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Saving the Bay, One Rain Garden at a Time

DSC_0006Photos by Chuck Epes/CBF Staff.

Rain gardens—plots of native plants planted beside hard-surface areas to catch and filter polluted runoff—are some of the best pollution-fighting tools in the clean water tool box. 

The water-absorbing soils in rain gardens allow runoff water to soak into the ground and be naturally filtered and cleansed of harmful pollutants washing off roads, parking lots, and lawns. And the native grasses, flowers, and shrubs in rain gardens use the runoff water to grow and flourish, providing food and homes for wildlife and beautifying the landscape.

More rain gardens mean cleaner water, cleaner streams, and a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Reducing runoff pollution is among the key goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the state-federal plan to restore the Bay and its many rivers and streams.

That's why CBF's Virginia staff and volunteers began installing five rain gardens last week in residential yards in the Broad Rock community of Richmond, Va. The properties were selected after CBF met with more than 60 community residents to discuss ways they could reduce polluted runoff coming from their property. After installation of the rain gardens, the homeowners will qualify for a credit on their monthly Richmond stormwater fee.

The rain gardens are part of a larger CBF project engaging the Broad Rock community on ways residents can reduce runoff from their homes, places of worship, roads, and businesses. Funding for the project is provided by The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Chuck Epes, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Learn more about the serious problems that come from polluted runoff.


CBF Education Experiences: "They Take My Breath Away"

Image-3Photo by Paige Sanford/CBF Staff.

Baltimore Lab School Outdoor Education Coordinator Patti Child recently took her high school students on a CBF field experience to our Karen Noonan Environmental Education Center. Here's what she had to say about it:  

Just when I thought it could not get any better learning about the Bay from one of your educators, I went on an Island experience with CBF's Captain Jesse, Paige Sanford, and Megan Fink. 

Seriously, I should not be allowed to have that much fun teaching students about the Bay.

I have had the pleasure of working with your team on Port Isobel Island in the past, but the quality of facilitating just went up another notch at the Karen Noonan Center this weekend! 

CBF trips are the foundation of our Baltimore Lab School Watershed Stewards movement. I call it a movement because the students and staff swell with ideas and projects after attending CBF Education Experiences.

Storm drain teams, trees, native plants, stream surveys and clean ups, behavior change campaigns, school air quality education, Student Wave reporters, species field guides, photo scavenger hunts, photo essays, film festivals, speakers, mentors, student leaders, green teams, partnerships, energy conservation, 0-waste movement, recycling, outdoor sustainability labs . . . The ideas and energy are flowing so fast, it takes my breath away.

Thank you.

—Patti Child, Baltimore Lab School

Learn more about our hands-on, outside learning opportunities.


Photo of the Week: Red November

10805499_10152821888490336_1878351306_nBeautiful fall weather on Kent Island.

The Bay is our future. I volunteer and teach my five-year-old son the importance of not littering, picking up other people's trash because it could harm the ecosystem and animals, [respect ing] all animals/insects of the Bay.

Living on the Shore you really appreciate the beauty of the Bay. Where I grew up in Prince George's County all I thought was that the Bay was dirtyI never wanted to go near it much less swim in it. I don't want it to be like that for future generations. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. 

—Krystle Chick

Ensure that Krystle, her son, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. 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!

The Toothless Approach Didn't Cut It


Tuesday, we were back in court defending the Bay from yet another attack by Big Agriculture and their allies. 

For more than three decades, we tried it their way—voluntary agreements. The toothless approach didn't cut it. Underwater "dead zones" grew and beach closures became commonplace.

We now have a binding, bipartisan federal/state partnership, called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, in place. Hard-working farmers, businesses, and local governments from all six Bay states and the District of Columbia are working together to reduce pollution. And it's working: Underwater grasses are rebounding; "dead zones" are shrinking; and oyster harvests are up.

But Big Ag is desperate to yank the teeth out of the Blueprint. They would rather protect their bottom lines than ensure clean water for future generations.

The irony is that cleaning up our Bay and rivers and streams means we'll have more productive and efficient farms, an increase of roughly $1.2 billion a year. Now that's something we can sink our teeth into!

Many of you will recall that in early 2011, just days after EPA established science-based limits for the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution the Bay can accommodate, the American Farm Bureau Federation and others sued EPA to derail those limits. We intervened in the case.

In September of 2013, Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo rejected Big Ag's first attack on the Blueprint even complimenting it as a model of "cooperative federalism." But in short order, the American Farm Bureau Federation and its partners filed an appeal, recruiting 21 state Attorneys General to support their efforts to derail Bay cleanup.

Tuesday was the big day: We presented oral arguments to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia again defending the Blueprint and telling the story of watermen having to leave their chosen vocations because pollution has limited their ability to catch crabs and oysters.

We don't know when the latest decision will be handed down. In the lower court, the ruling was 11 months in the making. But when it comes, we will be ready. This is the moment in time for Bay restoration, and a case we have to win.

We won't let Big Agriculture, who put their profits ahead of clean water, undermine what could be our last chance to save the Bay. Not now, just when the Bay's recovery is picking up speed!

—Will Baker, CBF President

Share the above image with your friends. We need everyone to know that the Blueprint and a saved Bay makes good economic and environmental sense.

Combating Polluted Runoff in Prince George's County

Alternative compliance forestville church
Leaders of the Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church, the county Department of the Environment, and other officials, break ground at the church for the Alternative Compliance Program. Photo courtesy of Prince George’s County.

The work of the Lord goes on inside Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church on Sunday, where the pews are full, and the music spirited. But come spring, it also will go on outside in the parking lot.

Like any other popular church or synagogue, New Redeemer has a large lot to accommodate the cars of parishioners. But polluted runoff from parking lots, roofs, streets, and other hard surfaces are the main source of pollution to nearby creeks and rivers as they run through Prince George's County, MD where the church is located. Rainwater flushes off these surfaces, erodes stream banks, and suffocates the life of the streams and the Chesapeake Bay beyond. The runoff also carries oils, weed killer, fertilizer, and other contaminants from the suburban landscape into the streams.

Prince George's County has an innovative idea to encourage religious organizations and other non-profits to reduce this pollution and to spread the word for cleaner water. The county kicked off its Alternative Compliance Program Oct. 22.

The program allows any church, synagogue, or non-profit to reduce the amount of its annual stormwater fee if it will:

  • Let the county improve the drainage and filtration of rainwater from church parking lots, roofs, or other hard surfaces and/or,
  • Encourage other churches and non-profits to plant trees and take other steps to retard polluted runoff.

The second criterion is especially innovative, essentially giving monetary credit to churches and synagogues that preach green.

Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church was the first organization to join the program. It has agreed to allow county contractors to install tree planters, rain barrels, permeable pavers, cisterns, and "rain gardens" on church property this coming spring. All these best management practices will help slow down and filter polluted runoff before it leaves the church grounds.

So effective are the practices that close to 100 percent of the first inch of a rainfall will be purified, said Adam Ortiz, director of the county's Department of the Environment, in a Prince George's Gazette article about the program.

The work also will make the grounds of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist more beautiful: more garden-like. And the church will save money. Ortiz told the Gazette that by simply letting the county perform the upgrades it will reduce its annual stormwater fee from $150 to $30.    

Church officials said it was a no brainer.

"God wants us to keep the Earth clean. It goes way back to the Garden of Eden," Assistant Pastor Juanita Browser told the Gazette. "I believe the Lord would have us to do the same right now today."

The program is only possible, however, because of the county's new stormwater fee. The county uses the annual charge on households, businesses, and non-profits to make direct improvements to the county's aging stormwater system, but also to leverage further improvements on private property. The New Redeemer project will cost about $100,000.

"Government can't do this alone," Pastor Nathaniel B. Thomas told the Washington Post. "We play a great role in the community in being not only a change agent but whenever there are issues and concerns that come about, we are there, and we have a great impact."

The program also is meant to inspire others to help reduce polluted runoff. It's working already.

Forestville New Redeemer member Frank Brown, 54, of Temple Hills, told the Gazette he plans to have a rain barrel installed at his home.

"This is the only planet we have to live on," Brown said. "If we don't take care of it, we're going to make it harder and harder to have resources to utilize, clean water, good air to breathe."

 —Tom Zolper, CBF's Maryland Communications Coordinator

Rethinking Coastal Development in Virginia Beach

The following first appeared in The Daily Caller late last week.

The Brock Environmental Center at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by Deanna Brusa/CBF Staff

Intense storms, winds, and waves increasingly threaten waterfront homes up and down the East Coast. But many communities refuse to recognize the risk. Instead, they are kicking the can down the road and leaving the problem to our children and grandchildren.

Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seems to be looking the other way. NBC News reported earlier this year that FEMA has remapped more than 500 waterfront properties from the Gulf of Alaska to Bar Harbor, Maine, "removing" them (at least on redrawn maps) from the highest-risk flood zone. That saves the owners as much as 97 percent on premiums they pay into the financially strained National Flood Insurance Program.

This remapping amounts to expanding the subsidy to the rich for building expensive waterfront properties or luxury condominiums in environmentally fragile areas. This is one issue where environmentalists and conservatives who favor small government should agree – government subsidized flood insurance wastes taxpayer's dollars and harms local ecosystems.

Such policies seem perverse. Sometimes it takes local citizens and community groups to take matters into their own hands and find smarter, more commonsense solutions to coastal overdevelopment. Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, Va., could be a model for doing just that.

Pleasure House Point is a 118-acre peninsula of beach, marsh, and trees on the Lynnhaven River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the last undeveloped waterfront parcels in Virginia Beach, developers purchased it years ago and planned to build "Indigo Dunes," a massive development of more than 1,000 new high-rise condos and townhouses, despite the fierce opposition of nearby neighborhoods and the City of Virginia Beach. By 2008, Indigo Dunes and its thousands of new waterfront residents, cars, and streets seemed only a matter of time.

Then the housing market collapsed, the Great Recession loomed, and building plans came to a halt. Bankers eventually foreclosed on the property and took ownership of Pleasure House Point. "Indigo Dunes" was dead, but there was a silver lining.

Seizing the opportunity, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation partnered with the City of Virginia Beach, the Trust for Public Land, and the local community in a plan to buy Pleasure House Point. This public-private coalition rallied, raised $13 million and purchased the site from the bank in 2012, preserving it for passive recreation and education.

The City of Virginia Beach quickly designated Pleasure House Point as a natural area, creating a public green space of inlets, beaches, forests, and trails that today teems with wildlife. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation bought a small corner of the property, a sandy upland of old dredge spoils, and created the Brock Environmental Center. When this innovative environmental education and community center opens in November, it will be one of the most environmentally smart buildings on the planet. Our hope is that the Brock Center will be a model of energy independence, climate change resiliency, and super-low environmental impact. In fact, it's designed to complement the surrounding environment, not harm or fight it.

—Christy Everett, CBF's Hampton Roads Director

Imagine a Building as Efficient and Beneficial as a Tree

10734192_10152730427875943_234172962746341259_nPhoto by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

Imagine a building as efficient and beneficial as a tree.

Imagine saving one of the last natural areas in Virginia Beach from development.

Imagine producing all the power you need from nature.

Imagine eliminating the nastiest chemicals from where you work.

Imagine drinking rain water.

You don't need to imagine anymore. We've done it.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center, now open at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, is one of the most energy efficient, environmentally smart buildings in the world.

CBF's President Will Baker leads the ceremonial "unplugging" symbolizing the opening of the Brock Environmental Center. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

With its solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns, waterless toilets, and natural landscaping, the center is an international model for energy- and water-efficiency. Elevated 14 feet above sea level, it is also a prototype for coping with climate change in a region increasingly prone to flooding.

"We hoped to raise the bar for environmentally smart buildings when we envisioned the Brock Environmental Center," CBF President Will Baker said. "And I think we've done that with this remarkable building."

Named after Virginia Beach philanthropists Joan and Macon Brock, the Brock Center houses CBF's Hampton Roads staff and that of Lynnhaven River NOW, a Virginia Beach conservation group. It also provides meeting space for community discussions and serves as headquarters for CBF's award-winning environmental education programs for Hampton Roads teachers and students.

Rooftop solar panels and wind turbines generate all power for the center, and even return surplus clean, renewable energy back to the grid. The center uses rainwater for all its water needs, including drinking water. It is believed to be the first commercial-scale building in the continental United States to do so.

Any excess rain water and "gray water" flow into nearby rain gardens of native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Even the center's bathrooms use waterless toilets that compost waste in waterproof bins until the odorless, harmless compost can be spread on the grounds.

Anticipating more regional flooding, the center is raised 14 feet above sea level. There are no paved parking lots to interfere with natural drainage; staff and visitors park on nearby streets and walk to the center on a natural path through the woods. Any code-required handicap and emergency access areas use permeable pavers that let water soak in rather than run off. More importantly, the surrounding sand, shrubs, and trees remain largely untouched, allowing flood waters to spread and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Today's opening of the Brock Environmental Center concludes a successful community effort to save the 118-acre Pleasure House Point tract from development. As recently as 2008, developers intended to build more than 1,100 new high-rise condos and townhouses on the property. The collapse of the housing market in 2009, however, led bankers to foreclose on the property. A community partnership with CBF, the City of Virginia Beach, and the Trust for Public Land purchased the land from the bank in 2012, preserving it for open space and environmental education.

Welcome to the Brock Environmental Center. Come explore and learn. We think you will be amazed. We know you will be inspired.

Chuck Epes, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Partnering with CBF to create the Brock Environmental Center were SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction, Skanska, and WPL Site Design all partnered with CBF to create the Brock Environmental Center.  

Running to Save the Bay!

DSC_0077Photos by Jeff Rogge/CBF Staff.  

Nearly 15,000 people ran across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Sunday, Nov. 9, a stream of fit humanity in colorful tech attire arching over the Bay flowing beneath. All deserve praise for participating in the 10k, but one runner in particular, one speck of color out in front of that stream, deserves special mention.

On Saturday, cross country star Shreya Nalubola ran the final race of her illustrious high school career on what has been described as the toughest course in the state. The meet was the Maryland Girls State Cross Country Championship at Hereford High School. She came in third.

Rather than sleep in on Sunday, however, Shreya pulled herself out of bed, and ran the Across the Bay 10k Chesapeake Bay Bridge Race. No easy course itself, the bridge features a two-mile incline. Shreya came in first place in her age group, and 11th overall of 9,662 women runners!

DSC_0084Shreya, a senior at Centennial High School in Howard County, didn't do the Bridge Race just for more exercise, or the spectacular view. She is a student advocate for the Chesapeake Bay. She wanted to do her part to promote the national treasure and to underscore its endangered health.

"In sixth grade, I attended a field trip with my classmates to the Chesapeake Bay, where we were able to experience and study it in-depth. The field trip made an impact on my young mind as we fished for crabs and oysters, convincing me of the importance of preserving the health of our ecosystem," Shreya said.

This past spring Shreya also spent time on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's skipjack Stanley Norman where she learned more about the human impact to the Bay's health. She decided to join CBF's Student Wave Leadership program.

Two other students chose to run in Sunday's race across the iconic bridge from Annapolis to Kent Island as part of their commitment to advocacy. Charlotte Waldman and Garrett Weintrob, both 10th graders at the Maret School in Washington, D.C., help support CBF's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, MD, among many other activities.  

"I hope that events such as the Across the Bay 10k will continue to raise awareness about the problems that affect the watershed, including pollution, agricultural development, and deforestation. In the future, perhaps changes can be made and efforts can be put into reducing pollution and restoring forest buffers in order to better support and protect the Chesapeake," Shreya said.

Thanks Shreya, Charlotte, and Garrett! The future of the Bay is in your hands—and running shoes. 

—Tom Zolper, CBF's Maryland Communications Coordinator

Photo of the Week: Summer Storm Memories

From the shoreline of Peary, Virginia, looking over Horn Harbor toward Cape Charles. About 4:30 p.m. or so. A nice rain shaft over the Bay!

We are fortunate to own a small cottage on the Bay in Mathews County, VAThe Chesapeake Bay is a place where our family can simply be a family againwithout any unwanted intrusions. No phones, no televisions, no computers! It's a place where we leave all the pressures and obligations of Richmond behind and just exist as four people who appreciate every small detail of what that incredible environment has to offer. It's the exclamation point on every week for us!

—Scott Phillips 

Ensure that Scott, his family, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. 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 Senior Manager of Digital Media 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!


A Comprehensive Cleanup for the Bay

The following first appeared in the Diamondback.

The Conowingo Dam, in Laurel, MD. Photo by Eliot Malamuth.

Recent scientific studies show that sediment backed up behind the Conowingo Dam is not as big a threat as previously thought. During a big storm, 80 percent of the sediment that comes through the dam is from upriver, while 20 percent is the mud scoured from the area behind the dam, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What that means is the bigger threat to the Chesapeake Bay remains what it always has been: pollution that enters the Susquehanna River and all other tributaries from farms, cities and suburbs.

Don Boesch, president of the university's Center for Environmental Science, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in May about the additional sediment coming over the dam.

"The increased loads have a relatively modest effect on dissolved oxygen in deeper waters near Kent Island, with little or no effects on water quality over vast portions of the estuary, including the larger tributary subestuaries, such as the Choptank and Patuxent Rivers. Impaired conditions in the tributaries, including not only water quality but also harmful algal blooms and fish kills, are much more determined by reductions of nutrient pollution loads within their watersheds."

It's important to keep our eye on the biggest problem: the source of pollution. We need to address the sediment buildup at the dam, but not as a substitute for the hard work in our own backyards to reduce the overload of nutrients and sediments that foul the bay and threaten crabs and other marine life.

The state General Assembly and this state's next governor, therefore, should be pushed to do just that. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently issued a list of critical actions state leaders must take in the next four years to finish the job of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Those actions include reducing the amount of pollution from manure that reaches creeks and rivers, tightening enforcement efforts of environmental laws and stopping raids to environmental funds. The foundation is urging its members and the public to consider gubernatorial and legislative candidates' positions on these issues when voting.

The university also should be aware that in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency put the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Washington on what the agency called a "pollution diet." The jurisdictions all agreed to abide by this diet and to design and implement plans to do so. The foundation calls this initiative the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is a national model for restoring a multistate water system. It holds all jurisdictions accountable for progress. It will make the bay swimmable and fishable once again. The foundation was a leader in the initiative, suing the EPA to force the "diet" and subsequently pushing and helping jurisdictions to meet their pollution limits.

Meeting their responsibilities under the blueprint should remain the focus of leaders in this state and other jurisdictions. Pennsylvania leaders must do their share to reduce pollution entering the Susquehanna and ultimately reaching the Conowingo Dam. Other states and local jurisdictions must do their part to reduce pollution entering their local waters. This comprehensive approach offers the best hope not only for crabs, oysters and other marine life, but also for our children and grandchildren. They shouldn't have to swim or frolic in polluted water.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director