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Look to the Lafayette!

VIPs tossing oysters into River for web The health of the Chesapeake Bay is, depending upon various reports, unchanged, slightly better, or slightly worse. Regardless of the precise status, experts agree the Bay remains seriously out of balance and greatly compromised by pollution.

That’s why the new federal-state Bay restoration initiative is so important to implement.  The initiative puts the Bay on a pollution diet and directs the Bay states and localities to devise plans to stick to it. The diet will reduce pollution to levels the Bay can safely handle and still support all the crabs, fish, oysters -- and people -- who call the Bay home.  The goal is to implement all the plans in the next 15 years.

Which is why efforts like the Lafayette River restoration initiative announced this week are so exciting.  The good folks who live in the Lafayette River watershed, which drains parts of Norfolk, Va., have worked together and devised a community-based river cleanup plan that seeks to have the job done by 2014. That’s right, not in 15 years, not in 10 years, but in four years. 

Led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Elizabeth River Project (ERP) but with dozens of other public and private partners, the initiative seeks to foster community ownership for cleaning up this historic waterway in the middle of one of the region’s most populated, urban areas. The plan includes diverse players doing lots of innovative, cost-effective projects. Among others:

• The City of Norfolk and Hampton Roads Sanitation District are investing millions of dollars renewing the wastewater collection system infrastructure and storm water runoff treatment.

• State, local, and non-profit partners are working together to increase testing of bacteria and nutrient levels in the river.

• CBF is leading an oyster restoration effort, including putting scores of oyster reef balls in the river to rebuild oyster habitat, stocking millions of native oysters on protected reefs, and increasing the number of volunteer oyster gardeners to grow oysters in the river.

• ERP is introducing a new program called River Star Homes to recognize river-friendly homeowners and is providing free yard flags for citizens who pledge to "scoop the poop" to clean up after their pets and reduce other pollution sources. 

• Seventeen "River Star Schools" and 15 "River Star Industries" in the Lafayette River watershed are working with ERP to reduce pollution and restore wildlife habitat.• Marinas on the river are being enlisted to reduce boat pollution.  

• ERP, Norfolk, the Virginia Zoo, Hermitage Museum and Gardens, Lafayette Wetlands Partnership, Old Dominion University, Roland Park and Highland Park civic leagues and other partners have planted tens of thousands of wetland grasses at multiple sites to restore wetlands, native trees and shrubs, with more projects in the works. The zoo and ERP recently installed the region's first "floating wetland islands" at a duck pond to absorb nutrients.

According to a CBF-ERP press release, the Lafayette River Steering Committee was formed in 2009 to plan an effective, multi-faceted restoration initiative.  The group consisted of more than 100 people representing science, government, business and citizen interests. The result is the action plan announced this week, complete with goals, projects, tasks and timeframes. 

"As soon as we began the planning effort in 2009, the disparate interests began working together - and now there is a massive, coordinated effort already underway," said Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, ERPs executive director. "That's why we know this plan will succeed. There's huge momentum.”

CBF President Will Baker, who was part of this week’s announcement and helped toss buckets of live oysters into the river as a gesture of restoration confidence, said, “The Lafayette initiative – with its emphasis on public-private partners, the community, neighborhoods, individual families, and creative, cost-effective approaches – is an important model for cleaning up the Bay on a local watershed-by-watershed basis. Community-based restoration is happening here on the Lafayette, and it can happen across the region.”

There’s more. On Saturday April 30, the initiative will host the first Lafayette RiverFest for the community, providing music, food, fun, and more easy ways individual residents, families, schools, and businesses can get involved to help restore the Lafayette to health.

In short, don’t believe the naysayers who say it’s too hard or too expensive to restore clean water to the Bay. Look at the Lafayette and its community of energetic, committed residents. They’re pledging to make their river swimmable and fishable in four years. 

It can happen in your community, too. Check out the Lafayette plan, visit www.cbf.org/lafayette or contact CBF or ERP to learn how you can help initiate a local watershed restoration effort in your corner of the Bay.   

Who says we can’t save the Bay by 2025?!

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

(Photo courtesy of Elizabeth River Project)

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