial discussion on a CBF experience, principals learn how to design a school program that utilizes and benefits the school environment. What's more participants are able to gain first-hand experience on the Chesapeake Bay while developing their leadership skills. 

But why is a field experience with the Bay such a powerful tool for leadership development? How does looking at natural and social systems for three days on Port Isobel Island translate into positive change in a principal's school? Gerald Lieberman's book, Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts, is one of the textbooks for the Principals Program. In it, he explains that "student success—job prospects and ability to participate in a civil society and contribute solutions necessary for maintaining a healthy environment—depends on their ability to identify, analyze, and balance the multitude of factors that can affect the environment." 

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A schoolyard restoration project that Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young initiated after returning from a CBF Principals Experience.

Understanding the value of environmental education allows principals to grow as they personally dive into Bay content, discuss the challenges and successes of cultural change at a school with a mentor principal, and create an action plan to use when they return home. Working with administrators is creating change at the individual school level all the way up to entire systems. And the power of that experience on the water with us only grows stronger as a principal returns to their leadership position armed with increased knowledge, a renewed passion for success, and a network of fellow principals to make change. 

Dwayne Young from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax County came on a principals course 10 years ago, recruited others to join him back at school, and initiated and completed schoolyard restoration projects (see photos). He now has a cadre of passionate teachers and staff within Fairfax County Public Schools—the largest school system in Virginia—who all work on environment-based education. They have created their own program for the entire county called Get2Green that uses the environment to incorporate project-based learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and inquiry-driven, student-centered learning. Members of the Get2Green team have presented with Cindy Duncan at national conferences about their partnership and incredible results for student success. 

The Virginia Beach Public School system has also seen positive and broad change as a result of a single principal's participation. That principal, Dr. Aaron Spence, is now the superintendent for the entire system, which has been partnering with CBF for curriculum alignment and teacher professional learning for the last four years thanks to a NOAA B-WET grant.

From CBF's perspective, the nurturing has just begun. Three days in the field with school administrators is only the start of a relationship that includes constant communication, support when the red tape back at school seems endless, follow-up events for continued networking, and national opportunities to broadly disseminate teacher and student success stories. Stories that would make Lieberman proud.

—Allyson Ladley Gibson 

Click here to learn more about CBF's 2016 Environmental Literacy for Principals and Administrators program.


Millions of Gallons of Sewage-Contaminated Water Overflowing in Baltimore

How Baltimore City's Delayed Consent Decree Threatens Human and Environmental Health

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Photo courtesy of Blue Water Baltimore.

 It's horrifying: During heavy rains, Baltimore's failing sewer system continually overflows, contaminating residents' homes, local waterways, and Baltimore Harbor. In fact, after a recent February storm, 12.6 million gallons of sewage-laden wastewater steadily flowed into Baltimore's rivers, streams, and harbor. As appalling as this was, this wasn't the first time this has happened in Maryland's largest city.

We find this ongoing sewage overflow problem simply unacceptable. Baltimore City and its waters are still suffering from a 19th century problem in the 21st century. The city was supposed to have put an end to this problem by January 2016 yet the city's government, EPA, and MDE have let that deadline pass with little action.

CBF is demanding that a new consent decree be issued immediately with near-term, enforceable deadlines and that meet water quality standards. We have sent a letter to agency heads, city officials, and state legislators detailing what we hope to see in the new agreement. Click here to read it. It is our expectation and hope that current and future elected leaders in Baltimore make this the priority it needs to be.

In order to better understand this issue, we took a look back at how Baltimore got into this appalling situation...

What Is the Baltimore City Consent Decree?

Because Baltimore City's sewage system was allowing pollutants to enter local waterways and Baltimore Harbor, the United States and the State of Maryland sued the city to require that the problem be remedied to bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. To avoid a court trial, the city entered into a Consent Decree (CD) with the United States and the State of Maryland on September 30, 2002. A CD is the settlement of a lawsuit in which a party agrees to take specific actions without admitting fault or guilt for the situation that led to the lawsuit. 

The Baltimore City CD required the city to eliminate all existing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and combined sanitary overflows (CSOs) to prevent raw sewage from entering the waterways around Baltimore City. Additionally, the city was required to undergo comprehensive sewer evaluation and rehabilitation programs and perform continuous upgrades to their operations and maintenance.

Progress Toward Completing the Consent Decree

The CD provided a 14-year timeline, with all upgrades to be completed by January 1, 2016. The city missed the final deadline under the CD. According to a recent quarterly report, the city is a long way from completing the work required under the CD—it has only completed 31 of the 55 projects with deadlines provided in the CD.

Baltimore's failure to address the unresolved SSO and CSO structures is a significant water quality and human health hazard. Raw sewage from these structures flows into the Inner Harbor and Baltimore waterways and, on numerous occasions, has backed up into city homes. This not only leads to potentially harmful fecal bacterial and viral contamination, but causes financial losses, stress, and health risks to vulnerable residents in the affected areas. 

The sewage backups in homes pose a tremendous human health risk. What's more, those residents in Baltimore's wealthier suburbs do not see the same disregard from local authorities when sewage backs up in their homes. Baltimore City has challenged the majority of claims arising from damage caused by backed-up sewage (approving only nine percent of the damage claims). In the Grove Park, West Arlington, and Glen neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore, residents filed 34 claims—all affected by sewage backups into their homes in the last three years and all of which were denied or unaddressed by the city for more than a year.

The Future of the Consent Decree

EPA and MDE are now working with the city to develop a new deadline to achieve the requirements of the CD. Baltimore has already asked for lengthy extensions in the deadlines for some of the CD's required construction projects, some reaching as late as 2019 and beyond. A short timetable and a new deadline for the CD is imperative to cleaning up the water around Baltimore and alleviating the harm to homeowners and residents of the city. Stretching the deadlines for construction projects many years into the future leaves residents susceptible to financial harm and health risks and puts the Inner Harbor and the waterways around Baltimore in danger of fecal bacterial contamination.

There is no reason to delay further. The current situation constitutes nothing less than a serious crisis for Baltimore City, the harbor, and the Bay. It is time to bring Baltimore into the 21st century with a sewage system that doesn't degrade its waters and the health and well-being of its citizens. 

—Gaby Gilbeau, CBF's Litigation Fellow

Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in Baltimore's streets.

And we want to hear from you! If you have experienced flooding in your basement, on your property, or on your street as a result of these sewer overflows, please send an e-mail with details to our Baltimore Director Terry Cummings at TCummings@cbf.org. We're working on documenting real stories and incidents related to these overflows, and your story could play a critical role in ensuring the new legal agreement to clean up Baltimore's failing sewage system is strong, timely, and has real consequences for failure.

 


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


Photo of the Week: Spring Has Sprung

FB7022 - Snow Geese at Lift-Off Spring MigrationSpring has literally sprung over the Northeast!

If there's ever a time to witness one of the most spectacular natural wonders, it's during the annual spring migration of snow geese and tundra swans that stopover at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Middle Creek is a vital tributary of the Susquehanna River that [plays an important part in] the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and its wildlife. HUGE flocks of snow geese have been returning early to this popular rest-stop on their way back throughout the Eastern Shore to their summer breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

—Dom J Manalo

Ensure that Dom J and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


This Week in the Watershed

Baltimore Harbor-1200
Millions of gallons of sewage have been dumped into Baltimore's Inner Harbor. We are calling fortransparency and accountability from elected officials and environmental agencies to ensure Baltimore's sewage problem is fixed. Photo by CBF Staff.

Transparency and accountability. It's hard to imagine having any success in the fight for clean water without those essential ingredients. Unfortunately, Baltimore residents are living proof of this. Despite increasing sewer bills, their city's sewage problem has only gotten worse. For the past 14 years, promises to fix the city's aging pipe system have gone unmet, leaving noxious sewage spills a regular occurrence, especially after major rain events. These spills are not only a smelly inconvenience but a significant threat to clean water.

We have heard this story before. For decades, voluntary agreements to clean the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams were signed between the Bay states. With no teeth behind these agreements, deadlines were inevitably missed, and no consequences were enforced. It wasn't until December 2010, when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was signed, that two-year, incremental pollution-reduction goals—known as milestones—were required, with consequences imposed for failure.

Baltimore needs similar transparency and accountability if they are ever going to fix their sewage problem. CBF is calling for deadlines for specific action on this issue to ensure the city is held accountable for progress. Baltimore residents have a right to a full and transparent accounting of money spent, work accomplished or not, and sewage spills still occurring. Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies working on this issue that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in Baltimore streets without over burdening citizens.

This Week in the Watershed: Moving Ospreys, Potomac Grades, and Charm City Sewage

  • With spring gardening around the corner, weeds are inevitable. There are several environmentally safe, and non-back-breaking, methods to beating the pesky plants. (Northern VA Daily—VA)
  • Virginia has a reason to celebrate, with over $140 million allocated to clean water measures, such as funding to help farmers implement best management practices, and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF is gearing up for its 28th annual Clean the Bay Day in Virginia. Volunteers are needed! (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Friends of the Potomac River received some good news this week when the Potomac Conservancy's report card declared the river has earned its highest grade yet: a B-. (Bay Journal)
  • With ospreys returning to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, some inevitably build their nests in inconvenient locations. One such location happened to be in the parking lot of CBF's headquarters in Annapolis. (CBS Baltimore—MD)
  • As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. In that light, we are excited the U.S. Geological Survey, along with state and regional agencies, are exponentially expanding the number of sites where they acquire water samples to assess pollution trends. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF's Alison Prost writes on the need for transparency and accountability in treating Baltimore's sewage problem. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • We're big fans of using modern farm technology to reduce polluted runoff, such as one farm in Frederick County, MD. (Frederick News-Post—MD)
  • As we celebrated World Water Day, we agree with this editorial that there still is a long way to go in cleaning up our waters. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

April 2

  • Virginia Beach, VA: The Brock Environmental Center (BEC), one of the world's most energy-efficient buildings, is looking for tour guides! We are looking for outgoing individuals who will be trained, tested, and ultimately designated official BEC Tour Guides! To RSVP, e-mail Chris Gorri at CGorri@cbf.org with "Tour Guide" in the subject line, or call 757-622-1964.
  • Cambridge, MD: Come plant trees with CBF at Jones Farm. Over 1,200 native trees will be planted on six acres to restore the riparian buffer. This area is critical habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel and coastal-dependent birds including salt marsh sparrows and American black ducks. No tree planting experience is necessary, and all materials and supplies are provided. Families and children welcome. Click here to register!

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 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!

 —Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


What Did You Do on Your Spring Break?

IMG_8154
An unusual group of laborers could be seen bending and lifting in the distance on Paul Quick's farm in Union Bridge, Maryland. They were students from the University of Virginia, doing community service earlier this month as part of an Alternative Spring Break program.

While many of their classmates were still sleeping in, these 10 UVA students were working up a sweat as the sun rose and delivered unseasonably warm temperatures.

Each year at this time an inspired slice of students from many colleges commit to spending their spring break helping in the community in various ways. The UVA students volunteered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where they worked at the organization's Oyster Restoration Center and Clagett Farm for several days, and then one day to help Quick on his farm.

IMG_4651Quick decided several years ago to put his farm in a conservation easement, to honor his father-in-law's wishes that the old dairy farm not be developed. As part of the arrangement, Quick used federal funding to get 20 acres of trees planted along streams on the property. The trees help buffer the stream from possible polluted runoff from the corn and soy crops.

Those trees have now matured. The students' job was to cut off plastic sleeves called "shelters" that had protected the young trees from hungry deer. With about 7,300 trees needing this attention, it was a day of hard labor for students who may be more accustomed to a library or classroom.

The labor was equally strenuous earlier in the week at CBF's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, where the students cleaned debris off old oyster shells before planting them in restoration efforts. Those shells, which will be used to grow oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay, are heavy. The students had to use a simple device to lift a pallet full of shells above their heads and "shake" the pallet. It was hard work.

But the students said this was the way they preferred to spend their vacation: "It's worth it, but boy, it was a lot of work," said Maggie Daly, a Third-Year biochemistry student from Yorktown, Virginia.

IMG_4646"My shoulders will be sore tomorrow," said Sarah Overton, a First-Year student from Herndon, Virginia.

Daly said she considers herself "environmentally conscious" but wanted to put that ethic to work in the field so to speak. Overton said she felt the same, and also saw the program as a way to see another part of the region. She had always wanted to visit Annapolis, for instance.

Another student, Conner Roessler, a Fourth-Year from Midlothian, Virginia, was doing the program for the second year in a row.

For his part, farm owner Quick said he was glad for the help. He said the conservation easement required him to plant some trees to help buffer his farm streams, but he decided to plant far more.

The trees not only will help keep the streams clean, they also will provide habitat for deer and other wildlife which Quick enjoys.

Rob Schnabel, a CBF restoration scientist who worked with the students, said trees not only help prevent pollution and stream erosion, but also help cool the stream so trout and other aquatic life are more apt to survive. Unfortunately, Maryland is far behind in its goal to get the banks of farm streams planted with trees, he said.

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Check out more photos of these inspiring students in the field.