Today, the Chesapeake Bay Program unveiled a new, interactive story map—titled “Cleaner Air, Cleaner Bay”—showing how Clean Air Act regulations, as well as decades of enforcement actions, have led to a steady decline in air pollution across the Chesapeake region.
Polluted air can have quite an impact on the health of local waters: scientists estimate that one third of the nitrogen in the Bay comes from the air through a process known as atmospheric deposition. When our cars, power plants or other sources emit air pollution, it can be carried by wind and weather over long distances until it falls onto land or directly into the water.
Even pollution emitted thousands of miles away can eventually end up in our waterways. While the area of land that drains into the Bay spans six states and 64,000 square miles, the Bay’s “airshed”—the area of land over which airborne pollutants travel to enter the estuary—is nine times that size. Nearly three-quarters of the airborne nitrogen that eventually ends up in the Bay is generated by sources within this airshed, and the remaining 25 percent is emitted from sources even farther away. Which is why policies like the Clean Air Act have been essential in reducing the amount of pollution that reaches the Bay.
“We don’t often think about air as a source of pollution to Chesapeake Bay waters,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “The good news, as illustrated by this story map, is that we have been very successful in reducing airborne emissions through Clean Air Act regulations that have improved water quality in the Bay region.”
Excess nitrogen can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and create low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life. In addition to national and local regulatory actions, pollution-reducing practices in backyards, in cities and on farms play a critical role in decreasing the flow of nitrogen.
Learn more about air pollution in the Bay region.
Last month, the final load of juvenile oysters was cast into Harris Creek’s 350-acre oyster reef, marking over two billion oysters planted in the sanctuary. One of the largest oyster restoration projects in the world, the reef in Harris Creek—a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River—is the first of ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries needed to fulfill the oyster restoration goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
The juvenile oysters, known as spat, all came from the University of Maryland's Horn Point Hatchery. Oyster restoration in Harris Creek has been a collaborative effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the Nature Conservancy and other groups, such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Scientists will continue to monitor the health of the Harris Creek oysters as they look toward restoring more tributaries of the Chesapeake.
We first documented Harris Creek in 2012, when roughly a quarter of the construction and seeding at Harris Creek was complete.
Text and images by Will Parson
Videos by Will Parson and Steve Droter
From restoring forests, wetlands and streambanks to reducing pollution from urban, suburban and agricultural lands, 44 environmental projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed have received $11.5 million in funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.
Twenty-four projects will be funded by the Small Watershed Grants Program, which supports on-the-ground restoration, conservation and community engagement. Twenty more will be funded by the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program, which finances the reduction of nutrient and sediment pollution in rivers, streams and the Bay. The 44 projects will leverage more than $22.2 million in matching funds to improve the health of the watershed.
In Maryland, for instance, the Parks & People Foundation will work to improve water quality and public access along Baltimore City’s Gywnns Falls. In Pennsylvania, the Lancaster Farmland Trust will implement 20 agricultural “best management practices” on four farms bordering Mill Creek. And in West Virginia, the Eastern Panhandle Planning and Development Council will transform a previous commercial site into a nursery that grows native plants for use in local green infrastructure projects.
Officials and guests announced the awards this morning at the Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, where a 2014 Stewardship Fund grant is supporting improvements in managing stormwater runoff.
For ten years, individuals and groups from around the Chesapeake Bay region have been invited to connect with and learn from one another at the annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, hosted by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. This year’s Forum, held in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, focused on highlighting ten years of progress and sharing strategies to get new results for the Chesapeake Bay and its communities. The Forum was also organized in a way that allowed for new voices of the Chesapeake to be heard and new relationships to form.
At the registration desk, the Forum’s focus on diversity jumpstarted with the collection of attendees’ demographics to establish a baseline of data from which we can measure progress. The results have been tallied; however, the Alliance is awaiting the final attendance count to determine a true baseline of Forum demographics. Moreover, many attendees were overheard expressing positive reactions to the diversity of attendees, such as “This is the most diverse conference I’ve been to in the region,” and “This is the first time I’ve been in at a conference like this where I see more than two people that look like me.” At future events, we hope to explore including the survey in the registration form to hear from even more participants.
Two plenary presentations were given by Audrey and Frank Peterman, founders of the Diverse Environmental Leaders Speaker Bureau. Audrey’s presentation focused on perceptions versus realities. Traditionally, she explained, people have perceived non-white groups as not being active in environmentalism. She then showed us the reality: people from numerous ethnic, age and gender backgrounds are contributing to the narrative. Audrey stressed the importance of not making assumptions about levels of participation, but instead seeking out and elevating the stories and contributions of people of color and other backgrounds. Later, Frank’s presentation hit on the practice of inclusion from a personal and organizational level. “Diversity must be a line item in your budget, and it must be purposeful,” he emphasized. He also highlighted the four elements of community engagement: Mission, Message, Messenger and Method. The message we try to get across shouldn’t be too broad—it should be layered, and include everyone needed for success.
Diversity was interwoven throughout the Forum, and people felt it as they made personal connections and shared ideas with one another. First-time Forum attendees were vocal about how much they enjoyed the conference. Attendees and presenters in the “Bridging the Chesapeake Bay Partnership Gap” session expressed their interest in building upon the Forum through future collaboration. The session, inspired by Diversity Action Team stakeholders, brought forth new ideas and actions to consider for the implementation of our Diversity strategy. A common theme was the need for an interactive network where groups and organizations can share ideas and lessons learned, as well as connect with people throughout the watershed. Attendees expressed interest in a “bureau of Bay-related diversity consultants,” and hope that watershed organizations will submit workforce diversity data to GuideStar, a nonprofit reporting site, for a more accurate baseline of diverse engagement and employment.
The final activity of the Forum was a Privilege Walk, intended to provide participants with an opportunity to better understand personal, community and societal privilege and the role that privilege plays in our collaborative work towards healthy and flourishing watershed communities. Forty-five people attended the Walk, with an opportunity afterwards to reflect on the activity as a group. Overall, the Walk was well received. Many participants shared that while reflecting on their privilege or lack thereof was difficult or uncomfortable, it gave them an opportunity to bond with the Forum community. People continued to talk about the Walk and how it affected them long after it ended, while waiting in line for dinner and in other common areas. A video recording of the Walk and participants’ reflections will be made available in the near future.
People attend conferences to learn and share stories and ideas, but they also want to make personal connections that they can build upon afterwards. The atmosphere of the Forum was welcoming, inclusive and diverse—an opportunity for genuine relationship-building that could yield meaningful results for our communities and our Bay.
To learn more about diversity and the Chesapeake Bay Program, you can read our new Diversity Management Strategy and review and provide comments on our draft Diversity Workplan.
Written by Jim Edward, Deputy Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Shanita Brown, Diversity Communications and Outreach Assistant at the Chesapeake Bay Program
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.