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Chesapeake Bay News: Pollution

Jul
20
2016

Lafayette River removed from Virginia list of bacteria-impaired waterways

Elizabeth River Project (ERP) staff members Sara Felker, right, and Casey Shaw consult with homeowner Pat Thrasher on a tributary of the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 22, 2015. Thrasher joined ERP's River Star Homes program, which helps improve water quality in the Lafayette through the pledges of 3,300 participants.

In June, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) removed the Lafayette River from its list of rivers contaminated by bacteria. The Lafayette, a branch of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, now meets the state’s water quality standards for recreational use, including swimming, boating and other recreational activities.

Virginia DEQ monitors the state’s rivers, reviewing the data every six years to update its list of impaired waterways. In its most recent water quality report, Virginia DEQ delisted a majority of the Lafayette River—except for a small tributary called Knitting Mill Creek—for bacteria, meaning the river’s levels dropped to those considered safe for recreational activities.

Despite this achievement, the Elizabeth River Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to the restoration of the Elizabeth River, still urges caution when on the water. They advise against recreational contact with the Lafayette within 72 hours of rain, as well as avoiding narrow, shallow areas such as the river’s small creeks. Stormwater runoff can wash disease-causing pathogens into waterways, and the smaller creeks can have higher bacteria numbers since they don’t flush out bacteria as well as larger rivers. They also note that swimmers should always take precautions such as avoiding the water if they have open cuts and showering or washing hands after contact with the water.

Joe Rieger, left, Deputy Director of Restoration with the Elizabeth River Project (ERP), and staff from Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) visit oyster reefs built by ERP and seeded by CBF on the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 26, 2015.

The new status of the Lafayette reflects the hard work of local groups and organizations. The City of Norfolk, along with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, have been working together to upgrade sewer lines to prevent leakages into the river. The city is also restoring seven acres of wetlands along the Lafayette, in addition to 15 acres already restored by local partners. The Elizabeth River Project, in partnership with the City of Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is working to restore the river’s natural oyster population by constructing over a dozen reefs. Their River Star Homes program, which began in 2011, now has over 3,300 participants who have pledged to take action toward protecting local waterways. "This is a great example of how the efforts of a small organization, the Elizabeth River Project, working with the community and other partners over a sustained period of time, can achieve such incredible results,” noted Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “Hats off to ERP."



Jul
18
2016

At home, on the water in Baltimore

On a June morning at Baltimore’s Middle Branch Park, a few steps from the Patapsco River, Molly Gallant addresses a group of eighth graders like a drill sergeant in a life vest.

“Hands up if this is your first time in a kayak, ever,” said Gallant, the high sun irradiating her tanned, freckled shoulders and red hair. Gallant, an Outdoor Recreation Programmer with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, counted aloud six raised hands.

“For those of you that have not been out before, the secret to kayaking is pressing your knees to the sides, okay?” Gallant said. “And you let your hips rock with the water and your upper body stay straight.”

The few dozen students had come that morning from Collington Square Elementary School, located roughly two miles northeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, for a program called Kids in Kayaks. In its first year, roughly 500 Baltimore students have taken part in the program, funded by the National Park Service and the Baltimore National Heritage Area. It has given many children their first experience on the water that has defined their hometown.

The program began with in-classroom orientation by staff from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office.

“We went out to the schools beforehand to talk to students about what was going to happen,” said Kate Marks of the National Park Service. Marks said the overview also included discussion of “the history of the region and human impact on the landscape over the past 400 years.”

Participating schools then made two trips—in fall and spring—to the 150-acre park for entry-level kayak lessons taught by Gallant and other Recreation and Parks staff as well as on-land activities hosted by various partners including the National Park Service, the Maryland Zoo, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.

“Every organization has their own mission, their own reason why they’re doing this,” Gallant said. “I think the common interest for all of us is that it’s really, really important to start engaging urban populations in the natural resources that are available to them.”

During the primer on water safety and paddling, expressions on the students’ faces ranged from giggles to frightened anticipation. A boy asked if there were any animals in the water.

“There is nothing the water that is going to eat you,” Gallant said, sensing the boy’s concern.

Eighth grade students from Collington Square Elementary School in Baltimore exercise their newfound paddling skills on the Patapsco River at Middle Branch Park on June 10, 2016.

Gallant first talked with the National Park Service about the idea for Kids in Kayaks as an outdoor recreation program in order to get Baltimore children engaged in the historical, cultural, and ecological heritage of their hometown.

She said the environmental aspect is the first one the children pick up on.

“It’s this secret way of developing stewardship where you cannot go out on the water and have a good time and not start forming those connections,” Gallant said. “It makes you think twice about throwing litter on the ground.”

Previous trips have included Park Service sites along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake and Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trails, including Ft. McHenry.

“You get to look out there and see this big massive green area that is Ft. McHenry—you get to see the flag flying out there,” Gallant said. “You get to see why this is important to Baltimore, why Baltimore was developed as a port town, why we are where we are.”

That day, as half of the children took to the water, the other half followed Peter Martin, a Naturalist at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, for a guided nature walk to learn about some of the animals and insects living at Middle Branch Park.

“We’ll see those same things out on the water,” Gallant said. “So it’s really very complementary.”

Molly Gallant, an Outdoor Recreation Programmer with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, poses at Middle Branch Park in Baltimore on June 10, 2016.

The trips are intended to be entry-level kayaking lessons, but Gallant has also seen a lot of personal growth in the children—something that was never written into the program.

“One of the young ladies that had come to us this spring was extremely fearful,” Gallant said. “It took us about 20 minutes to even get her in the boat. Tears. Anxiety. She just did not think that she could do it. So by the end of the trip, not only was she able to do it, she was actually towards the front of the pack. So that second trip for her—no hesitation.”

The newcomers from Collington Square struck a similar chord of confidence on the water.

“It happens in different variations on a lot of different levels with a lot of different kids,” Gallant said.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page

Video, photos and text by Will Parson

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.



Jul
14
2016

Photo of the Week: Using birds of prey to mentor at-risk youth

Rodney Stotts, left, of Wings Over America, lets high schooler DeShawn Wheeler touch a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk at the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Maryland, while classmate Ramond Thomas looks on. More than two decades ago, Stotts left behind a past life of drugs and violence to begin working with birds of prey.

In 1992, Stotts worked as one of the founding staff members of the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that pairs unemployed community youth with conservation work along the Anacostia River and beyond. From ECC arose Wings Over America, a group that provides at-risk young adults with opportunities to rehabilitate injured raptors, such as hawks, falcons and eagles. The group is currently working to establish a bird sanctuary at their headquarters in Laurel, Maryland—close by to New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a rehabilitation facility for young men.

Learn more about Rodney Stotts and the work of Wings Over America.

 

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Jul
07
2016

Photo of the Week: Pelicans roost along the Bay’s islands

A colony of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) roosts on an uninhabited portion of Smith Island. A non-native species in the Chesapeake region, the brown pelican’s range has been expanding north into the Bay in recent decades. Once found only in the lower Bay, the birds can now be found breeding on islands in the mid-Bay in summer.

In the mid-20th century, widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused populations of many birds, including brown pelicans, to decline significantly. In 1970, the brown pelican was listed as an endangered species, but had recovered enough to be de-listed along its Atlantic Coast range in 1985 and throughout the rest of its range in 2009.

In 1987, only five known pairs of pelicans were nesting in the Chesapeake Bay region—by 2008, more than 1,000 pairs were nesting on Holland Island alone. Many experts credit the influx of pelican visitors to climate change: warmer weather and milder winters may be prompting the birds to expand the northernmost reaches of their range to include the Chesapeake Bay.

Learn more about the brown pelican, or learn about other ways climate change is expected to affect the Chesapeake region.

 

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



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