Part One: From Sandbags to Black-Eyed Susans at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church

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Polluted runoff from storms is a major source of water pollution in Harford County.

In all of Maryland's political fights over stormwater runoff pollution (remember the "rain tax"?), there was precious little conversation about the local benefits that county programs would bring. Nor did opponents ever admit that most of those programs included significant incentives for local people to join with their county governments to help solve issues like flooding. Here's the story of one of those local projects that benefited both a local waterway and its people.

Harford County, between Baltimore and the Susquehanna River, was one of the jurisdictions that objected to polluted runoff fees. Despite its long and proud history of agriculture, including preservation of close to 50,000 acres through state easements that protect that land from commercial and residential development, its relative proximity to Baltimore is driving up suburban population growth. The agricultural easements have actually concentrated most of the county's growth in the I-95 corridor and along Route 24, which crosses the interstate in the watersheds of Bynum Run and Winters Run to serve the county seat of Bel Air.

Both streams flow to the Bush River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay's upper Western Shore. The Bush offers habitat for waterfowl, blue crabs, yellow perch, white perch, rockfish, largemouth bass, and juvenile menhaden, but sediment runoff from developed land is rapidly filling its tidal wetlands and channels.

The Bynum Run watershed is now heavily urbanized, becoming one of the most densely populated areas in Harford County. In fact, 70 percent of the total area is covered by impervious surfaces such as paved roads, driveways, and parking lots. The Maryland Department of the Environment has listed Bynum Run as a biologically impaired waterway, damaged by channelization and smothered by sediment.

As a lifelong Harford County resident, I have witnessed stormwater flowing off our rooftops, over our lawns and pavement, down storm drains, and directly into our nearest waterway. When rain events occur, water polluted with sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus, flows so fast that it disturbs both the bottom and the banks of the streambed, further eroding those banks and destroying habitat for the vegetation, macroinvertebrates (insect larvae), and fish that are native to the stream ecosystem.

As this year's Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I decided to focus my capstone project on protecting local stream health and working in my community to promote stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  My first thought was to work with my church, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church—a medium-sized congregation, straddling both the Bynum Run and Winters Run watersheds. Throughout the 16 years of attending Sunday school, youth group, vacation bible school, and regular services at Christ Our King, I have experienced first-hand the detrimental effects stormwater has on its property.

When founded 50 years ago, Christ Our King included a single building with a small parking lot. Jump to 2015: The parish has grown to more than 500 members and gone through two building expansions, significantly increasing the cumulative area of its rooftops and parking lot. The rest of the property is turf grass, broken by one grove of trees. During this growth, channeling the roof gutters directly into a stormwater management pond was the common practice to handle surface runoff, but it only intensified the volume and velocity of runoff entering the pond.

But for the past few years, the pond has not been able to handle the volume of an average rain event, frequently flooding the lower level classrooms and activity hall, and a neighbor's property. Like preparing for a hurricane, our only defense has been lining walkways with sandbags to protect the building against the overflowing pond. To combat the stormwater issues, some fellow Christ Our King members and I set about planning and installing a series of best management practice techniques to protect our church and lessen the pollution load entering the Bynum Run watershed.

The church is Bay-Wise-certified through the University of Maryland Master Gardeners' Program. Our Care of Creation Committee focuses on environmental stewardship, enhancing sustainable landscape practices, and raising awareness in the community of how local actions affect the Chesapeake Bay and the wider world.

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CBF's Doug Myers discusses how to support a healthy Chesapeake Bay with residents of Harford County.

The Care of Creation Committee holds an annual Earth Day Celebration, which this year featured an open discussion about local stream health and overall issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay. Doug Myers, senior scientist in the CBF's Maryland Office, led the session. Twenty local community members attended, including representatives from Christ Our King, the Master Gardener Program, the Senior Science Society of Harford Community College, and CBF members.

Many of the congregation's members live in single-family detached houses in suburban communities that lie along tributaries leading to the Gunpowder, Bush, and Susquehanna Rivers. Volunteers understand that polluted runoff from impervious surfaces and agricultural practices are responsible for the existing pollution problem in local waterways. They also have remarked that there is not a lot of public knowledge on how well local governments and individual citizens are fulfilling their responsibility for protecting water quality in the area. My goal was to provide the community with the necessary tools and hands-on experience needed to create rain gardens and other Bay-friendly practices in their own neighborhoods.

—Julia Poust, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how Julia was able to tackle polluted runoff at her Bel Air Church.


The "War on Watermen"

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been accused of waging a "war on watermen," and watermen are fighting back, seeking changes in the way the bay's fisheries are being managed. They say their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. They are right about that, but they are directing their anger at the wrong people.

Maryland's oyster restoration program is a focal point for this dispute. In 2010, as part of a comprehensive effort to turn around this important but depleted resource, DNR set aside 24 percent of Maryland's productive oyster grounds as "sanctuaries" where harvest was not allowed. The idea was to build up oyster numbers in these areas so they could provide "ecological" benefits, such as filtering the water and building reefs, and also reproduce prodigiously to boost the population.

Maryland watermen have always had access to all oyster grounds, and they want it to stay that way. However, this history of allowing harvest everywhere is well documented as one of the main reasons the Bay's oysters declined to 1 percent of their previous abundance by the 1980s.

In our view the sanctuaries are actually the best hope for watermen, because they promise to boost reproduction and help turn around the fishery. By leaving 76 percent of the resource open to harvest, DNR is actually deferring to watermen's concerns, considering that a recent University of Maryland study recommended completely closing the fishery.

But the question should not be whether to compromise the resource again to give the watermen a short-term windfall. It should be, why are watermen barely getting by on a body of water like Chesapeake Bay with a storied history of productive fisheries? No doubt overfishing has been a factor historically, but the fundamental reality is that today's degraded Chesapeake Bay cannot produce the fish and shellfish it once did. And DNR officials must, as responsible stewards of those resources, limit catches accordingly.

The bay is choking on an overload of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from a variety of pollution sources. The results of this over-enrichment are massive population explosions of algae that turn the water to pea soup from spring to fall. This cloudy water blocks sunlight from underwater grasses, reducing this critical habitat for crabs and juvenile fish to only 20 percent of historical coverage.

Furthermore, dead algal cells fall into deeper water where they decompose, burning up precious dissolved oxygen. The resultant "dead zone" can claim up to 40 percent of the Bay's volume where no fish or shellfish can long survive. Low dissolved oxygen has been implicated in a wide range of impacts to fish and shellfish, including diseases of both oysters and rockfish. It also crowds blue crabs into shallow water where there is no grass bed coverage, and predation, competition, and cannibalism take their toll.

This is the real "war on watermen." It's also a war on recreational fishermen and crabbers, as well as charterboat captains and anyone else who derives enjoyment from the fish and shellfish of the Bay. Pollution is not just an abstract concept. There are real human impacts, and watermen and their families are the poster children for those impacts. They are right that their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. That culture, from workboats on the Bay to seafood restaurants on shore, is the most compelling reason for saving the Bay.

Watermen need to direct their anger at the real culprits. Attacking public servants only doing their jobs is shooting the messenger. The root cause of the watermen's culture crisis is the degradation of the Bay.

The good news is it can be fixed. A formula exists for how to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution: the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Every state and jurisdiction in the Bay's watershed has a role to play under the Blueprint, because the cause is ultimately human activity throughout the watershed.

Few people realize they are complicit in this war on watermen, but that's the bottom line. Watermen can help them understand that by becoming strong advocates for the Blueprint. If all fisheries stakeholders worked together and helped create a greater sense of urgency for reducing pollution, this war could be won, and the Bay could again support productive fisheries.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries

Sign our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pledge showing your support for a healthy, restored Bay, rivers, and streams that support our watermen, our communities, and our quality of life.

 


Susquehanna Odyssey Is Testament to a Struggling River

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

Andrew Phillips grew up a block from the Susquehanna River, in Selinsgrove. He watched bald eaglets in a nest that hung over the river and never got tired of exploring the "huge, magnificent vein" of water in his own backyard. In his senior year of high school, he and a friend kayaked the 120 miles from his home to the Chesapeake Bay.

But Andrew wanted to know more about the river he loves. So earlier this summer, he and a buddy, Mauricio Martinez, kayaked the entire 464 miles of the Susquehanna, from Cooperstown, New York, to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Bay. It was the steamiest and stormiest two weeks of the season.

It was not an unusual feat for the adventurous, compassionate young man who says he'd "already drained the worry out of my family." When he's not studying environmental health at West Chester University or disappearing for days with his backpack, Andrew manages a community garden on campus.

The 20-year-old's odyssey down the living laboratory that is the Susquehanna River provides a true perspective of the problems, pleasures, and promises of a river in peril.

They found wildlife to be plentiful along the way, noting river otters, and more eagles than ducks. They were amazed that an American shad had gotten as far upriver as Harrisburg, although it was dead when they found it.

Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek.

The kindness of others provided fresh, clean water and portaging help around some of the more difficult dams. Andrew and Mauricio were awed at how the pristine trickle in New York became the mighty Susquehanna and almost a mile wide at Harrisburg. It even flowed northward at the Pennsylvania-New York border. Both remember the joy of reaching the wide expanse of the bay at Havre de Grace.

In the downstream transformation of the initial, crystalline stream they also saw firsthand the problems that plague the river that flows 20 miles per day, 18 million gallons per minute at Havre de Grace, and provides half of the freshwater to the Bay.

Andrew noted that the river seems burdened by pollutants, especially sediment. He noticed the effects of streambank erosion while still in New York waters.

Once into agricultural areas of Pennsylvania, they stopped using small portable filters and switched to bottled drinking water. "We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river, and the water is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through," Andrew says. "The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks, and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed."

Agriculture is the largest source of water pollution in Pennsylvania and the cheapest to fix.

The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track.

Andrew and Mauricio also found that kayaking near dams like Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo was brutal for the lack of current. They also took note of the water quality at the impoundments. "You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it," Andrew remembers. "Sediment builds up, and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Millions of shad historically swam hundreds of miles up the Susquehanna, which once boasted the largest shad spawning area on the East Coast. But because of dams, the shad's ability to reach spawning habitats has dropped 98 percent in the river basin. Fish ladders exist to try to relieve this problem, but fisheries managers admit they haven't been nearly as successful as hoped. Yet there is some good news: For 12 straight years Pennsylvania has led the nation in the number of dams removed from rivers and streams.

Andrew's adventure down the Susquehanna left him with a greater appreciation for that and all rivers. "They are living bodies themselves because of all the life that relies on them, is immersed in them, and revolves around them. This is our sacred space and deserves so much respect."

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

The Susquehanna River is sick. Urge Governor Wolf and DEP to push for the Lower Susquehanna River to be on EPA's Impaired Waters list!


The Incredible Journey

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Andrew Phillips (left) with friend and fellow adventurer Mauricio Martinez.

Andrew Phillips grew up with a love of adventure and the Susquehanna River.

The 20-year-old environmental health major at West Chester University disappears for days with his backpack, wants to join the Peace Corps, and has a mission trip to Guatemala under his belt.

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Andrew Phillips, finds there’s nowhere to go but down river during yet another downpour, at Great Bend, New York.

Phillips' lifelong interest in water was piqued in high school on a paddling trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, where students tested water quality and surveyed aquatic life in nearby Walker Lake.

His senior year of high school at Selinsgrove High School, Phillips and a friend kayaked 120 miles of the Susquehanna from Selinsgrove to the Chesapeake Bay. It left him wanting more.

So earlier this summer, Phillips and buddy Mauricio Martinez stepped into a crystalline stream at the southern point of Otsego Lake, New York, and began their trip down the entire length of the mighty Susquehanna. The 464 miles would take them from Cooperstown, New York, to where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland, during the most steamy and stormy two weeks of the season.

Phillips describes his extraordinary experience below in a series of observations . . . 

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There were memorable sunrises during the journey. This one was along Towanda Creek, Pennsylvania.

River runs north: "It was kind of disorienting to be kayaking downstream and yet, due north. [The river enters Susquehanna County then curves back northward toward Binghamton, New York.] When we saw the sun setting, it was on the wrong side of us. The river is so winding, you really only see a quarter mile at a time."

Changes: "The murkier water as we headed downstream was so different from the pristine clear water that was at the headwaters. The river seems burdened by the pollutant load, especially the sedimentation. We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river and it is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through. The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed. We could see so tangibly the problems we know exist."

Wildlife: "Peregrine falcons, snapping turtles, otters, a fox on the shoreline. Many species use the river so you are going to see a lot. I've seldom seen river otters so it was cool to see seven or eight. We saw more eagles than ducks."

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Andrew Phillips paddles the first few, narrow miles of the Susquehanna and past streambank erosion and farm fields.

A night like no other: "With only 100 miles to go, we were south of Selinsgrove in yet another storm--the straw that broke the camel's back. We took shelter in a duck blind and it had bees. We moved to under a tree that turned out to be poison ivy."

Flipped for Harrisburg: "I'd gone through that riffle before. It's kind of dangly and didn't leave much of an impression. It was the lowhead effect; you can't see it until you are on top of it. This drop was so abrupt that the nose of my 10-foot, 10-year-old recreational kayak went straight down. I wasn't embarrassed, 350 miles of brutal water tears that out of you. There were fishermen nearby and they were laughing."

Eats: "Spartan provisions. We anticipated catching fish but didn't due mostly to a lack of time. Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek. Uncooked Ramen noodles was our chief staple. Every night [we feasted on] a stew made of beans, Ramen noodles, coconut oil, and some adobo. Paddling for 12-14 hours a day you need a lot of fuel." [They also found their favorite mulberries along the way.]

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The area below the dam at Goodyear Lake, New York, provided one of the journey’s toughest portages.

Shad: "We saw a dead American shad on the shore below the small lowhead dam at Harrisburg. For the shad to have made it upstream through those dams is incredible."

Smallmouth bass: "With strange growths found on fish [recently], especially in my area [Selinsgrove], which was the smallmouth capital of the world, it's a huge tragedy. Mauricio still catches smallmouth occasionally near Danville."

Under cover: "Campsites are hard to plan for. The bridges were a lifesaver with all the storms we had. It was arid until we left, and then it was heavy storm after storm. [We had] maybe four nights when it didn't rain. It was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity."

Drinking water: "At the river's headwaters, a small portable filter is sufficient. As you move downstream it's recommended that you not use them after passing agricultural land. So we bought gallon jugs of water and refilled them along the way."

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A small cannon and plaque on a boulder near Cooperstown, New York, are the monument marking the official headwaters of the Susquehanna River.

Trip of the dammed: "The dams are a real threat to the [Susquehanna]. You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it. Sediment builds up and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Kindness of others: "We met interesting people along the way. When you are out on this trip and lacking human contact, it's easy to ask for help with portaging, water, and food."

Still waters: "Near the Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo Dams, the kayaking is brutal. [The river becomes] essentially lakes where there's no help from the current. In the headwaters and open areas we covered 40-50 miles a day, easily. At the dam, 30 miles is a stretch."

Grand finale: "It didn't dawn on me until we unpacked. At Havre de Grace, it's incredible. It was the promised land of sorts. The sky opens up and you see this huge, open Chesapeake Bay after being closed by mountains and cliffs for almost 500 miles. It's a really incredible sight."

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

The Bay: "Everybody is downstream. The Bay acts like the dipstick for the whole region. There are so many different threats from so many different angles. We were kind of like flotsam going down the river and saw how this system impacts the Bay itself."

Lasting impression: "Rivers are conveyor belts that show the health of the entire land. [The Susquehanna] is more than a cause that you reluctantly write a check for. This is our sacred space. There are settlements along the way, and they are fixed, but this river runs through them and refreshes itself. You really get a feel for it, like it's an old friend instead of a body of moving water."

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


We're Halfway There: Holy Cross Abbey, Cool Spring Farm


Holy Cross Abbey June 2015 (Clarke Co CD10)This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Father James Orthmann is a monk at the Holy Cross Abbey, a 1,200-acre farm with nearly three miles of river frontage on the main stem of the Shenandoah River.

"In order for us to be spiritually sustainable, it is necessary for us to take care of the place where we live," he explains. The monks' "place" is Cool Spring Farm, located along the west bank of the river where the American Civil War Battle of Cool Spring occurred in the summer of 1864.

The Trappist monks of Cool Spring began their natural resources pilgrimage with a sustainability study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2009-2010.

"One of the first recommendations from the study was to get our cows out of the Shenandoah River and all the tributaries on the farm," Orthmann says. "How could we be true to our guiding principal of loving our 'place' with cows in the river and streams? The cows were polluting the water and ruining the streambanks.

"To achieve this, we first removed the cattle from the flood plain and leased that land to an 'all natural' produce farm. Next we contacted the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for assistance with fencing and watering troughs for the rest of the streams on the farm.

"With the help from these dedicated public servants, we were able to protect almost four and a half miles of streambanks, including the Shenandoah River and the historic Cool Spring itself."

The community of monks continued their sustainability journey by diversifying their operation. Not only do they produce cattle, fruits, vegetables, and timber, they also now have a "natural cemetery," a retreat house, gift shop, and the Monastery Bakery—the one that produces those famous Trappist fruitcakes.

"Sustainability works," Orthmann continued. "It's paying off economically, environmentally, and spiritually. As Trappist monks committed to this community and land for life, fencing the cows out of the stream was an easy first step toward a more holistic lifestyle."

—Bobby Whitescarver  
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

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

 


Chesapeake Bay Region Faith Leaders Signed Something Momentous; We Should All Pay Attention

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Port Isobel Island Sunset. Photo by CBF Staff. 

Faith leaders have plenty on their radar screens these days: poverty, homelessness, joblessness, to name a few. So when the faith community responds to something, you know it's important because it has moved up through the priorities and floated to the top.

That's what happened this past week . . . and it should cause us all to do a double take.

Notwithstanding attention-getting headlines like urban violence, racial inequities, and economic downturns, more than 100 faith leaders representing tens of thousands of people of faith across the Chesapeake Bay watershed stopped what they were doing and took action. They came together in a unified message about the moral imperative to restore the waters of the Chesapeake.

Their united voice was articulated in a letter addressed to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Chair of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which has the reins on the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. The faith leaders challenged the governors of all six watershed states and the D.C. mayor to re-commit to the hard work that lies ahead to meet agreed-upon milestones in the Blueprint. They affirmed the great work that has been accomplished thus far, but recognized that we simply have not done enough to heal our watershed. Speaking with one voice, "If our generation will not accept responsibility for this, who will?"

Bishops, Presbyters, clergy, congregational leaders, and faith-based organizations from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, and Non-Denominational traditions shared a common concern about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And, why does this matter to them?

The answer is simple. Until we heal the Earth, we cannot heal ourselves. Until we love the Earth, we will not love each other. Until we honor the sacred waters that connect us all to each other, we will continue to disrespect those downstream of us and those who will walk in our footsteps for generations to come. As Wendell Berry eloquently said, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." Loving each other is the fundamental tenet of all faiths. Loving each other by respecting the Earth is the natural extrapolation of this.

We heard this recently in Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato Si', released in June 2015. "All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect." (89) He goes on to say: "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature." (139)

I was so proud of the Chesapeake's faith community this week. They understand the issues, they remain steadfast to their beliefs, and they reminded their elected leaders to be guided by a moral compass during the Chesapeake Executive Council's meeting so that all of creation can thrive in the beauty of the Earth as our Creator intended.

Now, we watch to see, how will our leaders respond? What is on their radar screen?

—Jodi Rose, Executive Director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake

 


Time to Walk the Walk on Clean Waters

 

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Photo by Octavio Abruto/iLCP. 

At the recent annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program leadership, there was much talk about the importance of restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, but a shortage of commitment to specific actions that will get Bay restoration back on track.

And it is clearly off track.

After decades of failed Bay restoration efforts, there is now a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint includes pollution limits, state-specific plans to achieve those limits with two-year milestones describing the actions each state will take, and the consequences that the Environmental Protection Agency said it would impose if the jurisdictions failed to take the actions they promised.

As part of the Blueprint, the Bay jurisdictions pledged to implement practices by 2017 that will result in a 60 percent reduction in pollution, but at the current pace it is estimated that they will miss that mark on nitrogen pollution by 50 percent. And 80 percent of that shortfall is from Pennsylvania.

That is unacceptable.

Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this problem, but the 2017 deadline will occur on his watch. At the meeting, John Quigley, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), did acknowledge that the commonwealth needs to "reboot" its restoration efforts, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes he intends to do that. But the devil is in the details, and we are calling for Pennsylvania to lay out, in the next 30 days, a meaningful plan and timetable for implementation.

We are pleased that Pennsylvania recognizes that it needs to improve compliance with agricultural laws and regulations as well as modernizing record keeping and data collection. The commonwealth has some of the strongest regulations in the region for agriculture, but recent on-farm inspections by the EPA and DEP found only one in three farms in compliance. With current staffing, it would take DEP more than 150 years to inspect each farm in Pennsylvania's Bay watershed once.

CBF supports the call by Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase the technical and financial assistance to help farmers implement conservation practices that will reduce pollution.

Maryland and Virginia are closer to being on track, but an assessment of the critical practices they have committed to implementing in their milestones finds progress short of the mark in those jurisdictions as well.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban and suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, we call on the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe to ensure farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to create streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia also must increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is among the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, Maryland missed its 2014 milestone from both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the USDA agricultural census, population and land-use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Administrator Gina McCarthy, who was also at that meeting, spoke of EPA's support of the Blueprint, but refused to specify the actions the agency intends to take if the states fail to meet their commitments. If states fail to implement the plans each developed, EPA must impose consequences for failure. If not, we are at risk of yet another failed Bay agreement.

The leaders talked the talk; it is now time for them to walk the walk.

—Kim Coble, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration 

 


This Week in the Watershed

 

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Members of the Chesapeake Executive Council and other leaders. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Recently, EPA, CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have found that while some progress is being made, Bay-wide efforts to reduce pollution are falling short of 2017 milestone goals. 

One of the central tenets that sets the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint apart from past Bay restoration commitments is having two-year milestone assessments. These assessments are not only to hold states accountable for progress but also to reassess what improvements can be made moving forward.

Given all this, while there were some encouraging remarks at Thursday's Chesapeake Bay Executive Council  it will be the actions taken by the states and federal partners that truly save the Bay. And so, we will continue to raise our voices for pollution reduction, holding our leaders accountable for the health of the Bay and our local rivers and streams.

This Week in the Watershed: Executive Council, Urban Trees, and Principals Outside

  • The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council met Thursday at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. This gathering of influential public officials representing Bay-state and federal stakeholders highlighted how the Bay is getting cleaner, but failed to address how we are dangerously behind schedule. (WAMU) Also check out the CBF Twitter feed where we live tweeted the meeting.
  • Recent reports show that oysters are doing well in the Severn River. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • Water quality and keeping cattle out of streams are deeply interwoven. This best management practice is being encouraged throughout the watershed. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Here at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we love trees. Beautifying neighborhoods, reducing pollution, and improving water quality, they're simply awesome. It's, therefore, no surprise that we're big fans of the tree love going on in Fredericksburg, VA. (Bay Journal)
  • Immersing school principals and administrators in outdoor environmental education programs is a great way to encourage environmental literacy in our schools. Administrators from Manchester Valley High School in Maryland recently had a great trip to CBF's education facility on Port Isobel. (Carroll County Times—MD)
  • Way to go, Frederick County, MD, for investing heavily in restoration efforts to reduce stormwater runoff. This investment will likely pay for itself and then some. (Frederick News-Post—MD)
  • Former Governor of Pennsylvania Dick Thornburgh eloquently explains the history of Chesapeake Bay restoration and convincingly argues for clear, specific, and measurable restoration goals. (Philly.com—PA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more. Space is limited, and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at tford@cbf.org to reserve your spot!
  • Get an in-depth education of one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world by getting a tour of CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

July 28

  • In preparation for stormwater medallion placement on July 30, CBF will be distributing door hangers with information about how citizens can reduce their impact on the waterways! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804-780-1392 to participate.

July 30

  • Join CBF as we place stormwater medallions in Oak Grove, Richmond. This unique volunteer opportunity allows you to have a positive impact on the Bay while also using a caulk gun! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804-780-1392 to participate.

July 31

  • Another opportunity to get a tour of the Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

August 1

  • This annual benefit for CBF draws kayakers, paddle boarders and all kinds of other paddlers—from novice to advanced—from far and wide for a race at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. CBF is looking for five to six volunteers to assist with event/race logistics and share information with the attendees. To volunteer, please e-mail or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964. To join the races, click here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


This Week in the Watershed

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Professor Tami Imbierowicz of Harford Community College oversees her daughter Stephanie as she takes a water sample at Kilgore Falls in Harford County. Their findings are part of a study revealing alarming levels of bacteria in popular Maryland swimming spots. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It might be a bit cliché, but the truth still stands that you can't solve a problem until you recognize its existence. While polluted runoff is a problem we have been fighting for years, this week we found evidence that it is wreaking havoc on freshwater streams and lakes in Maryland. We also released milestone reports revealing that while progress has been made towards saving our Bay and its rivers and streams, there is still much work to be done.

Our response is continuing the work to save the Bay, through restoring the native oyster population, bringing teachers into the field so they can inspire the next generation of clean water advocates, and taking the fight for the Bay to the courtroom. Also this week we are working to raise the voices of the 17 million citizens who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23. TAKE ACTION: Tell your Governor and the EPA that clean water restoration must move forward!

This week in the Watershed: Dirty Streams, Restoring Oysters, and Teaching Teachers

  • CBF has partnered with Hood College, Howard Community College, and Harford Community College, in a study exposing alarming levels of bacteria in Maryland streams, particularly after heavy rain. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Read more about this stream study in our Press Release.
  • In efforts to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025, the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have committed to two-year incremental goals called Milestones. CBF and Choose Clean Water Coalition evaluated clean water progress for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. (CBF Press Releases)
  • CBF President Will Baker and CBF PA Executive Director Harry Campbell discuss all things Pennsylvania water quality on WITF's "Smart Talk." (WITF—PA)
  • There are few activities more helpful in saving the Bay than oyster restoration. CBF is in the thick of building sanctuary reefs. (Bay Journal)
  • Speaking of oyster restoration, this group in Carroll County, Maryland is doing great work, collecting and recycling old oyster shells. (Bay Journal)
  • Recently we took legal action to challenge Virginia's rules for large livestock farms, arguing the state is failing to protect streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay by allowing farm animals unfettered access to streams. This week that lawsuit was unfortunately dismissed. Stay tuned for updates on this important issue. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Fourteen teachers from Pennsylvania and Virginia went paddling, turned over rocks, and studied forestry and soils during a two-day workshop this week, co-sponsored by CBF. (CBF Press Release)
  • The writers of this editorial deserve high-fives and fist-bumps all around for clearly and convincingly arguing the need for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint in saving the Bay. (Frederick News-Post—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 23

  • Join CBF for an evening of exploring the beautiful lower Susquehanna River. Explore a unique stretch of the Susquehanna, paddling by plants and animals that call these ecosystems home while discussing how land use and pollution have affected the overall habitat of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Click here to register!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more. Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at tford@cbf.org to reserve your spot!

July 28

  • In preparation for stormwater medallion placement on July 30, CBF will be distributing door hangers with information about how citizens can reduce their impact on the waterways! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804/780-1392 to participate.

July 30

  • Join CBF as we place stormwater medallions in Oak Grove, Richmond. This unique volunteer opportunity allows you to have a positive impact on the Bay while also using a caulk gun! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804/780-1392 to participate.

August 1

  • This annual benefit for CBF draws kayakers, paddle boarders and all kinds of other paddlers—from novice to advanced—from far and wide for a race at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. CBF is looking for 5-6 volunteers to assist in event/race logistics and share information with the attendees. To volunteer please e-mail or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757/622-1964. To join the races, click here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


We're Halfway There: Fort Stover Farm


Gibson June 2015 (Page Co CD6)This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

John Gibson is a man of the river. He founded one of the first canoe companies on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in 1974. He has been sharing the beauty of the river with others ever since.

In 1980 he was floating down the river and noticed an abandoned stone house on a bluff on the east side of the river. Research, perseverance, and being at the right place at the right time gave John the opportunity to buy the 1769 German "Flurkuchenhaus" (AKA hall-kitchen house) just one year later.

Eventually he acquired the surrounding farm and placed both the historic house and land in an open space easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. These cultural and natural resources are now protected forever from development.

"I bought a subdivision and turned it into a farm," Gibson laughs. "It can be done . . . turning it around. When we bought the farm it was divided into 243 lots, and cattle roamed all over the place. The tenant farmer's cows would wander up- and downriver and cross the river onto other people's property—it was a real nightmare."

Fort Stover Farm has a mile and a half of river frontage. One of Gibson's first conservation efforts was erecting a fence to keep the cows out of the river.

"As soon as we put a fence up along the river, the 1985 flood took it out. I decided then to get the cows out of the flood plain all together and just use it for hay," he says.

Gibson converted 50 acres of pasture to permanent hay and no longer worries about a flood taking out one of his fences. To water the cows he installed two alternative watering stations. This was all done without state or federal cost-share assistance.

"Being on the river, I saw firsthand the damage cattle do to stream banks," Gibson said, adding, "It's a negative aspect to my customer's adventure on the river."

Today, Fort Stover Farm produces not only healthier cows but also cleaner water and a more pleasant float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

—Bobby Whitescarver  
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

A week from today our Bay cleanup leaders will be meeting in Washington. Send them a message before they meet urging they fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to providing farmers with the necessary assistance they need to make their farms and our waters healthier.