Back when I went to college, and my friends and I thought about spring break, it was mainly to figure out where we could go to have the most fun while spending the least amount of our hard-earned money. Going to school in the northeast, Florida was usually our destination of choice. Our two main challenges were to determine whose car could make the drive back and forth without breaking down and finding the cheapest one-bedroom hotel room that could fit six guys!
But a few weeks ago, I participated in an Anacostia River watershed cleanup event that changed my view of spring break forever. The Washington, D.C.-based Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) and some of its local partners hosted more than 250 college students from an organization called Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). The students spent their spring break driving across the country to do service work in various locations. They clearly had more meaningful challenges in mind than my friends and I did during our college years!
One of their last stops was in the Washington, D.C. area to partner with the ECC and other local watershed organizations to help clean up one of the Anacostia River’s tributaries – the Lower Beaverdam Creek in Cheverly, Maryland. I was fortunate to have a chance to welcome them, along with the mayors of Cheverly and nearby Bladensburg. (I openly admitted that my spring break activities were quite a bit different than theirs!) I also thanked them for their service to the residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Then, I worked with them and the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek for a few hours to try to make the Anacostia and one of its creeks cleaner.
On that day alone, the enthusiastic STLF members (in their bright orange t-shirts) and other volunteers collected 257 bags of trash, 152 tires, 30 water cooler jugs, and an endless pile of furniture, metal and wood scrap. But this was not a one-time effort for these students – in fact, it was the seventh year in a row that STLF members have worked with the ECC in the Anacostia watershed. More than 3,000 STLF members have taken part in this work over that time period.
These young people have much to be proud of for how they have spent their spring breaks. They will surely have lifelong memories of their experiences…certainly far better memories than mine!
Now it’s time for me (and you!) to make new memories this spring by volunteering for a cleanup event in your part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are lots of opportunities coming up over the next few weeks, such as Project Clean Stream and Earth Day activities in communities across the Bay watershed.
An unusual sequence of weather events, including a wet spring, a hot, dry summer, and two tropical storms, caused the Chesapeake Bay’s health to decline in 2011, according to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
(Image courtesy Chesapeake EcoCheck)
Scientists gave the Bay a D+ on the latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card, an annual assessment of the health of the Bay and its tidal rivers. The score of 38 percent was the second lowest since assessments began in 1986 and down from a C- in 2010.
Only two areas – the lower western shore and the Patapsco and Back rivers – improved last year. The rest of the Bay’s segments remained the same or got worse. Scientists recorded lower scores in the Patuxent River, Rappahannock River, James River, Tangier Sound, and the upper and middle Bay.
"The spring rains and hot, dry summer followed by Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Lee led to poor health throughout Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries," said Dr. Bill Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "While we have been making considerable progress in various restoration activities, these results indicate we still need to do much more to reduce the input of nutrients and sediments from stormwater runoff into the Bay."
The Bay’s health is largely affected by weather conditions. Rainfall carries pollution from farms, cities and suburbs to storm drains, streams and eventually the Bay. Even as the government, communities and citizens work to reduce pollution, an increase in stormwater runoff can mask the effects of these improvements.
Wet weather last spring washed more nutrient pollution into the water, fueling the growth of algae blooms that blocked sunlight from reaching bay grasses. Hot, dry weather allowed these algae blooms to persist through summer, leading to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay’s bottom waters. In late summer, the Bay was slammed by the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, both of which worsened water clarity.
"The report card clearly indicates that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a dynamic ecosystem subject to severe weather events," said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “The silver lining is that the Hopkins-UMCES study of 60 years of water quality data concluded that a decrease in the frequency and severity of dead zones in the Bay is the direct result of implementing measures to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. We know what works; we just need to do more of it."
The Chesapeake Bay Report Card, produced by the EcoCheck partnership, offers a timely and geographically detailed assessment of the health of the Bay’s water quality and aquatic life. Visit EcoCheck’s website for more information about the report card, including region-specific data and downloadable graphics.
Ask any local about the 12 odd-shaped “Lone Star Lakes” in southern tidewater Virginia, and you’re bound to hear some fish stories about crappies, bluegill and catfish. Although these lakes were originally dug out to excavate marl (minerals such as clay and limestone), they now provide abundant fishing for enthusiasts, as well as drinking water for the nearby city of Suffolk.
Crane Lake is rumored to be the most fruitful of the Lone star Lakes, perhaps because it’s connected to Chuckatuck Creek, a 13-mile-long stream that parallels the Nansemond River before flowing into the James River. During high tide, salt water spills into the lake, sometimes sending croaker, big stripers and flounder into the hands of lucky fisherman.
Native Americans also fished in these waters; Chuckatuck Creek was a valuable resource for the Nansemond tribe. But when Englishmen arrived in the early 1600s, they robbed the tribe’s corn and burned their homes and canoes. This was the beginning of hostility between the communities, and resulted in the Nansemond tribe losing its last reservation lands in the late 1700s. Today, most Nansemond Indians still live in the Suffolk/Chesapeake area.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Chuckatuck Creek was packed with boats. Watermen made a living from harvesting oysters, fish and crabs, and taught their sons their craft for generations. Families visited one another via watercraft, depending on each other when there was little to catch.
Today, a decline in oyster populations has left few generational watermen on the Chuckatuck. Nevertheless, the creekside villages of Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson still possess a small-town ambience, with close-knit residents and colorful local folklore.
(Image courtesy Tom Powell/Flickr)
More from Chuckatuck Creek:
Despite improvements in some key areas, the Anacostia River’s health is still in very poor condition, according to a new report card released by the Anacostia Watershed Society.
(Image courtesy Mr. T in DC/Flickr)
Stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution to the Anacostia River, which flows to the Potomac River, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributaries. Runoff carries dirt, oil, trash, fertilizer and other pollutants from the land into the Anacostia, where they smother underwater life and make the river unsafe for fishing and swimming.
The Anacostia River report card uses data on four water quality indicators – dissolved oxygen, water clarity, fecal bacteria and chlorophyll a (algae) – to determine the river’s health. Although this year’s report card showed improvements in fecal bacteria levels, the river’s water clarity is still extremely poor due to continued sediment runoff.
New legislation just passed in Maryland to enact a stormwater fee in the state’s largest counties, combined with funding from a similar District of Columbia fee, will help implement infrastructure repairs that reduce polluted runoff to the Anacostia and other waterways.
Visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s website for more information about the river’s health and what you can do to help restore it.