Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake Bay: Partnerships for Success

The following originally appeared on USDA's Blog last week.

Water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay benefit the many species of wildlife that call it home. Photos by Tim McCabe, NRCS Maryland.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the largest estuary in North America, covers 64,000 square miles and includes more than 150 rivers and streams that drain into the bay. Roughly one quarter of the land in the watershed is used for agricultural production, and agricultural practices can affect the health of those rivers and streams, and ultimately the bay itself.

While the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved since the 1970s, excess nutrients and sediment continue to adversely affect water quality in local rivers and streams, which contributes to impaired water quality in the Bay.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with several agencies and organizations to test innovative water quality trading tools that will help improve the bay’s water quality, benefiting the more than 300 species of fish, shellfish and crab, and many other wildlife that call the Chesapeake Bay home.

In 2012, NRCS awarded Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to 12 entities to help develop water quality trading programs; five of these recipients are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

USDA is excited about water quality trading’s potential to achieve the nutrient reductions necessary to improve water quality at a lower cost than regulation alone. For example, a wastewater treatment plant could purchase a nutrient credit rather than facing higher compliance costs if structural improvements are required on site. This is advantageous because it saves regulated industries money, and can provide additional income for the agricultural community by supporting adoption of conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff.

The Chesapeake Bay grant recipients are the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; the borough of Chambersburg, Penn.; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation; and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

NRCS recently met with these organizations and agencies to share expertise and identify common obstacles and priorities. During the meeting, NRCS briefed recipients on trading tools and policies, and invited groups working on water quality trading programs across the country to share ideas. The Chesapeake Bay CIG awardees will continue to meet throughout the duration of their projects to share updates and collaborate on innovative solutions to water quality challenges in the Chesapeake Bay.

These grants are part of the largest conservation commitment by USDA in the bay region. NRCS works side by side with farmers and ranchers to improve water, air and soil quality through conservation. 

Reflections from a Summer Intern

Emma RodvienAs summer intern season begins, we are wistfully thinking about all the inspiring young leaders that have helped us in summers past. Last year we were fortunate enough to have Emma Rodvien come intern with us in CBF's Education Department as part of the William & Mary Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow Fellowship (TCT). Emma had taken part in many meaningful CBF experiences pior to her internship—from participating in a Karen Noonan Center Field Experience to taking part in several CBF Student Leadership Courses. These experiences led her to pursue education in college and to come back to us again last summer as an intern. Take a peak below at her thoughts on her lastest CBF experience. 


As I prepared myself for this internship, I distilled a set of questions that I hoped to answer during my time as an intern. I applied to the TCT program with the overarching goal of gaining insight into the education field. If learning about environmental education was my organizing question, my supporting questions were as follows: How does outdoor education differ from classroom education? In what ways can the lessons and experiences from outside the classroom be effectively introduced within the classroom? How can I utilize my interests and talentsscience and otherwisefor education purposes? Investigating these questions was a foremost expectation for my internship.

I dove into my internship hoping to learn more about the world of environmental non-profits. Prior to the internship, I was familiar with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation from a student's perspective. Naturally, gaining an "insider's perspective" into CBF as an employee or educator was a true curiosity of mine, one that would allow me to explore the intersections of my interests in communications, social science, and the environment.

Observations from the Field
Perhaps the most meaningful lesson that I learned throughout my internship was how the Bay can intrigue every sense. This concept was certainly embodied in the field experiences of my internship! Each of my senses was heightened in the field, captivated by the life and spirit of the Bay. To focus on just one would be to deny the Bay's influence on another; instead, I will recount Bay memories from the perspective of all five senses:

1. I saw...  The orange sunrise over Port Isobel's eastern marshes, the pink sunset over its western shore, the frantic scattering of fiddler crabs around my feet, the sky severed by lightning bolts, illuminated in a tie-dyed pattern of black and white, the slow and synchronized Clagett cows migrating between fields, the momentary terror that dances across students' faces at first touch of a catfish, the proud smiles when they finally pick one up and hold it.

2. I smelled... The pungent odors of a wastewater treatment plant, the salty smack of Virginia Beach air, the slow and wafting scent of marsh detritus, the sweet smell of blue crabs and the tang of Old Bay seasoning, the earthy air as a storm blows in over Port Isobel.

3. I tasted... Sustainably grown radishes from Clagett Farm, the oily lips of menhaden bait, the bitter sting of brackish water against my tongue, the delicious flakiness of Captain Charles' fried trout.

4. I heard... The comforting cluck of Clagett's chickens, the deafening roar of airplanes and helicopters over the Potomac, the wind meandering its way through marsh grasses, the friendly horns of Tangier's boats, the roll of thunder and the crack of lightning, the subtle "whoooosh" of a blue heron overhead, the bubbling of blue crabs recirculating their water.

5. I touched... The pointy tops of Black Needlerush, the slippery side of a Spot fish, the prickly spikes of a Northern Puffer, the perfect smoothness of Diamondback Terrapin eggs, the blisteringly hot black seat of my canoe, the worn ropes of a trawl net, the bristly hair of Clagett's cows.

—Emma Rodvien

 Ensure that Emma and future generations continue to have these life-changing moments along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

New Rules for Stormwater Expected to Increase Reductions

The following originally appeared in Bay Journal earlier this month.

Photo by © Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Most of us in the Bay community are celebrating this moment in time for the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams.

In 2010, the EPA established pollution limits—known legally in the Clean Water Act as a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL—for waters draining into the Chesapeake (after decades of monitoring, modeling and receiving thousands of comments). Concurrently, the Bay states and the District of Columbia began to refine their plans to meet those pollution targets with programs and funding in place by 2025.

Together, the pollution limits and the jurisdictions' plans to meet them constitute a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. And, it is working. By some measures, we are halfway to meeting our pollution-reduction goals. The progress we are witnessing demonstrates what can happen when governments, businesses, and individuals work together.

And, the progress begets more progress.

Every pollution sector but one is marching toward success. The outlier is stormwater—that unfiltered stuff running off parking lots, rooftops, sidewalks and roads directly into waterways. It can contain motor oil, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants we really do not want in our water.

While stormwater is not the biggest source of pollution by any stretch of the imagination, it does need to be addressed.

In fact, the Clean Water Act provides the authority to regulate stormwater under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, which requires permits for stormwater discharges in cities and counties of a certain size.

For the most part, the states have been left to address stormwater pollution with very little guidance. With varying degrees of success, the states address stormwater from new development. But stormwater from existing development remains unaddressed.

Until now. Because of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's June 2010 legally binding settlement with the EPA (Fowler v. EPA), the EPA has to draft and release federal stormwater rules. A national performance standard will be set—likely to be based on controlling the runoff up to a certain-size storm—to manage this growing source of pollution to waters everywhere.

We think this rule cannot come too soon. And, we will look for it to include at least four specific areas of concern.

First, the rule should level the playing field for all of the states.

Second, the rule should treat new development and redevelopment differently. It is easier and less costly to prevent stormwater pollution in new development, where there is room for proper design, than it is to treat stormwater in tight urban spaces when redevelopment occurs, although redevelopment should be encouraged.

Third, existing urban areas should not be given a pass. There should be a provision in the rule for retrofitting in urban areas. Some of these strategies can be "green," and are actually less expensive than traditional "gray" infrastructure, as is being demonstrated right now in Lancaster, PA, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

And, fourth, the rule should expand the areas needing municipal permits to include certain existing impervious areas—for example, large suburban shopping malls—as well as those areas which are just now urbanizing, to prevent runoff pollution before it becomes a problem.

A draft of the EPA's national stormwater rule is expected this spring. We should look for it to ensure it does what it should do to reduce pollution and contribute to much healthier waterways. Clean water is the legacy we should be leaving to our children and grandchildren.

—Lee Epstein
Director of Lands Program, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Learn more about stormwater on our website.

Local Governments Set Pollution-Busting Examples

The following originally appeared in Bay Journal News Service yesterday.

Riparian Park plantingA community riparian park planting. Photo by CBF Staff. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 2012 State of the Bay Report tells us the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved 14 percent since 2008. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, we hear about local governments, businesses, and citizens rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution from all sectors--agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and urban and suburban runoff. They are working to restore local rivers and streams. That is the goal of the federal/state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (formally known as the TMDL and State Watershed Implementation Plans). The Blueprint, if fully implemented with programs in place by 2025, will restore clean water throughout the Chesapeake's 64,000 square mile watershed.

Examples abound.

In south-central Pennsylvania, Warwick Township's citizens—farmers,  school children, businessmen, civic groups, and the township board of supervisors—pitched in to implement a comprehensive watershed management plan for Lititz Run.

Building on stream restoration efforts started in the early 1990s, Girl Scouts turned old barrels into rain barrels, and in turn homeowners used the devices to reduce stormwater flow. Every industrial park in the township modified its stormwater system to reduce runoff. The township preserved 20 farms and 1,318 farm acres from future development using "Transferable Development Rights." Eagle Scouts placed "No Dumping, Drains to the Stream" signs on all the storm drains in the township.

The Result: Lititz Run has been re-designated by the State as a cold-water fishery and now supports a healthy brook trout population.

Just a little south of Lititz, the Lancaster City government is making significant investments in green infrastructure. The green roofs, porous pavers in alleyways, rain barrels, and other innovative technologies put in place there will absorb rainwater instead of allowing it to run off carrying pollution to the Conestoga River. Not only will water quality be improved, but these actions will improve the quality of life for all residents.

In Maryland, Harford, Somerset, and Wicomico counties decided to better manage sprawl to reduce associated water and air pollution and preserve their rural character.

In the small town of Forest Heights, Md., Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall wants local government to lead by example. Town stormwater drains into Oxon Run, which in turn flows to the polluted Potomac River. So the town recently installed new bio-retention ponds, a cistern, and three 250-gallon rain barrels at the town administration building. Previously, the town had installed a vegetated green roof on the building, as well as solar panels, and energy-efficient interior features. Forest Heights actively sought grants for the latest project, reducing the overall cost 90 percent. Now, the town is encouraging its 2,400 residents to do their part: limit car washing and pesticide spraying, install rain barrels, and take other measures.

And Talbot County, Md., has undertaken an innovative pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to purify runoff. County-wide, this strategy could save tens of millions of dollars.

In Virginia this year, the Governor and legislature allocated $216 million in new funds for local water improvement efforts, the largest investment in clean water in years. This investment will pay for upgrading wastewater treatment plants, improving stormwater runoff controls, and reducing combined sewer overflows. These actions will help produce healthier streams and rivers across the Commonwealth, stimulate local economies, and help Virginia meet its 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

Falls Church, Va., officials reduced the initial cost estimates for improving stormwater management by 60 percent through the use of "green infrastructure." And in Charlottesville, Va., city officials recognized the damage done by stormwater to the Rivanna River and passed a stormwater fee to aid in restoration.

We hope these actions and the many others like them inspire other local governments, businesses, and individuals to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is the right thing to do, and it is the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.

We're more than halfway to our goal of reducing water pollution. Much work remains, but momentum is building. And each person, business, and locality that takes action increases our ability to finish the job in our lifetime.

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

Volunteers "Liven-up" Pennsylvania Streams

YuVFwloe5G2TV26uVQBV78y7XmQoAUSJZHk3J19Q2fIPlanting season is here, and for many CBF volunteers, that means helping to improve water quality in Pennsylvania and downstream by planting trees along streams. Volunteers recently helped to plant not trees, but "live stakes," along the Conewago Creek near Elizabethtown, in Lancaster County.

Live stakes are cuttings that are harvested from new growth branches of tree species like black willow and red osier dogwood. These native trees commonly grow along stream banks, at or below the water line, providing great soil stabilization of the banks with their root systems, as well as providing habitat for aquatic life. 

This spring CBF will be working with Penn State Extension’s Lower Susquehanna Initiative to plant trees throughout the Conewago Creek watershed, and on March 21 volunteers got started by harvesting willow, dogwood, and elderberry stakes.

V0bBKAt9OBJB3zsLWH8jRfIoF_TVG9JO4Ea7kxvKKycMatt Royer, director of the Lower Susquehanna Initiative, taught volunteers the proper method to harvest  cuttings: pruning the young branch at a 45-degree angle at the base, trimming off the small shoots to a single, 18-24" live stake, with a straight cut across the top to encourage new growth. Royer says that it is important to harvest the live stakes while they are still dormant and have not begun to leaf out.  

Some of the cuttings were potted and sent to Davis Nursery, a partner of the Lower Susquehanna Initiative, for use in future streamside buffer plantings. Two days later, volunteers stepped into hip waders, got into the Little Conewago Creek at the Hanson Farm, and planted the remaining willow and dogwood live stakes. Using a piece of rebar to first drill a hole in the stream bank, they inserted the live stakes just above the surface of the water, spacing the stakes every two feet. Harvesting more live stakes from black willow and red osier dogwood stands along the creek as they went; the volunteers planted a considerable section of the creek.

Sherry McLain, a volunteer from Dauphin County said, "I had read about live staking before, but had never seen it done. I was excited to bring this new skill back to my local watershed group."

ORKufNF1QnQh_bN7FIz6yQBc1PcHC3UCbp1tgbn4cy0The relative ease and cost-effectiveness of live staking makes it an important tool for volunteer stream restoration projects.

The live staking workdays kicked off a busy season of spring volunteer restoration projects in south-central Pennsylvania. For a list of upcoming volunteer opportunities, check out our website. 

—Kate Austin
CBF's Pennsylvania Grassroots Field Organizer

Check out our Facebook Album for more pics from this fun and productive day out in the field!

CBF is proud to partner with Penn State Extension's Lower Susquehanna Initiative, Tri-County Conewago Creek Association, Lancaster County Watershed Manager, and other "Greening the Lower Susquehanna" partners in offering these opportunities to restore your local watersheds.

S_6IleAcp_4aeH1u9NkHVBGTh3yYo9NNhaaDmaP_RHgPhotos by Kate Austin/CBF Staff and Kristen Kyler/Penn State Extension.

Few Budget Choices Are as Critical as Clean Water

The following op-ed appeared in The Richmond-Times Dispatch yesterday.

IMG_9388It is hard to overstate the importance of wastewater treatment plants in protecting the environment and public health. These clean-water factories take raw sewage and clean it up to meet state and federal water quality standards before discharging it back into our streams and rivers.

Because of wastewater treatment's critical importance to all of us, a coalition of public and private stakeholders have worked together to advocate for government funding for mandated upgrades and improvements. In Virginia, those stakeholders include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Manufacturers Association, as well as other conservation, local government, industry and public utility groups.

In recent years, wastewater treatment plants have played a key role in helping restore the Chesapeake Bay. Plants all across the bay watershed have made it a top priority to modernize and install nutrient reduction technology that cuts the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater to just a few parts per million. That's important because nitrogen and phosphorus are among the most serious pollutants affecting the bay's health.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are 483 significant (large or critically located) wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay region. Most are publicly owned and operated; 81 belong to private industry. Together, they discharge more than 3 billion gallons of treated wastewater a day into the bay watershed.

EPA calculates that between 1985 and 2009, ongoing upgrades at wastewater plants reduced nitrogen and phosphorus pollution going to the bay by 44 percent and 67 percent, respectively—this despite an additional 3.5 million people moving into the watershed during the same period.

But the upgrades are expensive. From 2007 to 2010, nearly $2 billion in taxes was invested in upgrading wastewater treatment facilities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed; more than a half-billion dollars was appropriated by the Virginia legislature alone. Millions more in upstream technology investments have been made by private industry to reduce its impact on these facilities as well.

But the job is far from finished. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality lists 32 wastewater treatment plants, including four in the Richmond area and one in Hopewell, that are now upgrading so that Virginia can achieve its 2017 bay cleanup benchmarks. Many more plants will be added to the list as the state and region fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025.

General Assembly funding of the state's share of these upgrade costs not only will ameliorate local rate increases to citizens; it also will benefit all Virginians by helping restore the bay, a national treasure, recreation and tourism magnet, and a job-creating economic engine.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Manufacturers Association call upon the 2013 General Assembly to continue state funding for these critical wastewater plant upgrades. We applaud Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to invest an additional $106 million in state bonds over the next three years for this purpose and urge the legislature to approve them.

Our state legislators have many difficult funding choices to make. But few are more important than clean water—for neighborhood creeks, the bay, public health, recreation and our economy. Please encourage your legislator to help keep sewer rates affordable, invest in clean water and support the governor’s budget.

—Ann Jennings and Brett Vassey

Ann Jennings is Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She can be reached at ajennings@cbf.org.

Brett Vassey is president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. He can be contacted at bvassey@vamanufacturers.com.

Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Wanted: Funding for Clean Water

The following op-ed appeared on The Virginian-Pilot yesterday.

Bill Portlock, VA Sewage Treatment PLantsHampton Roads residents expect that when they flush their toilets or drain their bathtubs, the wastewater goes to a sewage treatment plant to be treated and cleaned before it is discharged to our waterways.

As the operator of local treatment plants, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District takes pride in ensuring that the complex network of pipes, plants and related systems works safely, effectively and efficiently. The district is proud to operate some of the most modern wastewater treatment systems available.

That's important from a public health standpoint, but it's also critical to anyone who loves a creek, a river, the Chesapeake Bay and the beauty and economic bounty that our waterways provide.

Many people know that farm animal manure is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. That's why it makes good fertilizer when applied appropriately.

Human waste also contains nitrogen and phosphorus. In such massive quantitiessome 1.7 million people flush toilets every day in Hampton Roads alonethis human-generated nutrient pollution has contributed to the familiar problems plaguing the bay and its rivers: cloudy water, algal blooms, oxygen-starved dead zones, and fish kills.

When HRSD treatment plants were built, nitrogen and phosphorus were not a focus of wastewater treatment, and removal of these nutrients was not required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or by Virginia. Only in more recent years has removal of nitrogen and phosphorus become a focus of wastewater treatment.

HRSD and other wastewater treatment authorities across the Bay region have made it a priority to upgrade and install modern nutrient-removal technology. The technology allows wastewater nitrogen and phosphorus to be reduced to just minute parts per million.

The EPA estimates that treatment plant upgrades kept a whopping 39 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 6 million pounds of phosphorus pollution from getting into the bay between 1985 and 2009, a reduction of 44 percent and 67 percent respectively. These reductions are producing dramatic and positive results in the health of local streams, rivers, and the bay. While very effective, these upgrades are also expensive.

Recognizing the effectiveness of nutrient-removal technology in restoring the bay, the Virginia General Assembly has generously provided more than a half-billion dollars in grants to local sewage authorities across the state since 2005.

HRSD has been a benefactor of these funds, receiving over $100 million in grant funding toward nutrient removal upgrades at five plants. These grants have eased utility rate increases for citizens and businesses of Hampton Roads while helping provide cleaner water to local streams and rivers. They also have provided needed local jobs.

But there is still a long way to go. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality lists 32 wastewater treatment plants, including two HRSD plants, that are now upgrading in order for Virginia to achieve its 2017 bay cleanup benchmarks.

Fully funding the state's share of the cost will limit rate increases necessary to support these projects and benefit all Virginians by implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and restoring the bay, a national treasure.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and HRSD join with other conservation, local government, industry, and public utility groupsand, we hope, the region's residentsin calling upon the General Assembly to continue state funding for wastewater plant upgrades.

We applaud Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to invest an additional $101 million in state bonds over the next three years for this purpose.

Virginia has many important and competing fiscal needs. Few are more critical, however, than clean water for the bay, public health, recreation, our economy and children's future. We hope the region's residents agree and will encourage their state representatives to fund this important clean water need.

—Christy Everett and Ted Henifin

Christy Everett is Hampton Roads director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Ted Henifin is general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

  Photo: A Virginia sewage treatment plant. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

Balancing the Benefits of Menhaden

MenhadenCatch_JohnSurrickIndustrial fishing boats pull up a net chock-full of menhaden. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

In the 1940s, a company in Reedville, Virginia, that fished Atlantic menhaden for "reduction" (industrial processing) described the little silvery fish as "made for Man to harvest." To them, the supply was inexhaustible, with no other value except crab pot bait. 

Today, that viewpoint seems outrageous, but it dies hard. It has caused big problems for the menhaden, aka "bunker, pogy, or alewife." These herring relatives have ranged along the coast in astronomical numbers for thousands of years. Most of the fish winter and spawn off the Carolina coast.

In late winter, young-of-the-year move into estuaries to feed and grow. One-to-two-year-olds come in the spring. The Chesapeake provides them critical habitat. Older fish migrate further north, so the largest menhaden go to New England (where large Chesapeake rockfish spend the summer).

Why such vast numbers? Simple: menhaden eat low on the food web. They are omnivorous filter feeders, straining whatever water they swim through. Depending on a fish's age, it might catch phytoplankton (tiny algae cells), zooplankton (tiny invertebrate animals), or, especially in estuaries, detritus (semi-decayed plant material). 

The success of this ecological niche lies in tapping these vast food sources and converting them to oily, protein-filled flesh for the next level of the coastal food web. Menhaden feed predators like rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. Their value to these iconic fish and birds is immense. 

We humans make scant use of menhaden as food; their greatest direct economic values are oil, fish meal, and bait for fin- and shellfish. The oil goes into industrial products, including paints, cosmetics, and Omega-3 diet supplements. The leftover high-protein meal becomes livestock feed and pet food. 

The reduction industry came to the Chesapeake in the 1870s. Skillful captains and crews use purse seines to surround menhaden schools. Small airplanes help find fish. The harvest is highly automated, using twin 32-foot "purse boats" and 175-foot-long "steamers" (mother ships). Reedville is the fishery's hub. The industry supports 250 good-paying jobs.  To learn more, visit the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.  

As bait, the menhaden's oily flesh exudes a trail to lure crabs and lobsters, as well as rockfish and bluefish. It has been particularly valuable here since the invention of the crab pot in 1928.

The bait fishery is concentrated between North Carolina and Massachusetts. Every watermen's village from Hampton Roads to Rock Hall is dependent on bait--likewise coastal North Carolina, Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and Long Island. With recent cutbacks in the Atlantic herring fishery because of depleted stocks, menhaden are now critical for New England’s lobster fishery. Though more spread out than the reduction fishery, the bait fishery supports more jobs.    

How many menhaden do these human fisheries catch? On recent average, about 200,000 metric tons (that’s 440,925,000 pounds per year). According to peer-reviewed fishery science, however, the current menhaden stock stands at only 8 percent of an un-fished population, the lowest point on record. Are we wise enough to back off before we crash it? 

Consider these alarming statistics:  Historically, menhaden provided 70 percent of an adult rockfish's diet, but that number has fallen to 8 percent. The percentage for Chesapeake ospreys has fallen from 70 percent to 28 percent, causing serious chick mortality. Clearly, a healthy menhaden stock is as vital to the Atlantic ecosystem as to humans. At 8 percent, there aren’t enough to go around. What to do?

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) coordinates and enforces fishery management plans for menhaden from Florida to Maine. It includes three commissioners from each state and one from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. Last year, ASMFC's commissioners took the unprecedented step of setting an overfishing threshold to allow the population to grow to 15 percent, with a management target of 30 percent. This fall, the commissioners must decide how to reduce the catch without major harm to human fishermen and their communities, to leave enough for rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. It's a delicate balancing act. Like restoring the Chesapeake, if it were easy, we'd have done it long ago.

ASMFC has held public hearings on the new management plan and is taking written comment through November 16. YOU can play a valuable role by educating yourself and submitting comments. Public input played a key role in setting the threshold and target last year, and it will again. 

We had enough wisdom to pull back on blue crabs five years ago. Today, the population is much healthier. It's time to give menhaden the same respect, for ourselves as well as fish, birds, crabs, and lobsters. Our Bay and Atlantic coast won’t be healthy without them.

—John Page Williams
Senior Naturalist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

To learn more, read our menhaden blog series.

Please take action TODAY to help restore menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay!


The Key to Clean Water: Trees and Streams

David WiseOver the last 15 years, our restoration program has assisted more than 5,000 landowners in Pennsylvania in reducing water pollution and improving stream health by planting forested buffers. A few weeks ago, our Facebook fans asked CBF's Watershed Restoration Manager David Wise questions about the Pennsylvania restoration program and the benefits of planting trees along streams. See what he had to say below...

Facebook fan Timothy Shultz asked: Are there any plans for more stream restoration projects in Lancaster, Pennsylvania? We seem to only have two or three plantings a year. With hundreds of miles of streams, it seems we could have a few more plantings a year, given the funding and volunteers.

David Wise: Tim, thanks for your question. There’s a bit of history here. In the past, we were a pretty small operation and the level of restoration we were doing made it very hard to do volunteer plantings (which are enormously energy intensive) and take care of our wholesale restoration program. The good news is that we now have some additional staff and with the additional manpower we have, I think we are much better positioned to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers while still working on restoration at the wholesale level. I think you can expect good things, and we are far better positioned than we were 10 years ago.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked: What sorts of nutrients can buffers offer to stream animals?

D.W.: I’m going to have to pivot on this one. The real connection between trees and nutrients in streams is that nutrients are usually a pollutant in most local waterways. They are good in small amounts—they are necessary. But in large amounts they are the primary pollutants in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. So, nutrients—too many is bad. The connection between trees and streams—by placing trees along streams, those trees are foundational to creating an environment in the stream that allows organisms in the stream to prosper and thrive. The things that live in the stream will actually remove a lot of the nitrogen and phosphorus and help tie up those nutrients so they don't move down the system.

The real nugget here is that by giving stream organisms the [right] temperatures, the type of food, and quantity of food that really make them thrive, those organisms are in a great position to do an awful lot of water quality work by removing excess nutrients from the stream system. A stream that has trees on its banks can remove two to nine times more nitrogen from the stream than a stream without trees on its banks.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked a second question: What are some indicators of poor stream health that occur after the destruction of a forrested buffer?

D.W.: The first indicator and predictor is whether there are trees along the stream. Trees have such an enormous role in the basic ecology of Pennsylvania streams. The presence of trees would be a primary indication that a stream is heading in the right direction. Some of the indicators that you would see in the water itself; if you are seeing a lot of stringy algae that would be an indicator of excess nutrients and light levels in the stream. Most Pennsylvania streams are adapted to living under the shade of trees. The whole ecosystem is really set up to thrive best under those shady conditions. 

Many thanks for your questions!

Cows and Clean Water, Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the third, second, and first parts.

Landes plantingCBF tree plantings on Darrel Landes farm along Muddy Creek. Photo by CBF Staff.

Both the trust developed by the outreach process and the technical assistance offered by the state and federal partners played key roles in participation by the Old Order Mennonites in the Muddy Creek and Dry River watersheds. Even though the pollution limits applied just as much to them as to their less conservative neighbors, many chose to invest their own money instead of government cost-share funds to upgrade their conservation practices and develop nutrient management plans for both crop fields and livestock operations. They have, however, accepted the technical assistance offered by NRCS, the Shenandoah Valley SWCD, and CBF. It is testimony to the Mennonites’ faith, their stewardship ethic, and the encouragement of their bishops that these farmers paid the full cost to install the recommended conservation practices, which included about 80 percent of the streambank livestock exclusion fencing installed to date.

It is worth noting, however, that the other farmers along Muddy Creek who have accepted cost-share funding have also willingly contributed their shares of their projects’ costs. One particularly important portion of the cost-share funds made available to them has come through NRCS from special Chesapeake Bay program sections of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Muddy Creek’s condition improved significantly from 2001-2006, thanks to the whole-farm combinations of Best Management Practices installed then. They included dairy loafing lot systems, 10 miles of stream fencing to exclude livestock, grazing systems to protect and enhance pastures, 1,200 acres of cover crops for small grains, and side-dress application of nitrogen on corn. In addition, the project addressed rural human wastewater issues with 13 septic system repairs and replacements, 30 septic tank pump-outs, and the installation of five alternative waste treatment systems. Improvement has continued since 2006, as farmers along the creek have worked steadily to extend, enhance, and maintain these conservation practices, both with and without cost-share funding.

Their efforts have produced one major success: Muddy Creek and lower Dry River are no longer impaired for excessive nitrate. Levels of that pollutant have consistently stayed around 6 mg/l in Muddy Creek and 4 mg/l in Dry River, with no sample in excess of the drinking water standard (10 mg/l) since 2004, despite some years of heavy runoff that would previously have produced continuous violations.

Muddy Creek is still impaired for E. coli bacteria and benthic invertebrates. Though the results of in-the-field water quality testing indicate clear improvements, they also suggest caution, as E. coli violation rates continue to run over 50-60 percent in the creek's watershed, still a long way from the maximum 10.5 percent violation rate necessary to de-list the water and call it fully supporting for recreational use. The job has taken a decade so far. The great cooperation over that time between many partners—both public and private—deserves high praise, but it is important to understand and be realistic about the effort and the resources necessary to turn around waterway ecosystems that have been (largely unintentionally) treated very roughly for over a century. 

—John Page Williams

Stay tuned for the fifth and final part of the "Cows and Clean Water Series" next week!