There is a great deal of emphasis placed on government’s ability and responsibility to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. While it is appropriate and important to expect federal and state agencies to lead the effort, the Chesapeake Bay and the entire 64,000-square-mile watershed will never be restored without the work of the region’s residents.
A staggering 17 million people live here. That many people can surely have a tremendous impact if they choose to get actively involved in the clean-up. One of the best ways for people to help is to volunteer for a local watershed group. We have a list of more than 600 organizations, so there are certainly plenty of options and opportunities to help.
We at the Chesapeake Bay Program are interested in the rate of volunteerism in the watershed. So we launched the inaugural Chesapeake Volunteer Count. Watershed groups have been asked to tell us how many volunteers they had in 2008 and how that number compared to 2007. Using this data, we will gain some understanding of what percentage of residents volunteered and if the rate is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. This information will be reported in the annual Health and Restoration Assessment.
The plan is to hold the Chesapeake Volunteer Count every January. Hopefully more groups will provide their data each year and we will get an increasingly accurate and comprehensive look at volunteering. This annual count can also be used to call more attention to the need for volunteers for environmental projects. Government can solve many problems and provide valuable resources, but it’s ultimately the contributions of everyday people that truly bring about the greatest change.
If you are with a watershed group and would like to participate in the Chesapeake Volunteer Count, please fill out our form on Survey Monkey.
A recently released report by the U.S. EPA shows that many areas around the Bay’s shoreline are already witnessing the effects of sea level rise and that vulnerable tidal marshes may erode more rapidly over the next century because of climate change.
The report, Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region, examines the impacts of sea level rise on the human communities and wildlife habitat of the Mid-Atlantic coast, including Chesapeake Bay. According to the EPA, the Mid-Atlantic region is one area of the U.S. that will likely see the greatest impacts of climate change due to rising waters, coastal storms and a high population concentration along the coastline.
At the 20th century rate of sea level rise (3-4 mm per year), extensive areas of marsh in the Bay (depicted in red in the image to the right) will become marginal, or only able to survive under optimal conditions. Other low-lying areas, depicted in blue, will be fully submerged at the current rate of sea level rise. The report cites evidence that sea level rise is increasing due to climate change, which would accelerate erosion of the Bay’s marshes.
A clear example of the effects of sea level rise can be seen on the Bay’s marsh islands, many of which have already been lost or severely eroded. These islands are vital to bird species like terns, black skimmers and American oystercatchers, which use the islands to nest and breed. On the mainland shoreline of the Bay, nearly all of the beaches are eroding, which has led many waterfront property owners to install hardened shorelines as protection.
In addition to the effects of sea level rise, the report details the efforts of state and local governments throughout the Mid-Atlantic to protect coastal communities against erosion. Maryland is noted as having the most stringent policies on development along the Chesapeake and coastal areas. The state’s Critical Area laws limit development within 1,000 feet of the shoreline.
“Our state is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change -- including sea level rise,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in response to the EPA report. “We are making real progress in both preparing for the impacts of climate change but also in reducing the actions that contribute to it.”
However, the report shows that most shoreline protection structures are designed to protect properties from current sea level, rather than the anticipated increases. “Preparing now can reduce the eventual environmental and economic impacts of sea level rise,” reads a report highlight.
Waterfront property owners interested in learning more on how they can protect their shoreline from erosion and sea level rise can visit Maryland DNR’s website for more information.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released $23 million for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, a program of the 2008 Farm Bill that provides the region’s farmers with assistance to implement vital agricultural conservation practices to help clean up the Bay.
The funding will support nutrient management, cover crops, crop residue management, vegetative buffers and other agricultural conservation practices that help reduce pollution flowing into the streams, creeks and rivers that feed the Bay.
Eligible private farmland owners will receive technical and financial assistance to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water and related concerns. The funding will also provide land owners with assistance to plan, design, implement and evaluate habitat conservation and restoration.
“The Chesapeake Bay Watershed initiative is an important source of technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers who want to go the extra mile to improve and protect the Bay,” said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.
Farmland covers almost one-quarter of the Chesapeake watershed and is the largest single source of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Bay, contributing an estimated 42 percent of nitrogen, 46 percent of phosphorus and 72 percent of sediment annually.
The $23 million is the first part of a total of $188 million that the region will receive through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative over the next four years. This is one of the largest single federal investments in the Bay clean-up effort and an unprecedented targeting of Farm Bill resources to a specific watershed. Congress has authorized future funding levels of $43 million in 2010, $72 million in 2011 and $50 million in 2012.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will administer the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative. Many Chesapeake Bay Program partners, including the six Bay states and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, provided key input and information that supported the initiative’s authorization in the 2008 Farm Bill.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has awarded Maryland $2.2 million in federal fishery disaster funding to assist the state’s watermen and help revitalize the Bay’s struggling blue crab industry.
The $2.2 million is the first installment of $10 million the state expects to receive from the federal government over the next three years. The funding comes four months after the National Marine Fisheries Service declared a federal fishery disaster for the soft shell and peeler segments of the Bay’s blue crab fishery.
“The State of Maryland will invest this money in the essential habitat restoration projects and new economic opportunities that will help rebuild our blue crab population and ensure a stronger industry in the future,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Maryland will use the federal funding to:
The federal funding adds to $3 million in state funds that Maryland has set aside to employ watermen and assist seafood businesses affected by the crab decline.
Virginia is also eligible for $10 million in federal aid to help watermen affected by the blue crab fishery failure. The National Marine Fisheries Service is still working with Virginia on its plan to use the funding.
In spring 2008, Gov. O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine came together to set new regulations that reduced female blue crab harvest in the Bay by 34 percent. Overfishing and pollution are cited as two causes that have led to the decline of the blue crab, an iconic Chesapeake species.
Residents of the Bay watershed can do their part to reduce pollution and help the Bay’s blue crabs by:
For more information about the federal blue crab funding, visit Maryland DNR’s website.