Joe Wright of Stafford, Virginia, fishes off the end of the Port Royal Landing in Caroline County, Virginia. Port Royal’s new 200-foot pier—just opened in 2015—features a soft launch for paddlers and was funded by grants from the National Park Service, Friends of the Rappahannock, the Chesapeake Conservancy and other organizations.
Nestled along the Rappahannock River, the small historic town of Port Royal borders the Port Royal Unit of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where a 1.4-mile wildlife trail and two viewing platforms allow for visitors to hike and observe the river and surrounding land. The refuge—one of the first of its kind—is actually a collection of 17 unconnected tracts of land. From the northernmost Port Royal Unit to the Laurel Grove tract nearly 40 miles downstream, the refuge makes up 8,720 acres of protected land. The goal is to one day protect 20,000 acres along the river and its tributaries.
In the future, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Town of Port Royal will be working with the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to establish a water trail that will provide access to the Styer Bishop, Port Royal and Toby’s Point areas of the refuge.
Image by Will Parson
Miguel Sacedo harvests squash on Cottingham Farm in Easton, Maryland, at sunrise. Owned by environmental-lawyer-turned-farmer Cleo Braver, the 156-acre farm has a mission to produce sustainably grown, locally distributed and certified organic food.
Years ago, Braver was unaware of the impact certain agricultural techniques could have on local waterways. But after some research, she learned how the use of excessive pesticides and fertilizers was partially responsible for the poor water quality in Goldsborough Neck Creek, a tributary of the Miles River that runs behind her house. Braver’s interest in producing healthy food while minimizing her impact prompted her to make a change.
Now, Cottingham Farm is home to a variety of restoration efforts, including forest buffers that help trap nutrients and sediment from running into local waterways. The land is also home to an 18-acre wetland—a once-cornfield that was transformed into habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl with the help of Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
Image by Keith Rutowski
Untreated groundwater across the Chesapeake Bay watershed has a high potential of being corrosive, according to a recent study from the U.S. Geological Survey. Left untreated, corrosive groundwater could leach lead and other metals from pipes and plumbing fixtures, potentially contaminating private drinking water supplies.
Public water supplies across the country are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But private water supplies must be tested and maintained by homeowners. Approximately 44 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells—including 1.7 million in Virginia and 3 million in Pennsylvania. The study, which assessed 20,000 wells across the country from 1991 to 2015, shows groundwater in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia has a ‘very high’ risk of being corrosive, while groundwater in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and West Virginia has a ‘high’ risk.
“This study is a good reminder that prudent, routine testing of the water, including its interaction with the water supply system, is an essential first step so homeowners and their families can confidently drink water from their faucets,” said Stephen Moulton II, assistant chief of operations for the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, in a release.
Corrosive water is not dangerous to drink on its own, and potentially corrosive groundwater does not indicate the presence of lead or other metals in tap water. But corrosive water may react with pipes and other plumbing fixtures, leaching metals such as lead or copper into the water and potentially cause health-related problems. Signs of leaching caused by corrosive water may include bluish-green stains, small leaks in plumbing fixtures or a metallic taste to the water.
The report, “Assessing the Potential Corrosivity of U.S. Groundwater,” can be found online.
Flying low over the Chesapeake Bay, it’s not actually the water that draws your attention—except for the sporadic glint of sunlight reflected off of its calm surface. Instead, it’s the patchwork landscape and the rate at which a quiet farm field gives way to grids of streets or wriggling stretches of wetlands.
And there’s another reason to pay attention to all that land: because the Chesapeake Bay is so shallow—its average depth is just 21 feet—and because so much land area feeds into it, the health of the Bay depends greatly on how the land is treated.
With the support of a volunteer pilot from the nonprofit organization LightHawk, we took a look around the northern edges of the Chesapeake Bay to see some of the ways the land has been shaped by the people living there.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
Photographs and text by Will Parson