This Week in the Watershed

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Algal blooms, such as this one by Hampton Roads, Virginia on the Lafayette River, are caused by excess nutrients such as nitrogen. Photo by Christy Everett/CBF Staff.

We all love clean water, but sometimes the path to achieving it is not all that "sexy." From talk of septic systems to land use management, to excess nutrients, the science and policy of clean water can be rather tedious and boring. One of the excess nutrients that fall in this category is nitrogen. While discussion of nitrogen might give us flashbacks to a boring science class, a la Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, it has a massive impact on clean water. Today, roughly 300 million pounds of polluting nitrogen reaches the Chesapeake Bay—about six times the amount that reached the bay in the 1600s. This excess nitrogen leads to a bevy of problems, including feeding algal blooms that block sunlight to underwater grasses and suck up life-supporting oxygen when they die and decompose leading to "dead zones."

Nitrogen comes from a variety of sources, including sewage treatment plants, animal feed lots, and polluted runoff from crop land, urban, and suburban areas. The inescapable truth is that we all produce nitrogen through everyday choices. Collectively, these make a huge impact on our Bay and its rivers and streams. Everything from how we get around to the food we eat contributes to the pollution affecting our region. But it can be tough to know just how exactly your day-to-day life affects the health of the Bay and its rivers and streams.

After partnering with researchers from the University of Virginia, CBF has released a Bay Footprint Calculator. This tool will show you how you stack up against other people in your area and offer tips on how you can improve your grade by making simple changes in your daily life. Find out how well you're doing to prevent harmful pollution from getting into our waters. Fill out the calculator now and get your score!

All of this is inextricably linked to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. If we want to leave a legacy of clean water to the next generation, the Blueprint needs to be fully implemented. And to rid our waters of excess nutrients such as nitrogen, we each need to recognize our individual impact and make changes. Click here to get your pollution grade and find out how you can improve.

This Week in the Watershed: Nitrogen Tool, Bacteria Testing, and A Mysterious Nutrient

  • The release of a new online tool allows citizens to identify the amount of nitrogen they produce. (UPI)
  • Environmental nonprofits are helping restore communities not only through improving the environment but by providing ex-convicts jobs. (Bay Journal)
  • Maryland's Harford County is implementing a multifaceted approach in their stormwater remediation efforts to reduce polluted runoff. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Bacteria testing conducted by CBF throughout Maryland also found unsafe bacteria levels, including fecal matter in White Marsh Run 400 times higher than safety standards permit. (Perry Hall Patch—MD)
  • Bacteria testing conducted by CBF throughout south-central Pennsylvania has found bacteria levels unsafe for swimming. (Patriot News—PA)
  • Scientists are attempting to solve the mystery of the ultimate destination of excess nitrogen from agricultural application. (Lancaster Farming—PA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 10

  • Gambrills, MD: Come help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm! Sunrise Farm is an 800 acre farm, the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was a wet less productive corn & soy-bean field. Click here to register!

September 13

  • Richmond, VA: The Richmond VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class meeting on Tuesdays, starts September 13! This course will cover the history of the James, urban and rural runoff issues and solutions, practical methods to improve water quality in your backyard, and the critical importance of citizen action to saving the bay. Plus, there are field trips! Click here to register!

September 16-18

  • Oxon Hill, MD: During this three-day event (September 16-18), we will build concrete reef balls designed to help restore fish habitat in Smoots Bay on the Potomac River. The reef balls will be relocated to the bottom of Smoots Bay, where they will be intermixed with various woody structures to provide an ideal habitat for various fish species, such as our native largemouth bass. Come for one day or all three! Building reef balls is a fun and exciting way to help restore our Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

September 17

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us at Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park to help make the Choptank River cleaner and safer. This is a family friendly event, but all children must be accompanied by an adult. Groups are welcome! Please wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and bring sunscreen and water. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!

September 24

  • Annapolis, MD: Head out on the water for a morning of fishing, learning, and fun! Spend the morning aboard the Marguerite in search of whatever is biting! Our experienced crew will provide all the knowledge and equipment necessary—just bring your enthusiasm! Gear and licenses are provided. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!
  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


We Should Ramp up Bay Restoration, Not Roll Back Protections

The following first appeared in the Gazette-Journal.

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Gloucester County is considering reducing regulations for land use rules which protect water quality. Photo by Garth Lenz/iLCP.

After decades of restoration efforts, the Chesapeake Bay is finally starting to show promising signs. The oyster population is beginning to rebound. At times, water has been the clearest in decades. Underwater grasses sway in the shallows.

But this recovery is fragile. That's why it's troubling that Gloucester County's Board of Supervisors may back off from its restoration commitments. At its September 6 meeting, the board will consider weakening protections under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act that have been in place for decades, the first Virginia locality to consider reversing course in this manner.

Instead of rolling back protections, we need to remain on course to save the bay. Gloucester's rivers, creeks, and inlets have always been one of its biggest assets. Their natural beauty attracts people who visit and stay. Their bounty has long sustained watermen and is leading to the comeback of the Middle Peninsula's oyster industry.

In fact, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Virginia Oyster Restoration Center at Gloucester Point depends on a healthy York River to raise oysters for the bay.

Gloucester shouldn't put its waterways or the bay's recovery at risk. More pollution would threaten aquatic life and increase human health risks. The proposal to reduce countywide protections won't spur growth or reduce administrative costs. Instead, it would actually add costs and paperwork to citizens and businesses that buy and develop land.

The proposal would reduce the area within the county covered by the Bay Act's Resource Management Area (RMA), where current land use rules protect water quality. Right now, the Gloucester County RMA is countywide, meaning that everyone follows the same rules.

But the proposal in front of the board would reduce Gloucester's RMA to just about the smallest total area allowed. However, state law would still require sensitive areas like wetlands, floodplains, and places with erodible soil to be covered by the RMA. Defining these areas would cause headaches for developers, businesses, and homeowners. In the end, Gloucester would have a patchwork of development rules across property lines, creating uncertainty and adding to project costs.

Gloucester County staff have opposed the change. Likewise, the local realtors, business owners, and residents on the board-appointed Go Green Gloucester Advisory Committee recognized that the proposed changes would create "a regulatory landscape that is needlessly complex."

Even large commercial development wouldn't see benefits from the proposal. Development projects over an acre must meet state rules for stormwater management and erosion and sediment control. Given that, changes aren't likely to "have a great impact on economic development in the form of attracting new business," county staff said this summer in a memo to the board.

In short, the county has little to gain economically and a lot at risk for the environment. Fortunately, it's not too late. Gloucester residents can meet with their supervisor or go to the September 6 meeting to ensure that future generations have cleaner water than we do today.

—Rebecca LePrell, CBF Virginia Executive Director

Gloucester Residents: Contact your member on the Board of Supervisors and attend the meeting on September 6 to join us in defending the Chesapeake Bay Act rules.


Labor Day Picnic Recipes We Love (Without the Meat!)

Juicy burgers dripping with cheese, steak grilled to perfection, that hot dog crammed with pickles and ketchup and hot mustard . . . sounds like a Labor Day picnic (and heartburn) to us! But here's an idea: What if we were to swap the burger for some healthy and equally delicious (if not more so) meatless meals this Labor Day?

After all, as our new and improved Bay Footprint Calculator indicates, if everyone in the Bay region only ate the recommended amount of protein (instead of the 30 percent more than needed as the USDA reports), the resulting nitrogen pollution reductions would be equivalent to what is needed to Save the Bay. Seriously. It's as simple as that! That's enough to inspire us to back off the beef this Labor Day. How about you? To get you started, here are some of our favorite veggie-inspired and oh-so-yummy dishes perfect for that Labor Day picnic. Mouth, get ready to water!

 

Quinoa Salad with cherriesSpinach Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Toasted Almonds

Salad:
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 ½ cups quinoa
1 bag of baby spinach
2 cups of fresh cherries, pitted and chopped (sub 1 cup of dried cherries when fresh are not in season)
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
½ red onion, peeled and finely chopped (½ cup)
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Dressing:
¼ cup of plain yogurt
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (a citrus flavored olive oil would probably be great, too)
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions (3 cups of salted water for 1 ½ cups quinoa should do it). Once finished, spread it out on a plate or baking sheet and put in the fridge to cool. Heat a small unoiled skillet over medium heat and add the almonds. Toast until almonds are lightly browned, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Once quinoa is cool, put all the salad ingredients accept spinach together in a large bowl and mix. Wisk together all dressing ingredients until smooth. Pour dressing over salad and mix to coat. Place salad in fridge for roughly 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Serve over a bed of spinach.


Image1Creamy Black Bean and Cilantro Dip

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups cooked black beans
1/3 cup vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 line
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped green onions (put aside a tiny bit for topping)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Sauté garlic briefly. Throw all ingredients except cheese into a food processor and run until creamy. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of chopped green onion. Serve hot, cold, or room temperature. For a vegan option, just skip the cheese!

 

IMG_0544Tomato-Corn Pasta Salad

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons of olive oil
4 tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh basil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 3 ears) or frozen, thawed
1 ¼ pounds tomatoes
8 ounces pasta (such as bowties or penne), freshly cooked
½ cup of feta cheese

Whisk 4 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and basil in large bowl to blend. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add corn and garlic, sauté three minutes. Add corn and garlic to dressing in bowl. Add tomatoes, pasta, and cheese to bowl and toss to blend. Season salad with salt and pepper.

 

Grilled Eggplant Involtini with Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:
6 pounds heirloom tomatoes
Olive oil
One onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
Large bunch of basil
1 bag of baby spinach
3 eggplant sliced long ways into ¼ inch slices
2 cups fresh dipped Ricotta
1 cup shredded fresh mozzarella
1 ½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 eggs beaten
Zest of 1 lemon
4 cloves of chopped roasted garlic
1 tablespoons of fresh chopped thyme   
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:

Cut the stems of the tomato, score the bottom with an X, and blanch. Peel the tomatoes and roughly chop. Sauté the onion and four minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add chopped tomatoes and simmer 15-20 minutes.

For the involtini:

Brush both sides of the sliced eggplant with olive oil, and generously salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant over high heat until browned and limp. Mix cheeses, roasted garlic, lemon zest, beaten eggs, and thyme. Place three spinach leaves, one leaf of basil, and cheese mixture on the large end of the eggplant and roll it up. Repeat with all slices of eggplant. Place a small amount of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a gratin dish. Put the rolled up eggplant on the sauce. Top with more sauce and any remaining cheese mixture. Bake at 350 until bubbling.

 

Asian Cole Slaw

Ingredients:
2 packages Ramen noodles (any flavor works)
2 packages of “broccoli slaw”
1 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 bunch of green onions (chopped)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup white vinegar (you can also use rice vinegar or do half and half)

Crush noodles into large bowl. Top with slaw, onions, almonds, sunflower seeds. In separate small bowl, mix seasoning packets (from the ramen noodles), sugar, oil, and vinegar. Pour over slaw and chill for 24 hours or overnight. Toss before serving.

 

White Bean Roll-Ups

Ingredients:
1 can of white cannelloni beans
Soft flour or whole wheat tortillas
¼ cup finely diced cilantro
One (or more to taste) diced jalapeno pepper
1 cup of shredded cheese
Half a lime squeezed juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven at 425. Drain and mash the cannelloni beans and fold in the rest of the ingredients. Divide evenly among tortillas and roll them up. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes.

Optional Dipping Sauce:

1/3 cup mayo
1 tablespoon chili paste
Half a lime of lime juice
½ tablespoon basil paste (or finely chopped basil)
Fresh or dried cilantro to taste

Combine, then stir in fresh water to reach dressing consistency.

 

Cold Asian Noodles

Ingredients:
4 cups of fresh, crunchy vegetables like snow peas, bell peppers, cucumbers, scallions (combine a few vegetables if possible)
12 ounces pasta (Chinese egg noodles, linguine, or even angel hair will do)
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
½ cup tahini (or peanut butter if necessary)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon rice or white wine vinegar
A splash of Tabasco to taste
Pepper to taste

Cut vegetables in long strips (or peel/seed peas) while cooking pasta—toss cooked pasta with a little bit of sesame oil. Whisk together sesame oil, tahini, sugar, soy, ginger, vinegar, Tabasco, and pepper—thin the sauce with hot water until the consistency of heavy cream. Toss the noodles with sauce and add vegetables.

 

Happy cooking (and eating)! And don't forget to check out our Bay Footprint Calculator to get your pollution score. While there, you'll get tips for how you can improve your grade by making simple, healthy changes in your daily life, including eating less meat!

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


What's in the Water? Part Two

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This summer, as an intern in the Communications Department at CBF, I helped with a bacteria-monitoring project to educate the public on the water quality in their own backyard rivers and streams and the harmful effect that polluted runoff has on them. When it rains, pollution pours off of yards, roads, farms, and other surfaces and flows into local creeks and rivers.

For the past few years, CBF staff and volunteers have collected water samples after heavy rains from popular swimming holes and urban rivers. The samples are tested for fecal bacteria. The project this year has grown from testing just a few sites in Maryland counties, to locations all across the region in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

6.22-8After heavy rainstorms when polluted runoff levels were at their peak, I collected water samples in six sites in Howard County, Maryland. All were on tributaries of the Patapsco River and were either popular watering holes where parents could take their kids on a hot summers day or located in residential areas:

  • Budd Run is located behind an apartment complex off Route 1.
  • Cascade Falls is a popular hiking and swimming area located in Patapsco National Park.
  • The Plumtree Branch is a small creek running behind Dunloggin Middle School.
  • The Tiber-Hudson Branch winds its way through a parking lot behind the cute shops of Ellicott City.
  • The Sucker Branch lies behind Our Lady's Center.
  • And the final site is a small section of the Patapsco where families come to swim, rope swing, and picnic.

All these locations provide a great respite from the concrete suburban world. But are they really the natural, healthy places we need when trying to get away from it all? I'd argue that for these sites to really fulfill our need for a getaway from the roads and buildings that surround us regularly, or provide a place to cool off during our hot and humid summers, they should be clean, at least to the point where water quality meets EPA's standards! Right now, that's not the case.

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Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

Grappling with the desire for people to get outside and enjoy their natural surroundings and the need to educate them about what exactly they are swimming in or living next to was the hardest part of this project for me.

I first encountered this dilemma the first day of testing while visiting Cascade Falls. It was brutally hot on a late June day—a perfect place for lots of kids to come play in the cool waters of this beautiful waterfall. Or so it seemed. I myself enjoyed rock scrambling and wading in the waters. But the time came when I had to pull out my sampling bottle to collect water for the lab. Immediately someone asked me what I was doing, what I was collecting samples for. I turned to them, noticing the irony of what I was going to tell them while I myself was standing ankle deep in the water in flip flops. I explained CBF's project, telling this parent how we suspected the water to have incredibly high levels of bacteria and fecal matter as their kids splashed around nearby. Of course, he looked horrified and asked if there was anything he could do, any precautions he could take. I advised him to wait at least two days after a large rainstorm before swimming in his local waters as local health officials have said.

DSC_0399But what else can we do? We want to enjoy the outdoors and experience the respite of cool water these rivers and creeks provide. But how can we continue to do so knowing our waters are contaminated with high counts of bacteria and fecal matter? For now, we can each do our part to try and better the waters around us by reducing the amount of polluted runoff flowing into our rivers and streams. Cleaning up after your dog and properly maintaining a septic system are things homeowners can do to prevent fecal pollution. Farmers can also keep livestock away from streams. Other things we can do: picking up trash, installing rain gardens and rain barrels, and planting trees along streams. And remember to not swim for at least 48 hours after a heavy rainstorm.

CBF's bacteria-testing project is not designed to scare people away from enjoying our waters or to report water quality like the health department, but rather to educate and inspire us all to be vigilant stewards of our environment.

—Text and photos by Maryann Webb, CBF Communications Intern

Read Part One of our Bacteria Testing Blog Series here.

 


What's in the Water? Part One

It's for folks like Janet and Pete Terry that I thought CBF should start a water-monitoring program. They need information like the guys at the Alamo needed ammunition.

Our water testing project this summer also was for government leaders who need to better understand how polluted runoff is hurting people.

Pete and Janet are retired school teachers. Their lives now should be sweet and easy. They have a beautiful home on the Bird River in Baltimore County. They entertain family and friends on a terraced front deck with umbrella-shaded tables and a mini-bar. Grandchildren play in the river while grown-ups sip iced tea on shore.

 

But since they retired a year and a half ago the couple has been in a constant battle to save the Bird River and the life they planned there. You see, the Terrys and their neighbors are typical victims of upstream pollution.

After rainstorms, the Bird River turns reddish brown with mud. The dirt comes from upstream. It washes off construction sites, pours out of poorly maintained polluted runoff ponds built years ago at housing and commercial developments, and from eroded feeder streams. When Janet grew up on the river her father used to take the kids everywhere in his boat. Now, the river is so silted up, the Terrys can only launch for a few hours during high tide and only head downstream.

The remaining fish and other aquatic life in the river do much the same thing—search for deep water areas where they can survive the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from upstream that causes oxygen levels to drop.

A few years ago, the Terrys organized homeowners around the river. They call themselves the Bird River Restoration Campaign. They speak up at county council and other meetings, hoping their combined voices can limit at least some of the development that has paved over the upstream areas of the river.

They have achieved some remarkable success. For instance, in 2014, about 60 residents voluntarily patrolled construction sites after storms, and pressured the county to improve its own site compliance rates from 5 percent to 44 percent.

Still, Pete, Janet, and many of the residents feel they are David battling Goliath.

So I met with them over pizza. I asked if they would be willing to collect water samples this summer after rainstorms. CBF would pay for the samples to be tested for bacteria levels at a commercial laboratory in Dundalk. They wholeheartedly agreed.

Bacteria tests assess the amount of fecal material in the water. They can help alert people to leaking sewer or septic systems, or large amounts of pet waste, or in rural areas livestock manure getting into streams. The federal and state government set limits for how much bacteria can be in areas where people recreate, because fecal material can cause illness when ingested.

The Bird River bacteria results weren't good. Bacteria levels on the Bird and its tributaries spiked after average storms, according to the CBF tests. For instance, after dry weather readings in White Marsh Run near the Dugout Restaurant on Bird River Grove Road were only slightly above government safety levels for human recreation. Yet after a summer rain storm of less than an inch, readings at the site spiked to at least 400 times safety standards. Similar high readings the same day were found at other upstream sites. Clearly, poop was getting into the Bird upstream, and in unhealthy amounts during rainstorms.

More bad news for the downstream families: Now, in addition to losing their boating and fishing opportunities, the homeowners on the tidal portion of the Bird River worried their kids and grandkids weren't safe when they swam, kayaked and in other ways recreated on the water.  

"It's getting to the point where we are so very concerned when we have company or when we have children in the water. Now we are hesitant to allow them to go in," Janet said.

But CBF hopes the bacteria testing this summer will help drive home the seriousness of the problem of polluted runoff—not just to leaders in Baltimore County, but elsewhere. CBF organized volunteers to test in Frederick, Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, and Harford Counties, as well as Baltimore City. We made the results in all areas available to the public.

It's perhaps easy as an elected official to overlook dirty streams when you also are responsible for a host of other government services: education, police, roads, and more. But when you realize that dirty water can harm children, you might invest more energy and funds in clean water.

To date, several counties in our test area—Frederick, Carroll, Harford, and Baltimore—have opted not to collect a Polluted Runoff (or Stormwater) Fee to better fund projects to reduce polluted runoff. We hope that when folks like Janet and Pete Terry raise their voices, the cold calculations of government budgeting might include the value of the health of grandchildren who swim in the Bird River, and other streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.  

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Read Part Two of our Bacteria Testing Blog Series here.

 


This Week in the Watershed

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The Atlantic sturgeon, the Bay's oldest and largest native fish, needs your help! Photo courtesy iStock.

George Washington once wrote in his diary that he "went a dragging for Sturgeon," fishing for a culinary staple in the 18th century. But it's more than being mentioned in George Washington's diary that makes the Atlantic sturgeon an American legend. The sturgeon, the Bay's largest native fish, was here long before the days of the American Revolution. Dating back 120 million years, the Atlantic sturgeon once thrived in the waters in and around the Chesapeake Bay. But these dinosaurs of the Chesapeake are now threatened with extinction after their populations plummeted from poor water quality, habitat destruction, and overfishing.

All is not lost, however. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is now proposing to designate "critical habitat" for this important fish. Designating areas as "critical habitat" can make a world of difference for the sturgeon. But water quality must be a priority in designating this habitat. If it isn't, sturgeon populations could remain under threat as poor water quality creates barriers between important sturgeon habitat and interrupts the species' life cycle.

Sign our petition by September 1st to tell NOAA Fisheries to make water quality a top priority as it designates sturgeon critical habitat and manages it in the future.

What's even better—the sturgeon won't be the only beneficiary from improving water quality. By implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, we all will experience the benefits of clean water, from expanded recreational opportunities, to improved public health, to massive economic benefits. Our children deserve to see a Bay full of clean water with a thriving population of this historic fish. Sign our petition now!

This Week in the Watershed: Dinosaur Fish, Planting Oysters, and an Average Dead Zone

  • Revised procedures have made it easier for Maryland oyster farmers to lease places on the Bay. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF added to its already large total of oysters planted in Virginia's Lafayette River, adding 200,000 more on Tuesday. (ABC 13—VA)
  • The size of the dead zone in the Bay spiked in late July and is now at its average size, covering about 14 percent of the Bay's mainstem. (Bay Journal)
  • Researchers are studying how extreme weather is impacting the striped bass population and other fisheries. (Science Daily)
  • Biologists are concerned that despite finding large Atlantic sturgeon, the Chesapeake Bay's oldest and largest fish, young sturgeon are few and far between. (Washington Post—D.C.)
  • A controversial subdivision on Kent Island has received approval to move forward. (Bay Times)
  • On a visit to a Lancaster County farm, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr. learned about agricultural conservation practices and how they improve local water quality. (Lancaster Farming—PA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

August 19, 26, September 2, and 9

  • Shady Side, MD: Break a sweat and help Save the Bay—join CBF in cleaning the "homes" of the next generation of Chesapeake Bay oysters! Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells. We'll be shaking off the dirt and debris on shells so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This "shell shaking" event is a bit of a workout but a fun, hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with bad backs or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. Click here to register!

August 27

  • Wrightsville, PA: Join CBF, Heroes on the Water, and local Trout Unlimited chapters for a day of fishing, paddling, and fly-fishing lessons on the Susquehanna River as we celebrate our veterans and the value of clean waterways. Veterans, community members, paddlers, fishermen, friends, and family are welcome at Shank’s Mare Outfitters from 1 to 5 p.m., to discover and appreciate the Susquehanna. From 5 to 7 p.m., CBF will host a dinner and open bar with live music for all participants. There is a $5 entrance fee for dinner and drinks. Click here to register!

September 1

  • Raphine, VA: The Virginia Forage and Grassland Council is sponsoring a summer forage tour exploring the topic of planning for drought. Click here to learn more!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Fox Island Magic

Fox

ATTENTION: We moved our blog in May 2017. To find our latest articles, visit http://www.cbf.org/blog.

As Arthur Sherwood, one of CBF's founding members and first executive director, said: "The place to teach people about the Bay is on it and in it." Now in its 40th year, our education program has been doing just that, providing students and teachers with meaningful outdoor experiences on the Bay and its rivers and streams. And our Fox Island Education Center is no exception.

Fox Island is part of a string of salt water marshes surrounded by the Tangier and Pocomoke Sounds of Chesapeake Bay and is the ideal place to investigate how the Bay's health depends on its watershed of 64,000 square miles, 17 million people, and six state governments and the District of Columbia. The lodge was constructed in 1929 by the Fox Island Rod and Gun Club for recreational fishing and hunting. After many years of hunting and fishing, the group decided to donate the lodge to CBF. 

At Fox, we want to inspire current and future generations of environmental stewards. Even after 40 years, each field experience is completely unique, and this season has been filled with some amazing moments. Veritas School (an independent school in Richmond, Virginia) started our season off with a bang by breaking in the lodge and being the first school to join our "Conservation Challenge Hall of Fame"! This distinguished award is given to those groups that meet or exceed our conservation challenges in water usage, energy conservation, species identification, and S.L.O.P. (Stuff Left On Plate). Because of its unique elements, if Fox Island students use 3 gallons of water or less each, have less than three strikes in energy baseball (a race to shut off lights), identify at least 50 Chesapeake species, and have no S.L.O.P. after each meal, then they are true conservationists and are inducted into our "Hall of Fame." When students take these conservation practices home, they send out a wave of responsible resource use that influences their family, friends, and community.

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One of Veritas' favorite field investigations was exploring the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and the critters that inhabit this environment. Using a crab scrape, a tool used by watermen for centuries that includes a metal frame and net that extends roughly 5 feet, we scraped the grass beds underneath the Walter Ridder, CBF's 40-foot, jet-drive field investigation boat, for about two minutes and dumped our catch onto the engine box. Sixteen students crowded around the Ridder’s engine box, sifting through the grasses, on the prowl for life. A habitat that provides food and protection for many types of animals, underwater grasses harbor large critters like terrapins, blue crabs, and fish, along with small mud crabs, amphipods, and shrimp.

As natural filters of pollutants and sediment, Bay grasses are incredible indicators of the health of the Bay. As students explore these grasses and the species that rely on them, with their hands and using books and dichotomous keys, the connection between the health of the Bay and the grasses is immediate. Further, we discuss what prevents these grasses from thriving, like contributing excess nutrients into the Bay's rivers and streams and overworking the grasses with large sediment loads.

Time and time again teachers and students talk about something called "Fox Magic." We certainly experienced that "magic" out there in the middle of the Bay with Veritas students, and I, too,  experienced that magic in high school on education experiences with CBF on Fox Island in 2010 and 2011. It's an honor to capture these awesome moments and speak for such a great place.

—Adam Dunn, CBF Fox Island Educator

Click here to learn how you can take part in "Fox Magic" and other CBF education experiences.

 


Photo of the Week: The Lifeblood of the Chesapeake

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This photo was taken on the Susquehanna River just north of Harrisburg during a workshop with Pennsylvania teachers earlier this summer. 

I think it's a powerful image because the beauty of the land, water, and sky each play a key role in it. Simplicity and stillness allow for the reflection: an ideal metaphor for how the river's health reflects our actions. We need to preserve beauty, find simple elements like clouds and colors, and allow time for ourselves to experience the entire watershed. A historically valuable river and often ignored element of Bay culture, the Susquehanna is a lifeblood of the Chesapeake, providing roughly half of the freshwater to the system, and deserves our respect and adoration. 

—Allyson Ladley Gibson

The Susquehanna River is sick. Take action to save it! The Susquehanna is a powerful economic engine and one of our region's most important waterways. But agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and urban pollution have contaminated the river for far too many years. Stand up now to take action for this critical river.

 


Ditches for Clean Water

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Ditches, such as this one under construction in Talbot County, are an innovative and inexpensive way to reduce polluted runoff. Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The word "ditch" doesn't conjure up good feelings about water quality, wildlife habitat, or aesthetics. But a new kind of ditch is offering serious opportunity for the Eastern Shore's Talbot County to meet its nitrogen reduction goal under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The goal is restoring fish, crab, and waterfowl habitat in waterways like the Choptank and Miles Rivers. 

For a long time, we humans designed "funnels"—stormwater pipes and U-shaped open ditches—to substitute for natural streams in moving rainwater quickly away from inconvenient places like roadways and farm fields. Trouble is, the folks who designed them didn't pay enough attention to the way natural streams "work" with rainfall, so over time, the pipe/ditch systems filled with sediment in some spots, eroded in others, and degraded the quality of the water that moved through them, picking up pollutants from the land and carrying them downstream.

Then some enterprising civil engineers in the Midwest had an idea. Suppose they designed two-stage ditches that mimicked nature by providing a small central channel sized to accommodate average natural (base) flow, with "benches" (floodplains) on either side for overflow. Plant the benches with native wetland grasses and they would allow the ditches to catch water from heavy storms, slow it, and let some of it percolate into the soil, where the grasses' root systems would catch sediment and soak up nitrogen, phosphorus, and even some toxic chemicals.

Sound intriguing? That's what CBF's Eastern Shore Office Director, Alan Girard, thought when Amy Jacobs of The Nature Conservancy's Maryland Chapter told him about the idea over coffee one morning. Jacobs was exploring the use of LIDAR (laser-based LIght Detection And Ranging) deployed from aircraft to plot drainage patterns on farm fields leading to Talbot's system of roadside ditches. Girard realized the system might offer a "two-fer" by catching and treating runoff from both the fields and the roadways. The widened ditches take some extra land from both farms and road rights-of-way, but LIDAR allows designers to focus strategically where the ditches provide the most benefit. In terms of cost per pound of nitrogen removed from county waterways, the two-stage ditches offered an attractive, inexpensive alternative to complex urban stormwater retrofits.

The concept is good, but what counts for restoring waterways is putting these ditches to work in the right places. Thus the effort had to blend technology with local politics and public administration. Siting and building them requires teamwork from two agencies, the Department of Public Works (for roadways) and the Talbot Conservation District (for farmland), plus funding. At this point, Alan Girard brought multiple players together to build that team and raise grants for several pilot projects. The discussions included County Council members, staffers from the two agencies and the two nonprofits, and—very important—farmers cultivating land adjacent to county roadways.

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Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The result of the discussions was a $100,000 capital budget item in the 2015 Talbot County budget, which allowed the pilot programs to begin. This year, the county set aside another $50,000 for more ditches and for monitoring their effectiveness. The major challenges now for the project partners are to refine and standardize the techniques, employ the County's funds as leverage for larger grants, and go to work on other priority ditches across the county. The Talbot Ditch Project is essentially about applying an agricultural Best Management Practice (BMP) to suburban stormwater runoff pollution. If early results continue, the two-stage ditch technique has great application for other counties and towns on the Eastern Shore, and in other rural areas of the region. "It's a cheap, simple, common-sense approach that doesn't take much land away from farms or roadways," concluded Girard.

Thought this story would be about crabs, rockfish, and Chesapeake science? Well, it is. Who knew that Saving the Bay would turn out to be about Midwestern engineering, ditches, lasers, excavators, and local government, all working together for clean water? That's the kind of creative partnership thinking that gets this job done.  

—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist


Lea's Clean Water Story

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Girl Scout Lea Bonner with CBF's Heather North.

Since my early childhood, I have had a passion for marine science and protecting our coastal ecosystems. My interest started with spending lots of time on the beaches, bays, and sounds in California, North Carolina, and Virginia. I enjoy swimming, sailing, and surfing and am concerned about how human activities are impacting our coastal systems.

For the past two years, I have participated in Marine Science summer education programs at the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute on the Outer Banks. When I discovered that currently there is no oyster collection program in the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, I decided to create one. My hope is to create a collection program that will help sustain the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay and educate restaurants on the importance of oyster restoration.

The Chesapeake's native oyster population plays a critical role in the Bay ecosystem. Oysters filter algae and pollution from the Bay waters. In fact, one adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day! But with pollution and overharvesting, the Bay's oyster population has been reduced to more than 90 percent of its historic level.

2Through establishing a collection program for oyster shells in Chesapeake-area seafood restaurants, this project will assist in recycling shells to create oyster reefs to repopulate the Bay with healthy oysters. This project will also include an outreach and education program with restaurants and residents to support pollution prevention and sustainability of the Chesapeake's oyster population. 

As a member of Girl Scout Troop 643, I rely on a sound foundation of science, community service, and written/verbal communications. Working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and local restaurants requires teamwork and development of partnerships. Through this project, I hope to gain knowledgeable insights in marine science, ecological science, and public engagement as well as valuable leadership skills.

Recently, I went to different restaurants around Chesapeake, asking them to participate in the collection program. I explained the details, including pick-up information and why I am doing the project. I showed the kitchen managers or owners the size and type of bucket we are using, and showed pictures of the oysters and collection centers. I gave them my contact information, brochures, and stickers, and answered any questions they had. I also showed them the list of restaurants that already participate in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Hampton. The restaurants that agreed included The Black Pelican, Surf Rider, Pirates Cove, Red Bones, Butcher's Son, and Kelly's Tavern. I plan to start collecting the oyster buckets from the restaurants very soon!

—Lea Bonner

What does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your clean water story here!

Image1UPDATE: I have been picking up oyster shells from various restaurants around Chesapeake, including Black Pelican, Surf Rider, Pirates Cove, Red Bones, Butcher's Son, Kelly's Tavern, and Wicker's Crab Pot. I take the buckets to my house, rinse the shells and buckets, and keep them in oyster baskets. Then, I take them to either the Ernie Morgan Environmental Center in Norfolk, Virginia, or the Norfolk Public Library. There, I empty the shells so they can later be taken to Gloucester Point, Virginia, and then back into the Bay!

On July 27, CBF's Virginia Oyster Restoration Specialist Heather North and I presented to Junior Naturalists attending a camp at The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk. We talked to them about the importance of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, such as what they do and how they help the ecosystem. I explained my project to them and we both answered any questions they had. Then, they helped us by unloading baskets, creating oyster baskets, and filled the baskets.

On August 6, I did a presentation at CBF's Brock Environmental Center. After creating oyster nets, Heather North and I did a presentation on saving oyster shells, my project, and oyster gardening.

 

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