In the 1960s, in response to growing environmental degradation, the U.S. Congress called for the establishment of a nationwide network of councils that would build strong federal, state and local partnerships to expand ways for rural communities to succeed. Known as the Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&Ds), many were at one time sponsored by local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, county governments and planning districts. Today, most operate locally as non-profit organizations while also being tied together through the National Association of RC&D Councils.
For more than 50 years, the Eastern Shore RC&D, which serves Accomack and Northampton Counties on Virginia’s eastern shore, has specialized in facilitating research, outreach and education to all levels of the community and fostering deep collaborative partnerships with local governments, planning districts, research facilities, educational institutions, health care facilities, non-profits and citizen groups in the area. It has worked quietly in the background on wide ranging local issues, pioneering the development of innovative public infrastructure such as waterless fire hydrants for dealing with the challenges of rural firefighting; spearheading widespread implementation of public boat landings in many seaside and bayside towns; and collaborating on the development of model conservation demonstration programs such as living shorelines, which not only mitigate erosion from increased weather activity and rising sea levels, but also improve water quality which in turn improves aquaculture. (The reestablishment of oyster and clam beds in the Chesapeake Bay and the in the coastal waters of the seaside contribute not only to a major economic gain but also to the resiliency of our shorelines.) Its extensive network of sponsors and partners are critical in identifying, planning, funding and implementing projects.
At the invitation of Josephine Mooney, the Eastern Shore Council’s part-time projects director, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with them on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, attending their quarterly Roundtable, participating in a very ambitious schedule of site visits focusing on local collaborative projects, and speaking at a public meeting and reception. This region is truly unique—blessed with an abundance of resources and natural beauty, steeped in history and culture, it maintains a distinct identity. While my role as the Bay Program Director during this outing was to discuss water quality with leaders and citizens in the area, I also attended because I am constantly interested in learning about all the various Bay regions and communities and always curious about what motivates individuals to take on even more responsibilities which may not be required directly by their jobs. While the reasons varied, one thing was clearly shared: an interest in making the places where they live, work and play better for all to enjoy.
The Roundtable project partners include: VA Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), DCR's Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust, Eastern Shore District/VDH, Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, Resource Management Associates, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, The Nature Conservancy, NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation District, Cooperative Extension, VA Tech AREC, VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Accomack Northampton Planning District Commission (AN-PDC), Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chincoteague Bay Field Station, AmeriCorps/Vista Volunteer Program. Thanks to the efforts of Edwin Long, the current Council Chair, the Roundtable now enjoys a broadened membership with representation from a wide variety of federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations with whom the Council collaborates. The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Molly Ward, joined the meeting, commending the ES RC&D for its work and collaboration with this very broad network of partners.
After the Roundtable discussion, we toured the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) Salt Water Laboratory in Wachapreague. Its new director, Dr. Richard Snyder, showed us around while explaining some of their ongoing research and his plans for the facility’s future—all with obvious enthusiasm. VIMS then hosted a small reception where the partners and collaborators had an opportunity to informally discuss their work and plans and to meet others who are working on the shore. The following day we started out early on a marathon of site visits to see some of the great projects that resulted from this collaboration. First stop was the Native Plant Demonstration Garden at Kiptopeke State Park designed and installed by the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners. Then on to Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve, one of nine such preserves on the Eastern Shore which are owned and managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Another interesting stop was Cherrystone Aqua Farms in Cheriton, which has been producing world-renowned clams and oysters for over 115 years. Our tour guide stressed how important clean water is to the success of their operations and the concerns they have about water quality which could have a devastating impact on the economy of the region. Next we visited with Bill Jardine, owner of Quail Cove Farm, which specializes in growing, selling and distributing natural and organic foods. For Bill, growing organic foods is much more than a way to make a living: it is his passion. He experiments with different types of crops and techniques, looking for the best way to grow nutritious foods while minimizing the use of agricultural chemicals. A tall man with an infectious smile, you could feel Bill’s energy rise as he surveyed his plantings and explained what was going on. He took great delight in sharing his knowledge and experiences with us and we enjoyed listening to what he had to say.
We visited a number of other sites to view the Onancock School Nature Trail and the permeable pavement in one of the town parking lots. The Mayor of Wachapreague, Fred Janci, gave us a tour of the town’s Seaside Park in which he rightfully takes great pride. The native plantings help attract pollinators and are welcoming to the town’s residents and visitors. While we were there, a monarch butterfly made an appearance as if to confirm what the Mayor had told us.
My RC&D visit ended with a public meeting at the Eastern Shore Community College. About 70 people turned out to listen to presentations on best management practices (BMPs) for business from Shorekeeper Jay Ford and on native plants from Dot Field and Virginia Witmer, representing DCR and DEQ respectively, as well as Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM). I talked about the Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration effort and the importance of individual actions by land owners and residents who collectively can have a big impact on controlling pollution and helping the ecosystem recover.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a very special place. You only have to spend a short time there to understand that. Certainly, it faces challenges from sea level rise due to climate change, controlling development so the region can benefit economically without suffering environmentally, addressing the growth of poultry houses without sacrificing quality of life or degrading water quality. The people I met, who are collaborating on projects, understand how special this rural region is and how important it is to protect it. They are motivated, and they are making a difference. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
A new report from the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group—a partnership of poultry and grain producers, conservation partners, academic experts and other stakeholders—outlines the group’s recommendations for reducing nutrient pollution related to poultry manure, or “litter,” on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Known as the Delmarva Peninsula, the land to the east of the Bay includes parts of western Delaware and eastern Maryland and Virginia. It is also responsible for a disproportionate amount of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the estuary, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released earlier this year. But the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group is committed to improving the relationship between agriculture and Bay health, encouraging responsible nutrient management and promoting alternative uses for manure and poultry litter.
To support the group’s vision of a healthy and productive Chesapeake Bay, the report recommends developing action plans for the research, implementation, funding and coordination of regulations for nutrient management programs and technologies. Along with the report, members of the work group announced the launch of the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, an initiative to unite stakeholder groups and take the lead on the responsible use of manure and poultry litter.
Livestock manure and poultry litter are often applied to farmland as a form of fertilizer, providing crops with the nutrients they need to grow. When more litter is applied to the land than is needed by crops, nutrients can build up in the environment. Eventually, these nutrients flow into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, where they can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms that block sunlight and create low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life.
Under the clean water goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which encompasses the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), Bay Program partners are working with farmers across the watershed to reduce the amount of nutrients entering local waterways.
The report, New Approaches to Poultry Litter Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Win-Win Pathways for Agriculture and the Bay, is available online.
At the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., a diminutive Japanese white pine tree rests unassumingly on an outdoor table, its vibrant green leaves belying its age. The 390-year-old tree, first cultivated in 1625, was a mere 320 years old when it survived the atomic blast that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. And the tree is gaining renown this week as it is honored to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing. As part of the permanent collection at the arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, it helps form a tiny flourishing forest.
The museum’s three pavilions, housing about 150 plants, are part of the 446 acres of lush fields, forests and gardens making up the arboretum. Home to one of the largest bonsai and penjing collections in North America, the museum was established in 1976, while the arboretum dates to 1927.
The arboretum’s research program in ornamental horticulture and plant exhibits draw more than 500,000 visitors each year, allowing the staff to showcase a repertoire of educational programs, workshops and demonstrations about horticulture, agriculture and forestry.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
On June 16, 2014, the Chesapeake Executive Council signed the historic Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, charting the future course for the multi-state and federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Governor Terry McAuliffe assumed the chairmanship of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the Bay Program’s top leadership body, on January 1st of this year, and on July 23, 2015, he chaired his first meeting. This meeting focused on specific actions that will further our collective efforts to restore the Bay, from increasing the amount of forested stream corridors, excluding livestock from streams, advancing critical land conservation needs and working to increase the funding available for restoration.
Experts, scientists, agency staff and non-profits collaboratively developed the management strategies for meeting the goals and outcomes in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. These strategies, presented to the Executive Council at the July 23rd meeting, go far beyond water quality improvement, addressing issues from land conservation and fisheries management to environmental literacy and climate change.
The ongoing efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay are at a critical point. The deadline called for in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL for 60 percent of nutrient and sediment reductions by 2017 is fast approaching. The more difficult task of meeting our pollution reduction commitments by 2025 will take continued progress across the entire range of nutrient and sediment sources.
Each of the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, along with the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the federal government represented by EPA, are responsible for meeting our collective goals. As the “downstream” state in the watershed, we in Virginia depend on our neighbors to the north and west to achieve healthy waters and the benefits that come from a clean Bay. Our neighbors will also benefit from cleaner water and more abundant fisheries and wildlife in their rivers and streams. Whether you are in Cooperstown, New York, or in Hampton, Virginia, we are all in this together.
Clean water, healthy stream corridors and the related habitat and ecological benefits make our counties, cities and towns more livable and more attractive to prospective employers, and they support our traditional industries such as agriculture, forestry, tourism and fishing, which in turn support jobs and serve our goals of a vibrant and sustainable economy.
All Bay Program partners are now fully engaged in the implementation of the management strategies. As partners, we will continue the progress we have made in meeting our water quality goals and seek the continued cooperation of key urban and agriculture sectors. We will work to bring new resources, including private and federal, to meet the costs of implementation and progress. We will be open and public about our science-based decisions and the rationale for making them. We will reach out to all sectors, public and private, to ensure that regulatory obligations are fulfilled and voluntary efforts are supported and valued.
Although we may face significant challenges in such a large and developing watershed, the payoff in terms of environmental health and economic prosperity will be enormous, and it will benefit ours and future generations.
Written by Molly Joseph Ward, Secretary of Natural Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia. Ward is chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program's Principals' Staff Committee.