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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: December 2009


EPA Releases Guidance to Help Federal Facilities Better Manage Stormwater Runoff

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued guidance to help federal agencies reduce polluted stormwater runoff from federal development projects to nearby water bodies.

Stormwater runoff is the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. As rain falls and runs across roads, yards, golf courses, parking lots and construction sites, it picks up harmful pollutants such as nutrients, sediment and chemical contaminants. This polluted runoff travels into storm drains and local waterways that eventually flow to the Bay.

Under the new guidance, federal agencies must minimize stormwater runoff from development projects at federal facilities by using low-impact development practices, such as pervious pavement, green roofs and rain gardens. These runoff-reducing practices slow, absorb and filter rain water before it flows into storm drains and local waterways.

“By taking these steps to create more sustainable facilities, federal agencies can lead by example in reducing impacts in the local watershed,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water.

At its own facilities, the EPA has installed a 3,000-square-foot green roof and uses rain gardens and cisterns to capture and reuse stormwater.

Learn more about the new federal stormwater requirements at the EPA.


A Saturday Well Spent


If someone were to ask you what an average twenty-something would be doing before noon on a Saturday morning, what would you say? I’m going to guess sleeping. Well, I am proud to say that a few Saturdays ago, some of my co-workers and I broke this mold.

When I started working for the Chesapeake Bay Program about two months ago and moved from just north of D.C. to Annapolis, a former co-worker recommended I look into attending St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. On my first Sunday there, I noticed a write-up in the bulletin about a rain garden planting that would be taking place a few months down the road, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved.

St. Martin’s received a $109,000 Small Watershed Grant from the Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to plant 23 rain gardens and 23 trees on its property. One rain garden and all 23 trees were to be planted on a Saturday in November, while the rest of the project was to be finished in the spring. The Spa Creek Conservancy, which is responsible for managing the grant, predicts that the new trees and rain gardens will reduce runoff from the property by 97 percent. The church’s day school plans on incorporating the plantings into its lesson plans and engaging the young students as much as possible in local environmental issues.

Most of the volunteers that arrived that Saturday were either senior members of the church community or children who attend the day school. This made the job of planting the 23 trees and rain garden seem like much more of a challenge. But I was surprised to find that everyone found a task to complete and the group finished the plantings on time.

I remember looking up from the tree we were planting and seeing all of the volunteers working together on this early Saturday morning. I thought that if everyone planted a rain garden, or even a tree, what a difference it would make for the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Many of my co-workers who joined me at the planting used the event for certain projects that they were working on for the Bay Program. Members of our communications team took pictures and video to post on our website, while other staffers were interested in learning more from the Spa Creek Conservancy about similar projects. Although we each came with our own agenda, in the end, our biggest accomplishment was that we did something positive for the Bay.

Sometimes when you work for an environmental program, like the Chesapeake Bay, you forget what it really takes to make a change. Sure, making policy or informational videos and collecting data have a large impact, but what is really going to save the Chesapeake Bay are voluntary actions made by people in communities around the watershed. That Saturday at St. Martin’s, we were actually practicing what we preached, and I think that was the best message of all. A Saturday morning well spent.

Kristen Foringer's avatar
About Kristen Foringer - Need some text

Keywords: rain gardens

Question of the Week: What Role Do Oysters Play in the Bay's Health?

Welcome to this week’s installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.

Alvina asked: “What role do oysters play in the heath of the bay? What role might oysters play in the Bay’s future?”

Every native species is vital to the health and survival of any ecosystem. The eastern oyster in the Chesapeake Bay is no exception.

One major role oysters play in the Bay is filtering the water. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they pump large volumes of water through their gills to sift out plankton and other particles they need for nourishmnet. But this process serves a double purpose: As the oysters feed, they also filter out harmful pollutants from the Bay's waters, helping to keep the water clear and clean for bay grasses and other underwater life.

Oysters also provide habitat for many species in the Chesapeake Bay. By forming reefs, oysters create small ecosystems with nooks and crannies where tiny aquatic animals hide from predators. Reefs can create 50 times the surface area of a flat, muddy Bay bottom of the same size, which is vital to sponges, sea squirts, skilletfish and other organisms that live attached to a hard surface.

Chesapeake Bay oysters are also a food source for various other Bay creatures. Anemones and sea nettles depend on oyster larvae for survival, while flatworms and mud crabs feed on new oyster spat. Older spat and first-year oysters are consumed by blue crabs and some types of fish. Some adult oysters even end up as prey for shorebirds like oystercatchers.

The roles of this important species are dramatically affected by variations in the oyster population. A diminished oyster population is not the sole reason for the Bay's poor health, but it is certainly detrimental. One of the challenges of Chesapeake Bay restoration is to restore and maintain a healthy oyster population for ecological purposes while also supporting an oyster fishery.

The future of the Chesapeake's oyster population depends on restoration and management efforts today. For instance, Maryland just introduced a proposal to increase the amount of oyster sanctuaries to one-quarter of the remaining quality reefs in that state's portion of the Bay. Oyster sanctuaries are reefs where harvesting is off-limits, allowing the reefs to expand and provide the important ecological services.

As with every living thing in the Bay, there is a domino effect. Because of all their important roles in the Bay, if oysters suffer, other creatures do as well.

For more information, check out our pages on oysters and oyster management and restoration.

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose it for our Question of the Week!

Keywords: questions, oysters

The 12 Days of Helping the Bay

This time of year, everyone’s minds turn to giving and spreading holiday cheer. But how much are you giving back to the environment in the process? Read our tips on the 12 ways to help the Bay during the holidays.

  1. Use reusable flatware and silverware for holiday meals. Disposable plates and forks may seem like a great idea when you think about the time and energy it will save doing dishes. But it’s not the best option for the environment. The less waste you generate, the less trash will end up in our landfills. Instead of using disposable items, use reusable dinnerware and only run your dishwasher when it is full. If you don’t have enough supplies to serve all your guests, encourage them to bring their own!
  2. Don’t dump used cooking oil or grease down your drain. Fats, oils and grease can clog sewer pipes, resulting in costly spills and backups that can harm local waterways. Instead of pouring oils and grease down the drain, pour them into a container and allow them to harden, and then throw the container in the trash. Alternatively, some landfills will accept used cooking oil for recycling; search for facilities in your area at Earth911.org.
  3. Save a shopping bag. While you’re out doing your holiday shopping – whether it’s for gifts or preparations for a holiday feast – be sure to bring your own reusable shopping bags. Many stores will give you a discount for using your own bags (Target, for example, will take 5 cents off your total for each bag you provide) and reusable bags usually hold more items than any plastic store-provided bag would. Save yourself the hassle of juggling loads of disposable bags and help to reduce trash in our landfills and along our roadsides at the same time.
  4. Invest in “green” Christmas lights. Did you know that LED lights use 80 to 90 percent less energy than regular Christmas lights? They also last significantly longer – up to 200,000 hours as compared to the 2,000 hours you get with traditional lights. They may cost a little bit more initially, but the savings in the long run will add up. If you don’t want to make the investment in LED lights, you can simply reduce the amount of time you have your Christmas lights on. Cutting down on your electricity use reduces the amount of energy generated by power plants, which lessens emissions of harmful pollutants that can enter our streams, rivers and the Bay.
  5. Send cards via e-mail. Many people savor the time when they receive handwritten cards delivered to them in the mail. But what happens to all of those cards? Most probably end up in a landfill, though some go to a recycling center. This year, consider sending holiday greetings via e-mail to cut back on the waste you generate. And for the cards you receive? Try recycling them in creative ways: make ornaments for next year or fashion your own gift tags for the future. Cutting back on waste any way you can will help reduce energy, save landfill space and protect our waterways.
  6. Give the Gift of Trees. If you live in Maryland, help the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reach its goal of having 50,000 native trees planted around the state by giving a tree in the name of a loved one. You can order the trees online or through the mail. The recipient will get a certificate notifying them of your gift. Trees are $40 each. If you give 10 trees, you can decide where you would like the grove to be planted. DNR has already registered more than 20,000 trees this year, which will help to reduce erosion and prevent pollution throughout the state.
  7. Buy yourself an energy-efficient gift. If you’ve been holding out on purchasing a new washer or dryer, now might be the time to do it. If you invest in an energy-efficient appliance this time of year, you’ll not only find some great sale prices, but you’ll also save money in the future. Energy Star-rated appliances can save you significant amounts of money on monthly electric and water bills, and you may be eligible for a tax credit. So go ahead and buy yourself that dream appliance! By conserving energy and water, you’ll save quite a bit of green by going green.
  8. Wrap your presents the green way. Think about how much wrapping paper, tissue paper and cardboard goes to waste each year around the holidays. After the presents are ripped open, most of the paper goes in the trash. This year, consider traveling down a greener path. Use recycled wrapping paper, or for a more personal touch, make your own creative wrapping paper out of newspaper and magazines. You can also give a gift in a reusable shopping bag and recycle the remnants of a wonderful day of gift-giving on a shopping trip with family and friends!
  9. Spread the word. Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is knowledge. During the holidays and all throughout the year, inform your friends and family about the issues facing the Chesapeake Bay and the ways they can help it. You don’t have to get up on a soapbox and lobby for the cause, but if you can give a party host or hostess a suggestion about how to make their occasion a little more eco-friendly, go for it!
  10. Give to charity. If you’re just not sure what to buy someone, why not make a donation to a charity? Charities are expecting to take a big hit this year due to the state of the economy. Giving to charity is one of the most eco-friendly gift options, since there is no waste created by making a donation in someone’s name. If the charity you choose works toward conservation, you’re making double the impact.
  11. Properly dispose of your old electronics. If you receive a new cell phone, TV, or video game system as a gift this year, make sure you properly dispose of your outdated products. Donating items to charity is always an option, but if you just want to get rid of it, think twice before throwing it out with the rest of your trash. Many electronics contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to fish and humans if they find their way into the Bay or a local waterway. Find a proper electronics recycling facility near you at Earth911.org. Also, some retailers may take trade-ins or have their own electronics recycling programs.
  12. Recycle your Christmas tree. When the holiday season is over and you’re cleaning up the house, make sure to dispose of your Christmas tree the Bay-friendly way. Instead of throwing it out with the trash, take it to be recycled. Christmas trees can often be chipped into mulch, thus reducing the amount of Christmas trees that end up in landfills. Go to Earth911.org to find a Christmas tree recycler near you.

Remember, everything we do as residents of the Bay watershed has an effect on our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Every bit of waste we create, as well as the water and electricity we use, requires energy to treat and creates contaminants that could flow to the Bay via our local streams and creeks.

So while you’re appreciating all the things in your life you have to be thankful for this time of year, make sure you take a minute to reflect on the Bay we so often take advantage of and figure out a way to reduce the footprint you leave behind.

Alicia Pimental's avatar
About Alicia Pimental - Alicia is the Chesapeake Bay Program's online communications manager. She manages the Bay Program's web content and social media channels. Alicia discovered her love for nature and the environment while growing up along Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. When she's not at work, Alicia enjoys cooking, traveling, photography and playing with her chocolate lab, Tess.

Keywords: what you can do
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