Five Reasons Why the Chesapeake Bay Program Is Critical to Saving the Bay

  Kramer_George__40702492_ChincoteagueDuskPhoto by George Kramer.

Last week, the Trump Administration issued a preliminary budget that eliminates all funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), a critical part of the state/federal partnership to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams.

But what exactly does the Chesapeake Bay Program do, and how does potentially gutting it affect the health of the Bay?

The CBP is an unusual entity. It's an arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but also a partnership of federal, state, and local agencies involved in the work of restoring the Chesapeake Bay, as well as a host of academic and non-profit partners. You can think of it as a large and diverse group working together, organized and partially funded by EPA. And it is responsible for hundreds of actions in the field that help Save the Bay, from rebuilding wetlands, to restoring oyster beds, and so much more.

That leads me to the Five Reasons the Chesapeake Bay Program Is Critical to Saving the Bay:

  1. It's working! At a time when we seem increasingly at odds about how to solve complex problems such as health care or terrorism, the unique collaboration to restore the Chesapeake is making concrete progress. Less pollution is entering the Bay, underwater grasses are thriving in certain areas, the dead zones of low oxygen are shrinking. The crab population is healthy. Even oysters are enjoying a modest comeback. But the recovery is fragile. The Bay Program is the glue holding it all together.

  2. The Program is really a family affair with partners sharing the wealth. The majority of its $73 million annual budget is distributed to the partner states, local governments, colleges, and non-profits for the work they do. They plant trees along streams, build "green infrastructure" in cities and suburbs to slow down and soak up polluted runoff, and help restore and protect oyster reefs. They increase public access to waterways, create habitat for crabs and rockfish, and work with farmers to reduce pollution from manure and fertilizer. The list goes on.

  3. We have the best scientific information and tools, thanks to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Like a sick patient, the Bay needs a scientific diagnosis and treatment. The Bay Program is the doctor of the Chesapeake. It coordinates the monitoring of water quality, the computer modeling of Bay health and progress, and the rest of the science. Eliminating the program would be like throwing away the patient's medical records.

  4. The partnership helps keep six states and the District of Columbia on track to meet their obligations in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This is the regional plan to restore the Bay. After several decades of failed attempts to meet restoration goals, the jurisdictions agreed in 2010 to hold themselves accountable for reducing pollution in amounts set by science, and to report on their progress every two years. This accountability mechanism is working, with nitrogen pollution falling in nine main tributaries. Eliminate the Bay Program and you could stop this progress.

  5. The Bay Program takes the broad view. Its scientists and planners can see, for instance, how the entire region is developing, and inform individual states for their own land protection strategies. This is especially important for areas downstream of development, since pollution is likely to increase from growth. The Program also tracks how the region is doing to restore fisheries, and the habitat that crabs, fish, and oysters need. In an ecosystem of 64,000 square miles, it is critical to know how the whole system is functioning. No state alone can do this—only the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has been called a model of cooperative federalism, the system of government established in the American Constitution. It is the federal and state governments working together to solve a regional problem. Rather than eliminate it, we should be supporting it.

—Tom Zolper, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

To say that now is the Chesapeake Bay's moment in time has never been more true. Take action right now to urge Congress to reject the Trump Administration’s budget proposal and protect our Bay and rivers and streams.

 


Chesapeake Bay's Future Imperiled

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

Lafayette River bloom 1200
An algal bloom in Norfolk's Lafayette River. The health of the Bay and its rivers and streams is improving, but if draconian cuts to the Chesapeake Bay Program are enacted, scenes such as this might become the norm. Photo by Christy Everett/CBF Staff.

I'm angry and I'm upset. President Donald Trump has proposed something terrible. I'm not willing to trade a healthy Chesapeake Bay for a wall on the Mexican border.

Trump's budget proposal zeroes out the EPA's funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program: from $73 million to $0. You don't have to take my word for this: Please read the president's statement at the top of "America First, A Budget Blueprint to make America Great Again," then skip to page 41.

The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure.

In the late 1970s, headlines declared that the bay was dying. Since then, government at all levels, business, and individuals have rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to "Save the Bay."

The effort has been bipartisan and, when tested in federal court, declared a model of cooperative federalism. It's working. The bay is recovering, but our progress is fragile, and the Chesapeake is far from saved.

The road to recovery, while clearly laid out, will not be easy and needs strong federal participation. The EPA Bay Program makes grants to states and municipalities to reduce pollution, monitors water quality, and coordinates the state/federal partnership that is the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The bay program's participation is absolutely essential.

Fortunately, there are checks and balances in our government. Congress appropriates and passes the budget, and we have time between now and the new fiscal year (which starts on Oct. 1) to make sure Congress restores funding for the bay.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in Hampton Roads have a deep connection to the environment. The James, Nansemond, Elizabeth, and the Lynnhaven Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay flow back and forth into each other.

We cross bridges and crawl through tunnels to get from one place to another. The water defines us.

We have celebrated recent signs of recovery in our waters. Oysters and crabs are rebounding, lush beds of underwater grasses thrive in some areas, and the water was so clear last summer that you could see the bottom six to eight feet below the surface. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's most recent State of the Bay Report gave the estuary its highest score in the report's 18-year history. But, that score, a C-, is a stark reminder that much work remains.

The bay's nascent recovery comes after years of hard work. In his 1984 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan said, "Though this is a time of budget constraints, I have requested for EPA one of the largest percentage budget increases of any agency. We will begin the long, necessary effort to clean up a productive recreational area and a special national resource — the Chesapeake Bay."

Since then, every administration has worked with the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Virginia Beach), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many similar organizations to "Save the Bay."

Trump's proposed budget zeroing out the EPA's bay program is an outrage. If passed by Congress, this could drive a stake in the heart of the Chesapeake's recovery.

Cuts to the EPA program could cause the bay and our rivers to revert to the national disgrace they were in the 1980s: fouled waters, sickly fish populations, and threats to human health. Zeroing out efforts to assist in restoring the Chesapeake Bay in favor of a wall makes no sense.

This is important. Please join me in sending a serious message to Congress that the Chesapeake Bay is a priority for Hampton Roads and the states all around the bay.

This is not about politics, it's about being good stewards of our environment. It's not about negotiating; it's a moral issue.

For assistance in contacting your congressional delegation please go to www.cbf.org/findmyreps.

—Harry Lester, Chairman, CBF Board of Trustees

More than 8,000 Bay lovers have taken action by calling on Congress to stand up for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. If you have not yet signed our petition, please do so now. If you have already, thank you. Please be sure to go one step further and call your congressional representatives. Click here to find their phone numbers. A clean and healthy Bay now and for generations to come depends on your voice!


The Clean Power Plan: How It Could Affect Chesapeake Bay Restoration

  Smokestack-air-pollution-odec-iStock_695x352Photo courtesy of iStock.

What happened?
In 2005, despite the significant body of scientific evidence showing a correlation between increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and increasing global temperatures, EPA refused to develop regulations curbing the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from power plants, cars, and trucks.

Because of growing concern over climate change and sea level rise, several states, local governments, and private organizations brought a lawsuit to require EPA to create regulations designed to curb the emission of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons). In 2007, the Supreme Court held that given the clear scientific evidence for human-caused climate change and the potential for adverse human health impacts, EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. Click here to learn more about Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007).

Following the Supreme Court's direction, on August 3, 2015, EPA issued a new regulation under the Clean Air Act called the Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants ("The Plan"). 

Several types of power plants (coal, nuclear, gas, oil, hydroelectric) generate electricity for our homes and businesses. The Plan focuses on coal-burning power plants. Several lawsuits have been filed against EPA challenging the Plan. Those lawsuits are still pending. 

Now, President Trump has signaled that he wants to revoke the Plan. That could be attempted in several different ways, but all would require that the public be given notice of and the ability to comment on EPA's change in position. Citizens, states, or industry could later sue the government if they believed the agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious, or illegal.

How could elimination of the Clean Power Plan affect Bay restoration?
The Plan gives states three ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants within their borders. The most effective way would be to make the power plants more efficient in generating electricity; that is, make them burn less fuel to generate the same amount of electricity. Making these plants more fuel efficient or even shutting them down would mean the plants would emit less nitrogen oxides (NOx). Because NOx is a major source of nitrogen pollution to the Bay, implementation of the Power Plan would greatly improve Bay health. (See Bay TMDL, Appendix L and Eshleman, K., et al., "Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under Chesapeake Bay restoration?")

Once EPA decides to act, it is expected to tell the courts considering the Plan that it wants to reevaluate the rule so all litigation should be suspended. Then, it is likely that the agency will issue a new rule either reversing the earlier finding that greenhouse gases from power plants are causing climate change that is harming humans or revising the rule significantly to weaken its impact on coal-fired power plants. If the Trump Administration takes such action, it is expected that some states and private groups will sue EPA. A protracted legal fight is expected. 

CBF's legal and policy teams are monitoring EPA's actions with respect to the Clean Power Plan and will take the appropriate actions if required to preserve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and ensure Bay restoration moves forward. 

—Jon A. Mueller, CBF Vice President for Litigation

Click here to learn about what you can do right now to support clean water across our region.

 


Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulations: How It Could Affect Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Schlyer-cbr-9353Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

What happened?
On January 30, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order stating that whenever any federal agency issues a new regulation or policy, it must also eliminate two existing regulations or policies. Click here to read the Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. The order is written very broadly and could apply to every new or updated regulation or agency policy statement. The President also ordered that the cost of implementing new regulations or policies be zero. 

How is this Executive Order potentially problematic for the Bay's cleanup plan?
Two federal laws provide the primary means for reducing Bay pollution: the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Congress empowered EPA to meet the requirements of these laws by developing regulations after considering public and state input. Many of those regulations must be updated from time to time to meet changes in technology that can further reduce pollution or to reflect new scientific knowledge. 

Following the Clean Water Act, EPA worked with the Bay jurisdictions to determine how much pollution was safe for people and all the life within the Bay, including rockfish, crabs, oysters and other species, many upon which we depend for food and jobs. The states developed plans to meet those pollution limits for sources within their borders. We call the federal pollution limits and the state plans, together, the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. The deadline for completing the Blueprint is 2025. 

In 2017, the pollution limits that are a part of the Blueprint, are due to be updated. It is possible that the update will be covered by the Executive Order. If this occurs, EPA would have to eliminate two existing regulations and ensure that the cost of meeting the new Blueprint pollution limits is zero. Given the amount of pollution to be reduced over six states and the District of Columbia, it would be extremely difficult for EPA to meet that test. EPA therefore could decide to not update the Blueprint, which would limit the effectiveness of the states' plans and lead states to potentially not meet the 2025 deadline.

Even if the Blueprint is not covered by the Executive Order, certain Clean Air Act regulations essential for the Bay's recovery are subject to the order.

The Blueprint recognizes that millions of pounds of nitrogen land directly in the Bay from air pollution. That nitrogen comes largely from burning fossil fuels to, for example, provide electricity and power our cars. The Blueprint provides that new Clean Air Act regulations would limit nitrogen from those sources. Some of those regulations must be updated. Because of the order, however, EPA may not improve those rules and the amount of nitrogen from the air may not be decreased sufficiently to meet Blueprint goals and a restored Bay. 

Blueprint success depends upon EPA's ability to fulfill its obligations under these federal laws. However, there are many different ways the order could limit EPA's ability to act—and make it harder for Bay states to hit their pollution-reduction goals. Because, in addition to its legal implications, the Executive Order contradicts the essential partnership that EPA entered into with the states through the Blueprint. The states are relying on EPA's help, and if this order leads EPA to act contrary to the partnership, it will make it that much harder for the states to clean up their local rivers and streams and the Bay.

CBF's legal and policy teams are monitoring the effect of the Executive Order and will take the appropriate actions if required to preserve the Blueprint and ensure Bay restoration. 

—Jon A. Mueller, CBF Vice President for Litigation

Click here to learn about what you can do right now to support clean water across our region.

 


Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.

Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.

The numbers speak for themselves:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.

Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.

The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.

Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


Five Important Advocacy Actions You Can Do Right Now

KarineAigner_iLCPPhoto by Karine Aigner/iLCP.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working. By all metrics, we are seeing progress. Citizens, businesses, and governments are rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution. And it is working.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Bay Report card issued last spring, our 2016 State of the Bay report, and the Bay Program's Bay Barometer all document improvements. Bay grasses and crabs are up, and the dead zone is trending smaller. But the recovery is fragile, and many clean water advocates are wondering what they can do to help progress continue.

In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that citizens let their elected officials know that clean water should be an important priority. That cleaning up local rivers and streams will reduce risks to human health, create jobs, and benefit local economies.

It is very important that our state legislators make the needed investments to reduce pollution. That our governors speak up for the Blueprint. And that our federal representatives ensure EPA's full participation in guiding and implementing the Blueprint.

Help ensure the Bay and its rivers and streams remain a priority. Do these five important things right now to Save the Bay:

  1. Find out who represents you by clicking here

  2. Call your state representatives and urge them to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  3. Call your governor and urge him or her to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  4. Call your federal representatives and urge them to seek federal investments for clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  5. Contact your friends and neighbors and urge them to do the same.

Bonus Action: One of the most effective ways to influence a politician is a personal visit to their office or a town hall meeting. While that takes time and might be out of your comfort zone, they will take note. And we'd be happy to help you plan a visit to their local office. Just click here and shoot us an e-mail.

Done the right way, citizens can have an impact. Elected officials do listen to their constituents. When contacting your representatives, be sure to explain why clean water is important to you. If they have supported clean water efforts, thank them and ask for their continued support. If they haven't been supporters, encourage them to do so in the future.

In these uncertain times, there is one thing that is certain, you can make a difference. Speak up and save the Bay.

 —Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Right now a critical part of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is facing a massive budget cut! Stand up now to urge Congress to protect the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love.

 


We're Halfway There: Coyner Farm

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.

Coyner
Ever since George and Ruth Coyner fenced their cows out of the streams on their farm in 2005, they've seen great benefits for their herd. What's more, there has been a marked improvement in the stream's water quality.

"I'll bet I could drink the water leaving our farm," Coyner exclaimed. 

The Coyners own and operate a commercial cow/calf operation in the headwaters of Porterfield Run, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  They also raise soybeans, corn, barley, and hay.

"Years ago, I remember a vet telling us there were herd health advantages for our cows if we fenced them out of the streams," Coyner said. "The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was available and we decided to enroll.  The program reimbursed us more than 100 percent of the costs, and they pay us rent every year for the land we fenced away from the cows."

"Since we fenced the cows out of the stream, we no longer have calves falling down in the stream at birth and dying. We no longer have old cows mired up to their bellies in the muck. They now drink clean water and there is no more mortality because of the stream," Coyner continued.

They fenced half a mile of stream, developed alternative watering stations, and built a stream crossing for the cows. The program required them to set a fence 35 feet from the top of the bank on each side of the stream. 

"One of my neighbors told me I was giving up good pasture by fencing the cows out," Coyner said. "But I told him I can get the cows into the barn so much easier now, they drink clean water, and I don't have any deaths because of the steep banks or muck." 

The Coyners are proud stewards of their land, implementing not only streamside buffers but also rotational grazing, grassed waterways, cover crops, and strip cropping.

"We are happy with the program and plan to re-enroll when our contract comes up for renewal in a couple of years," he added.

—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.


Fishing with Marsh Rats

IMG_0229
Chuck Foster (left) and Bill Goldsborough (right) in their natural element on a recent Chesapeake fishing trip.


In many ways, their stories are the same. Self-described marsh rats, Bill Goldsborough and Chuck Foster both grew up on the Eastern Shore with Bay blood coursing through their veins and fishing rods in their hands.

"We fished for as long as I can remember," says Goldsborough. "I was going out on the Bay with my dad . . . We had an old 40-foot workboat called the Mermaid, this old beat up thing that he and his buddy on Kent Island bought together. [It was] a real fun adventure keeping that boat running and getting out and catching all kinds of fish . . . we had 100-fish days regularly . . . just me and my dad." It's no surprise that Easton native Goldsborough credits his father for instilling in him a love for fishing and the Bay. A love that eventually led him to CBF, first as an educator on Smith Island and then as the founder and director of our fisheries program. 

Foster, too, grew up on the water and among the marshes on Saxis Island in Virginia, just six miles from what is now CBF's Fox Island Education Center. His was a childhood ruled by tides, full moons, and blue crab harvests. He recalls days getting out of school early in order to get back to Saxis before a full moon high tide flooded the road. Coming from a family of watermen, fishing came easily—and early—for Foster: "At six years old, I'd go out with my grandfather . . . he had a little bed on his boat. He was not noted for his patience, but he had the patience of steel when it came to me . . . you can imagine a six-year old on a crab boat all day long. I got into a lot of stuff." Years later, it was only

DSC_7764
Bill Goldsborough wrestling with a rockfish on a recent fishing trip on the Bay.

natural that Foster came to CBF. Like Goldsborough, he began his CBF career in its education program, starting as an educator on Fox Island and then eventually serving as the organization's first Chief of Staff. "I just fell into it. Fell right into the briar patch and luckily I recognized that pretty early on," Foster reflects.

On a recent gray day in November, I invite myself along on a Goldsborough/Foster fishing trip. There have been quite a few over the years for the good friends, trips ranging in location from the Florida Keys to all over the Chesapeake. But this one would be their final trip together as CBF colleagues. Both Bay legends—who have spent a combined nearly 70 years at CBF (roughly 32 for Foster; 35 for Goldsborough)—are retiring this month, leaving the Foundation in favor of more time out on the water, in boats, and around fish.

IMG_7120
Chuck Foster doing what he does best on a recent fishing adventure off the Eastern Shore.

The sky is dripping, draped with a low-hanging stretch of wet clouds as we motor south toward Poplar Island on Foster's 24-foot, custom-built Hanko. There is a lot of stopping and starting, patiently scanning the horizon with binoculars, looking for seabirds, a sure sign of stripers just below the surface. There is not a lot of talking. When we arrive at a spot deemed worthy near Eastern Bay, Foster cuts the engine and almost immediately rods are in the water. Without saying a word, Foster and Goldsborough find their respective places on either side of the stern—their routine is as natural as their way around a boat, around the Bay.     

As we wait for the fish to come, the conversation ranges from ruminating on a Jim Morris song lyric, to reflecting on the way the nearby gannets slice through the air, to, inevitably, talking about the importance of water. "I can't imagine my life not involving water," says Goldsborough. "I went to college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and for a while there was this competition between the sea and the mountains. But really there was no contest. I was always going to come back here to the water . . . Has to have salt in it though." Foster chimes in: "It's unnatural otherwise."

P3140310
Chuck Foster and Bill Goldsborough took many fishing trips together over their more than 30-year friendship, including to places as distant as the Florida Keys.

It's not long before Foster snags a hearty 28-inch rockfish. He quickly and expertly unhooks the flopping beauty and lays it in the bottom of the cooler, right next to the water bottles and other provisions we've brought for our journey. "Everything's better with a little fish slime on it," he jokes.

When asked how he's feeling after more than three decades at CBF, on the eve of his retirement, Foster turns serious: "Obviously it's bittersweet. I've spent almost 32 years of my life in one place. But the Foundation and the Bay are going to do well . . . and I do think we have turned the corner. I mean look at how clear this water is right now. I don't recall seeing water this clear since a kid."

Goldsborough, too, is hopeful: "After many years and many failed voluntary agreements by the states to take whatever action was necessary [to restore the Bay], and the Bay kept getting worse—algae blooms, dead zones, grasses weren't coming back at all—you start to get a little discouraged. And I figured that there would be little chance that I would see the Bay restored even to what I've known as a kid, much less to a really pristine, healthy Bay. But now," he motions to the clear, flat water below us, "now it seems like all Chuck and I had to do was set a time table for retiring, and now the Bay is looking better!"

IMG_7318
"I can't imagine my life not involving water," says Goldsborough.

He later expands: "We've seen the grasses bounce back a little bit; we've seen the blue crabs come on a little bit in the last few years; [it] appears that the dead zones are smaller. That's all interrelated and all extremely hopeful. It's tempting to think that we're really turning the corner with the Bay."

While at CBF, Foster and Goldsborough have made countless contributions—from launching the Foundation's fisheries program, to building one of the world's greenest buildings, to tirelessly fighting for the Bay's rockfish, oysters, and crabs, to helping build and run the organization, to educating future stewards of the Bay. But out here on the water, there is little talk about their achievements and their invaluable work for the Bay and its rivers and streams. That is not surprising given the nature of these good-hearted, modest men. 

A few hours later, on the way back in, back home to Annapolis, red light inches up from the horizon ever so slightly and we are chilled to the bone. The Bay stretches out before us, flat and calm and beautiful. "There are a lot of amazing things you see out here," says Goldsborough, "and they just sort of accumulate over time and make up this great mosaic of Bay experiences . . . every year you see and learn new stuff that you never thought of before."

Goldsborough pauses and looks at his friend before continuing: "You never know it all. It's kind of what's so interesting about it and keeps us coming out on the water I think."

"It's almost like the older I get the less I think I know," adds Foster from behind the wheel.

 —Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


This Week in the Watershed: A Threatened Pennsylvania Hallmark

Brook-trout-1200
Brook trout, a hallmark of Pennsylvania waterways and a great indicator of clean water, is threatened by both invasive species and warming waters as the result of climate change. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's Happening around the Watershed?

November 20

  • Portsmouth, VA: Come on out to a fun-filled, family-friendly annual event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest '16 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. CBF is looking for 6-8 volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Please contact Tanner Council to register or for more information at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

December 3

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

December 6

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

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


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

PA_CCCD blog_before-1200
Before photo of a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm. Cumberland County is among 28 conservation districts inspecting farms for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans, as prescribed in Pennsylvania’s rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PA_CCCD blog_after-1200
After photo showing a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm after a concrete manure storage pit was installed for liquid dairy manure. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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