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United, We Will Get Bay on Road to Recovery

Winter View of the Chesapeake BayThe following first appeared in The Daily Times earlier this week.

Shoulders. That's what we'll need this year to maintain momentum to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Imagine a car stuck in the mud or a snow bank. Many shoulders can free that car. The same ethic is working to restore the Chesapeake.

Salisbury and Oxford worked with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to find a solution to polluted runoff in their locales. The researchers concluded the job will actually be cheaper in the long run by first collecting dedicated stormwater fees, rather than using general tax revenues.

Talbot County is working closely with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and The Nature Conservancy on an innovative and cost-effective pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to treat runoff rather than just to drain it from the landscape.

Queen Anne's County is working with the foundation on a pilot program to use private dollars to pay for some clean-up measures.

Similar efforts are underway throughout Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region. Make no mistake: Whether the western shore, Pennsylvania, Virginia or elsewhere, everyone is starting to put their shoulders to the work.

This cooperation is yielding results: less nitrogen pollution coming down the Susquehanna, smaller dead zones in the summer, larger oyster harvests, recovering underwater grass beds downstream of upgraded sewage plants and other successes.­

But we have a long way to go. And occasionally, we slip into the old game of finger pointing and foot dragging.

A coalition of eight rural Maryland counties, including several on the Eastern Shore, believe there are cheaper ways to clean up the bay than upgrading local sewage plants, septic and stormwater systems and improving farm operations. They want attention focused on pollution problems at the Conowingo Dam rather than in their own backyards. They have hired a law firm which makes many promises, but has yet to produce any results.

Also of concern, some farm groups are making unrealistic demands for an exhaustive economic study before they will accept new limits on phosphorus pollution from manure spread on farm fields. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is conducting a reasonable study. That should be enough.

These kinds of renegade actions are destructive. United, we will get the Chesapeake back on the road to recovery. Divided, we will fail.

This is more than a pep talk. Cooperation, innovation, and resolve are as critical to the cleanup of the bay as the plan itself, which we call the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This is our moment in time. We face a choice whether we will implement the plan or splinter into factions as we have done so many times over the past 30 years—environmentalists versus farmers, watermen versus government, Maryland versus other states.

Local governments on the Eastern Shore need to lend a shoulder to implement the Blueprint, not hire lawyers to thwart it. The citizens of the Shore will benefit: watermen, recreational fishermen, homeowners and more. Our children and grandchildren will benefit most of all.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Maryland Eastern Shore Director

Photo of the Week: Frozen Sunset

DSC01488Photo by Doug Edmunds.

Here is a recent sunset over a frozen Chesapeake Bay . . . I have enjoyed all that the Bay has offered for many years including the wildlife, boating and fishing, spectacular views, and great photo opportunities. Many thanks to CBF for all their continuing efforts to maintain the overall health and beauty of the Bay!

—Doug Edmunds

Ensure that Doug and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

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

Dorchester Should Seek Innovative Solutions

Photo by Cal Jackson.

The following first appeared in The Star Democrat earlier this month.

Dorchester continues to resist the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This is the regional plan to finish cleaning the Chesapeake and our local waters which was crafted through cooperation of six Bay states, and hundreds of local governments, farmers, businessmen, fishermen and other citizens.

We understand change is difficult. We understand initial cost estimates in Dorchester came in high for finally cleaning up county creeks and rivers.

But let us offer an alternative to Dorchester's plan of spending taxpayer money on lawyers to fight the Blueprint, or listening to out-of-town consultants. These lawyers and consultants offer little but talk. Their ideas have not, and will not, bring solutions for taxpayers' money.

We suggest that Dorchester's money and energy is better spent seeking real, innovative solutions. Other counties are doing just this, and are reaping success.

Take Calvert County. Initially, elected officials in Calvert were shocked at the possible cost of reducing pollution from sewage plants, septics and from polluted runoff. But instead of hiring the Funk & Bolton law firm as Dorchester and some other rural counties have done, they brought in the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland (EFC). After studying the county, and its pollution problems, EFC officials reported Calvert could do the job for less than $5 million—not for the $1.3 billion Calvert had originally estimated.

Closer to home Talbot County has cooperated with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and others to devise an innovative pilot program to reduce polluted runoff from farms and developed areas using existing ditches. The county believes the program can cut tens of millions of dollars from its initial county-wide cleanup estimates. And Talbot citizens will benefit.

We think such approaches are far more constructive. They stand a much better chance of success.

Dorchester was the first rural county to hire Funk & Bolton to fight the Blueprint. It is our understanding the county has paid at least $25,000 to the firm, and helped convince other counties to contribute. The firm has promised many things, including fighting to reduce pollution at the Conowingo Dam. But after a year and a half the firm has provided hardly a single result.

More recently, Dorchester invited a consultant, Fred Kelly Grant from Boise, Idaho, to speak at a council meeting. Grant promised he could solve the county's problems by using some legal strategies he said worked for him in the west.

Is Grant really someone to whom the county wants to listen? His ideas seem extreme. Grant believes, for instance, that any attempt to save farms by restricting development is part of an international conspiracy centered around a non-binding resolution by the United Nations.

Grant told the county he can require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "coordinate" with localities over the Blueprint, and can somehow reduce the expectations for Dorchester to clean up its creeks.

Grant is way off base. The state of Maryland, not the EPA, created its own plan to reduce pollution in the Bay. The state held numerous public meetings to craft the plan, in which hundreds of people from all walks of life participated. A federal court has ruled that the Blueprint is scientifically based, had sufficient public input, and complies with federal law. As far as we know no "coordination" legal strategy which Grant says he used in western ranching issues would apply here.

Dorchester officials are properly concerned about the cost of cleaning up local creeks. They are responsible to spend public dollars wisely. But we encourage them to take the constructive course followed elsewhere. Cooperate and innovate to find real solutions. Throwing in with lawyers and extremists will only waste tax dollars.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Maryland Eastern Shore Director 

Restoring Iconic Chesapeake Bay Oyster

Cooks PT Reef Balls 6-09 310
Planting oyster reef balls near Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

The following article first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot earlier this month.

Over the past five years, Virginia's oyster harvest has almost quadrupled, and the dockside value of the harvest has increased by 14 percent in the past 10 years. The resurgence is again putting Chesapeake Bay oysters in seafood stores and restaurants around the region, nation and world.

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, every $1 the state spends to replenish oyster shells to manage this fishery yields $7 in economic benefits and an increase in jobs.

Despite these impressive results, there is still a long way to go to achieve restoration goals at a much larger scale--a scale that reflects oysters' natural state and that provides us with the important benefits we need from oyster reefs.

Increased harvest numbers and jobs provide indisputable evidence that a partnership of government, conservation, watermen, industry, private and volunteer groups is succeeding in efforts to restore oysters and improve the fishery in several Virginia rivers, including the Great Wicomico River on the Northern Neck, the Piankatank River in the Middle Peninsula and the Lynnhaven and Lafayette Rivers in Hampton Roads.

Restoration at a larger scale will require everyone playing a part, including the expertise and commitment of the oyster industry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation stand ready to offer ongoing support and experience to meet restoration goals for the iconic Chesapeake Bay oyster.

Over the past 15 years, CBF and its volunteers have grown more than 60 million oysters and placed them on protected reefs and shorelines in Virginia, focusing particularly on the Lafayette and Piankatank rivers.

In the Lafayette alone, the foundation has partnered with the Elizabeth River Project, state agencies and volunteers to collect baseline oyster population data, establish promising restoration areas, and place more than 400 concrete reef balls in the river. A CBF-Elizabeth River Project partnership also has worked to reduce runoff to improve water quality in the Lafayette.

The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Corps of Engineers and industry partners are planning oyster reef restoration in the Piankatank River. An important tributary historically for oysters, the Piankatank has been a focus for land and water restoration by the conservancy and others for more than a decade.

This project will initially restore up to 75 acres of reefs, or roughly 60 football fields, setting the stage for additional large-scale oyster restoration in other rivers.

The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation commend the General Assembly for providing $2 million last year to replenish shells on existing reefs and applaud former Gov. Bob McDonnell for proposing another $2 million in the state budget for such efforts in each of the next two years.

We will work with the legislature to support this funding and to provide $1 million to address restoration of new reefs to ensure Virginia can take advantage of federal funds available for this work.

And both the conservancy and the foundation call upon the McAuliffe administration to work with partners and restore oysters and oyster habitat in at least three Virginia tributaries over the next four years.

In addition to being an economic driver and a delicious hors d'oeuvre--whether raw, roasted, fried or stewed--oysters play crucial ecological roles. They and their habitat are at once pollution filters, homes for crabs and rockfish and buffers against storms.

However, oyster numbers remain only a fraction of what they once were because of historic overharvesting, pollution and disease, and the bay has suffered from the loss of the great ecological services oysters can provide.

Virginia is on the cusp of reversing this trend. The state is a leader in facilitating large-scale restoration in partnership with the federal government and the private sector. We applaud the efforts of the diverse groups already working to make oyster restoration a reality.

Michael Lipford, Virginia executive director of the Nature Conservancy, and Ann Jennings, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Learn more about CBF's oyster restoration efforts in Virginia.

Photo of the Week: Whays Creek Sunrise

PhotoPhoto by Sharon Sylvia.

Sunrise from my dock, Whays Creek, Reedville, Va. The Chesapeake Bay is where we spent our childhood and where I will spend my golden years. We love everything she offers. Beautiful sunrises, sunsets, kayaking, boating, and especially the fishing. We love all the seasons here and all the beauty surrounding the Bay and rivers.

—Sharon Sylvia

Ensure that Sharon and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

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



Anne Arundel County Will Benefit From Stormwater Fee

Green-Filter-Grey-Funnel_695The following first appeared in
The Capital last weekend.

If you live in Anne Arundel County there is a good chance your neighborhood will soon benefit from the county stormwater fee. By the same account, you will continue to endure flooded basements, closed swimming areas, and other problems if some state legislators get their way and block the county from collecting the fee.

Construction is pending on $76 million worth of projects that will benefit dozens of communities around the county. All the projects—special landscaping and upgraded retention ponds and outfalls—will slow down, and treat, polluted runoff. All were funded by the stormwater fee.

It's about time. Polluted runoff is the biggest, or one of the biggest, sources of water pollution in the county's many creeks and rivers. Communities throughout the county suffer as a result.

Manhattan Beach in Severna Park is an example. It's a quiet, family community on the Magothy River. Two tidal creeks surround Manhattan Beach: Dividing Creek and Cypress Creek. Like so many communities in Anne Arundel, Manhattan owes much of its identity, not to mention its real estate values, to its waterfront location. It has a boat ramp, two community beaches, and a clubhouse that looks out to the river.

But as with so many Anne Arundel neighborhoods, the water running through Manhattan Beach is often unhealthy. Of the 14 times Dividing Creek was tested for bacteria last summer, readings exceeded safe bacteria limits 12 times, with some readings 40 to 50 times above health limits, according to water monitoring completed through the Operation Clearwater program. The water at such times is more like toilet water than a natural creek.

What's the source of this problem?

A comprehensive 2010 study by the Department of Public Works found virtually all of the bacteria pollution in the Magothy River was the result of polluted runoff.

Rainwater flushes bacteria from dog waste, septic systems and other sources into local creeks. And bacteria is only one type of pollution discharged into the Magothy River and county creeks during rainstorms and snow melts. The water picks up chemicals, trash, lawn fertilizer, weed killer, and lots and lots of dirt. About 32 percent of the nitrogen pollution in the Severn River, for instance, comes from polluted runoff, 44 percent of the phosphorus pollution, and 82 percent of the sediment pollution.

This fast-moving urban runoff also increases local flooding. More pavement means less chance for rain to soak in. That means more volume and speed of discharge.

Polluted runoff isn't a new problem in Anne Arundel. It's been around for decades. The public works department has made significant progress attacking it, but not nearly enough. The problem: no reliable source of funding for improvement projects.

Finally with the stormwater fee, the county this year was able to begin the improvements projects that will reduce polluted runoff in the Magothy River and in other county creeks and rivers. Manhattan Beach and numerous other neighborhoods will benefit.

These projects aren't cheap, partly because we've ignored this problem so long. Some state legislators have suggested that cheaper alternatives exist, such as reducing pollution at a dam on the Susquehanna River, encouraging citizen involvement with tax credits, and heavier fines for sewage spills. Some of these suggested actions already are underway, and others may have merit. But they aren't substitutes for local improvement projects in Anne Arundel.

Put off the "rain tax," and we put off direct benefits to the health and well-being of county residents in Manhattan Beach and numerous other neighborhoods. That's not good government. That's not leadership.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Urge your state legislators to stay strong on stormwater fees!

Do Outside Challengers Fear Clean Water?


Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in Bay Journal News yesterday.

Recently, 21 state attorneys general, many from the Midwest, filed a “friend of the court” brief in a federal appeals court seeking to derail the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. While that is absurd, it is also a tribute to the decades of work that has led to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

We now have in place pollution limits which, if achieved, will restore local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. We also have state-specific plans and a transparent and accountable process to achieve them. This process, developed with years of collaboration between the states and federal government, is working and demonstrates that when citizens, governments at all levels and businesses work together we can restore water quality. 

This “friend of the court” brief is just the latest salvo in the war against the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. It began with a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, its big-agriculture allies like The Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Corn Growers Association that sought to end Bay restoration efforts. In their original legal challenge, they claimed the EPA overreached its authority; that efforts were not based on sound science; and that there were not sufficient opportunities for public comment. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others sided with the EPA, and in a 98-page opinion, federal Judge Sylvia Rambo decidedly rejected the arguments of those opposing clean water. She called the collaborative process between the states and federal government used to develop the pollution reduction plan an example of the “cooperative federalism” that the Clean Water Act intended. 

The American Farm Bureau has appealed Judge Rambo’s decision. The appeal is now in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and makes similar claims of EPA over-reach, but the amicus brief from the 21 states provides a telling view of their motivations. 

The brief says that “If this [cleanup] is left to stand, other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin (which spans 31 states from Canada to the Gulf Coast), could be next.” 

The lead attorney on the brief is Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has the strong support of agriculture interests in Kansas. A 2010 press release on his campaign website announcing his endorsement by the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) contains this quote: 

"KLA has worked closely with Derek Schmidt on many issues directly impacting agriculture during his tenure as a state senator. Schmidt has the background and commitment to be the state's chief legal advocate as Kansas agriculture faces unprecedented attacks on many fronts, including burdensome federal environmental regulations governing water and air," said Todd Allen, chairman of KLA's Political Action Committee (KLA PAC). 

The appeal and the “friend of the court” brief clearly are not about water quality in this region’s rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. They are driven by the fear that if we succeed here it will be a demonstration to the nation that other waterways can also be cleaned. To legally challenge the cleanup in the Chesapeake because it ultimately may result in the cleanup of other waterways defies common sense. 

Here in the Chesapeake Bay region we are making progress. Pollution reduction efforts are making a difference and the dead zone is shrinking. These efforts also create jobs that support local economies. Pollution reduction will also reduce the risks to human health. 

There is still a long road and a lot of work ahead. Yet unlike elsewhere in the country, we have a Blueprint that shows us what must be done to leave the legacy of clean water for our children and grandchildren. Let your elected officials know that's important to you. 

—Kim Coble
Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration, 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Click here to sign our petition to stand up for the Chesapeake! 

21 States, 8 Counties Join Farm Bureau Challenge to Bay TMDL


The following first appeared in Bay Journal News earlier today.  

Arguing that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan "strips states of their traditional rights to make land use decisions," the attorneys general of 21 states on Monday joined farm groups seeking to reverse a federal judge’s decision last year upholding the plan.

Their friend-of-the-court brief supports the appeal by the American Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders and several agricultural trade groups who are seeking to overturn Federal District Judge Sylvia Rambo's ruling last September that the EPA acted within its authority to establish the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or pollution diet, in December 2010.

Only one of the states signing onto the brief, West Virginia, represented a portion of the Bay watershed. But eight counties from the Bay watershed filed a separate brief supporting the appeal.

Both the states and counties argued that the EPA exceeded its Clean Water Act authority in the Bay TMDL because it not only set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can enter the Chesapeake, but also set limits on the amounts of those pollutants that can enter from each major river basin and state. It further limited the amount that could come from major pollution sectors, such as wastewater treatment plants, agriculture, stormwater and septics.

The briefs argue that while the EPA might be able to set pollution limits for the Bay as a whole, the more detailed allocations in the TMDL have the practical effect of dictating local land use decisions, which the Clean Water Act leaves in the hands of state and local governments.

The attorneys general said that the EPA used the Bay TMDL "to micromanage sources of pollution that by tradition—and by statute—have been beyond EPA’s reach."

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who filed the brief, said in a statement that "we would prefer to get that answer while the question surrounds land use in the Chesapeake Bay instead of waiting for EPA to do the same thing along the Mississippi River basin."

Most, though not all, of the states joining in the brief were in the Mississippi River drainage, where agricultural groups are worried that similar efforts may be made to force nutrient reductions from Midwest farms. The Mississippi is the major source of pollution to the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is also on the EPA's list of impaired waters.

"Congress deliberately structured the Clean Water Act to involve states in the decision-making process when nonpoint source runoff is being regulated," Schmidt said. "That's because runoff regulation inevitably implicates land use decisions and private property rights, and Congress did not intend to centralize those decisions in Washington, D.C."

In her 99-page ruling last October, Rambo said that EPA had not exceeded its authority, and noted that the Bay TMDL had been developed with the participation of all states in the watershed over a period of years. She called its development process an example of "cooperative federalism" and said it was "misleading" to suggest the allocations were set independently by the EPA. Rather, she said, they were largely developed by the states with considerable "back and forth" with the EPA.

The attorneys general argued that regardless of state participation in the process, the EPA lacked authority under the Clean Water Act to make such detailed allocations "and no acquiescence by any state can give it the authority it lacks."

Although a number of trade groups had joined the American Farm Bureau Federation in its original challenge to the TMDL, Monday's filings in support of the appeal was the first time that states and counties had joined in the case.

EPA officials had no comment as they had not had a chance to review the briefs.

Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation—one of several groups that have intervened on EPA's side in the case—criticized the states for using concerns about the other watersheds to try to block Bay cleanup plans. 

"We say to Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Alaska, and the other 17 states, don't tell us how to restore clean water in our backyard," Baker said. "Each of the six Bay states and the District of Columbia—including hard-working farmers, businesses, and individuals—are cooperating. Together, we are well on our way to making our rivers and streams safer, improving habitat, protecting human health, and strengthening local economies. Those are good things, at least here."

The attorneys general from Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming joined in support of the reversal. Most were Republicans, although three—those from Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas—were Democrats.

The counties joining in a brief were Cambria, Clearfield, Lancaster, Tioga and Perry counties in Pennsylvania; Hardy and Pendleton counties in West Virginia; and New Castle county in Delaware.

The case is pending before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Karl Blankenship

Sign CBF's petition telling Alaska, Utah, Montana, Kansas, and the other 17 states they can't stop us from protecting the Bay for our children and grandchildren. 

Bay-Friendly Farm Bill Passes Senate!

Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It has taken YEARS, but today the U.S. Senate joined the House and passed a new Bay-friendly Farm Bill! The bill includes conservation programs that will help Bay farmers stop pollution at its source and ensure our families enjoy clean water.

With senators and representatives from all six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we worked hard to make sure this new bill invests in sustainable family farms in the watershed, and provides them with the tools and resources they need to protect our legacy: clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and in the rivers and streams that feed it. In fact, many Bay senators were prepared to vote NO on this bill if it did not help Bay farmers. 

And our effort was successful: This Farm Bill will help family farmers in our watershed keep valuable fertilizer on their land and ensure we have clean water. While this vote happened in Washington, it was our work together--our restoration, outreach, advocacy, and communications efforts--that built the support these senators needed to vote for the Bay.

Here is a roundup of the Farm Bill programs essential to Bay restoration: The new bill includes three U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide critical tools and resources for family farmers in the Bay watershed. These programs are: 

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shares the costs with farmers for installing basic on-farm practices that keep fertilizer on the farm and out of the water. In all watershed states, demand for this program exceeds supply.
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a new program that will continue the commitment to make targeted investments in family farms, particularly those farms located in "critical conservation areas" like the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For example, it will provide additional resources for installing on-farm practices that prevent pollution from entering the water.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps landowners to restore streams that run through their land by installing conservation measures. For example, farmers plant trees that both stabilize soil on stream banks and create shade that lowers stream temperatures for fish. Additionally, they install fences that keep animals--and their manure--out of streams.

Now that the bill is poised to become law, CBF intends to work closely with Bay farmers to ensure they can participate in the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Under this program, groups like CBF will help family farmers plan and install specific agricultural conservation practices on their land that are vital to improving local and downstream water quality. 

So, taken together, this bill is a great step forward towards clean water!

—Alix Murdoch, CBF's Federal Policy Director

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs.