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Bay Blog: environment

Jul
03
2017

Learning from history to shape the future

An aerial view showcases the broken windows and the beauty of Petersburg, Va., a town of over 32,000 people located on the Appomattox River about 20 miles south of Richmond. (Photo by Tom Saunders/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

“Close your eyes,” commands Michelle Peters, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Petersburg, Virginia. Her voice – buoyed by optimism – floats over the roomful of officials, government agents, nonprofits, businesses and Petersburg citizens gathered at the meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program Diversity Workgroup. “It is the year 2030. It’s a great day in the city of Petersburg. Petersburg is an economically, environmentally, socially vibrant community… The spiritual, physical, emotional health of our community has been raised… It’s a great day in the city of Petersburg.”

When a speaker employs an envisioning exercise, most audiences listen politely and allow their gaze to wander –but this was in no way a typical meeting. The Chesapeake Bay Program Diversity Workgroup chose to hold their quarterly meeting in the city of Petersburg in a conscious effort to put into action those methods that spark real change: to listen, to engage with a community and to be present where change needs to happen. In the auditorium of Virginia State University on the thirteenth of June, faces across the room were tilted up, seeing this revitalized and thriving town. It is in a town like Petersburg that a time capsule jump carries weight—for, here, time behaves strangely.

Petersburg, Virginia has a long history as a market town and leading tobacco center. Twenty-four factories made chewing tobacco, and the manufacturer Brown & Williamson was king. The civil rights movement in the sixties was energized in the city of Petersburg, which is the home of the important Underground Railroad hub Pocahontas Island and two of the oldest black Baptist congregations in the nation. Demographics were relatively equal and the city was dynamic. As the city grew and needed to expand, it hit a roadblock of legal zoning. With annexation illegal, the size of Petersburg was set. The middle classes, both white and black, left Petersburg for the more desirable Chesterfield and other nearby areas. Brown & Williamson, the largest employer for the area and the driving force of Petersburg’s economy, pulled up stakes and left the town for Georgia in 1983. And then: time stopped.

“The saddest day in the city of Petersburg was when Brown & Williamson left Petersburg,” Reverend Betty Jackson proclaimed at the meeting. “We had poured so much into one industry and were codependent.”

Close to forty years have passed since the loss of the tobacco industry, but the feeling in Petersburg is that it might have been mere months since the departure. Marcus Comer, environmental research specialist and assistant professor of agriculture at Virginia State University, explained the phenomenon and its after-effects: “When different industries left, they took their earnings but left their pollution and toxins. Historically, Petersburg has been on the negative side for so long that it’s hard to overcome.”

Dr. Lucious Edwards speaks at the Diversity Workgroup meeting held June 13th at Virginia State University. Retired from decades as VSU archivist, Edwards is still active in the welfare of his community. (Photo by Reggie Parrish/EPA)

Stepping out of the past and embracing that envisioned future is exactly the hope of the day for all parties involved. Listening and understanding the starting place – historically and psychologically – is crucial to bringing about true change for the city, and realistic ideas for action grew from the protracted conversation rooted in that sense of place.

“’Oh, dear. Do you drink the water?’ When you tell someone you live in Petersburg, that is the first question you will be asked,” states Comer. According to him, “the perpetuation of negative perceptions has kept Petersburg down,” creating a learned helplessness.

“[At nearby military base] Fort Lee, [visitors] are told not to take a left turn towards Petersburg,” stated Annie Mickens, former mayor and longtime Petersburg resident. It is in discussing and realizing these limitations that residents found new strength and strategies. Through the course of the day, Petersburg citizens took ownership of their town and their own ability to improve conditions.

University of Virginia President Makola Abdullah put those ideals into action when he bought a home within the city of Petersburg and encouraged his staff to do the same, seeing investment in the city from within as the key to moving forward.

“Let’s change the way Petersburg views itself,” said Ronald Howell, special assistant to the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, to general applause. “Let’s look not from the outside in, but from the inside out… These are the resources we have. We don’t have the optics to garner people from the outside… Let’s look at who is driving the economy in Petersburg right now, and let’s see if we can bring that back home. That’s where we start. There should be a network of farmers, internal training, certification and development. If no one wants to come from the outside, let’s build from the inside.”

Real-time change was apparent as attendees and speakers alike slipped in and out of the meeting throughout the day to vote in a general election. Community members were taking action on the words of former mayor Mickens: “We don’t speak for people who have no voice. They have a voice. We have to get those people to the table, to say, ‘I elected you. Accept my voice.’”

The South Side Depot in Petersburg, Va. Built in 1854 as the passenger depot for The Southside Railroad, this Petersburg landmark is the oldest railroad station in the state of Virginia. (Photo by Ron Cogswell/CC BY 2.0 license)

Dr. Lucious Edwards, archivist and historian, spoke on the historical tourism opportunities of Petersburg and its mark on the shaping of America. “[We need to] engage, to blend, to see the value of and interpret the African American experience,” said Edwards. “We should move away from the expectations of confederate history, slavery, plantations and towards others. Petersburg is a jewel for architecture and industry.” Planning departments and cultural affairs departments are merging in Petersburg, in line with a new plan to revitalize through the lens of historical identity.

Before adjourning to tour the Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center—one of the examples of internal Petersburg innovation—attendees settled on the takeaway action items for the Diversity Workgroup.  EJ Screen is an environmental justice knowledge tool that provides maps with overlapping layers of data, combining both environmental and demographic indicators that allow users to make informed decisions. Incorporating community input on the city’s role in health concerns, EPA is considering adding a new data layer to EJ Screen showing failing infrastructure lead lines in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Diversity Workgroup will work to assist in Train the Trainer workshops and include lead remediation as a potential avenue for a green jobs workforce, while working more closely with local non-profit organizations and key community leaders on local issues.

By structuring meetings around the heart of communities and with an understanding of their history, as with this Diversity Workgroup meeting, it may truly be a great day in Petersburg and towns like it.

Learn more about the efforts of the Diversity Workgroup and the positive changes taking place throughout the partnership.

Caitlyn Johnstone's avatar
About Caitlyn Johnstone - Caitlyn is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She earned her Bachelor's in English and Behavioral Psychology at WVU Eberly Honors College, where she fed her interest in the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. Caitlyn continues that passion on her native Eastern Shore by seeking comprehensive strategies to human and environmental wellbeing.



Jun
23
2017

Restoration Spotlight: Monarchs and communities share common ground

At many points on its famously long eastern migration route from central Mexico to Canada, the monarch butterfly faces the perils of habitat loss. As a result, its population has declined by over 90 percent since the 1990s. Efforts to save the striking orange insect range from the unique forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacàn to the “Monarch Highway” in the Midwest—and all the way to the urban communities of South Baltimore.

For many city residents of neighborhoods like Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, the monarch was already effectively gone. But with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through a Five Star Urban Waters Grant, the Monarch Butterfly Community Conservation Program began last fall with the goal to engage hundreds of volunteers, students and Baltimore community members in the planting of habitat for the butterfly. The program builds on existing efforts by partnering organizations to reconnect communities with their green spaces.
 

A monarch butterfly visits a milkweed plant in Queen Anne’s County, Md., on July 15, 2016. Milkweed is the host plant for monarchs—it is the only plant it will lay eggs on and the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat.

“The National Wildlife Federation and the National Aquarium have been working in communities around Baltimore for quite some time, creating native habitat through residential gardens and church gardens and community gardens,” said Gabrielle Roffe, conservation community coordinator at the National Aquarium. “This grant program was sort of a natural progression, to engage more open community spaces in schools.”

Roffe said that creating native habitat for the monarchs would help connect local residents with an international conservation issue.

“What we’re working to do is create a full-fledged education program to really empower the students to take ownership of these green spaces and understand the ‘why’ behind these gardens,” Roffe said.

The program began last August on an island in the Chesapeake Bay that might have disappeared beneath the water had its own decline not been reversed. Poplar Island—shrunk like other Chesapeake islands by the forces of sea level rise, sinking land and increasingly frequent strong storms before being restored to its historical footprint—now supports large patches of common milkweed, the primary host plant of the monarch. Partners from National Aquarium and Living Classrooms Foundation harvested the seeds along with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This spring, the milkweed seeds got a head start in a new greenhouse at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, being grown with help from the Living Classrooms Foundation. The National Park Service also partnered with the program to plant some of the monarch gardens on their lands, such as at Fort McHenry National Monument.

“Then the National Wildlife Federation and the National Aquarium, we are the partners who are on the ground in the community, running the education programs and planting the gardens with the community members and the schools,” Roffe said.

In April, students from Benjamin Franklin High School in the nearby neighborhood of Brooklyn gathered at the Masonville Cove greenhouse for the first planting under the program. Roffe showed them how to remove the plants from their containers and use trowels to work them into raised beds. Digging alongside the students was their science teacher, Hillary Clayton.

Students from Benjamin Franklin High School plant native perennials to benefit pollinators at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore in April. Students planted milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants in a garden at the center under a program led by the National Aquarium and funded through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“Masonville Cove has been an unbelievable resource for my classes and fantastic for my kids to experience,” Clayton said.
 
Once neglected and laden with trash and toxic chemicals, Masonville Cove’s 54 acres of land and 70 acres of water now support an array of wildlife, including wetlands, an osprey nest, an artificial oyster reef and a native meadow.

“You can say it a million times in a classroom but they don’t really understand it until they come out here and see it. It’s just been really powerful for them,” Clayton said. “They can see exactly what their actions do and what kind of things they can prevent.”

Clayton grew additional native plants in lush trays beneath glowing lamps in her classroom earlier this year. The school was one of several to plant a habitat garden under the program. Though the gardens are still young, previous plantings suggest what Benjamin Franklin and the other schools can expect from their new gardens.

“When you build it, they will come. We’ve planted a lot of gardens in local urban communities and seen that once you start planting, local species start coming back,” Roffe said. “We’ve gotten calls from residents, saying, ‘The monarchs are here! The monarchs are here!’”

Roffe understands the experiences are special because of where they’re taking place.

“The joy on their faces is just really incredible because people are dealing with a lot on a daily basis, especially in these neighborhoods,” Roffe said. “Knowing that they have had a contribution to bring such an iconic species back into Brooklyn and Curtis Bay and other neighborhoods that they haven’t seen these species in who knows how many years—that’s where you really see the biggest impact.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program 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.



Jun
14
2017

Above-average dead zone predicted for Chesapeake Bay

Underwater grasses grow in the Susquehanna Flats near Havre de Grace, Md., on July 25, 2016. Low-oyxgen "dead zones" can suffocate underwater plants and animals, which rely on dissolved oxygen to survive.

Scientists predict the Chesapeake Bay will see a slightly larger-than-average dead zone this summer, due to above-average nutrient pollution flowing into the estuary from the Susquehanna River this spring.

Blue crabs, underwater grasses and other aquatic life rely on dissolved oxygen to survive. When nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose, the resulting areas of little to no oxygen, known as dead zones, can suffocate underwater plants and animals. The 2017 forecast predicts a mid-summer hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zone of 1.89 cubic miles—slightly above the 30-year average of 1.74 cubic miles. The anoxic, or no-oxygen, zone is expected to reach 0.35 cubic miles in early summer and grow to 0.49 cubic miles by late summer.

This forecast, funded by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan and relies on nutrient load estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey. This spring, 81.4 million pounds of nitrogen flowed into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River, slightly higher than the long-term average.

Anoxic areas—or areas with no dissolved oxygen—in the main portion of the Chesapeake Bay have been decreasing in size over time. (Graphics based on research by Jeremy Testa/University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science)

Over the next several months, researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will monitor oxygen levels in the Bay, resulting in a final measurement of the Bay’s dead zone later this year.

Learn more about the predicted dead zone size, or learn about how scientists measure oxygen in the Bay.



Jun
02
2017

Photo of the Week: Revisiting history at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Citizen scientists and volunteers sift for artifacts near the stabilized ruins of the Contee Farm House at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland, during its open house on May 20, 2017. Primarily known for its innovative research, SERC is home to more than 180 scientists working to understand environmental changes in the Chesapeake Bay and around the world. But the 2,650-acre campus is also full of opportunities to discover the natural world—with forests, wetlands, marshes and shorelines—and to explore remnants of the land’s history, like the Contee Farm House.

Today, only two chimneys from the original brick mansion, built in the early 1700s, still stand. Although named for John Contee, a Navy officer who purchased the land after the War of 1812, Contee was mostly an absentee owner and never actually lived on site. When he passed away, his two sons divided the farm into two sections: Contee and Java. Through the following decades, both farms fell into disuse and disrepair, transferred among a series of absentee owners.

In 1915, a businessman named Robert Lee Forrest took control of the Java Farm portion of the land. Forrest turned it into a dairy, delivering milk to much of the surrounding area. When his farmhands began leaving to fight in World War II, however, the farm again fell into disrepair. But in 1962, when Forrest passed away, a surprising discovery was made: Forrest, who had no prior connection to the Smithsonian Institution, had willed his 368-acre property to the organization.

Unsure at first about what to do with the land, the Smithsonian established it as a field collection site known as the Chesapeake Bay Center for Field Biology. As the years passed, the center grew and changed names, renamed the Chesapeake Bay Center for Environmental Studies in 1970 and earning its current name, SERC, in 1985. In 2008, SERC acquired the adjacent Contee Farm, uniting the Contee and Java portions for the first time in more than 150 years. The nearby Sellman Farm was also added to the property, bringing the campus to its current size.

Today, in addition to cutting-edge research facilities, SERC boasts the largest tract of contiguous preserved land and largest site of public access on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore. Visitors are welcome to explore the property Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Plan a visit to SERC or learn more about SERC’s history.

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.



May
15
2017

River Corps puts young adults on pathway to greener future

Queen Richardson, a member of the D.C. River Corps, takes a photo of a shade tree planted in front of a RiverSmart home. She and her fellow corps members inspect the trees for insects, signs of disease and other maintenance needs.

Meet the River Corps: a new partnership between the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) and the Latin American Youth Center. This inaugural group has 10 members, and on this sunny April day, three of them are learning how to conduct home inspections.

The River Corps is a five month program in which young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 gain training, both in class and on-the-ground, in green sector work, with the intent that this experience will help them gain employment in the field afterward.

While the program is only in its first year, the Latin American Youth Center brings 40 years of experience in running programs aimed at equipping young people with the tools for success. For example, they also run the Montgomery County Conservation Corps, a similar program just to the east of D.C. that helps young adults get their GEDs while building the skills to start a green career.

River Corps members Rashid Mills (left), Tyshaun Turner (middle) and Queen Richardson (right) document the condition of two trees at this RiverSmart home with the assistance of Program Coordinator Faith McNeil and Crew Leader Mike Weitekamp. The information they gather will go back to DOEE, and, if needed, the River Corps will come back to perform maintenance.

This new partnership not only builds green jobs skills in D.C.’s young adults, it also helps DOEE maintain their projects and programs. One of those is RiverSmart Homes, one of many RiverSmart programs offered by DOEE that incentivize property owners to manage stormwater and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter local waterways—and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Homes enrolled in the RiverSmart program manage stormwater through the use of green infrastructure, such as rain barrels, pervious pavers and rain gardens, but those practices need maintenance to be effective. Through the River Corps, DOEE has the capacity to make the in-person visits needed to check that the practices are fully functional, and Corps members gain experience in a growing green infrastructure field.

Tyshaun Turner and Queen Richardson, both members of D.C.’s first River Corps group, ensure a rain barrel is properly connected to the downspout on a RiverSmart home.

The homes also serve as outdoor classrooms, and today’s lesson includes rain barrels, pervious pavers and trees. Mike Weitekamp, River Corps Crew Leader, walks the trainees through each feature, asking questions as they run through the checklist of what they should be looking for and documenting. He points out other elements around the yard, such as terraced gardens or areas beginning to erode, to further demonstrate how concepts they’ve learned about appear in real life.

Rashid Mills, part of the River Corps team, appreciates the hands-on aspect of the program. “In the book, it seems like a bunch of detailed information that has no significance,” he says. But in the field, the connections between technical standards and real life examples are easier for him to see.

Working outdoors makes the subject matter more relatable, Mills notes, but it also gets him more comfortable with the environment. At first, he saw forests as somewhere he shouldn’t go. Now, he’s starting to see them as less intimidating. “There are actually pathways in there,” he says.

This year, the River Corps will visit plenty of outdoor classrooms: they’re planning to inspect 80 RiverSmart homes and conduct photo monitoring on streams like the one restored at Linnean Park in northwest D.C. They have indoor classroom sessions as well, where they learn about topics such as climate change, invasive species and erosion and sediment control.

Queen Richardson, who was already a gardener before joining the River Corps, notes how what she’s learning goes much deeper. “It’s a lot different than just gardening stuff,” she says. “It’s more intense, but I feel as though the work we’re doing will make a positive change for the climate.”

Pervious pavers, like those shown above, are considered a best management practice because they help rainwater infiltrate into the ground as opposed to running off the pavement and into the storm sewer.

River Corps projects focus on DOEE priorities, but they also serve the dual purpose of preparing the team for certifications such as pesticide application and green infrastructure. These certifications can help them better compete after the program ends when they are looking for other green employment.

The green infrastructure certification applies particularly well to the work they’re performing at RiverSmart homes. As they make their inspections, River Corps Program Coordinator Faith McNeil runs through vocabulary and asks follow up questions about different concepts and techniques in order to help prepare them for their upcoming exam. Created in part by D.C. Water, the green infrastructure certification could help the River Corps members find long-term employment in a city that has a renewed emphasis on creating and promoting green infrastructure projects.

“The District of Columbia’s green economy is growing, as the demand for green infrastructure increases in response to the need for climate adaptation,” said Tommy Wells, Director of DOEE. “The River Corps program trains young adults in the District to install and maintain rain gardens and stormwater retention sites, like those implemented through the RiverSmart program. River Corps is helping create more pathways to the middle class by ensuring the District has a workforce with the technical skills necessary to meet the needs of this expanding market.”

River Corps member Rashid Mills and Crew Leader Mike Weitekamp adjust the mulch around a tree at a RiverSmart home. The River Corps makes home inspections to RiverSmart homes to ensure stormwater practices like trees and rain barrels are properly installed and maintained.

Many River Corps members see the program as more than a pathway toward a green job, but as a way to a better future—for themselves, their families and their city. Tyshaun Turner has lived his whole life in D.C., but says he never had a great relationship to the water. “I jumped at the first chance to do something to better the water,” he says.

Mills likes the fact that he can apply what he is learning not only to a future job, but to the way he currently lives his life. He sees the River Corps as a way to learn how to conserve water, grow his own food and control pests. “I want to be self-sustaining,” he says.

Richardson sees the River Corps as a way to create the opportunity for green jobs, and that “improving water quality by cleaning the streams provides clean water for our children."

Programs like the River Corps align with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal to increase the number and diversity of people involved in restoration work. Learn about our Diversity Workgroup’s efforts to create and expand employment and professional development opportunities for minority and underserved groups in the region.

 

Photos by Will Parson

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



May
08
2017

Report card shows steady recovery of Chesapeake Bay health

Bridges cross the mouth of the Susquehanna River near Havre de Grace, Md., on June 27, 2016.

The Chesapeake Bay continues to show signs of improved health, according to the most recent Chesapeake Bay Report Card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). While the estuary’s “C” grade remains unchanged since 2012, the score of 54 percent in 2016 is an improvement from a 53 percent in 2015 and 50 percent in 2014.

“The 2016 Report Card again shows a steady improvement in a variety of ecosystem health indicators throughout the Bay,” said Nick DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, in a release. “These improvements are accomplished by cooperation and collaboration at all levels of government and with the active participation and support of informed citizens."

UMCES researchers use several indicators of Bay health to calculate the Chesapeake Bay Health Index, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen, the amount of algae and nutrients in the water, the abundance of underwater grasses and the strength of populations like blue crabs and striped bass.

Many of these indicators improved or held steady from the previous year. The Fisheries Index, for example, improved from a 73 percent in 2015 to a 90 percent in 2016, with blue crabs in particular showing a marked increase. Phosphorus pollution also decreased across much of the estuary and its tributaries, and dissolved oxygen levels remained high.

Despite this progress, experts caution that more work is needed to see a fully restored Bay. Nitrogen pollution worsened from 2015 to 2016, as did populations of benthic organisms—the worms, clams and other invertebrates that live at the bottom of the Bay.

“We are happy to see that our beloved Chesapeake Bay continues its recovery. These scientifically rigorous report card results are telling us that we are indeed heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “We still have a long way to go to fully restoring the Bay, so we need to have our diverse partnerships of people and organizations continue to work together to reduce the runoff of sediments and nutrients into the Bay.”

Learn more.



Apr
26
2017

Chesapeake Bay Environmental Literacy Summit: Education gets outside

Nestled between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center boasts native gardens, picturesque benches next to flowering trees that hum with bees, study sites for the center’s biologists and plenty of rivers, forests and walking trails for the public. Last Wednesday, the refuge played a role in ensuring a new generation of research scientists and nature lovers by hosting the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Leadership Summit on Environmental Literacy.

An educator from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) shows students how to conduct a cast net survey at CBF’s headquarters in Annapolis, Md., last year. Outdoor environmental learning activities known as Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences have been shown to increase overall academic performance.

The summit centered on the environmental literacy outcome of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, in which Bay Program partners—which include federal and state agencies, local governments, non-profit organizations, communities and academic institutions—committed to the goal to “enable every student in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed.”

Attendees were delegates from the education departments, environmental or natural resource departments and school districts of D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Representatives from federal agencies, nonprofits, outdoor centers, and educational organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed joined in discussion and collaborated at each table. 

Remarks from Nick DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Brad Knudsen, Patuxent Research Refuge Manager, kicked off the day. Both began by reminiscing spending sunrise-to-sunset childhood days playing outdoors, with Knudsen expressing concern over whether today’s children would be able to do the same.

“Most kids now experience the outdoors through sports,” Knudsen said. “Sports are great, but what are the odds that at 60 they’ll still be playing soccer? If they are exposed to birdwatching, nature hikes, [nature becomes] a lifelong love and activity.”

Fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., learn how to measure water quality aboard the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge in 2015.

To give today’s children outdoor memories and ensure a robust outdoors in which to have them, education leaders from across the watershed shared stories and discussed how to foster success in each jurisdiction. “Me – We” is the handily descriptive pronunciation for Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences (MWEE), the formal environmental education component in place in elementary, middle and high schools and which has been shown to increase overall academic performance. MWEEs—which last weeks to months and morph from classroom learning to outdoor experiences and back again—give students a sense of place within the watershed as a whole, while providing real-world applications for science, math, history, reading and art.

The afternoon concluded with attendees discussing how best to tackle environmental literacy in their particular locality. A major component of environmental literacy is establishing a sense of the full watershed. Covering some 64,000 square miles, the Chesapeake Bay watershed stretches from New York down to Virginia and includes land-locked areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A school in coastal Virginia might create a Bay-focused MWEE in partnership with a local nonprofit, while a class in rural Pennsylvania might work with a local farm, a conservancy and their conservation district to develop a sense of pollution prevention and groundwater protection on their own school grounds. Watershed protection works when people understand the interworking nature of the system and decide to act locally: each area taking pride in their own land, their own streams, their local community. Environmentally literate citizens result in healthier communities; healthier local communities result in a healthier bay.



Feb
28
2017

What do we really know about cownose rays?

Cownose rays have been in the news a lot lately, due to proposed legislation in Maryland that would place a ban on cownose ray hunting tournaments. Held in the summertime, these tournaments are popular among bowhunters who want to reduce the cownose ray population.

Cownose rays tend to get a bad reputation because of what they are eating—or what people think they are eating. Cownose rays are highly specialized to eat bivalves like softshell clams, macoma clams and razor clams. But if other prey are unavailable, they occasionally snack on oysters and hard clams, a fact that has concerned watermen and the shellfish industry.

According to a report released by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, while oysters and hard clams are not a significant part of a ray’s diet, if they do choose to chow down on these bivalves, intense feeding in one localized area can occur. This feeds the fear that cownose rays will impact oyster restoration and aquaculture operations. However, because of the rays’ jaw size and the force it takes to crush large bivalves, feeding on oyster clusters found in sanctuaries or aquaculture operations can be very difficult for them. The most recent study on the diet of cownose rays shows small, soft shell clams and crustaceans make up most of what they eat.

Another popular misconception of the cownose ray is that it is an invasive species. In fact, they are native to the eastern seaboard of the United States and have been observed in the Chesapeake Bay for centuries. From May through October each year, cownose rays travel to the Chesapeake Bay to give birth in early summer and mate a few weeks later.  Because of this females are almost always pregnant. They have extremely slow reproductive cycles, producing only one pup a year, which then takes seven years to mature.

Map of cownose ray migration routes, courtesy of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

In the Chesapeake Bay, cownose rays are commercial bycatch of the fishing industry and are often targeted for recreational fishing. Rays that are caught by recreational fishing are typically disposed of and not used. Often, the remains end up as sources of fertilizer. For those who may try to eat them, rays can be difficult to cook—only 30 to 34 percent of the flesh is edible—and have a very bitter taste.

Last week, the Maryland Senate passed a bill recommending a moratorium on hunting tournaments until July 31, 2018, with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources developing a management plan by December 31, 2017. The House of Delegates is expected to vote on the ban in the next few weeks.



Feb
23
2017

Chesapeake Bay Program releases results of first-ever diversity profile

Reggie Parrish speaks during the Chesapeake Bay Program Diversity Workgroup Meeting at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 2, 2016.

The inclusion of all types of voices and communities is critically important to the success of environmental protection and restoration efforts in an increasingly diverse watershed. Now, the Chesapeake Bay Program is taking steps to make sure the partnership and its staff reflect the diversity of that community through the release of its first-ever diversity profile assessment.

In 2016, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Program, distributed a diversity profile to approximately 750 people who work for or with the partnership. The survey revealed that 84 percent of respondents identified as white, while just 13 percent of respondents identified as non-white. Meanwhile, 35 percent of the people in the watershed—which spans parts of six states and the District of Columbia—identify as non-white. In establishing this baseline, the Bay Program is taking an important first step in making its partnership reflect the watershed it represents. 

“Setting a baseline and being transparent about the state of diversity in our partnership is a critical first step towards increasing the diversity of people who are engaged in the leadership and implementation of restoration efforts throughout the Bay watershed,” said Jim Edward, Chair of the Bay Program’s Diversity Workgroup.

Alongside goals like oyster health and water quality, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement includes a goal to increase the number and diversity of people who support and carry out conservation and restoration work. Under this goal, Bay Program partners committed to increasing representation in leadership and are assisted in this effort by the Bay Program’s Diversity Workgroup. A dynamic assembly of diverse voices from around the watershed, the Diversity Workgroup is dedicated to creating meaningful employment opportunities, promoting environmental justice and engaging underrepresented populations in conservation and restoration efforts.

“We are delighted that the Chesapeake Bay Program has not only taken stock of its diversity but has truly committed to ensuring that it reflects the racial diversity of the Chesapeake region,” said Whitney Tome, Executive Director of Green 2.0. “We look forward to collaborating with them on this initiative.”

When diversity is taken into account in the planning and implementation of conservation and restoration work, this work is likely to benefit underrepresented and underserved communities. Increasing the inclusion of previously underrepresented communities in our work fosters creativity, drives innovation and ensures all people in the watershed can share in the vibrancy of the region.

Learn more.



Jan
31
2017

By the Numbers: 502

The well-being of the Chesapeake Bay watershed will soon rest in the hands of its youngest residents. For many, efforts to instill in students a connection to the natural world—and in turn, a desire to care for it—begin with greening the buildings in which students learn. Whether by installing rain gardens and water bottle filling stations like Lanier Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia; turning an unused open-air space to a light-filled atrium like Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C.; or installing a geothermal heat pump and two thousand solar panels like Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, Maryland, schools across the region have made big strides toward sustainability.

Environmental education is one pillar of sustainable schools. Connecting students with the natural world can foster a sense of stewardship.

Sustainable schools are built around reducing environmental impact, improving human health and strengthening environmental literacy. Because certification programs often require progress in each of these three pillars of sustainability, the benefits of sustainable schools are varied, from the conservation of water and energy to the improved test scores that have been linked to hands-on environmental education.

But building a sustainable school can take time and dedication on the part of principals, teachers and facilities staff. While the benefits of sustainable schools are proven—and outweigh costs 20 to 1—resources aren’t always distributed evenly and buy-in is not always easy to get.

“If a school administration does not understand the benefits of a sustainable school program and does not support teachers or other school staff investing time towards school sustainability, then it’s going to be difficult for any school to achieve it,” said Kevin Schabow, coordinator of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup, which advances the partnership’s environmental literacy goals. “There are many priorities for administrators, and school sustainability may not be on their radar.”

Research shows the benefits of sustainable schools can outweigh costs 20 to 1.

That said, making a school sustainable can begin with grassroots enthusiasm. “Student voice is a powerful thing,” Schabow said. Whether the driver is a desire to compete with other schools or the knowledge that sustainable schools are good for staff and students alike, motivation can come in the form of a superintendent who encourages principals to go green, a teacher who excites students about stewardship or a group of students who lobby their principal for a change.

Of the 3,800 schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 12 percent are certified sustainable.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a total of 502 public and charter schools—or 12 percent of all public and charter schools—are certified sustainable by one of the following programs: U.S. Green Ribbon Schools, Eco-Schools USA, Maryland Green Schools and Virginia Naturally Schools. Maryland is home to most of the sustainable schools in the region, in large part because their robust in-state program was established almost 20 years ago. Indeed, state-specific programs are not equal: in some states, these programs are robust; in others, these programs are not well-established; and in others, these programs do not yet exist. The Chesapeake Bay Program will continue to monitor sustainable schools in the region and provide support through funding and other means.

Schabow notes that the partnership’s sustainable school goal—which was adopted in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and aims to continually increase the number of sustainable schools in the region—has increased awareness around the sustainable school initiative. “I’m hopeful that we can continue supporting state projects and see increased interest and participation in these programs,” Schabow said. “That’s really what we’re looking for. We’ve got the baseline [counted], but we want to see more.”

Learn more about our work to increase sustainable schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Nov
17
2016

Photo of the Week: Hands-on lessons about the natural world

Jennifer Carr of the South River Federation identifies leaves with her daughter at the 2016 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on September 30, 2016.

A critical piece of Chesapeake Bay restoration is teaching individuals—young and old—about the Bay, its rivers and streams and the lands that surround them. Educational opportunities provide people of all ages with rich natural, cultural, historical and recreational experiences and can inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment. For some students, that includes climbing aboard the steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge to learn about blue crabs and marsh periwinkles. For others, it means measuring local water quality in the river than runs mere yards from their school campus in Lititz, Pennsylvania, or using microscopes to identify plankton collected in Baltimore’s Patapsco River.

With close to 18 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay region—a number that continues to grow—education and stewardship is vital to restoring and maintaining the Bay’s health. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners committed to providing each student in the watershed with at least one “meaningful watershed educational experience” in elementary, middle and high school, giving students the knowledge and skills to protect and restore their local waterways.

Learn more about the Bay Program’s efforts to promote environmental literacy.

 

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.



Nov
10
2016

E-Z Acres makes stream-friendly farming look, well, easy

Michael McMahon walked between two adjacent fields of tall, swaying corn in Homer, New York, to point out an invisible boundary running through his family farm.

Water to the north of that boundary, he explained, eventually flows into Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. But any rain or snow falling to the south ends up in Factory Brook, which flows into the Tioughnioga River, then the Chenango River, the Susquehanna River, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Farm owner Michael McMahon stands at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, at right, on E-Z Acres Farm in Homer, N.Y. “All in all I think your environment is not only the water and the air and your natural resources,” McMahon said. “I think your environment is also your community and I think you’ve got to be cognizant of your community’s needs and wishes so that you can live in peaceful harmony with them.”

About 30 percent of McMahon’s E-Z Acres Farm, which Michael McMahon owns with his brother Peter McMahon, feeds into the water supply of the city of Syracuse. The larger southern section rests above the groundwater aquifer that is the only water supply for the village of Homer, which abuts the southern end of the farm and is home to 25,000 people. As their business has grown, the McMahons’ awareness of their farm’s potential impact on their neighbors has led them to be fervent stewards and engage their community—for the benefit of both local streams and faraway bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay.

“The end of our tillable land is only about 200 yards from the big municipal well (in Homer),” McMahon said. “It’s extremely productive ground, but at the same time you could be really doing some damage if you weren’t conscious of it.”

E-Z Acres began with McMahon’s father in 1957, a dairy operation with 160 acres and just eight heifers. Now, their 2,500 acres stretch across much of the valley above Homer in Cortland County.

Workers harvest a field of alfalfa at E-Z Acres Farm, which stretches across much of a valley in Cortland County and sits above an aquifer that is the only source of drinking water for the 25,000 residents of the village of Homer.

“The 1400 head that are on the place today all come from those eight heifers,” McMahon said. “We never purchased any animals.”

McMahon says that early advice from his father made it easier to adopt nutrient management practices when the dairy consolidated four separate facilities into one large operation about 20 years ago.

“Even back, as far back as the 60s, we were taught from our dad that you get manure on all the fields, you don’t just concentrate on where it’s easiest and quickest,” McMahon said. “So it was easy for us to transition to a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] where we have all those plans there in the blue notebooks that tell us exactly what field, what time of the year, how many gallons, all of that.”

In 1997, after the consolidation, the McMahons decided to start testing water for nitrates and phosphorus quarterly at five different sites in the valley.

“Nobody ever told us we had to do this,” McMahon said. “But, we just wanted to know if our agronomic practices were in line, that we weren’t going to see spikes in nitrates in well water.”

The tests are also useful for easing worried minds of residents in Homer, and where foul smells wafting from farm fields sometimes cause worries about water quality.

“You’ll get concerns and typically it’s odor-initiated, when we’re spreading manure,” McMahon said.

Dozens of acres of willow wattles, or shrubs, planted by children from local 4-H clubs line Factory Brook, which flows through E-Z Acres Farm before connecting with the Tioughnioga River and ultimately the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.

McMahon said E-Z Acres has grown by purchasing neighboring farms as they have come for sale over the past several decades, and their management practices have extended to these lands. For example, he observed that every farm they bought had its own dump—something his father never believed a farm should have. E-Z Acres subsequently cleared all those dumps.

About five miles of a stream called Factory Brook runs through E-Z Acres, and McMahon said that they have made a concentrated effort to protect what is nearest their cropland, which he estimated at about three and a half to four miles. They have let the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) establish riparian buffers on both sides of Factory Brook by bringing children from 4-H clubs to plant willow wattles, or shrubs. They have also granted public access through DEC for a section of Factory Brook.

“In many cases the farms that we purchased, you know people were cropping right up to the edge, you know, spreading their manure and stuff like that,” McMahon said. “Where we do farm near the stream, we keep that land in permanent grass as opposed to turning the soil over and putting in a row crop,” McMahon said.

McMahon credited his home state as becoming a leader in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts by first addressing local watershed issues, which meant that his farm already had many practices in place by the time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in 2010.

Dairy cattle feed inside a barn at E-Z Acres Farm. The McMahon family started voluntarily testing well water when it consolidated four separate facilities into one concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, roughly twenty years ago.

Binders containing past and present nutrient management plans fill shelves inside an office at E-Z Acres Farm. McMahon says his family’s stewardship ethic dates back 50 years.

“And maybe I’m just biased because I’m in New York, but we got involved in the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program in New York way back in the 80s when they first thought of it.” McMahon said. “We cleaned up dumps. We looked at chemical storage. We did a lot of things way back before it was ever thought to be mandated. And that was all part of New York State’s own program, and not just for the sake of the Chesapeake but for the sake of all watersheds. And we felt at the time I mean we knew that we sat over an aquifer and that we were kind of responsible for keeping the water clean for all these people who either have private or public water supplies derived from this.”

McMahon says they are motivated by trying to “stay ahead of that curve” and “be good neighbors.” For their efforts, the McMahons were awarded the 2015 Agricultural Environmental Management Award by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

E-Z Acres hosts open houses regularly, and every June they welcome all of the fifth grade students in the county—about 400 for each of two days.

“So, that’s a ball,” McMahon said. “In many cases it’s the one and only chance a lot of those kids will have to ever see where milk comes from. So we think it’s a good idea to embrace the community, engage the community and be part of it.”

Text, Photos and Video by Will Parson

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

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.



Oct
18
2016

By the Numbers: 458,000

When you imagine fish in the Chesapeake Bay, top predators probably come to mind. But the most important fish in the Bay weighs no more than a pair of playing cards, measures no longer than the width of your hand and is more abundant than any other fish that calls the Chesapeake home.

The bay anchovy is the most abundant fish in the Chesapeake Bay and serves as an important source of food for a diverse set of predators. Image by Ken-ichi Ueda/Flickr.

The bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) can be found in great numbers along the Atlantic coast and in all parts of the Chesapeake Bay. “It is the single most abundant fish on the east coast of North America," said fisheries scientist Ed Houde. “That in itself says something about its importance.”

Because it is such an oft-consumed prey item for so many predators, the bay anchovy is considered a forage fish. But the bay anchovy stands out among forage species. Scientists have long known, for instance, that the bay anchovy is a major source of energy fueling the growth and production of predators in the Chesapeake, and can even comprise up to 90 percent of the diets of predatory fish in the fall. A recent investigation into the diets of five predatory fish found that the bay anchovy was the fishes’ most common prey, confirming the bay anchovy is the most important forage species in the Bay ecosystem.

“We’ve studied the production and consumption of bay anchovy in the Chesapeake Bay, and the numbers are impressive,” said Houde, who worked at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory for more than 35 years and served as the institution’s Vice President for Education before retiring in July 2016. According to Houde, about 50,000 tons of bay anchovy can be found in this estuary at any given time—but an average of 458,000 tons are produced here each year. “That means a huge amount is being eaten and is fueling the production of Bay predators,” Houde said.

According to fisheries scientist Ed Houde, several characteristics make the bay anchovy the perfect prey fish. “It’s highly available, it’s the right size and it’s widely distributed over the whole Chesapeake Bay.” Image by Dave Harp/Bay Journal.

According to Houde, several characteristics make the bay anchovy the perfect prey fish. First, it’s a small fish, which means a range of predators both big and small can fit the fish into their mouths. Second, it’s a fecund fish, which means it spawns large numbers of eggs; eggs, larvae, juveniles and adults are eaten by predators. Third, there are a lot of them, almost everywhere, all the time. While other prey species may only inhabit certain areas of the Bay at certain times of year, the bay anchovy is generally available throughout the Bay most of the year.

Indeed, the bay anchovy is surprisingly tolerant of both the normal fluctuations observed in an estuarine environment and the hostile conditions that can occur when this environment is stressed. Through laboratory experiments and field work, Houde and his students have found that low dissolved oxygen, for instance, may not impact the bay anchovy like it impacts many other species. Areas of low dissolved oxygen—which occur in the Bay each summer, and which can suffocate shellfish and other organisms living on or near the bottom—seem to affect the distribution of bay anchovy but not their death rates, driving adults into the lower portion of the Bay. Coincidentally, it is in this portion of the Chesapeake that bay anchovy larvae and young are most likely to thrive. It may seem counterintuitive, but in this way, low dissolved oxygen can enhance the bay anchovy’s reproductive success.

“This is not an argument to support benefits of low dissolved oxygen in the Bay,” Houde cautioned. “But in the case of the anchovy, it does seem to promote conditions that increase its productivity.”

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science tracks bay anchovy abundance as an indicator of Chesapeake Bay health. The institution has given bay anchovy abundance a Very Good score in its annual Bay report card for eight of the past ten years. Image by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science have gathered survey data on bay anchovy abundance for decades, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has also tracked this number as an indicator of Bay health. While bay anchovy populations fluctuate seasonally and annually and the fish is less abundant now than in the decades before 1990, Houde does not believe the bay anchovy has declined since the mid-1990s.

That said, Houde acknowledges that there must be environmental thresholds the bay anchovy cannot successfully cross. Little research has been done into the effects that chemical contaminants could have on the fish, and environmental conditions that lower plankton productivity—the mainstay of the bay anchovy’s diet—could have substantial effects on anchovy production and abundance.

How can we ensure the continued abundance of the most important fish in the Bay? “Ensuring the bay anchovy population remains healthy depends on keeping estuaries healthy,” Houde said. “Good water quality that supports abundant zooplankton to fuel anchovy production is what we need to maintain the health of anchovies. That’s not so different from [protecting] most of the things in the Bay.”

Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to improving our understanding of the role of forage species in the Bay. Learn about our work to develop a strategy for assessing the Bay’s forage base.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Oct
12
2016

$110,000 in grants will help restore urban waters in D.C., Richmond

Two efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will receive close to $110,000 in funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program, which supports individuals and organizations in urban areas working to restore their local waterways.

Dominique Skinner from Groundwork Anacostia leads a group of Green Team high schoolers during a free paddle night organized by the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 2014. AWS will receive a grant to educate 40 middle school students about how stormwater runoff affects the Anacostia River.

The Anacostia Watershed Society, based in Bladensburg, Maryland, will educate and train 40 middle schoolers from low-income communities in the District of Columbia. With 10-week programs in the fall and spring, students will learn about stormwater runoff through a variety of activities, including canoe trips along the Anacostia River, tours of green infrastructure projects and hands-on restoration.

Virginia Commonwealth University will develop a community greening and green infrastructure plan for its two campuses in downtown Richmond, Virginia, as well as the Richmond Arts District. The partnership-focused effort will begin with an assessment of structures and locations that would support green infrastructure projects. Then, community meetings and an educational awareness campaign will inform residents of local water quality issues, obtain their feedback on the plan’s development and suggest ways they can reduce stormwater runoff.

Since its creation in 2012, the Urban Waters Small Grants Program has awarded close to $6.6 million to 114 organizations across the United States. Grants are awarded every two years, with individual awards up to $60,000. In addition to the two projects inside the Bay watershed, the program will fund projects from 20 organizations in 16 other states.

Learn more.



Aug
25
2016

Nearly $11 million in grant funds will support restoration projects across Chesapeake Bay region

From the restoration of wetlands and forests to the reduction of urban, suburban and agricultural runoff, 39 environmental projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed have received close to $11 million in funding through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, which is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and funded primarily by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Twenty-eight projects will be funded through the Small Watershed Grants Program, which supports on-the-ground restoration, habitat conservation and community engagement. Eleven more will be funded by the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program, which finances projects aimed at reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in rivers, streams and the Bay. The 39 projects will collectively leverage an additional $12 million in matching funds, for a total of $23 million to improve the health of the watershed.

Projects will help restore habitat and protect local waterways across the Bay watershed, which spans across parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. In Maryland, for instance, Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage will work to restore 15 acres of non-tidal wetlands at Canterbury Farm on the Eastern Shore. In Pennsylvania, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay will use outreach and agricultural “best management practices” to improve drinking water supplies in the Octoraro Creek watershed. And in Virginia and West Virginia, the Potomac Conservancy will use conservation easements to protect 600 acres of forests and fields from development.

Officials and guests announced the awards this morning at the Pennsylvania State University’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pennsylvania.

Learn more about the awards.



Aug
15
2016

Reports outline climate change impacts in Bay region and beyond

A recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines trends related to climate change in the United States, with data related to 37 climate indicators such as air and water temperatures, river and coastal flooding, ocean acidity and sea level rise.

Motorists drive through a flooded section of Llewelyn Avenue near the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Virginia. The frequency of high-tide or nuisance flooding is expected to increase in part due to climate change and sea level rise.

New to the fourth edition of Climate Change Indicators in the United States is information on stream temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay region. After studying more than 50 years’ worth of data from 129 stream monitoring sites, experts found that stream temperatures are increasing throughout the watershed—across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—but the largest increases have occurred in the southern portions of the region. Water temperatures increased by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (F) across all sites and by 2.2 degrees F at sites with trends considered statistically significant (to a 95-percent level).

Other effects of climate change throughout the Chesapeake Bay region are highlighted in the report. Washington, D.C., for example, has seen peak cherry blossom bloom dates shift approximately five days earlier since 1921. And from 2010 to 2015, Annapolis, Maryland, saw the second highest average number of coastal flood days: 46 days per year. The city has also experienced one of the most dramatic increases in overall frequency of flooding, where floods are at least 10 times more common than in the 1950s.

Also released in August is the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) State of the Climate report, which confirmed that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year on record since the mid-to-late 19th century. The report, which is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries, found that land and ocean temperatures, sea level rise and greenhouse gases all broke previously-held records.

Learn more about Climate Change Indicators in the United States or the State of the Climate.



Jul
26
2016

Clean Air Act improves water quality in Chesapeake Bay

Air quality improvements throughout the Potomac River watershed—due primarily to the Clean Air Act—have helped improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, according to research from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).

When cars, power plants and 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. In fact, scientists estimate that one third of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay comes from the air—through a process known as atmospheric deposition. And while studying water quality trends in the Upper Potomac River Basin, UMCES scientists confirmed that reductions in atmospheric nitrogen deposition are playing a large role in improvements in the area’s water quality.

“Most best management practices—like a riparian buffer or retention pond—only impact a relatively small area,” said Keith Eshleman, professor at UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory and co-author of the study. “You can think about the Clean Air Act as a best management practice that affects every square meter of the watershed.”

Experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program will be able to incorporate the findings into their modeling efforts, in order to better simulate the benefits of the Clean Air Act on reducing nitrogen pollution. The study—along with other research, monitoring and data collected over the past decade—will support Bay Program decision-making during the upcoming Midpoint Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

Last year, the Chesapeake Bay Program released an interactive story map illustrating how Clean Air Act regulations, as well as decades of enforcement actions, led to a steady decline in air pollution across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The study—“Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under the Chesapeake Bay restoration?”—can be found online.



Jun
23
2016

Best management practice verification programs in place across Bay watershed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved programs in each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia that ensure practices installed to reduce or prevent pollution are in place and operating correctly. These “best management practices,” or BMPs, can range from restoring forest buffers to planting cover crops to installing rain gardens. The state verification programs address all possible pollutant-loading source sectors: agriculture, stormwater, forestry, wastewater treatment facilities, combined sewer overflows, septic systems and on-site treatment systems.

Young planted trees line a stream running through Oregon Dairy Farm in Lititz, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 2015. The farm incorporates best management practices such as streamside buffers, manure management and cover crops.

It isn’t possible, however, to simply claim that a certain method is a BMP and should receive credit for pollution reduction. Chesapeake Bay Program partners developed and instituted a vigorous, watershed-wide verification process for these conservation and technical practices that includes initial inspection, follow-up checks and evaluation of performance. Each jurisdiction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is required to have a comprehensive BMP Verification Program in place by 2018 to confirm that each practice tracked and reported for nutrient and sediment pollutant load reduction credit is in place and operating correctly. Previously, the EPA approved plans from the District of Columbia and Maryland but only conditionally approved Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. As of May 2016, all plans are now approved.

This is a milestone for the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership, as work can now begin to fully implement the components of these plans by 2018, connecting federal, state, local and non-governmental organizations with one common goal: the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways.



Jun
17
2016

Evaluations show continued progress in Bay cleanup

According to evaluations released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Chesapeake Bay Program partners are collectively on track to meet the phosphorus and sediment reduction commitments of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), but further reductions in nitrogen are needed to meet upcoming pollution-reducing goals.

Best management practices, or "BMPs," like the buffered streams at Brubaker Farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, can help can help towns, cities and states lower the amount of pollution flowing into local waters.

Every two years, federal agencies and the watershed jurisdictions—which include Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—report on the progress made toward reducing the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution entering local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Under the TMDL, jurisdictions must have all essential pollution-reducing practices in place by 2025, with controls in place to achieve 60 percent of the needed reductions by 2017. As a whole, jurisdictions are on track to meet the upcoming phosphorus and sediment commitments, but according to EPA, they are unlikely to meet the 2017 requirements for nitrogen pollution.

The EPA will continue to oversee the watershed jurisdictions’ pollution-reducing efforts, and will offer further attention to some pollution sectors—including wastewater in Delaware and New York; agricultural runoff in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania; and urban and suburban runoff in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—to ensure partners remain on track to meet their 2017 targets.

Learn more about the milestone evaluations, or read about how the wastewater sector in the Bay watershed met its 2025 goals a decade early.



Jun
14
2016

Wastewater sector meets nutrient goals of ‘pollution diet’ a decade early

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), upgrades in wastewater treatment over the last twenty years have significantly lowered the amount of nutrient pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay, effectively meeting the sector’s 2025 goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, a decade early.

The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant is operated by DC Water in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 2013. Blue Plains is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world.

Since 1985, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from wastewater in the Bay watershed have decreased by 57 percent and 75 percent, respectively—this despite an increase in both population and the volume of wastewater to be treated. Thirty years ago, wastewater accounted for 28 percent of nitrogen pollution and 39 percent of phosphorus pollution; the sector now accounts for just 16 percent of the overall loads of each pollutant.

DC Water CEO and General Manager George Hawkins describes Blue Plains' effectiveness in treating wastewater in a press conference at the plant on Tuesday.

“The wastewater sector is leading the way at this point in our efforts to restore the Bay and local waters,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin in a release.  “While we’ve reached a critical milestone in reducing pollution from wastewater plants, we need to keep up the momentum and ensure that other sectors do their share.” Garvin and other officials announced the news Tuesday at Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes portions of six states and D.C., is home to 472 municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants. Over the last 30 years, improvements at the ten largest of these treatment plants have prevented 240 million pounds of nitrogen and 48 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into the Bay.

Learn more.



Jun
13
2016

Slightly smaller-than-average dead zone predicted for Chesapeake Bay

Scientists expect low river flow and reduced nutrient-rich runoff from the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers this spring to result in an average to slightly smaller-than-average dead zone in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay this summer.

When nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose, they result in areas of little to no oxygen, known as dead zones.

Aquatic life—from blue crabs to underwater grasses—relies on dissolved oxygen to survive. When nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose, the resulting areas of little to no oxygen, known as dead zones, can suffocate underwater plants and animals. The latest forecast predicts a mid-summer hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zone of 1.58 cubic miles: close to the long-term average. The anoxic, or no-oxygen, zone is expected to reach 0.28 cubic miles in early summer and grow to 0.31 cubic miles by late-summer.

This forecast, funded by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan and relies on estimated nutrient loads from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). According to USGS, 66.2 million pounds of nitrogen entered the Chesapeake Bay in from January to May 2016, which is 17 percent lower than average nitrogen loadings.

Over the next few months, researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will monitor oxygen levels in the Bay, resulting in a final measurement of the Bay’s dead zone later this year.

Learn more about the dead zone size prediction, or learn about how scientists measure oxygen in the Bay.



Jun
07
2016

Humans of the Chesapeake: Colin Christopher

Colin Christopher is the Executive Director of Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C.-based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam. The organization’s ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program offers a range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, local farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real-life examples of how Islam and the environment are entwined.

In our interview, we asked Christopher what the Chesapeake Bay means to him. Watch the video above to hear his response.

Learn more about Green Muslims and the Our Deen is Green program.

Throughout Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, we'll be sharing the stories of people who live, work and play in the Chesapeake region. Join the conversation on social media: #HumansOfTheChesapeake

Video by Will Parson



May
24
2016

Report offers insights on adapting stormwater management to a changing climate

A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looks at how local planners and decision-makers can incorporate the effects of a changing climate into their efforts to manage stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. And the effects of climate change—such as the amount and intensity of rainfall—can influence the amount of runoff that needs to be managed.

To look at how local stormwater managers can incorporate climate change adaptation practices into their work, EPA and NOAA hosted a series of workshops and community efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regions. In the Chesapeake region, workshops were held in York County, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Stafford County, Virginia.

Throughout the discussions, several common themes and challenges emerged. Uncertainty can make it difficult to incorporate climate change predictions into planning efforts. Local-level professionals may lack the resources and interagency cooperation needed to design, construct and permit projects that deal with stormwater runoff. And because the benefits of managing polluted runoff can be difficult to quantify, managers need better information on the costs and benefits of different climate adaptation strategies. Further assessing these common challenges and opportunities will help planners and decision-makers better incorporate climate change into their stormwater management efforts.

The report, Stormwater Management in Response to Climate Change Impacts: Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes Regions, is available online.



May
23
2016

EPA releases environmental justice action agenda

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the EJ 2020 Action Agenda (EJ 2020), a strategy to advance the agency’s environmental justice efforts. Over the next five years, EJ 2020 will serve as a framework to advance environmental justice—particularly in communities where a combination of environmental, health, social and economic factors disproportionally affect the community.

Fourth grade students from Federal Hill Preparatory School learn about water quality and the environment with educators from Living Classrooms Foundation at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Md., on March 23, 2016. Once the site of an illicit dump, Masonville Cove has been cleaned up and transformed into 54-acres of wetlands, nature trails and bird sanctuary in an underserved area of southern Baltimore.

According to the EPA, environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” Under the strategy, the EPA will work to improve results for overburdened communities, incorporate environmental justice in decision-making, build partnerships with states and co-regulators, strengthen their ability to take action on environmental justice issues, and demonstrate progress on critical national environmental justice challenges.

EJ 2020 will build on the groundwork laid by EJ 2014, the agency’s previous environmental justice strategy. The framework lays out a set of priorities structured around three goals. First, to deepen environmental justice practices within EPA programs. Second, to work with federal, state, tribal and community partners to increase positive impact within overburdened communities. And finally, to demonstrate progress on critical national environmental justice challenges, including lead, drinking water, air quality and hazardous waste sites.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is similarly committed to advancing environmental justice throughout the region and in its work. Environmental justice is one of the guiding principles of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and through the Diversity Action Team, the Bay Program is working to identify groups that are under-represented in its activities and looking for ways to create meaningful opportunities for engagement.

For more information and to read the entire document, visit the EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda page.



May
17
2016

University of Maryland measures improvement in Chesapeake Bay health

Scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) measured a modest improvement in Chesapeake Bay health in 2015, once again giving the estuary a “C” in their annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

The Chesapeake Bay is seen near Annapolis, Md., on Sept. 4, 2015. The Bay's health improved last year according to an annual report card released by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Although the “C” grade has remained the same since 2012, the score of 53 percent marks one of the three highest since 1986: only 1992 and 2002 scored as high or higher. But unlike 2015, both those years accompanied major droughts, and according to UMCES researchers, that makes these results particularly notable.

“We’d expect to see improvements after a drought year because nutrients aren’t being washed into the Bay, fueling algae blooms and poor water quality,” said Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Applications at UMCES, in a release. “However, in 2015 streamflow was below normal, but nowhere near the drought conditions in 1992 and 2002. Thus, the high score for 2015 indicate that we’re making progress reducing what’s coming off the land.”

Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Applications at UMCES, announces findings of the 2015 Chesapeake Bay Report Card at the Annapolis Maritime Museum on May 17, 2016.

The Bay Health Index is based on several indicators of Bay health, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen, the amount of algae and nutrients in the water, the abundance of underwater grasses and the strength of certain fish stocks, including blue crab and striped bass. Most of these indicators improved over the previous year; only phosphorus pollution worsened from 2014 to 2015.

"The information being released today by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is very positive and consistent with the trends the Chesapeake Bay Program has been witnessing over the past few years,” said Nick DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. “We should take the opportunity to celebrate these results, but we should also recognize that the long term success of our work to restore water quality and the health of this vitally important ecosystem will depend on stepping up and sustaining our efforts over the long-term to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution discharges to streams and rivers throughout the watershed."  

Learn more.



Apr
07
2016

Photo Essay: Virginia Living Museum shows off native species and how to save them

A snowy egret lives inside the aviary at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va., on April 9, 2016. Many of the native animals at the museum are injured or non-releasable.

Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.

In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.

The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.

Two eastern painted turtles make use of limited basking space at the museum’s Deer Park Lake.

A beaver coasts through an enclosed section of Deer Park Lake.

The 30,000-gallon Noland Chesapeake Bay Aquarium is stocked with species that frequent the Bay's open waters, such as bluefish, cobia, nurse sharks and a loggerhead sea turtle.

A red fox sleeps in the shadows of the museum’s 3/4-mile elevated boardwalk. Nocturnal animals like the fox are generally more active at night.

Yellow perch are part of the museum’s coastal plain gallery, which features species from the forest and coastal marshes to the Chesapeake Bay.

A female hooded merganser hides its beak. During migration, hooded mergansers prefer to follow waterways rather than flying.

One of two river otters at the museum pauses after emerging from the water.

An Atlantic spadefish swims in the Chesapeake Bay Aquarium.

A bobcat walks through its enclosure.

A black vulture is one of many birds that were brought to the museum because they were unable to survive in the wild.

Deer Park Lake is part of the 23 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, including several gardens, an elevated boardwalk and the Green House environmental education center.

A wild turkey shares an enclosure with other turkey and deer.

Lined seahorses anchor to underwater plants in an aquarium. When mating, the male seahorse will incubate 100 to 300 of the female’s tiny eggs for two weeks before they hatch.

Volunteer Wilmer Nelson holds a horseshoe crab while feeding it in front of visitors at the Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank exhibit. Visitors were able to gently touch the crab as well as other marine life.

A summer flounder keeps a low profile in an aquarium.

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

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.



Feb
29
2016

Supreme Court declines to hear case on Chesapeake Bay pollution limits

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will not hear a case challenging the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The decision lets stand a federal appeals court ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can set pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay.

Image by fstockfoto/Shutterstock

EPA issued the TMDL—also known as the Bay “pollution diet”—in 2010, setting limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment allowed to run into the Bay each year. Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) describe the steps each of the seven Bay jurisdictions will take to meet these goals, and are included as commitments in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

In 2011, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders and a number of agricultural trade associations filed suit against the EPA, claiming the federal agency lacked authority to issue the TMDL. Numerous local and national partners intervened in support of the EPA, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and others.

In 2013, Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld the pollution limits, leading plaintiffs to appeal. In 2015, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia again upheld the TMDL as legal under the Clean Water Act. And on Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would not review the case, upholding the appellate court decision.

Learn more about the plan to reduce pollution in the Bay on the EPA’s TMDL website.



Dec
07
2015

Photo Essay: Climbing aboard the Learning Barge

Elizabeth River Project educator Ashley Shepard, left, supplies fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., with plastic bottle "fish" to grab after learning how herons hunt for prey on the Learning Barge, docked at Grandy Village Learning Center in Norfolk on Oct. 23, 2015. The barge features six learning stations and claims to be the world’s first floating classroom.

On a fall morning, a lot is happening on the 120-by-32-foot steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Dominion Virginia Power Learning Barge. A stream of fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School follows Robin Dunbar, the Elizabeth River Project’s deputy director of education, onto the vessel via a narrow boardwalk at the Grandy Village Learning Center in Norfolk, Virginia. After splitting into groups, they measure oyster shells, they listen to osprey calls, they find periwinkles in the wetland observation pool and they make traditional mud art in a small classroom onboard. With solar panels above their heads, and captured rainwater below their feet, students on the Learning Barge get excited about their local river—and how they can impact it—in a space that is smaller than a basketball court.

Students pull up buckets of water from the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River before measuring water quality on the Learning Barge.

The Learning Barge launched in 2009 and has seen almost 60,000 students—about 10,000 a year—according to Dunbar. She floats from group to group as staff guide lessons on how to build a nest like an osprey or how to use buckets to collect water samples.

“All this was going to be a big wetland,” Dunbar says, standing on the partially-covered deck, which was designed by the University of Virginia School of Architecture and is organized into six indoor and outdoor learning stations for the barge’s 2015-2016 fall and spring programs. “I had a different idea and worked with U.Va. to turn it into a classroom.”

Teacher Marquita Fulford, right, leads a lesson that touches on oyster history in the Chesapeake Bay and their ability to filter water.

Before there was a barge to build on, the Elizabeth River Project had to grapple with the financial realities of owning and operating such a sizable vessel.

“The [Elizabeth River Project’s] board was very concerned about maintenance in the beginning,” says Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, executive director of ERP. “But the ship repair community, and the tug boats—the maritime community—has adopted the barge.”

It takes about $200,000 a year to operate the Learning Barge, but the cost would be significantly higher without all of the volunteers involved. For example, Jackson says the Elizabeth River Project has never paid for transporting the barge, which is not self-propelled. Last summer, Colonna’s Shipyard donated a paint job for the hull—a value of $40,000. And every winter, BAE Industries takes the barge into their shipyard and asks what projects need to be done.

Elizabeth River Project educator Wes Cheney, seated, leads a song during a lesson about traditional African Mali mud art.

Paint dries on recycled cloth that fourth graders from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., turned into artwork based on African Mali mud art on the Learning Barge.

The sum of the Learning Barge’s parts, which are powered entirely by solar and wind power captured onboard, contribute to a meaningful watershed educational experience for students in the Norfolk area—including several low-income school districts—who may have never really spent time on a river despite living so close to one.

“It’s all science but it touches on different grade levels and they’re able to go back to the schoolhouse and apply some of that to what they’re learning the classroom,” says Marquita Fulford, standing at the Chesapeake Gold station, where students trace and measure oysters. A second-grade teacher at Camp Young in Norfolk, Fulford is in her third year working with students on the Learning Barge.

“Hands on activities, they love those,” Fulford says. “And they remember them—more so than somebody just talking to you.”

Students get answers to questions about blue crabs at the Tidal Moon River station on the Learning Barge. Learning stations on the barge featured science lessons on topics such as water quality and wildlife.

A fourth grade student from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., absorbs a lesson on oysters on the Learning Barge.

Students emulate osprey nests with sticks at the Shore Savers learning station on the Learning Barge.

A wind turbine provides power to the Learning Barge while evacuated tubes absorb solar energy that heats water on the barge. The Learning Barge is dubbed "America's Greenest Vessel" by the Elizabeth River Project, which owns and operates it, and other sustainable features include 1,600 watts of solar panels, 1,200 gallons of rainwater collection, and composting toilets.

Elizabeth River Project educator April Orleans, right, hoists up a crab pot holding a blue crab at the Tidal Moon River learning station aboard the Learning Barge.

A fourth grade student from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., holds a periwinkle plucked from the 16-by-16-foot wetland observation pool on the Learning Barge. The Learning Barge is home to various freshwater and saltwater species.

The Learning Barge hosts fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., while docked at Grandy Village Learning Center in Norfolk on Oct. 23, 2015. The million-dollar Learning Barge will be moved to Elizabeth River Landing Park in Chesapeake, Va., for programs running from April to June 2016.
 

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

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.



Nov
25
2015

From the Field: Fish Facing Warmer Waters

When it comes to scientific data, older isn't typically better. But when you are teasing out environmental trends, like temperature change, it helps to have a long record. The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) in Solomons, Maryland, is the oldest state-supported marine laboratory on the East Coast, and it touts the longest continuous record of water temperature in the Chesapeake Bay.

CBL's 750-foot research pier on the Patuxent River was first built in 1936, and in 1938 scientists started walking out to collect thousands of daily temperature and salinity readings. Today, anyone can observe live water conditions at the pier online. In the 70 years after 1938, the laboratory documented a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase in the water around the pier.

Research technician Matt Siskey holds a pipefish after it was measured during a seining study at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, in Solomons, Md., on July 1, 2015. Researchers in the lab of Dr. David Secor use the seining study to determine the change in fish assemblages over time.

"And that's given a unique, long-term record that’s shown the essential elements of climate change,” said Dr. David Secor, a fisheries ecologist at CBL who first reported the trend. “That motivated our group to begin to look at how young fish that we collect here by the pier may change."

Secor’s lab has performed seining studies since 1999. His team first used a 100-foot seining net to focus on bluefish, which morphed into a project on menhaden. “We’ve basically shoe-stringed this effort along,” Secor said, describing short-term funding sources. “And I think we have a dedicated, motivated group of students and myself that will hopefully continue this on throughout my career.”

The most common species caught by the seine are Atlantic silverside, bay anchovy, and Atlantic menhaden. Another 10 percent is bluefish, blue crab, white perch, striped bass and spot. Secor said future observations depend on how well species can adapt to temperature change as well as seasonality—the conditions in spring and winter that “set the clock” for what fish are present later in the year.

Research Technician Matt Siskey, left, and graduate researcher Brian Gallagher work near the CBL pier to sort through the contents of a seine, which included large numbers of Atlantic silverside as well as needlefish, menhaden, bluefish, and one juvenile horseshoe crab.

“What we may see in the future, with warming, is a disruption of that clock,” Secor said. “Maybe we’ll see higher production of some things like blue crabs, but we may see diminished production of fish that don’t do so well in warmer waters such as striped bass, perch and black sea bass.”

Secor said his team is already seeing some evidence of an increased abundance of species like drums—red drum, black drum, weakfish, sea trout and kingfish.

“We saw a kingfish last year for the first time in our series,” Secor said. “These kinds of fish that we already see visiting the lower Chesapeake Bay will be coming up this way more frequently.”

 

Dr. David Secor poses on the research pier at CBL. “I think one of the great values is not so much what we publish—but the data we leave behind,” Secor said. “That’s certainly the case for this very long term temperature salinity record and I hope it’s true for the seining records as well.”

Regardless of the fish that will be seen, one fair prediction for the future is that the CBL pier will be there to support the science.

“This pier has been here in purpose for 70 years but it’s been replaced several times, and that too is the result of climate events,” Secor said. “Hurricanes and tropical storms have really taken a bite out of this pier on occasion.”

In 2010, after several recent storms, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science received a $1.7 million grant to rebuild the pier from the National Science Foundation as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. In 2011, Hurricane Irene dealt additional damage before construction began the next year. The pier received several new pilings, an upgraded pump house, and new instrumentation to measure greenhouse gases in the air.

“It’s been rebuilt now,” Secor said, sitting on the pier’s new deck. The full length of the pier is now covered in a corrugated material designed to allow water—and fallen car keys—to pass through uninhibited.

“It’s made out of much more flexible, much more enduring materials.”

 

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

Video, Images 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.



Nov
24
2015

Chesapeake Bay dead zone measures slightly below average in 2015

The Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay dead zone measured slightly smaller than average this past summer, supporting scientists’ June prediction of a smaller than average hypoxic zone in the nation’s largest estuary.

Dead zones are areas of little to no dissolved oxygen that form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose. This decomposition process removes oxygen from the surrounding waters faster than it can be replenished, and the resulting low-oxygen conditions can suffocate marine life.

Each summer, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) collect water samples to measure the hypoxic volume of the Bay. At 3,806 million cubic meters, the Maryland portion of this year’s dead zone was the 13th smallest in 31 years of sampling.

According to a report from the DNR, the size of the dead zone was likely due to reduced rainfall earlier this spring.



Oct
28
2015

'Zombie' crabs invade the Chesapeake Bay

Imagine you are going about your day as usual when you encounter a foreign creature. It injects something in you, but does not kill you. Over the next few weeks, you notice a growth in your abdomen. A network of tube-like threads spreads throughout your circulatory system. Soon, you start losing control of your motor functions. You adopt defensive postures and develop maternal instincts to care for the growth instead of caring for yourself. Then, the mass begins to expel larvae, which seek out and infect anyone nearby. Your behavior is forever changed and your reproductive system destroyed.

Darin Rummel holds a black-fingered mud crab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., on Oct. 15, 2015. Rummel works in the lab of Carolyn Tepolt studying the "zombie crab" parasite called Loxothylacus panopaei, or Loxo.

This scenario may seem like something out of a science fiction novel or the latest zombie thriller. But for many black-fingered mud crabs, the parasite Loxothylacus panopaei, or loxo, has made this situation a reality.

Loxo was discovered in the Chesapeake Bay about 50 years ago. Scientists believe it was carried from its native range in the Gulf of Mexico on oyster shells during early restoration efforts. Since then, researchers have found sites throughout the Bay where the parasite is highly prevalent, with infection rates as high as 30 to 50 percent.

The tiny parasite Loxo is visible to the naked eye as white specks under a bright light, but practically disappears inside its host.

“This is huge, especially because this parasite is a castrator, so infecting crabs means they can no longer reproduce,” said Carolyn Tepolt, Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute. “[The crabs] are still alive, but essentially dead as far as genes are concerned, because they are not contributing to the next generation of crabs.”

The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project was established as a means for scientists to develop a better understanding of loxo by both monitoring infection rates in the wild and making observations in a lab, where research can be done in a controlled environment.

An infected black-fingered mud crab displays a Loxo egg sac on its abdomen. Infected crabs care only for the parasite eggs and lose the ability to reproduce.

“In 2013, I had the idea that it should be a citizen science project,” said Monaca Noble, Biologist at the Smithsonian Institute. “This isn’t a project that has its own grant money. It’s a project we do because we love it, so it’s always collateral duty for somebody. We thought it would be great to bring on volunteers.”

Through studying the prevalence of the parasite in both its native and invasive range, researchers now understand that loxo is much rarer along the Gulf Coast and up to Cape Canaveral, Fla., where one to five percent of crabs are infected. Tepolt and her colleagues are working to understand if reproductive pressures have affected these numbers over generations. “Say you’re a crab and you have some little mutation that makes it a little harder for the parasite to infect you, you may have a huge evolutionary advantage if 50 percent of your peers are getting taken out of the gene pool,” said Tepolt.

Black-fingered mud crabs from a sampling site in Louisiana await study in the lab of Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow Carolyn Tepolt at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md.

Citizen science has proven to be a valuable method for studying loxo’s reach and the population of affected crabs. Noble and her team have seen a steady increase in volunteer numbers, with 89 participants this past summer compared to 50 in 2014.

“I love [The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project] as a citizen science project,” explained Noble. “It’s an opportunity to share an exciting story about science with people who are interested and get them excited about science, and also tell them about invasive species.”

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

Text by Jenna Valente
Images by Will Parson

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Sep
02
2015

EPA assesses animal agriculture in three Bay states

Animal agriculture programs in Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia have had varying degrees of success as they work toward meeting pollution-reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay, according to evaluations released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA periodically reviews state programs and policies related to water quality, and these reviews are typically not focused solely on animal agriculture. But the agency chose to conduct individual animal agriculture assessments for the six Bay states to ensure each state has the programs, policies and resources they need to achieve the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

EPA found the states to be successful in certain areas: Maryland, for instance, was found to have a “robust and well-implemented state program.” But other aspects of the states' animal agriculture programs need further development—including improving data collection in Delaware and ensuring compliance with voluntary nutrient management plans in West Virginia.

Animal agriculture—such as poultry and livestock operations—can be a major source of pollution in the Bay. Excess nutrients and sediment have long impaired the estuary: nitrogen and phosphorous can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms, while sediment can smother shellfish and block sunlight from reaching underwater plants. But practices like streamside fencing and proper management of animal manure can help prevent excess nutrients and sediment from reaching local waters.

Similar reports for animal agriculture programs in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia were released earlier this year.

The reports are available on the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website.



Aug
13
2015

Photo Essay: Bald eagle populations soar in New York

The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and resiliency, may be a common sight today, but just a few decades ago toxic pollutants working their way up the food chain had the species toeing the line of extinction. Prevalent use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a harmful insecticide, on agricultural fields caused eagles to produce eggs that were too delicate to support the incubating bird, lowering hatch rates in a drastic way. The decline was so severe that by DDT’s ban in 1972, only 482 breeding pairs were left throughout the entire continental United States.

Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), looks toward a bald eagle nest on private property near Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 27. Clark and DEC Wildlife Technician Scott Van Arsdale have to climb trees to place numbered bands on juvenile eagles for monitoring purposes.

Following the ban, one nesting pair of bald eagles remained in the state of New York, and their eggs were too contaminated with chemicals to be considered a viable means of repopulation. Restoration efforts began across the nation, but two researchers in particular, Peter Nye from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Tom Cade of Cornell University put New York on the map as a key player in eagle repopulation tactics. They took to using an ancient falconry practice called hacking to raise eaglets in a controlled, but wild, environment, to ensure that the birds would learn the proper survival techniques to independently prosper after fledging the nest.

Wildlife Technician Scott Van Arsdale from DEC keeps a support rope tight as Clark climbs toward a nest holding juvenile bald eagles in a white pine tree near Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 27. “Now we have all kinds of fancy GPS transmitters that lessen the need to band eagles,” Van Arsdale said. “With the eagle population coming back so strong, there is less of a need to babysit every individual eagle, and we can actually learn more by transmittering a few birds than tagging a whole bunch.”

“Their goal was to establish 12 nesting pairs in New York. By 1988, they had achieved the goal of 12 nesting pairs, and here we are in 2015 with more than 300. I know down in Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay area there are even more, so the reintroduction has been very successful,” said Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist for New York DEC. Clark and his colleague Scott Van Arsdale, Wildlife Technician for New York DEC, were mentored by Nye, and have taken over the legwork of tagging and monitoring the birds since Nye’s retirement.

Michael Clark swings a leg up to reach the nest. Bald eagle nests can be used by the same nesting pair of eagles in multiple years and can weigh up to two tons.

A roughly six-week-old male bald eagle awaits a prompt return to its nest after being fitted with a monitoring band.

One of two bald eagle parents circles overhead while researchers band juveniles in the birds’ nest.

Scott Van Arsdale holds a juvenile bald eagle to show its newly received metal band. The bands are color-coded blue for the state of New York, and represent individual birds with a unique three-digit code.

Scott Van Arsdale uses a bag to lift a juvenile bald eagle back to its nest, roughly 90 feet above the ground.

Michael Clark lowers to the ground after successfully tagging the juvenile bald eagles, whose nest is roughly 90 feet above the ground. “Alright, guys. You guys have a good life,” Clark said before his departure.

Michael Clark puts away his climbing gear after finishing with the banding. He wasn’t sure if a a recent injury was going to keep him from climbing that day.

Scott Van Arsdale returns to his vehicle after completing the successful banding. “Banning DDT wasn’t enough because we didn’t have the birds to get the population going, so if you see an eagle in New York, and even Maryland to some extent, you can thank Peter [Nye] because 16 other states and the province of Ontario followed our lead with the hacking program,” Van Arsdale said.

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

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Jul
17
2015

How Green is Your Deen?

Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.

Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.

The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.

Participants and instructors make pinwheels while learning about wind and other renewable energy sources during the "Our Deen is Green!" program held at Peirce Mill in Washington, D.C., on April 25. Green Muslims is a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that engages communities in spiritually-inspired environmental education, reflection, and action.

With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.

Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.

Colin Christopher is Executive Director of Green Muslims, which was founded in 2007 and recently attained status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “Our mission at Green Muslims is Muslims living in the environmental spirit of Islam,” Christopher said.

The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.

The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.

Ailya Gillani, a high school student from Sterling, Va., and a participant in Green Muslims’ “Our Deen is Green!” program, poses at home with her mother, Nighat Nasim, and father, Syed Abid Gillani. “I could say that the environment does have a big influence in our religion, and vice-versa," Gillani said.

Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”

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

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Jul
07
2015

Federal appeals court upholds Chesapeake Bay pollution limits

A federal appeals court has held that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can set pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay, upholding the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) issued by the agency in 2010.

The TMDL, also known as the Bay “pollution diet,” set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment allowed to run into the Bay each year. Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) describe the steps each of the seven Bay jurisdictions—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—will take to meet these goals, and are included as commitments in the recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

In 2011, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders and a number of agricultural trade associations filed suit against the EPA, claiming the federal agency lacked authority to issue the TMDL. Numerous local and national partners intervened in support of the EPA, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and others. In 2013, Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld the pollution limits, leading plaintiffs to appeal. On Monday, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia again upheld the TMDL as legal under the Clean Water Act.

“Water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is a complex problem currently affecting at least 17,000,000 people (with more to come),” wrote Judge Thomas L. Ambro, part of the three-judge panel that heard the appeal, in a 60-page ruling. “Congress made a judgment in the Clean Water Act that the states and the EPA could, working together, best allocate the benefits and burdens of lowering pollution.”

Learn more about the plan to reduce pollution in the Bay on the EPA’s TMDL website.



Jun
23
2015

Scientists predict smaller than average dead zone for Chesapeake Bay

Scientists expect the Chesapeake Bay to see a slightly smaller than average dead zone this summer, due to reduced rainfall and less nutrient-rich runoff flowing into the Bay from the Susquehanna River this spring.

When excess nutrients enter the Chesapeake Bay, they can fuel the growth of algae blooms and lead to low-oxygen "dead zones" that are harmful for fish, shellfish and other underwater life. (Image by Janelle Lugge/Shutterstock)

Dead zones are areas of little to no dissolved oxygen that form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose. Resulting low-oxygen conditions can suffocate marine life. The latest forecast predicts an early-summer no-oxygen zone of 0.27 cubic miles, a mid-summer low-oxygen zone of 1.37 cubic miles and a late-summer no-oxygen zone of 0.28 cubic miles. This forecast, funded by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan.

Nutrient pollution and weather patterns influence dead zone size. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 58 million pounds of nitrogen entered the Bay in the spring of 2015, which is 29 percent lower than last spring’s nitrogen loadings.

Researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will measure oxygen levels in the Bay over the next few months. While the final dead zone measurement will not take place until October, bimonthly updates on Bay oxygen levels are available through DNR’s Eyes on the Bay.

Learn more.



Jun
17
2015

EPA releases environmental justice mapping tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released EJSCREEN, an environmental justice mapping tool that combines demographic and environmental data to help identify communities who may face a higher risk of environmental harm.

The tool allows users to select a region by drawing on a map, searching by city or selecting a census area. Reports on the selected area relate environmental hazards—including air pollution, lead paint and toxic waste sites—to demographic factors, such as the percentage of the population that is low-income or minority.

Environmental justice supports equal access to a clean and healthy environment. EJSCREEN could help target programs, policies and funding toward communities in need of increased environmental protection, access to health care, improved infrastructure and climate resilience. Promoting environmental justice is one of the guiding principles of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The tool will help guide the Chesapeake Bay Program’s work under the Agreement in engaging diverse communities and mitigating toxic contaminants.

The EPA is looking for feedback on the tool from users, and plans to release a revised edition next year.

Learn more.



Jun
09
2015

Going green at the Gunston School

On a verdant spring morning, tie-dye clad students of the Gunston School, a private high school of about 160 students in Centreville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gather on the dew-covered front lawn to participate in a team-building exercise. Giggling teens in conga line formations scramble around in an attempt to follow directions shouted through a megaphone by Emily Beck, the sustainability coordinator for the school. It’s Earth Day; there’s an electric energy in the air.

A one-mile access road offers the tranquility of hundreds of lush acres of farm fields, all placed under permanent conservation easement, leading up to 32 acres of campus that are nestled into the nape of the Corsica River. The rural expansiveness sets the tone for a core message that is threaded throughout everything the Gunston School does: sustainability.

Out of the 2,220 schools in Maryland, only 20 percent—or 450—of them, including the Gunston School, are certified through the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education (MAEOE) as Green Schools. Certified schools must meet a stringent set of criteria that includes benchmarks such as school-wide environmental behavior changes, water conservation, pollution reduction, instruction on environmental issues and many more.

Gunston teacher and sustainability coordinator Emily Beck, center, directs students during a seining workshop that was part of the school's Earth Day celebration on April 22, 2015. Gunston was recently certified as a 2015 Green School by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Certified green schools are also required to hold an annual celebration of green practices; for the Gunston School, that materializes in the form of a daylong Earth Day celebration planned and organized by the students. Instead of attending class, students participate in a morning of workshops conducted by students, faculty and outside presenters and an afternoon film session and green fair. This year’s celebration focused on the intersection of land, livestock and wildlife and offered programs such as poetry in nature; oyster restoration through the Chesapeake Environmental Center; community supported, organic and sustainable farming practices; and a number of road, campus and shoreline cleanups.

Students write from the perspective of animals during a poetry workshop that was part of Gunston's Earth Day celebration.

Being a green school is embedded in the core of the Gunston School’s identity. “The Gunston School has embraced being a green school; we first applied in 2011 and we reapplied this year,” said Beck. “That has really helped to inform the students, teachers, faculty and administration about what a school can be in terms of a role model in the community.” 

The Gunston School’s overarching mission is to help students grow and thrive in a way that way that will prepare them for not only college, but also to be lifelong leaders. The curriculum takes a personalized approach, with instructors working closely with each student to help them develop their leadership skills and academic strengths with a special emphasis on global awareness and sustainable living. In that focus, the school is able to harness their location and pair it with lessons through their Chesapeake Bay Studies program, an integral part of the curriculum that has been in existence for more than 20 years.

Although the Bay Studies program is weaved into lesson plans throughout the year, it culminates in an annual weeklong series of experiential seminars designed to get the students in and on the Bay. By partnering with organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Outward Bound and the Sultana Project, students are directly exposed to and informed about the ecological problems surrounding the Bay and its watershed.

Maryland Parks Service volunteers show two eastern screech owls to Gunston students during a workshop on Earth Day. Green schools such as Gunston are required to hold an annual celebration of green practices.

“Students learn in many different ways; we have students who are classic book learners for whom getting into the Bay helps to bring that book learning alive, and we have students who are more hands on learners and they transfer that knowledge that they got during their hands on experience back into the classroom,” said John Lewis, Headmaster of the Gunston School.  “I think that if the students aren’t ever really in the Bay or immersed in the watershed, they’re sort of just abstract environmentalists—they’re not actually seeing the impacts and the dynamics of the Bay system and that goes for not just kids, but also the teachers.”

Patience and adaptation are the name of the game when it comes to taking students outdoors for lessons. “The biggest fear [for teachers] of taking students outside is that they will run wild, and it’s a downside of our current education system is that the only time that kids get to go outside is for recess. So, the times that you take them outside, their mentality is recess,” said Beck.

At the Gunston School, pairing lessons with the natural world means students have learned over the years that being outside means learning, and they remain engaged. If a distraction happens, like an eagle flying by, teachers are content with taking a moment to appreciate the sighting and even adapting their lesson to their surroundings if need be, because, like many things in life, it’s important to expect the unexpected and go with the flow.

Gunston’s 32-acre campus in Centerville, Md., offers students direct access to the Corsica River.

Although outdoors learning is an ideal opportunity for both teachers and students, some challenges can come along with it. Not all schools have the ample space and natural resources that the Gunston School is fortunate enough to have access to. “There are opportunities to create teaching environments in the barest amount of space or make use of your indoor environment if it is not possible to get out of doors,” said Beck. “The natural world is all around us, it’s just changing your focus a little bit to see the learning opportunities.”

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

Images by Will Parson

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Jun
04
2015

Photo Essay: Student water sampling in Lititz Run

Each spring and fall, a stream gushing from a spring in the middle of Lititz, Pa., becomes the center of attention for a group of Warwick High School chemistry students. Lititz Run starts flowing in Lititz Springs Park, mere yards from the students’ campus, where they begin a biannual field trip to measure their local water quality.

The students get a hands-on learning experience that builds their environmental literacy and also provides meaningful data to the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance (LRWA) and Warwick Township. That data helps them assess completed restoration projects and decide what they want to do in the future to improve Lititz Run, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lists as an impaired stream. It takes just a few miles for Lititz Run to join the Conestoga River, but along the way it picks up pollution from urban runoff, storm sewers, wastewater discharge and agriculture.

Student Luke Mariano takes measurements with a Vernier pH probe in the headwaters of Lititz Run at Lititz Springs Park in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. Chemistry students from Warwick High School sampled Lititz Run during a biannual field trip that visited eight sites along the stream, which has been listed as impaired by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Student Josh Cascarella, right, measures dissolved oxygen at Lititz Springs Park.

It is up to Warwick teachers Diana Griffiths and Doug Balmer to navigate the logistics of funding, paperwork, and tight curricula needed to pull off the field trips.

“We don’t have a whole lot of time or flexibility to give lots of units on applications of chemistry,” Griffiths said. “So this gives some kids a chance to see some of that chemistry put to use out in the field, even though it’s just a day.”

Warwick teacher Doug Balmer demonstrates a sampling technique for chemistry students on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa. "I've fallen into the stream several times," Balmer said.

Chance Berger, right, looks at a water sample with fellow student Jenny Beznoska on Lititz Run.

Warwick teacher Diana Griffiths shows students Christina Shelley, right, and Kate Martin, how to measure pH.

Teacher Doug Balmer shows, from left, students Ben Hershey, David Heckel, and Josh Cascarella from Warwick High School how to conduct a colorimetric nitrate test.

Student Jenny Beznoska from Warwick High School titrates a sample to measure dissolved oxygen at Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015.

The trips are a partnership between Warwick High School and the LRWA. Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with the Lancaster County Conservation District, has been assisting with the trips almost since they began in 1997. He describes the relationship as symbiotic.

“I’m just very thankful that they continue to be active partners in this, because you see very few communities and watershed groups working together like that,” Kofroth said.

He said it is hard to tease out the effects of restoration, an upgrade to Lititz Wastewater Treatment Plant, tree plantings and public education, but their cumulative positive impact is not surprising.

“It might seem early, but there is a slight decrease in the nutrients [in Lititz Run] over time,” Kofroth said.

Teacher Doug Balmer attempts to remove a piece of trash from Lititz Run.

A night heron perches on a rock in Lititz Run.

From left, students Kate Martin, Kyla McClune, Christina Shelley, Josh Miller, Mitchel Hess, Luke Mariano, and Kelly Hossler measure dissolved oxygen with teacher Diana Griffiths.

From left, Kelly Hossler, Kate Martin, Christina Shelley, Josh Cascarella, and Destiny Butler carry sampling equipment to a site on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. "The bus got stuck one year," said Doug Balmer, who leads the trip with fellow teacher Diana Griffiths. The teachers also cited a flat tire, dead battery, faulty brakes and other mishaps that have occurred on past field trips.

Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with Lancaster County Conservation District, samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa., with students Jenny Beznoska, left, and Chance Berger.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a northern dusky salamander collected along with macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth stirs up stream sediment while student Jenny Beznoska samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a sample of macroinvertebrates collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Student Chance Berger holds a clam specimen collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Luke Mariano measures dissolved oxygen on Lititz Run in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Connor Pierce carries boxes of Vernier probes back to the schoolbus after sampling finished at a farm in Manheim Township, Pa., the last site of the day along Lititz Run.

Another piece of evidence for the stream’s recovery is the return of brown trout, which need cold, oxygenated waters to reproduce. Kofroth likens them to a canary in a coal mine.

And for the students, especially those who may have never seen a freshwater macroinvertebrate before, the opportunity to learn outside is a memorable one.

“I’ve had one parent contact me one time and say this is the best field trip their child has ever been on, ever, in their whole school experience. Now I’m not saying that is true for every kid, but for that kid it was just eye opening,” Griffiths said.

“I think just the fact that it’s literally in their town, in their backyard, makes a difference.”

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

Images, captions and text by Will Parson



May
28
2015

Clean Water Rule clarifies protections for streams, wetlands

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their final Clean Water Rule this week, clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act.

Image by Volga/Shutterstock 

Included under the new rule are seasonal and rain-dependent streams that may only flow during certain times of the year, but which have a significant connection to downstream waters that were previously protected. Wetlands and waterways that border larger waterbodies will also be covered. According to the EPA, the rule will help protect the drinking water of nearly 117 million people.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a release.

Two complex Supreme Court decisions led to nearly a decade of confusion over just which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. While the new rule clarifies which waterways are now protected, it does not expand the scope of the Clean Water Act, and it preserves existing exemptions for irrigation ponds, drainage ditches and other agricultural activities.

Learn more.



May
13
2015

Photo Essay: Education and conservation at the Brock Environmental Center

The sandy shores of Virginia Beach are no stranger to development. As the shoreline curves along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, homes, hotels and resorts boast Bay-front and oceanfront views. And in 2008, Pleasure House Point—a 118-acre tract of tidal marshes, salt meadows and maritime forest along the shores of the Lynnhaven River—was set to be transformed as well.

Developers were preparing to begin construction on “Indigo Dunes,” an expansive development that would cover nearly every piece of the property with 1,100 condos and townhomes, including two 11-story towers directly along the water’s edge. But if you travel to the land now, no high-rise towers block your view; instead, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s long, slender Brock Environmental Center sits far back from the riverbank, huddled close to the ground and nestled among the trees and marsh grasses.

Families and student groups visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Va., on April 15, 2015. Completed in 2014, the long, thin building features numerous sustainable features such as salvaged materials, zero stormwater runoff and both wind and solar energy generated on site. The Center is currently attempting to become certified under the exacting green building standards of the Living Building Challenge.

Crewmembers from Intus Windows, based in Fairfax, Va., install low-impact triple pane argon-filled windows in the Brock Environmental Center’s community meeting room.

Completed in late 2014, the Brock Environmental Center represents a community effort to protect Pleasure House Point for natural use. According to Christy Everett, head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Hampton Roads office, preservation of the land began almost as wishful thinking: “It was a suggestion that was very out on a limb—‘Hey, maybe we could stop this development.’”

After bankers foreclosed on the property in 2011, lack of funding, legal uncertainties and apprehension from the community delayed the protection of the land and construction of the Center. Many residents supported conserving the land, but some—concerned the Center would be built too close to the shore—thought it shouldn’t be developed at all. “We went door to door several times, to every house in the neighborhood, to get their feedback,” said Everett. And with the Center now open for public tours, Everett says community support is steadily continuing to grow. “Some people didn’t feel comfortable until they came to the building. But people come today and say, ‘oh, now I understand what you were doing.’”

The Center acts a hub for the Bay Foundation’s hands-on environmental education efforts. A pier hugs the shoreline, where a “floating classroom” waits to take students and teachers on an exploration of the Chesapeake ecosystem. But the building itself presents a different type of lesson to its visitors: one of energy efficiency, resource conservation and modern green building technologies.

Sixth graders from Kemps Landing/Old Donation School return from an educational boat trip with guides from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Educator Yancey Powell from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) walks with sixth graders (from left) Israel Olukanni, Shaina Kumar, and Delaney Sheridan from Kemps Landing/Old Donation School at CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Situated on the shoreline of Crab Creek, the entire building is raised on pylons to accommodate a 500-year storm event and future sea level rise.

Educator Yancey Powell leads a lesson for students from the Kemps Landing/Old Donation School. Designed for resiliency, the Brock Environmental Center is elevated nearly 14 feet above sea level to accommodate a 500-year storm event and future sea level rise without impacting the building’s structure.

As one of the top green buildings in the nation the Center is on track to be one of only a handful of buildings certified under the Living Building Challenge each year. The Challenge—described as the “built environment’s most rigorous performance standard”—is based on seven criteria, called petals: place, water, energy, health, happiness, materials, equity and beauty. In order to be certified, the Center must meet several strict requirements over the next year, including producing zero net waste and no net carbon dioxide emissions.

A cistern collects rainwater from the roof of the Brock Environmental Center. 

Cisterns underneath the Brock Environmental Center store rainwater for eventual use. The two 1,600 gallon tanks can hold three weeks’ worth of water for the Center.

Designed to be as resource-efficient as possible, the Center uses solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal wells for all its energy needs—while simultaneously creating ways to educate visitors about resource conservation. When local birding groups voiced their opposition to the turbines, the Bay Foundation tweaked the placement and orientation of the structures. “We did a lot of research into the wind turbines we have, what kind of bird and bat kills happen from which type of turbines in the Chesapeake Bay area,” said Everett. “We keep a spreadsheet that’s monitored every day for potential bird deaths, and there haven’t been any. In that way, we’re contributing to the knowledge about these turbines.”

The Center also uses cutting-edge technology for water use and conservation, including turning rainwater into potable drinking water. “We believe we’re the only public facility in the continental United States that treats its rainwater,” said Everett. “The entire site has zero stormwater runoff. It’s really important to us that any water gets used on site instead of running into local waterways.”

Salvaged gymnasium floors from a local school in Virginia Beach adorn a meeting room.

Artwork made by former Chesapeake Bay Foundation educator Inga Clough Falterman utilizes salvaged live oak from a nearby construction site and is featured in a meeting room.

While the building is newly assembled, the pieces that comprise it tell the history of the surrounding community. Bleachers from a local school, marked by carvings from students of years past, frame the building’s doors and windows. Countertops made from old art tables line the office supply alcove, and corks from champagne bottles serve as handles for drawers and cupboards. A striking mural—made from the pieces of an old, discarded oak tree—hangs against a wall in one of the Center’s few meeting rooms.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff members Chris Gorri, left, and Mary Tod Winchester talk in their workspace at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center. The long, thin building takes advantage of natural daylight for illumination.

Students from Kemps Landing/Old Donation School and teacher Evelyn Campbell, left, examine double-hinged porch windows at the Brock Environmental Center.

Walking along the Center’s waterfront trail, it can be hard to imagine the vast resort that nearly transformed the landscape. Though the wetland restoration is still in its early stages, signs of wildlife and new growth peek through. “You kind of want it to hurry up and restore,” Everett laughs. But with the marshes, meadows and forests now protected, the land can recover for years to come.

Rain gardens collect water, allowing it to sink into the soil. The Brock Environmental Center’s seven rain gardens absorb any water that runs off the property.

Sixth graders from Kemps Landing/Old Donation School walk from an outdoor learning space near one of two wind turbines. The turbines generate 20 kilowatts of energy, and a little over half of the Center's renewable energy comes from a 38 kilowatt array of solar panels on the roof.

A mockingbird rests at the top of a longleaf pine tree at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center rests on the shore of Crab Creek near the Lynnhaven River.

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

You can track the status of the Center’s energy and water use through the Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center Building Dashboard.

Update July 30, 2015: The Brock Enviornmental Center was certified as LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest designation, in July 2015.

Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith



Apr
24
2015

Virginia launches new environmental literacy program

A new voluntary education program aimed at increasing environmental literacy was introduced in Virginia on Wednesday.

The Virginia Environmental Literacy Challenge is intended to encourage educators to engage students with the natural world in new and creative ways, by highlighting those who excel in environmental literacy efforts. A series of lesson plans—from habitat construction to recycling projects—will accompany the challenge.

“We need to make sure that our students are graduating with the skills and knowledge they need to protect Virginia’s natural resources,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in a release. Governor McAuliffe signed the executive order creating the program.

In supporting the outdoor education and sustainability efforts of teachers, administrators and schools, the program will help achieve the environmental literacy goals of the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed last year by the Chesapeake Executive Council, the top-level leadership entity for the Chesapeake Bay Program that Governor McAuliffe now chairs.

“Environmental literacy is an important part of the Chesapeake Bay [Watershed] Agreement,” said Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee. “A systemic approach to environmental literacy will ensure that future generations are prepared to protect and conserve our natural resources.”

Learn more.



Feb
09
2015

As Clean Air Act clears the air, local waters also benefit

When too much nitrogen enters the Chesapeake Bay, it can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and create low-oxygen areas, or “dead zones,” that suffocate marine life. But some key successes in curbing the amount of nitrogen entering local waterways have a potentially surprising source—the Clean Air Act.

In a factsheet released last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines how declines in air pollution have substantially reduced the amount of airborne nitrogen that ends up in the Bay, helping the agency and its partners stay on track to meet the water quality goals of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or “pollution diet,” which representatives from across the Bay region recommitted to achieving as part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

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 into the water.

“Atmospheric deposition falls everywhere on the Chesapeake watershed, from forests, to fields, to parking lots,” said Lewis Linker, modeling coordinator with the Chesapeake Bay Program. “When this load of nitrogen is reduced, it improves water quality everywhere from stormwater runoff, to small headwater streams, …to the Chesapeake Bay.”

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, says Linker, national policies like the Clean Air Act are essential in reducing the amount of pollution that reaches the Bay.

“To restore the Chesapeake, the citizens of the Chesapeake watershed have done a lot of bootstrapped cleanup in their own backyards and watersheds,” said Linker. “But when it comes to atmospheric deposition of nitrogen, the reduction can’t be done by the Chesapeake state partners alone—it’s a job for the whole nation.”

For more on what you can do to curb air pollution, Take Action.

Learn more about the EPA’s efforts to curb nitrogen deposition in the Chesapeake.



Jan
28
2015

Bay Backpack helps educators inspire students to protect, restore Chesapeake Bay

Bay Backpack, a website for environmental educators in the Chesapeake Bay region, was recently relaunched with a new design, making it even easier for teachers to find resources that bring the Bay and its surrounding lands into their classrooms.

Image courtesy woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Teachers and educators can use the site’s updated design to find more than 750 lesson plans, books, curriculum guides and other teaching resources that are grouped into themed collections–including Bay animals and habitats, people and culture, Earth system science, land use and water quality. An interactive map of nearly 350 field studies allows teachers to search by location, grade level and subject matter to find hands-on learning opportunities outside the classroom. Bay Backpack also continues to provide a catalog of professional development and funding opportunities that support environmental education efforts, and the new responsive design means users can easily access resources on both desktop and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

Image courtesy woodleywonderworks/Flickr

In the recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, representatives from each of the six watershed states and Washington, D.C., committed to providing every student in the region with at least one meaningful watershed educational experience, or MWEE, in elementary, middle and high school. Meaningful watershed educational experiences are investigative projects that allow students the opportunity to interact directly with their environment and learn about how the Bay, its rivers and streams and its surrounding lands function as a system. Resources provided through Bay Backpack help teachers from across the Bay area engage students in these educational experiences.

“Bay Backpack is a great tool to help meet the commitments of the new Watershed Agreement,” said Shannon Sprague, Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Education Workgroup. “It directly supports our efforts to get every student outdoors and learning about their environment.”

To learn more about what the Bay Program is doing to provide each student in the region with the skills to protect and restore local waters and lands, explore the Environmental Literacy goal of the Watershed Agreement.

Learn more about Bay Backpack and the educational resources it provides.



Dec
08
2014

Restoration Spotlight: Fostering environmental stewardship through forest restoration

Forests are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay—they protect clean water and air, provide habitat to wildlife and support the region’s economy. However, since European settlement of the region in the 17th century, deforestation has taken a toll on the once thriving forests of the mid-Atlantic region. Human influences such as development and parcelization have reduced forest acreage from 95 to about 45 percent of historic coverage.

Deforestation in the Bay region may seem a problem that is too complex to tackle, but one man, dubbed the modern-day Johnny Appleseed, is proof that a little curiosity, passion and hard work can have profound effects on the environment. John Smucker, a Technology Education teacher at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, Maryland, has become a catalyst for reforestation efforts, melding his engineering experience with restoration initiatives.

Smucker recalls the moment 10 years ago that sparked his interest in forest restoration. “It all started behind my house with a reforestation effort, but all of the trees that were planted slowly died. I didn’t like that so I did a lot of research to help [the trees] out and fell in love with the process, which led me to start dropping acorns into empty tree shelters,” said Smucker.

The moment created a ripple effect that resulted in Smucker spearheading forest restoration by organizing volunteer plantings and entering into a partnership with Mount Saint Mary’s University and the Francis Scott Key Center. Both locations provide space for Smucker to grow the thousands of trees he uses for plantings. 

Smucker spends about 700 hours every year in all aspects of creating riparian buffers, like meeting with landowners, auguring the holes, organizing the volunteers and also conducting the most critical part of the process Smucker says, maintenance. Plantings are held on Saturdays during April, May and October – the most opportune months for tree survivability and comfortable outdoor temperatures for volunteers to work.

When choosing planting locations, Smucker explains, “Being a grower really is a game changer for me, because I can fully understand what the trees need to survive.” Once a site is selected, he samples the soil, observes what plant species are in the area, spends time in his greenhouses flagging all of the appropriate trees for the site and rallies his volunteer base around the planting.

When it comes to tree plantings, the name of the game is fun and education. Many of his volunteers are young people who are in a mindset to learn. Each planting is preceded with an ecology lesson highlighting the importance of riparian zones, stream shading and nutrient removal. “As a middle school teacher it is important to organize the event so it’s fun and rewarding, because if they get frustrated, they will associate that frustration with tree planting. If they associate it with fun, then the environmental stewardship will perpetuate a lot better. If it’s organized right and goes smoothly then it’s a feel-good thing, just like in the classroom,“ Smucker explained.

Smucker encourages his students to work out solutions to engineering problems with the tree plantings and challenges them to think up innovative ways to overcome obstacles. “Tree planting and technology education are really the same thing. It’s problem solving and the engineering design process. What is the problem? What is the solution? Evaluate and modify,” said Smucker.

Over the years, Smucker’s volunteer base and partner organizations have expanded to the point where he has been able to launch an organization of his own, Stream Link Education, a nonprofit that organizes and leads tree plantings with local community members, organizations and businesses. “The coolest thing I think we do is Natives for Nonprofits. We grow trees for giveaways to other organizations, which is great because budgets are really tight and donations are hugely welcome. It also helps establish partnerships, not because I want something in return but because it’s neat to make connections,” said Smucker.

Smucker aims to perpetuate choices and actions by providing people with hands on educational experiences. “If you’re excited about something and value it, then demonstrate the value, they [the volunteers] will see it. The excitement can be catching,” he said. He continued to explain that in addition to educating others and improving the environment, his enthusiasm for restoration remains strong because he is still able to grow as well, “I’m going to turn 50 in January and I’m thinking, ‘if I do this right, I’ve got my 50’s and 60’s and if I can stay healthy, I can do this for a long time.’ And that’s great. There is always something to learn.”

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

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Nov
18
2014

Restoration Spotlight: Sustainability is the ultimate wine pairing

When thinking of wine, Maryland may not be the first state that comes to mind, but for the Deford family, the artful pairing of responsible land management and master craftsmanship at Boordy Vineyards has put the Free State on the wine aficionado map.

Nestled in the rolling countryside of Long Green Valley in Hyde, Maryland, a mere 30 minutes outside of Baltimore, the 240-acre property provides solace to visitors, melting away the stressors of daily life with views of rich vegetation, historic farmland and 25 acres of intricately arranged rows of grapevines.

The family strives to develop a lasting connection with the community and welcomes visitors year-round by regularly hosting events. “Everything we do here has an educational component to it because wineries are unusual in Maryland, farming is increasingly rare and we are constantly competing with other views of how the countryside around Baltimore County should be managed,” said Robert Deford, President and owner of Boordy. “We really want farming to succeed here.”

To Deford, a twelfth generation Marylander and the fourth generation to be raised on the farm, success and sustainability go hand-in-hand. In 2000, the family placed the property under permanent conservation easement through Maryland Environmental Trust, allowing the farm to proceed without having to compete with development money by taking the option to sell the land to developers off the table. “We look at land not as an empty resource to be built on, but as something to be tended to and taken care of. For me, sustainability means the ability to realize the dream of continuing to live and work here,” explained Deford.

The 25 full-time and 75 part-time employees have adopted the Defords’ mission of sustainability and assist in the efforts to be as efficient as possible. “If we are not sustainable by definition, we are going to go out of business at some point. The land is what sustains us, so if we treat it badly the system is going to crash,” said Deford.

A number of best management practices have been implemented on the vineyard to reduce the establishment’s energy demands and impact on the environment. Staff hand-pick the fruit – avoiding the use of machinery – to ensure only the highest-quality grapes end up in the wine; the rest are left for wildlife, like birds, to scavenge. Grass grows freely in between the vines to stabilize the soil and mitigate runoff of sediment into the adjacent stream on the property. Additionally, all stems and pomace are composted post-production and returned to the fields as fertilizer.

A wetland was created at the head of the stream to catch any residual runoff before it enters the waterway, eventually making its way to the Gunpowder River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The wetland serves not only as a pollution buffer but also as habitat to countless species of wildlife such as beavers, ducks, white-tailed deer and raptors. “Another thing that is great is we have excluded all livestock [from the stream], and it is astounding the fish people are finding down there, especially the American eel. I think it is a great model for what can be done to a stream that was really in distress,” said Deford.

The family is mindful of their greenhouse gas emissions and works to reduce their outputs by using the carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process to stir their red wine tanks. The carbon dioxide is collected, builds up and eventually erupts through the tank – stirring the wine and saving electricity. “There is an interesting concern over the fact that when you make wine you emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; however, what I always point out to people is that just up the hill is the other end of it – those vines take in carbon dioxide, so really it’s just a cycle,” notes Deford.

Helpful for Boordy has been the advent of the local food movement, a developing culture focused around locally-produced food and the process of getting it from the farm to the table. With the movement comes a growing consumer demand to meet the farmer and know where food comes from. “This isn’t just liquid in a bottle,” said Deford. “A lot more goes into it.”

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

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Sep
30
2014

Letter from Leadership: Environmental literacy matters

As students settle into their new school-year routines, it’s a good time to reflect on how their experiences in the classroom affect the Chesapeake Bay.

Image courtesy brucemckay/Flickr

Today’s students will play a critical role in the health of tomorrow’s Chesapeake. Making sure they understand how to critically think about evolving environmental issues is essential to the long-term success of environmental protection.

While managers are making progress in addressing the issues facing the Bay, many of the remaining challenges to a healthier ecosystem rest in the hands of individuals, businesses and communities. From decisions on how to heat and cool homes to decisions on where to live, what vehicle to drive and what to plant on private properties, individual choices can have a huge impact on the Bay. This means a successful environmental protection strategy must be built on the collective wisdom of the environment’s residents, informed by targeted environmental education and starting with our youngest students.

In recent years, a clearer picture has emerged about the environmental literacy of our students. A 2008 National Environmental Literacy Assessment and related follow-up studies showed that students who attended schools with environmental education programs knew and cared more about the environment, and were more likely to take actions to protect their environment, than students who didn’t. But learning outdoors during the school day is not common in the United States.

Image courtesy vastateparkstaff/Flickr

While our society is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment—spending more time online and less time outdoors—there is good news: states are increasingly stepping up to ensure that students have the opportunity to connect with nature. The state of Maryland, for instance, has established the nation’s first graduation requirement for environmental literacy; beginning in 2015, every student that graduates from a school within the state will have participated in a program that will help him or her make more informed decisions about the environment. Several states in the region have established partnerships for children in nature, taking a comprehensive look at how they can better encourage outdoor programs for children. Even more are recognizing the efforts of their schools to become more sustainable, ensuring that more students are learning inside buildings that model sustainable behaviors.

This momentum is being echoed at the regional level. The recently signed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement commits the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to give every student the knowledge and skills necessary to protect and restore their local watershed. The cornerstone of this goal is the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience, or MWEE, which should occur at least once in each elementary, middle and high school. MWEEs connect standards-based classroom learning with outdoor field investigations to create a deeper understanding of the natural environment. MWEEs ask students to explore environmental issues through sustained, teacher-supported programming. But less intensive outdoor field investigations could occur more frequently—each year when possible.

The Watershed Agreement highlights the roles that state departments of education and local education agencies play in establishing expectations and guidelines for the development and implementation of MWEEs. Indeed, plans that include strategies for MWEE implementation—coupled with outreach and training opportunities for teachers and administrators—have been effective in establishing and supporting a network for environmental literacy.

To support these efforts, funding is available: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers grants through the Bay Watershed Education & Training (B-WET) Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust offers similar opportunities. The Chesapeake Bay Program also maintains a clearinghouse of teaching resources on Bay Backpack.

Note: A version of this article also appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Bay Journal.

Author: Shannon Sprague is the Manager for Environmental Literacy & Partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office. She is also the co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup.



Sep
10
2014

Restoration Spotlight: Protecting pollinators as important pieces of environmental puzzle

Think of a food, any food. It could be what you had for breakfast, or something you’ve been craving. Once you have an image in your mind, imagine what that snack would look like without the existence of fruits, vegetables or grains. Would it completely disappear? Would only a portion remain? Now ask yourself, “What is the common link—the necessary life source—behind the production of our food?”

The answer lies in the simple act of pollination. It is nearly impossible to think of something within our diet that can exist without it. Pollination, or the transfer of pollen between like species of flowers by wind or wildlife, leads to the formation of healthy fruit and seeds. It is estimated that nearly one-third of all plants and plant products consumed by humans depend on bee pollination alone.

Educators at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, Maryland, understand this fact and work to teach others about the important role that pollinators—like bees, butterflies and bats—play in our ecosystem. For the past 17 years, the center has partnered with the Anne Arundel Beekeepers Association (AABA) to provide a home for more than 80,000 honeybees each year. When needed, AABA donates bees to Arlington Echo to replenish the center’s four outdoor bee boxes and two indoor observation hives. While the outdoor apiary is used for ecological purposes—providing habitat for the bees—the observation hives are used to teach children and adults alike about insect anatomy and life cycles, pollinator survival, community roles and math.

While it started as a recreation center, Arlington Echo quickly evolved to support authentic, hands-on learning. Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center is part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools and has been for 45 years. In fact, it is visited by every fourth grader in the county. “Education facilitates change,” said Sheen Goldberg, Teacher Specialist at Arlington Echo. The volume of students they reach each year provides a valuable opportunity to plant the seed of environmental awareness in many young minds. Here, people learn to make the connection between pollinators and the food they eat.

“One of the major issues we face today… is a lack of knowledge about the environment and where things come from,” said Melanie Parker, Coordinator of Arlington Echo’s Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Department. “[Food] doesn’t come from the grocery store. And it’s not just our kids [who are unaware]. Sometimes, it’s parents. Sometimes, generations don’t have that connection with the land and nature. There’s not that experience or exposure. All people see is that chicken comes in a package and isn’t an animal that’s running around on the ground. There is a detachment to where our stuff comes from.”

Spreading knowledge and linking people to their natural environment is a vital part of Arlington Echo’s mission. By connecting the dots between healthy pollinators and a healthy environment, they hope to incite positive change and help pollinators overcome the challenges they face. Population growth and development have encroached on pollinator habitat; chemical contaminants harm their health; and both native and invasive pests, parasites and diseases threaten populations.

“Right now, pesticides are a really big deal. Bees are going through something that we are calling Colony Collapse Disorder because we don’t actually know what causes it,” said Heather Calabrese, Program Assistant at Arlington Echo. “There is some research that points to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. It’s interesting how it, and many other pesticides, work. It doesn’t actually kill the animal right away. It effects the nervous system, disorienting it, [the animal] stops cleaning itself, eating, feeding other animals, and then it starves to death or dies of disease.”

Although honeybees, like those kept at Arlington Echo, are not native to North America, they are not considered invasive. Instead, they are considered an important part of our natural ecosystem, and their decline is directly linked to habitat loss. Development fragments wildlife habitat and pushes native species out. “Because of development, we lose native plant populations. If there is not enough food for our pollinators because we have built on their habitat, then we won’t have the native pollinators,” Parker explained.

Over the past 60 years, managed bee populations have declined from 6 million to 2.5 million, an alarming number that has sparked many states and organizations to offer financial and tax incentives to encourage people to keep bees.

Parker, Goldberg and Calabrese are all enthusiastic about keeping bees and claim that once you start, you can’t help but become fascinated by the social complexities of the critters. “You can put as much or as little work into maintaining the hive as you would like,” said Goldberg. “The bees are clean, hardworking and good at taking care of the hive for the most part.”

The educators at Arlington Echo stress the importance of making connections between the natural world and human health. Many of the things that harm pollinators also pose a threat to humans, water and other wildlife. “There is the developmental part of… pollinator population decline, but also the pesticide use,” Parker said. “Those pesticides end up in our waterways. You know, everything is connected. You pull one string and the rest unravels. So, even though it seems like a small piece, it is part of a bigger issue.”

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

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



Aug
12
2014

Delaware named leader in solar energy revolution

Solar energy is on the rise in the United States, and one jurisdiction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been named a leader in the solar energy revolution.

Image courtesy Mountain/\Ash/Flickr

According to a report released by Environment America, Delaware is one of the ten states that have installed the greatest amount of solar energy capacity per capita. At 82 watts per person, the state is in seventh place.

Since December 2008, Delaware has expanded its solar capacity from 2 to 59 megawatts. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the state has installed 1,600 solar energy systems on government buildings, businesses, schools and homes. What's driving this effort? Legislation, policies and financial incentives that support going solar.

Image courtesy Pacific Northwest National Library/Flickr

Solar energy uses the sun as fuel to create heat or electricity. It’s considered cleaner than coal- or natural gas-fired power plants because it doesn’t burn fossil fuels, which can release emissions that contribute to climate change.

Like other states in Environment America’s top ten, Delaware’s interconnection policies make it easier for individuals and companies to connect their solar energy systems to the power grid. Solar rebates and other financing options help lower the cost of installation, while "net metering" policies compensate consumers for the excess energy they return. The solar market is also moving forward in response to Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which calls for the state to draw 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, with at least 3.5 percent coming from solar.

“Encouraging solar power is the right thing to do for the environment and our economy,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in a media release. “We are aggressively working toward a clean energy future in Delaware, demonstrating we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment. That means creating a robust market for solar and other clean energy systems, creating clean energy jobs, expanding our solar industry and improving air quality.”

Two additional watershed jurisdictions received special mention in Environment America’s report: New York, whose solar energy market is growing quickly, and the District of Columbia, where new clean energy policies are set to make solar more attractive and accessible to consumers.

Learn more.



Aug
06
2014

Photo Essay: Finding the Chesapeake’s dead zone

The R/V Rachel Carson is docked on Solomons Island. At 81 feet long, the red and blue research vessel stands out against the deadrise workboats that share the Patuxent River marina. Her mission today is to lead researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) to the Chesapeake Bay’s dead zone.

Every summer, this so-called “dead zone” forms in the main stem of the Bay. The area of low-oxygen water is created by bacteria as they feed on algae blooms growing in nutrient-rich water. The dead zone persists through the warm summer months because the Bay is stratified into two layers: a surface layer of lighter, fresher water that mixes with the atmosphere, and a bottom layer of denser, saltier water, where oxygen depletion persists. These layers won’t mix until the cooler temperatures of autumn allow the surface waters to sink.

To find the dead zone, Director of Marine Operations and Rachel Carson Captain Michael H. Hulme takes us to one of the deep troughs that run down the center of the Bay. Geologic remnants of the ancient Susquehanna River, these troughs can reach up to 174 feet deep in an estuary whose average depth is just 21 feet. Hulme anchors offshore of Calvert Cliffs State Park.

The boat is equipped with a dynamic positioning system, which holds it in place regardless of wind or waves. This allows the captain to step away from the helm and offer his hands on deck. “Being able to hover over that [specific] latitude and longitude is what makes the Rachel Carson so unique,” said Hulme. It’s also one of the reasons the vessel is so useful to scientists, who often return to the same sampling site again and again over time.

UMCES Senior Faculty Research Assistant David Loewensteiner drops a CTD overboard. The oceanography instrument takes eight measurements per second, tracking conductivity, temperature and depth as it is lowered through the water. Connected to the ship with a cable, the CTD sends data to a laptop in the boat’s dry lab. We measure 2.04 mg/L of dissolved oxygen in surface water, and just 0.33 mg/L at 98 feet deep. Critters need concentrations of 5 mg/L or more to thrive; these are “classic dead zone” conditions.

Dead zones are bad for the Bay. Like animals on land, underwater critters need oxygen to survive. In a dead zone, immobile shellfish suffocate and those fish that can swim are displaced into more hospitable waters. “If you were a self-respecting fish and oxygen was [low], what would you do?” asked Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Applications and Professor at UMCES. “Swim away.”

First reported in the 1930s, the appearance of the dead zone in the Bay is linked to our actions on land: as we replace forests with cities, suburbs and farms, we increase the amount of nutrients entering rivers and streams. This fuels the growth of algae blooms that lead to dead zones. “Hypoxia [or low-oxygen conditions] is driven by what we do on the watershed,” said UMCES Assistant Professor Jeremy Testa. “The Bay is naturally set up to generate hypoxia because of that [stratification] feature. That said… when there were no people here, there was not much hypoxia.”

While it is our actions on land that created the dead zone, it is our actions on land that can make the dead zone go away. Research has shown that certain pollution-reducing practices—like upgrading wastewater treatment plants, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions and reducing runoff from farmland—can improve the health of local rivers and streams. Scientists have also traced a decline in the duration of the dead zone from five months to four, which suggests that conservation practices gaining traction across the watershed could have very real benefits for the entire Bay.

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

Images by E. Guy Stephens/Southern Maryland Photography. Captions by Catherine Krikstan.



Jul
21
2014

Anacostia, Patapsco restoration projects receive funding

Four organizations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will receive more than $230,000 to restore portions of the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers.

Image courtesy Tommy Wells/Flickr

In the District of Columbia, two organizations will connect students to the Anacostia in an effort to boost local stewardship. Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region will put third and fifth graders onto canoes, kayaks and an educational vessel, while the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum will turn at-risk high school students into citizen scientists to monitor water quality along Watts Branch.

In College Park, the University of Maryland will design low-impact development solutions to lower the amount of polluted stormwater running off of schools and into the Anacostia. And in Baltimore, the University of Baltimore will monitor fecal bacteria in a portion of a Patapsco River tributary to help two blue collar neighborhoods reduce pet waste and prioritize infrastructure repairs.

Image courtesy Zach Karpinski/Flickr

The funding has been granted through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Urban Waters Small Grants program, which supports the restoration of urban rivers and streams in 18 geographic regions.

Healthy and accessible urban waters can improve economic, educational, recreational and social opportunities in nearby communities.

“People, buildings and businesses are all concentrated in urban areas, making it even more important to protect waterways from pollution,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a media release. “These communities will receive grants, allowing them to help turn these waterways into centerpieces of urban renewal, spurring economic development and job creation.”

In addition to the four projects inside the Bay watershed, the Urban Waters Small Grants program will fund 32 projects in 15 other states and Puerto Rico.

Learn more.



Jun
26
2014

Evaluation shows Bay Program partners are making progress in Chesapeake cleanup

According to evaluations released this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Chesapeake Bay Program partners are collectively on track to meet the phosphorous and sediment reduction commitments outlined in the Bay’s “pollution diet,” or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Further reductions in nitrogen, however, will be needed if partners are to meet all of their upcoming pollution-reducing goals.

Every two years, federal agencies and the watershed jurisdictions—which include Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—report on the progress made toward the pollution-reducing “milestones” outlined in their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). These WIPs describe how each jurisdiction will reduce the nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution entering rivers and streams, and are included as commitments in the partnership’s recently signed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Jurisdictions have set a goal to have all essential pollution-reducing practices in place by 2025 in an effort to meet water quality standards in the watershed.

Nutrient and sediment pollution are behind some of the Bay’s biggest health problems. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms, which result in low-oxygen dead zones that suffocate marine life. Suspended sediment blocks sunlight from reaching underwater plants and suffocates shellfish. But “best management practices” (or BMPs) like upgraded wastewater treatment technologies, improved manure management and enhanced stormwater management can help towns, cities and states lower the amount of pollution flowing into local waters.

The EPA will continue to oversee the watershed jurisdictions’ pollution-reducing efforts, and will offer further attention to some pollution sectors—including wastewater in Delaware and New York; agricultural runoff in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia; and urban and suburban runoff in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—to ensure partners remain on track to meet their 2017 targets.

Learn more.



Jun
24
2014

Scientists predict above-average dead zone for Chesapeake Bay

Scientists expect the Chesapeake Bay to see an above-average dead zone this summer, due to the excess nitrogen that flowed into the Bay from the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers this spring.

Dead zones, or areas of little to no dissolved oxygen, form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die and decompose. The latest dead zone forecast predicts an early-summer oxygen-free zone of 0.51 cubic miles, a mid-summer low-oxygen zone of 1.97 cubic miles and a late-summer oxygen-free zone of 0.32 cubic miles. This forecast was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is based on models developed at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan.

Dead zone size depends on nutrient pollution and weather patterns. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 44,000 metric tons of nitrogen entered the Bay in the spring of 2014. This is 20 percent higher than last spring’s nitrogen loadings, and will influence algae growth and dead zone formation this summer.

Researchers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will measure oxygen levels in the Bay over the next few months. While a final dead zone measurement is not expected until October, DNR biologists measured a larger-than-average low-oxygen zone on their June monitoring cruise, confirming the dead zone forecast.

Learn more



Jun
03
2014

EPA’s Clean Power Plan would cut carbon emissions, combat climate change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed Clean Power Plan this week, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called a “vital piece” of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change.

Image courtesy Rennett Stowe/Flickr

The Clean Power Plan aims to lower carbon emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. According to the EPA, this would also cut emissions of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide more than 25 percent, lowering asthma attacks and medical bills and working toward justice for the low-income communities that are hardest hit by air pollution.

Fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked, carbon pollution leads to rising temperatures and sea levels and changes in weather patterns, ecosystems and habitats. It also worsens smog, which affects the heart and lung health of children, older adults and people living in poverty.

“This is about protecting our health and our homes,” McCarthy said in a speech celebrating the plan’s release.

Image courtesy francescopratese/Flickr

The plan would give states the freedom to chart their own course toward their own goals. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” McCarthy said. Instead, states can “mix and match” methods of electricity production—whether it is a low-carbon or “no” carbon source like nuclear, wind or solar energy—and pollution control policies to ensure a “smooth transition to cleaner power.”

Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register. The EPA will host public hearings on the plan in Denver, Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28, and will finalize the plan next June.

Learn more.



May
29
2014

Reducing agricultural runoff creates clean water in Chesapeake Bay

Reducing runoff from farmland has lowered pollution in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania waters, indicating a boost in on-farm best management practices could lead to improved water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

In a report released earlier this year, researchers with the Chesapeake Bay Program, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) use case studies to show that planting cover crops, managing manure and excluding cattle from rivers and streams can lower nutrient concentrations and, in some cases, sediment loads in nearby waters.

Excess nutrients and sediment have long impaired the Bay: nitrogen and phosphorous can fuel the growth of algae blooms and lead to low-oxygen dead zones that suffocate marine life, while sediment can cloud the water and suffocate shellfish. In New Insights: Science-based evidence of water quality improvements, challenges and opportunities in the Chesapeake, scientists make clear that putting nutrient- and sediment-reducing practices in place on farms can improve water quality and aquatic habitat in as little as one to six years.

Planting winter cover crops on farm fields in the Wye River basin, for instance, lowered the amount of nutrients leaching into local groundwater, while planting cover crops and exporting nutrient-rich rich poultry litter in the upper Pocomoke River watershed lowered the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Eastern Shore waterway. In addition, several studies in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania showed that when cattle were excluded from streams, plant growth rebounded, nutrient and sediment levels declined and stream habitat and bank stability improved.

Image courtesy Chiot's Run/Flickr

Earlier this week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack named the Bay watershed one of eight “critical conservation areas” under the new Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will bring farmers and watershed organizations together to earn funds for soil and water conservation.

Learn more.



May
23
2014

University of Maryland report card measures minimal changes in Chesapeake Bay health

Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) measured minimal changes in Chesapeake Bay health in 2013, once again giving the estuary a “C” in their annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

This grade was the same in 2012, up from a “D+” in 2011. The Bay Health Index was reached using several indicators of Bay health, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen, the amount of algae and nutrients in the water, the abundance of underwater grasses, and the strength of certain fish stocks, including blue crab and striped bass. Introduced in this year’s report card, the Climate Change Resilience Index will measure the Bay’s ability to withstand rising sea levels, rising water temperatures and other impacts of climate change.

UMCES Vice President for Science Applications and Professor Bill Dennison attributed the Bay’s steady course to local management actions. While pollution-reducing technologies installed at wastewater treatment plants have improved the health of some rivers along the Bay’s Western Shore, continued fertilizer applications and agricultural runoff have stalled improvements along the Eastern Shore, Dennison said in a media release.

Learn more.



Apr
09
2014

Chesapeake Bay Program submits report to Congress

The Chesapeake Bay Program has submitted a report to Congress outlining the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the effectiveness of the partnership’s management strategies.

Under Section 117(h) of the Clean Water Act, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must submit the report every five years in coordination with the Chesapeake Executive Council.

While the Bay remains in poor health, the report highlights several signs that indicate certain strategies will work to restore the treasured resource. The report notes, for instance, that the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Executive Order 13508 have been integral in spurring collaboration among cities, states, federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations and citizens. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement that Bay Program partners plan to sign this summer will use clear goals and outcomes and increased transparency and accountability to continue this positive momentum.

“The… Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is our preparation for the future—a future where the Chesapeake Bay watershed remains an economic engine for the region, rebuilds a thriving and diverse ecosystem and reclaims its status as a celebrated treasure for the citizens who live in the watershed and throughout the nation,” writes Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in the report.

Learn more.



Apr
02
2014

New wastewater treatment technologies create clean water in Chesapeake Bay

Upgrading wastewater treatment technologies has lowered pollution in the Potomac, Patuxent and Back rivers, leading researchers to celebrate the Clean Water Act and recommend continued investments in the sewage sector.

Introduced in 1972, the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program regulates point sources of pollutants, or those that can be pinpointed to a specific location. Because wastewater treatment plants are a point source that can send nutrient-rich effluent into rivers and streams, this program has fueled advancements in wastewater treatment technologies. Biological nutrient removal, for instance, uses microorganisms to remove excess nutrients from wastewater, while the newer enhanced nutrient removal improves upon this process.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) have linked these wastewater treatment technologies to a cleaner environment. In a report released last month, five case studies show that wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia improved water quality in three Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

The link is clear: excess nutrients can fuel the growth of algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and create low-oxygen dead zones that suffocate marine life. Lowering the amount of nutrients that wastewater treatment plants send into rivers and streams can reduce algae blooms, bring back grass beds and improve water quality.

In New Insights: Science-based evidence of water quality improvements, challenges and opportunities in the Chesapeake, scientists show that new technologies at Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant led to a drop in nitrogen concentrations in the Back River. Upgrades at plants in the upper Patuxent watershed led to a drop in nutrient concentrations and a resurgence in underwater grasses in the Patuxent River. And improvements at plants in northern Virginia and the District lowered nutrient pollution, shortened the duration of algae blooms and boosted underwater grass growth in the Potomac River.

Image courtesy Kevin Harber/Flickr

The Chesapeake Bay Program tracks wastewater permits as an indicator of Bay health. As of 2012, 45 percent of treatment plants in the watershed had limits in effect to meet water quality standards. But a growing watershed population is putting increasing pressure on urban and suburban sewage systems.

“Further investments in [wastewater treatment plants] are needed to reduce nutrient loading associated with an increasing number of people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” New Insights notes.

Learn more.



Mar
27
2014

Proposal clarifies Clean Water Act protections for seasonal streams

After almost a decade of confusion about just what waters the Clean Water Act protects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have clarified that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are guarded under the law.

While these streams might only flow during certain times of year or following a rainstorm, they are connected to downstream waters that offer habitat to wildlife and drinking water to communities.

The federal agencies’ proposed rule also protects wetlands near rivers and streams. But it does not expand the scope of the Clean Water Act, and it preserves existing exemptions for building irrigation ponds, maintaining drainage ditches and other agricultural activities. In other words, protection for ponds, lakes and other “stand-alone” waters will be determined on a case-specific basis, and those agricultural activities that do not send pollutants into protected waters will still not require a permit.

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Learn more.



Mar
19
2014

Federal agencies seek feedback on 2014 action plan for Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The federal agencies leading the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay are seeking feedback on a draft action plan that outlines the coming year’s cleanup efforts.

Image courtesy Craig Piersma/Flickr

The action plan was written to fulfill the directive of Executive Order 13508, which in 2009 called on federal agencies to work with state and local partners to restore clean water, recover habitat, sustain fish and wildlife, and conserve land and increase public access in the watershed.

For the first time, this annual action plan has been combined with a progress report on the 2013 efforts of the Federal Leadership Committee. The committee includes representatives from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation, and is chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The draft action plan is open for public comment through March 31. Comments can be submitted through an online feedback form.

Learn more.



Mar
05
2014

Benefits of green infrastructure can outweigh costs

Green roofs, porous pavement and other tools of the green infrastructure trade can be a cost-effective way to control stormwater runoff, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that estimates the benefits of Lancaster City’s long-term green infrastructure plan.

Image courtesy Lindsayy/Flickr

Located in south-central Pennsylvania, Lancaster City has a population approaching 60,000. Each year, combined sewer overflows send almost 750 million gallons of stormwater runoff and untreated waste into the Conestoga River, pushing excess nutrients into the tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. In an effort to combat this pollution problem, the city released a green infrastructure plan in 2011 that outlines the tree plantings, parking lot excavations and other projects that will be put in place over the next 25 years.

While the plan lists the water quality benefits the city expects to see—including the reduction of stormwater runoff by more than 1 billion gallons per year—it is, for some, an incomplete assessment. So, in a report released this week, the EPA furthered the city’s benefits analysis by addressing the additional environmental, social and economic benefits that green infrastructure can provide.

According to the report, the long-term implementation of green infrastructure in Lancaster City could save $120 million in avoided gray infrastructure capital costs and earn close to $5 million in annual benefits. Green infrastructure would reduce air pollution, energy use and stormwater runoff, and offer residents a boost in property values, recreational opportunities and other qualitative benefits. With a forecasted implementation cost of between $51.6 and $94.5 million, it is clear the benefits of green infrastructure exceed the costs.

While gray infrastructure uses tanks and pipes to trap and dispose of rainwater, green infrastructure uses soil and vegetation to manage rainwater where it falls. A combination of green and gray infrastructure has proven effective for Lancaster City, and similar plans could benefit communities across the watershed.

One reconstructed parking lot, for instance, incorporated almost 6,000 square feet of bioretention and infiltration practices on South Plum Street, with an estimated annual benefit of more than $1,100. A commercial green street in northeast Lancaster incorporated bioretention and infiltration practices as well as permeable pavement, with an estimated annual benefit of more than $2,300. And an urban park redeveloped with a host of green infrastructure practices carries an estimated annual benefit of more than $5,500.

“Valuing multiple benefits of green infrastructure ensures water management investments by the city will help… provide a safer, healthier and more prosperous community,” said Liz Deardorff, Clean Water Supply director at American Rivers, in a media release. “The results of this study affirm that green infrastructure has multiple benefits for both large and small cities needing to reduce pollution and ensure clean water.”

From the Field: Capturing stormwater naturally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

Learn more.



Feb
25
2014

Science shows restoration work can improve local water quality

Pollution-reducing practices can improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and have already improved the health of local rivers and streams, according to new research from the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership.

In a report released today, several case studies from across the watershed show that so-called “best management practices”—including upgrading wastewater treatment technologies, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions, and reducing runoff from farmland—have lowered nutrients and sediment in local waterways. In other words, the environmental practices supported under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Farm Bill are working.

Excess nutrients and sediment have long impaired local water quality: nitrogen and phosphorous can fuel the growth of algae blooms and lead to low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life, while sediment can block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and suffocate shellfish. Best management practices used in backyards, in cities and on farms can lower the flow of these pollutants into waterways.

Data collected and analyzed by the Bay Program, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have traced a number of local improvements in air, land and water to best management practices: a drop in power plant emissions across the mid-Atlantic has led to improvements in nine Appalachian watersheds, upgrades to the District of Columbia's Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant have lowered the discharge of nutrients into the Potomac River and planting cover crops on Eastern Shore farms has lowered the amount of nutrients leaching into the earth and reduced nitrate concentrations in groundwater.

“In New Insights, we find the scientific evidence to support what we’ve said before: we are rebuilding nature’s resilience back into the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, and the watershed can and will recover when our communities support clean local waters,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release.

But scientists have also noted that while we have improved water quality, our progress can be overwhelmed by intensified agriculture and unsustainable development, and our patience can be tested by the “lag-times” that delay the full benefits of restoration work.

“This report shows that long-term efforts to reduce pollution are working, but we need to remain patient and diligent in making sure we are putting the right practices in place at the right locations in Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said UMCES President Donald Boesch in a media release. “Science has and will continue to play a critical role informing us about what is working and what still needs to be done.”

UMCES Vice President for Science Applications Bill Dennison echoed Boesch’s support for patience and persistence, but added a third P to the list: perspiration. “We’ve got to do more to maintain the health of this magnificent Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

“We’ve learned that we can fix the Bay,” Dennison continued. “We can see this progress… and it’s not going to be hopeless. In fact, it’s quite hopeful. This report makes a good case for optimism about the Chesapeake Bay.”

You can view an Executive Summary of the report here. Learn more.



Feb
10
2014

Report recommends Virginia strengthen chemical contaminant regulations

A new report from the University of Richmond School of Law calls on Virginia to better protect its residents from chemical contaminants, millions of pounds of which are released into the environment each year by industries across the state.

Image courtesy gac/Flickr

The report, authored in part by Noah M. Sachs, director of the law school’s Center for Environmental Studies, examines the sources of chemical contaminants in Virginia and concludes that the Commonwealth should expand its existing toxic chemicals program, empower the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to clean up more contaminated sites and enact legislation and permit conditions more stringent than federal standards.

According to the report, Virginia’s industries released almost 40 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, water and land in 2011. While this represents a drop in releases compared to 2010, the discharge of chemicals into rivers and streams remains significant and, in some cases, could impact in the Chesapeake Bay.

The report notes that more than 250 facilities are allowed to send toxic chemicals into Virginia waters, and the state’s tributaries rank the second worst in the nation as measured by the amount of contaminants discharged into them. While some of the worst-ranking tributaries—like the New and Roanoke Rivers or Sandy Bottom Branch—do not drain into the Bay, the James River ranks forty-fifth in the nation for total toxic discharges and ninth in the nation for the discharge of toxics that affect human development.

Contaminants on the state’s land have also had an effect on water: a number of the 31 sites listed as contaminated under the federal Superfund program involve contaminated drinking water, surface water and groundwater.

Virginia is not the sole watershed state that faces contaminated rivers and streams. According to 2012 assessments, 74 percent of the Bay’s tidal tributaries were partially or fully impaired by chemical contaminants.

In a January 2014 editorial published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sachs recommended putting toxic chemical regulation “at the forefront of Virginia’s environmental agenda.” He wrote, “Our report recommends a comprehensive program to protect Virginians, beginning with strict permitting, increased inspections, new state authority to remediate contaminated sites and more funding and personnel.”

Learn more.



Jan
10
2014

Clean Air Act improves water quality in Appalachian rivers

The reduction of power plant emissions in the mid-Atlantic has improved water quality in the Chesapeake region, according to new research from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).

Image courtesy haglundc/Flickr

Researchers at the university’s Appalachian Laboratory have traced improvements in the water quality trends of nine forested watersheds located along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains to the Clean Air Act’s Acid Rain Program. Passed in 1990, the Acid Rain Program led to a 32 percent drop in human-caused nitrogen-oxide emissions in 20 states. As these emissions have declined, so too has the amount of nitrogen found in some Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia waterways.

In other words, while the Acid Rain Program only intended to reduce the air pollution that causes acid rain, it had the unintended consequence of reducing the amount of nitrogen oxide particles landing on the region’s forests, thus improving local water quality.

“Improvements in air quality provided benefits to water quality that we were not counting on,” said UMCES President Donald Boesch in a media release.

Once nitrogen oxide particles are emitted into the air, wind and weather can carry them long distances. In time, these particles fall onto the land or into the water. Nitrogen that enters rivers and streams can fuel the growth of algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and create low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life. Scientists estimate that just over one-third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

Learn more.



Nov
25
2013

Antibiotics, hormones increasingly found in livestock and poultry manure

Growing scientific evidence shows that pathogens, antimicrobials and hormones are increasingly appearing in livestock and poultry manure across the United States, according to a literature review prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Image courtesy USDAgov/Flickr

These “contaminants of emerging concern”—so named because their risks to human health and the environment may be unknown—could pose threats to plants, animals and people if rain, spills or storage failures push contaminated manure into rivers and streams.

The flow of manure into our waterways has long been linked to nutrient pollution. According to 2010 estimates, manure accounts for 19 percent of the nitrogen and 26 percent of the phosphorous entering the Chesapeake Bay, where it fuels the growth of algae blooms and creates dead zones that suffocate marine life. But research now shows that more of the nation’s manure could contain a new class of pollutants that could have serious implications for water quality.

Manure can contain pathogens, for instance, that could infect humans if allowed to contaminate our drinking water or food crops. It can contain antibiotics and vaccines that could facilitate the development of antimicrobial resistance. And it can contain natural and artificial hormones that, even in low concentrations, could affect the reproductive health and fitness of fish, frogs and other marine life.

Indeed, good manure management has become a key conservation practice in the watershed, where four states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia—rank among the ten highest manure-generating states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As livestock and poultry production shift to larger, more concentrated operations, facilities produce more manure than can be used on the surrounding farmland. If this manure is properly applied, stored and transported, it can be kept out of rivers, streams and the Bay.

Learn more about contaminants in livestock and poultry manure.



Oct
18
2013

Chesapeake Bay dead zone measures near average in 2013

The Chesapeake Bay’s dead zone measured near average in size this past summer, coming close to scientists’ June prediction of a smaller than average hypoxic zone in the nation’s largest estuary.

Dead zones, or areas of little to no dissolved oxygen, form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die. The bacteria that aid in algae bloom decomposition suck up oxygen from the surrounding waters. The resulting hypoxic or anoxic conditions can suffocate marine life, shrinking the habitat available for fish, crabs and other critters.

Each summer, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) collect water samples to measure the hypoxic volume of the Bay. Since 1983, this number has ranged from 15.3 to 33.1 percent. In 2013, it measured 22.1 percent: 5.6 percent higher than the previous year and just above the 21.9 percent average.

According to a report from the DNR, the size of the dead zone could be due to nutrient loadings that entered the Bay during late spring and early summer rains.

Learn more.



Sep
16
2013

Court upholds Chesapeake Bay pollution diet

A federal judge ruled last week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can set pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay, upholding the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that has guided water quality restoration efforts across the region since it was issued in 2010.

The TMDL, also known as the Bay “pollution diet,” set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment allowed to run into the Bay each year. It required the seven Bay jurisdictions to write Watershed Implementation Plans, which make clear the steps that each will take to reduce pollution from urban, suburban and agricultural runoff, wastewater treatment plants and other sources. Pollution-reducing practices are being put in place across the watershed, and are expected to help combat the excess nutrients and sediment plaguing the nation’s largest estuary.

In 2011, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau—who were soon joined by the Fertilizer Institute and a number of agricultural trade associations—filed suit against the EPA, claiming the federal agency lacked the authority to issue the so-called “arbitrary” and “capricious” TMDL. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and several local and national partners intervened in the lawsuit to protect the cleanup. Pennsylvania Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo has ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove their case.

According to Rambo’s ruling, the Clean Water Act grants the EPA the authority to set pollution limits on impaired waters: “The [Clean Water Act] is an all-encompassing and comprehensive statute that envisions a strong federal role for ensuring pollution reduction… Considering the numerous complexities of regulating an interstate water body, EPA’s role is critical.”

An EPA spokesperson called the ruling “a victory for the 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

More than 47,000 TMDLs have been issued for rivers, streams and other water bodies throughout the United States, but the Bay TMDL is the largest and most complex. Learn more on the EPA’s TMDL website.



Aug
06
2013

Groups receive $400,000 to slow stormwater runoff into Bay

Seven cities and non-profit organizations are set to reduce stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, using green development to combat the fastest-growing source of pollution in the watershed.

Image courtesy Isaac Wedin/Flickr

Grant funding administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) through the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns initiative will help cities transform impervious sidewalks, streets and parking lots into green corridors that will capture and filter polluted runoff before it can flow into storm drains, rivers and streams.

A total of $400,000 will go toward green development projects in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The town of Cambridge, Md., for instance, will use $75,000 to turn a paved surface into a park, while the District will use $95,000 to install bioretention cells and treeboxes along O St. NW.

Stormwater runoff is a growing concern in urban and suburban areas, where rainfall picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses. But certain practices—including green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement—can help stormwater trickle underground rather than into the Bay.



Jul
18
2013

Experts work to improve environmental education across Bay watershed

Environmental education is essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay: students who learn about the nation’s largest estuary will become the next generation of citizen stewards. But without best practices in place for teaching students, training teachers or gauging the success of outdoor learning efforts, it can be hard to ensure watershed states are on the same stewardship track.

Last summer, a group of experts convened by the Chesapeake Bay Program discussed the best practices that can improve and assess environmental literacy, outlined in a report released this week.

The researchers and evaluators, supported by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), described the essential underpinnings of environmental education and the practices that can drive positive results, from connecting students to the places they live to fostering the belief that they can improve the natural world. 

Image courtesy Dave Harp

The Bay Program has formally supported environmental education for close to two decades. Its Education Workgroup recently published the Mid-Atlantic Elementary and Secondary Environmental Literacy Strategy, which sets forth a series of steps to reverse “nature deficit disorder” and equip students with the desire and skills needed to address environmental issues later in life.

The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and calls for the engagement of students in environmental issues like energy use, automobile emissions and urban and suburban runoff. It calls for the increased access of educators to professional development. And it calls for the movement of schools toward sustainability, whether it is a building that has a net-zero environmental impact or grounds that have a positive effect on the health of students, staff and the surrounding community.

Read more about environmental education in the literacy strategy or the STAC-supported workshop report.



Jul
08
2013

University of Maryland report card measures improvement in Chesapeake Bay health

Scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) have measured an improvement in Chesapeake Bay health, giving the estuary a “C” in its latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

Up from a “D+” in 2011, the Bay Health Index of 47 percent takes into account seven indicators of Bay health, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen; the amount of algae, nitrogen and phosphorous in the water; the abundance of underwater grasses; and the health of the benthic or bottom-dwelling community. While underwater grasses continued to decline, the rest of the indicators improved in 2012. 

Image courtesy EcoCheck/Integration and Application Network

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” said UMCES Vice President for Science Applications and Professor Bill Dennison in a media release. “We are seeing progress in our efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels. In addition, water clarity, which had been declining, has leveled out—and may even be reversing course.”

According to the report card, these improvements are due to a number of weather events. While excess rainfall can push nutrient and sediment pollution into rivers and streams, a dry summer in 2011 led to improvements in water clarity and dissolved oxygen and the favorable timing and track of Superstorm Sandy meant the storm did less damage to the Bay than some feared.

Learn more about the 2012 Chesapeake Bay Report Card.



Jun
25
2013

Online tool will help restoration partners rebuild oyster reefs

An online mapping tool is now available to help resource managers and restoration partners rebuild oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

Released this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Oyster Decision Support Tool displays a range of information relevant to oyster restoration, from historic reef boundaries and maps of the seafloor to the rate of oyster disease, death and spatfall on bars in Maryland waters.

Over the past two centuries, native oyster populations have experienced a dramatic decline as habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll. But by filtering water, forming aquatic reefs and feeding countless watershed residents, the bivalves are an essential part of the Bay’s environment and economy.

The Chesapeake Bay Executive Order set a goal of restoring oyster reefs to 20 Bay tributaries by 2025, starting with Harris Creek on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

But a new report from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) indicates that reef restoration could be more effective if paired with stronger harvest limits.

“Oysters should be able to come back if we help them out by reducing fishing pressure and improving their habitat,” said Michael Wilberg, Associate Professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, in a news release.

Dredging and tonging for oysters can damage reefs, pushing oysters onto unsuitable soft-bottom habitat or making them more vulnerable to suffocating sediment. According to the Wilberg-led study, if oysters were allowed to reproduce naturally and fishing were halted, it would take just 50 to 100 years for oyster abundance to reach as high a level as the Bay could support.

Learn more about the oyster population study.



Jun
19
2013

Scientists predict smaller than average dead zone for Chesapeake Bay

Scientists expect the Chesapeake Bay to see a smaller than average dead zone this summer, according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Dead zones, or areas of little to no dissolved oxygen, form when nutrient-fueled algae blooms die. As bacteria help these blooms decompose, they suck up oxygen from the surrounding waters. The resulting hypoxic or anoxic conditions can suffocate marine life.

The Chesapeake Bay Program tracks dissolved oxygen as an indicator of water quality and Bay health.

The latest NOAA-funded forecast from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan predicts an average summer hypoxic zone of 1.108 cubic miles, lower than last year’s mid-summer hypoxic zone of 1.45 cubic miles.

This predicted improvement should result from the lower than average nutrient loads that entered the Bay this spring. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 36,600 metric tons of nutrients entered the estuary from the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers, which is 30 percent lower than average.

Bay 101: Dissolved Oxygen from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

The Bay’s dead zones are measured at regular intervals each year by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. While the final dead zone measurement will not take place until October, DNR biologists measured better than average dissolved oxygen on its June monitoring cruise, confirming the dead zone forecast.

Learn how biologists monitor water quality or read more about the dead zone forecast for the Chesapeake Bay.



May
02
2013

Fish tumors in Anacostia River decline

Tumor rates among catfish in the Anacostia River are down, according to a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Biologists with the agency’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office have studied the brown bullhead catfish for decades as an indicator of habitat status and the success of cleanup efforts. The bottom-dwelling fish is sensitive to contaminants that accumulate in the mud in which it finds its food, often developing liver and skin tumors after exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Image courtesy USDA/Wikimedia Commons

Brown bullheads in the Anacostia River once had the highest rates of liver tumors in North America, but recent USFWS surveys show that tumors in the fish have dropped. While the rate is still higher than the Bay-wide average, this improvement could indicate that exposure to chemical contaminants is on the decline.

Liver tumors in fish are caused by exposure to sediment that is contaminated with polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs can be found in coal, oil and gasoline, and enter rivers and streams from stormwater runoff, waste sites and the atmosphere.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) have coordinated a number of recent cleanup efforts to lower PAH contamination in the watershed, from improved stormwater management and more frequent street sweeping to the targeted inspection of local automobile repair shops to lower loadings of oil and grease.

Read more about Tumors in Brown Bullhead Catfish in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.



Apr
10
2013

Half of nation’s rivers and streams are in poor health

More than half of the nation’s river and stream miles are in poor health, according to a new study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The latest National Rivers and Streams Assessment, a sampling effort conducted during the summers of 2008 and 2009, found that 55 percent of the nation’s rivers and streams are in poor condition and 23 percent are in fair condition, their health impaired by nutrient pollution, a loss of streamside vegetation and bacterial and chemical contaminants. 

These same stressors have impacted the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters. Excess nutrients can fuel the growth of algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water, creating “dead zones” within which animals cannot survive. A loss of streamside vegetation can boost erosion and push sand, soil and sediment into waterways, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and smothering the habitat that some aquatic organisms need to live or breed. And chemical contaminants—like, for instance, mercury—can accumulate in the tissues of fish, leading to fish consumption advisories in polluted waterways.

But rivers and streams are critical to the health of humans and wildlife alike, as sources of drinking water, food and habitat. According to the EPA, this survey suggests the need to better address pollution at its source, whether it is urban, suburban or agricultural runoff or the treatment of wastewater.

Learn what you can do to further Bay restoration, and read more about the National Rivers and Streams Assessment.



Mar
28
2013

Federal agencies outline progress toward Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The federal agencies leading the watershed-wide effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay have released a progress report highlighting the work that was completed last year.

Federal agencies and state and local partners have added 20 new monitoring stations to the Bay and its tributaries, expanding their ability to track changes in water quality and pollution. They have established conservation practices across Bay farms and forests, installing streamside fencing to keep livestock out of waterways and planting cover crops to reduce the need for nutrient-laden fertilizers. And they have planted close to 100 acres of oyster reefs in a Maryland tributary and opened more than 30 miles of Virginia and Pennsylvania streams to eels, shad and other diadromous fish, restoring habitat for some of the watershed’s most critical critters.

But much remains to be done, and the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay has outlined future work in a 2013 action plan.

“EPA and our other federal partners are pleased to report the tangible progress we’ve made over the past year, which will inform, guide and accelerate our collective actions going forward,” said EPA’s Nick DiPasquale, Chesapeake Bay Program Director.  “The federal agencies and our partner jurisdictions are accountable to the citizens living near the local rivers and streams that also stand to benefit from this critical restoration work.  Through our commitments, the prospects for increased momentum and improvements to the Bay’s health should be encouraging to everyone.

Learn more about the 2012 progress report and 2013 action plan on the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website.



Jan
22
2013

Chemical contaminants persist across Chesapeake Bay watershed

Chemical contaminants continue to afflict the Chesapeake Bay watershed, raising concern over water quality and the health of fish, wildlife and watershed residents.

Close to three-quarters of the Bay’s tidal waters are considered impaired by chemical contaminants, from the pesticides applied to farmland and lawns to repel weeds and insects to the household and personal-care products that enter the environment through our landfills and wastewater. But so-called “PCBs” and mercury are particularly problematic in the region, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Both PCBs—short for “polychlorinated biphenyls”—and mercury are considered “widespread” in extent and severity, concentrating in sediment and in fish tissue and leading to fish-consumption advisories in a number of rivers and streams.

The District of Columbia, for instance, has issued such advisories for all of its water bodies, asking the public not to consume catfish, carp or eels, which are bottom-feeding fish that can accumulate chemicals in their bodies. While the District’s Anacostia and Potomac rivers raise the greatest concern in the watershed when it comes to fish tissue contamination, a November report confirmed that many Anacostia anglers are sharing and consuming potentially contaminated fish, sparking interest in reshaping public outreach to better address clean water, food security and human health in the area.

While PCBs have not been produced in the United States since a 1977 ban, the chemicals continue to enter the environment through accidental leaks, improper disposal and “legacy deposits”; mercury can find its way into the atmosphere through coal combustion, waste incineration and metal processing.

Exposure to both of these contaminants can affect the survival, growth and reproduction of fish and wildlife.

The Chesapeake Bay Program will use this report to consider whether reducing the input of toxic contaminants to the Bay should be one of its new goals.

Read more about the extent and severity of toxic contaminants in the Bay and its watershed.



Dec
31
2012

Timing and track curbed Sandy’s impact on Chesapeake Bay

A recent assessment of Superstorm Sandy shows the hurricane did less damage to the Chesapeake Bay than some feared, thanks in large part to its timing and track.

According to a University of Maryland report, the late-October hurricane whose path traveled north of the Bay had “ephemeral” impacts on Bay water quality—especially when compared to past storms.

The summertime arrival of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, for instance, coincided with a critical growing period for oysters, crabs and underwater grasses, and had a damaging effect on all three. But because Sandy arrived in the fall, the nutrients and sediment that it sent into the Bay were unable to fuel harmful algae blooms or damage the underwater grasses that had already begun to die back for the season. And while Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 brought heavy rainfall and a large plume of sediment to the Susquehanna River, the bulk of Sandy’s rainfall was concentrated elsewhere, meaning minimal scouring of sediment from behind the Conowingo Dam and “virtually no sediment plume” in the Upper Bay.

These findings echo those released in November by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Read more about the ecological impacts of Sandy on the Chesapeake Bay.



Dec
19
2012

Federal agencies outline planned actions for Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The federal agencies leading the watershed-wide endeavor to restore the Chesapeake Bay have outlined next year’s cleanup and restoration efforts in a 2013 action plan.

The work that the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay has set out for fiscal year 2013 will build on established projects and begin new initiatives to restore clean water, recover habitat, sustain fish and wildlife, and boost land conservation and public access across the watershed. Supporting efforts will also expand citizen stewardship, respond to climate change and strengthen science.

The 2013 action plan includes a list of tangible efforts that federal agencies and state and local partners have pledged to undertake, from monitoring the return of migratory fish to streams in which passage barriers have been removed to helping landowners implement conservation practices on farms and in forests.

The action plan is meant to meet the goals set forth in the federal Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Bay, which in 2009 called for the restoration and protection of the watershed. Close to half a billion dollars has been requested for the work outlined in the plan; the plan will be followed this spring with a progress report.

Learn more about the action plan on the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website.



Nov
15
2012

Federal agencies seek feedback on 2013 action plan for Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The federal agencies leading the watershed-wide endeavor to restore the Chesapeake Bay are seeking feedback on a draft action plan that outlines next year’s cleanup efforts.

From increasing public access to the Bay and its rivers to boosting conservation practices on farms and private lands, the action plan is meant to meet the goals set forth in the federal Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Bay, which in 2009 called for the restoration and protection of the watershed.

Some of the proposed restoration plans are extensions of established projects, while others are new initiatives.

The action plan is open for public comment through November 27. Comments can be submitted through an online feedback form.

Learn more about the action plan on the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website.



Oct
23
2012

EPA launches mobile website to help users determine health of local waterways

A paddler, a swimmer or a hiker itching to cool his tired toes can stand at the edge of a stream and judge the water. Is it clear? Is it clean? Are there critters at hand? But he won’t find an answer to his most basic question: How healthy is my waterway?

Enter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In celebration of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has launched a new website to help users learn more about the health of their local rivers, streams and lakes.

Using information gathered from state water quality monitoring reports, the smart phone and tablet-friendly site reveals where pollution has been reported and what is being done to reduce it.

Users can engage a smart phone’s GPS to list waters within a five-mile radius or enter a zip code or place name into a search box to check on locations throughout the United States.

A few quick searches for rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed show polluted and unpolluted waters. Happy Creek in Front Royal, Va., was deemed polluted in 2008, harboring disease-causing bacteria and other microbes. But West Virginia’s Seneca Creek was assessed as unpolluted in 2010. Other waters remain “unassessed” or untested due to shortages in staff and funding.

The website’s simple descriptions and ultra-local perspective are meant to make science more accessible, understandable and relevant.

Learn more about How’s My Waterway.



Sep
26
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Irvine Nature Center (Baltimore County, Md.)

Tree stumps to step over and drum circles to join. Slate easels to draw on and animals to meet. Hollow logs to climb through and dirt to dig in.

What kid wouldn’t love it here?

Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

The Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Md., has joined a growing list of nature-inspired organizations that encourage kids to explore, respect and protect the environment. Thanks to a growing body of research that supports the benefits of unstructured play and child-nature interaction, places like the Irvine Center—with its trails, garden and outdoor classroom—are popping up all over, getting kids to play in fields and forests instead of on plastic and asphalt.

The idea? When given the chance to roam and run in natural places, kids will learn about and come to love the outdoors, becoming curious environmentalists and new stewards of our watershed.

Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook

The Irvine Center’s exhibit hall, green building and 116 acres of woods and meadows are open to the public; the Irvine Center’s outdoor classroom is open to members and to those who participate in the organization’s programs.

More from Irvine:

  • Use this leaf hunt or PumpkinFest as your first excuse to visit Irvine! And check out the center’s calendar of events for more family-friendly programs.
  • Schedule an overnight campout at Irvine. Your friends and family will love the chance to take in the great outdoors in Baltimore County’s beautiful Caves Valley.
  • Know a teacher itching to bring nature into the classroom? Irvine staff—and their animals!—lead student programs in area schools and offer instruction to teachers on how to integrate environmental education into their lesson plans.
  • Adults love nature, too! Look into Irvine’s continuing education courses, which offer adults the chance to learn about ecology and environmental education.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Sep
25
2012

University of Maryland receives federal grant to curb stormwater runoff into Chesapeake Bay

The University of Maryland has received close to $700,000 in federal funding to help communities reduce stormwater runoff.

Using a software program to pinpoint pollution hot spots and an innovative brand of social marketing to boost citizen engagement, the university will embark on a multi-year project to increase the adoption of conservation practices in two watershed communities: the Wilde Lake watershed in Howard County, Md., and the Watts Branch watershed in Washington, D.C., whose waters flow into the Patuxent and Anacostia rivers, respectively. 

Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. Best management practices can reduce the flow of stormwater into creeks, streams and rivers, from the green roofs that trap and filter stormwater to the permeable pavement that allows stormwater to trickle underground rather than rush into storm drains.

But best management practices cannot work without the citizens who put them into action. 

"We need to work with communities, rather than take a top-down approach [to stormwater management]," said project lead and assistant professor Paul Leisnham. "For the long-term successful implementation of these practices ... we need communities to be involved."

The university has partnered with local schools, religious organizations and grassroots associations (among them the Maryland Sea Grant, the Anacostia Watershed Society and Groundwork Anacostia) in hopes of breaking down barriers to the adoption of best management practices and increasing community involvement—and thus, investment—in local, long-term environmental conservation. 

From left, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, University of Maryland assistant professor Paul Leisnham and U.S. EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn M. Garvin

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin commended the project at a Bladensburg Waterfront Park event as a creative and results-driven way to reduce stormwater runoff. 

"It's going to allow us to make a difference in our [local] watershed, which will make a difference in the Chesapeake Bay," Cardin said.

The funding, which totaled $691,674, was awarded through the Sustainable Chesapeake Grant program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.



Jun
01
2012

EPA releases evaluations of states’ final Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its evaluations of the final Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The evaluations are available online at the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website.

Each state and the District of Columbia developed its own cleanup plan, in collaboration with local governments and conservation districts. The plans outline steps each jurisdiction will take toward restoring the thousands of streams and rivers that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“The Phase II WIPs represent a transition from planning to implementing the necessary practices at the local level,” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin.

Through the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership, state and federal officials have committed to having all of the needed pollution control measures in place to fully restore the Bay no later than 2025.



Apr
17
2012

Chesapeake Bay health receives D+ on 2011 report card

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).

report card scores

(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.



Apr
04
2012

States, D.C. submit final Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans to federal government

Six of the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions – Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – have submitted their final cleanup plans as part of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a “pollution diet” that aims to put in place all restoration measures needed for a clean Bay by 2025.

The final cleanup plans, officially known as Phase 2 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), were submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last Friday. New York submitted its draft plan, and is working with the EPA to finalize that plan.

The cleanup plans were developed by each individual state and the District, working closely with counties, municipalities and other local partners. The cleanup plans identify specific restoration measures each jurisdiction will take to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Bay and its local rivers.

According to the guidelines set in the TMDL, at least 60 percent of necessary pollution reductions must be achieved by 2017. Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to putting all needed pollution control measures in place no later than 2025.

Visit the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website to review and learn more about the cleanup plans.



Mar
30
2012

Federal agencies release progress report, action plan for Chesapeake Bay restoration

Seven federal agencies involved in Chesapeake Bay restoration have released a progress report and action plan that detail achievements and initiatives toward the goals outlined in the federal Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

The federal government releases a progress report and action plan each year as part of the strategy, which was developed in response to President Obama’s May 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order.

The fiscal year 2011 progress report details the steps federal agencies took toward achieving strategy goals. Although much of the year focused on setting a “road map” for the future, federal agencies also collaborated to eliminate duplication of efforts, enable best use of resources, and bring each agency’s unique skills to restoration projects.

The fiscal year 2012 action plan includes a list of tangible efforts federal agencies will tackle to improve the Bay’s health. Some of these initiatives are continuations of projects stared the previous year, whereas others are new initiatives that build on the past.

The seven federal agencies included in these reports are the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation.

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website to read the progress report and action plan.



Mar
27
2012

Water quality report shows majority of Virginia’s streams and rivers unhealthy

Virginia added approximately 840 miles of streams and 2 square miles of estuaries to its list of impaired waters in 2012, according to the state’s latest water quality report, released by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Virginia must develop more than 1,000 cleanup plans to restore the health of these and other polluted waterways.

About 260 miles of streams were removed from the list after achieving water quality standards, while another 230 stream miles were partially delisted.

In total, about 13,140 miles of streams and 2,130 square miles of estuaries are listed as “impaired,” which means they do not support aquatic life, fish and shellfish consumption, swimming, wildlife and/or public water supplies. Approximately 5,350 miles of streams and 140 square miles of estuaries are considered in good health.

Every two years, Virginia monitors about one-third of its watersheds on a rotating basis. The state completes a full monitoring cycle every six years. Since 2002, Virginia DEQ has assessed 98 percent of the state’s watersheds.

The full water quality report is available on Virginia DEQ’s website. The public is invited to comment on the report until April 27. Virginia DEQ will host a webinar summarizing the report’s results on April 9 from 10 to noon.



Mar
13
2012

EPA to provide $4 million in grants to local governments for pollution-reducing “green infrastructure” projects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will provide $4 million in grants to local governments to help reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

vegetated bioswale in a parking lot

The Local Government Green Infrastructure Initiative will create grants of up to $750,000 to support local governments as they implement the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a “pollution diet” that sets limits on the amount of harmful nutrients and sediment that can enter the Bay.

The grants will support the design and implementation of projects that use green infrastructure – such as road maintenance programs and flood plain management – to produce measureable improvements in the health of local waterways. Through the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee, local government representatives can share best practices and evolving strategies to achieve water quality goals.

The EPA will select localities that represent the diverse characteristics of local governments throughout the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed, including rural counties, predominantly agricultural communities, rapidly growing suburban localities, small cities and major urban municipalities.

NFWF will administer the grants through its Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund. Since 2000, the fund has provided $68.9 million in grants for more than 700 projects throughout the Bay watershed.

For more information about this and other grant opportunities, visit NFWF’s website.



Feb
17
2012

States, D.C. generally on track to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, according to EPA

Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia are generally on track to meet pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers by 2025, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) evaluations of the jurisdictions' cleanup plans.

The six Bay states and the District of Columbia recently submitted their Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and their 2012-2013 pollution reduction milestones. These plans lay out how each jurisdiction will meet pollution reduction goals set by the EPA in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

Overall, the jurisdictions built considerably upon their Phase I plans, according to the EPA. The Phase II plans provide more specific cleanup strategies and detail restoration actions on a local level.

EPA evaluations and feedback on each jurisdiction’s cleanup plan are available on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL website. The EPA is still reviewing New York’s plan, which was submitted after the deadline.

The EPA will continue to work with the jurisdictions between now and March 30, when the final Phase II WIPs are due.



Feb
08
2012

More than $400,000 available to cities and towns through Green Streets grants

The Chesapeake Bay Trust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Maryland will award more than $400,000 to cities and towns throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through the newly expanded Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant initiative.

The Green Streets grants will help communities that want to accelerate greening efforts to improve livability, economic vitality, and protection of local waterways and natural areas. Projects selected will improve watershed protection and stormwater management through low-impact development practices, renewable energy use and green job creation.

“Green streets and green infrastructure are investments that create jobs and save money while also providing multiple environmental and quality of life benefits,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said.

Grant assistance of up to $35,000 is available for infrastructure project planning and design. Grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded for implementation and construction.

Last year, 10 cities and towns in Maryland were awarded grants to fund the planning and design of green infrastructure projects. This year, the program is providing double the overall funding.

The Green Streets grant program is open to local governments and non-profit organizations in urban and suburban areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

For more information about the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website. The deadline to submit proposals is March 9, 2012.



Jan
04
2012

$19 million in grants to reduce nutrient pollution from Md. wastewater treatment facilities to Chesapeake Bay

Maryland will provide more than $19 million in grants to reduce nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers by upgrading technology at four wastewater treatment plants in the state. Upgrading wastewater treatment facilities to remove more nitrogen and phosphorus from treated sewage is a critical part of meeting Bay cleanup goals.

The four facilities that will be upgraded are:

  • Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (Baltimore City) will receive $15 million to plan and design Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) and Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) facilities. After the upgrades, the facility will reduce its nitrogen discharge to the Back River by 67 percent.
  • Maryland City Water Reclamation Facility (Anne Arundel County) will receive $2.973 million to plan, design and construct ENR facilities. After the upgrades, the facility will reduce its nitrogen discharge to the upper Patuxent River by 62.5 percent and its phosphorus discharge by 70 percent.
  • Westminster Wastewater Treatment Plant (Carroll County) will receive $1 million to plan, design and construct ENR facilities. After the upgrades, the facility will reduce its nitrogen discharge to the upper Potomac River by 62.5 percent and its phosphorus discharge by 85 percent.
  • Gas House Pike Wastewater Treatment Plant (Frederick County) will receive $758,000 to design and construct BNR refinements and an ENR upgrade. After the upgrades, the facility will reduce its nitrogen discharge to the Monocacy River by 67 percent and its phosphorus discharge by 85 percent.

Biological nutrient removal (BNR) uses microorganisms to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater during treatment. Wastewater treated at facilities using BNR contains less than 8 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of nitrogen. Enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) improves upon the nutrient reductions achieved through BNR. Wastewater treated at facilities using ENR contains 3 mg/l of nitrogen and 0.3 mg/l of phosphorus.

Funding for the upgrades comes from Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund – also known as the “Flush Fee.” To learn more about wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Maryland, visit the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website.



Nov
07
2011

Study shows pollution reduction efforts helping improve Chesapeake Bay health

A new study analyzing 60 years of water quality data shows that efforts to reduce pollution from fertilizer, animal waste and other sources appear to be helping the Chesapeake Bay’s health improve.

The study, published in the Nov. 2011 issue of Estuaries and Coasts, was conducted by researchers from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).

The research team found that the size of mid- to late-summer low oxygen areas, called “dead zones,” leveled off in the Bay’s deep channels during the 1980s and has been declining ever since. This is the same time that the Bay Program formed and federal and state agencies set the Bay’s first numeric pollution reduction goals.

“This study shows that our regional efforts to limit nutrient pollution may be producing results,” said Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Continuing nutrient reduction remains critically important for achieving bay restoration goals.”

The study also found that the duration of the dead zone – how long it persists each summer – is closely linked to the amount of nutrient pollution entering the Bay each year.

For more information about the dead zone study, visit UMCES’s website.



Oct
11
2011

New standards for Washington, D.C., redevelopment will reduce polluted runoff to Anacostia, Potomac rivers and Chesapeake Bay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved new standards to control polluted stormwater runoff from roads, buildings and other developed areas in Washington, D.C.

Green roof

The District’s renewed municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit requires that redevelopment projects in the city install runoff-reducing practices to slow the flow of polluted stormwater to the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The required practices include:

  • Requiring a minimum of 350,000 square feet of green roofs on properties across the city
  • Planting at least 4,150 trees each year and developing a green landscaping incentives program
  • Retaining 1.2 inches of stormwater on site from a 24-hour storm for all development projects of at least 5,000 square feet
  • Developing a stormwater retrofit strategy and implementing retrofits over 18 million square feet of drainage areas
  • Developing consolidated implementation plans for restoring the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, Rock Creek and the Chesapeake Bay
  • Preventing more than 103,000 pounds of trash from being discharged to the Anacostia River each year

Roads, rooftops, parking lots and other hard surfaces channel stormwater directly into local rivers and streams, carrying pollution and eroding streambanks. The renewed permit will help the District in meeting its Bay pollution reduction goals and Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

Visit the EPA’s website to learn more about the new stormwater permit and standards.



Oct
06
2011

What did 2011 weather conditions mean for the Chesapeake Bay?

Hurricanes, earthquakes, a freezing cold winter and a blistering hot summer – 2011 has been an interesting year for weather in the Chesapeake Bay region. Scientists with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have written some preliminary thoughts about the bizarre weather and its link to conditions in the Bay in a post on SERC’s blog, Shorelines.

Flooded river after Tropical Storm Lee (Image courtesy Iris Goldstein/Flickr)

While SERC tends to focus on the long-term picture rather than brief snapshots, this year has prompted more than a few raised eyebrows among our scientists. What does it mean for the environment? What does it mean for Chesapeake Bay? And can any of it be linked to climate change?

Visit SERC’s blog to read more about the link between 2011 weather and the Chesapeake Bay.

Image courtesy Iris Goldstein/Flickr



Sep
12
2011

Study recommends moratorium on commercial oyster harvest in Maryland

A new study by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recommends that Maryland place a moratorium on commercial oyster harvest from the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the study, Maryland’s oyster population is only 0.3 percent of what it was at its peak in the late 1800s. The population decline is due to a number of factors, including disease, pollution and overfishing.

Read the full study or learn more about its conclusions in this article from the Baltimore Sun.



Jul
11
2011

Chesapeake Executive Council discusses Bay restoration progress, re-elects Lisa Jackson as chair at annual meeting

The Chesapeake Executive Council announced progress toward Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestones, discussed plans for meeting requirements of the Bay “pollution diet,” and encouraged individual Bay stewardship at its annual meeting on July 11 in Richmond, Virginia.

Executive Council members in attendance included U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and Executive Council Chair Lisa Jackson; Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell; Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett; District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray; Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair Sen. Michael Brubaker; U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan; and representatives from Delaware, New York and West Virginia.

Chesapeake Bay Program partners are currently working toward short-term pollution reduction goals called milestones. All seven Bay jurisdictions are currently on-track or ahead of schedule in meeting these milestones. The deadline for the current set of two-year milestones is December 31, 2011.

Executive Council members also talked about their watershed implementation plans (WIPs), local restoration plans that show how each jurisdiction will meet pollution reductions required by the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. The jurisdictions are now in the second phase of developing their draft plans, which are due at the end of 2011.

Additionally, the Bay Program’s three advisory committees – Citizens, Local Government, and Scientific and Technical – presented to the Executive Council about Bay restoration activities from their unique areas of expertise.

The 2011 Executive Council meeting was held at the Maymont Foundation, located on the James River in Richmond. Executive Council members spent part of the afternoon touring exhibits on topics such as native plants, Bay-friendly lawn care, and soil health and testing. The location was chosen to highlight the meeting’s “Get Grounded in Tour Watershed” theme, which stresses the importance of connecting people with their local waterways. Through its Nature Center and educational programs, Maymont offers local residents a place to learn about and connect with Virginia’s environment.

"The focus of our discussions today was on empowering every citizen in the Bay watershed to be part of restoring these important waters,” said Jackson. “The actions of federal, state and local governments are just the beginning of revitalizing the Bay. We are also counting on the partnership of millions of people who live in this region to join in protecting the waters that support their health, their environment and their economy."

The Executive Council sets the policy agenda for the Chesapeake Bay Program. Visit our Chesapeake Executive Council page for more information.



Jun
24
2011

Federal government pledges to revitalize Anacostia, Patapsco rivers through new partnership

Eleven federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, have joined together in a new initiative to revitalize the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership will focus on the two Chesapeake Bay region rivers, as well as five other waterways throughout the United States, as pilot locations for the new initiative. The partnership’s goal is to help underserved communities access and benefit from their local waterways.

Urban waterways like the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers provide local residents with drinking water and opportunities for fishing, boating and swimming. Cleaning up and restoring these rivers is essential to protecting human health, improving quality of life, and connecting people to their local natural areas.

For more information, visit www.urbanwaters.gov.



Jun
14
2011

Scientists predict moderate to poor oxygen levels in Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is expected to have moderate to poor dissolved oxygen conditions during the early part of the summer, according to a team of scientists with Chesapeake Eco-Check.

The early summer dissolved oxygen forecast (called an “anoxia forecast”) is based on nitrogen loads to the Bay during winter and spring, as well as high river flow in May due to heavy rainfall. According to scientists, the Bay’s 2011 low-oxygen area – commonly called the “dead zone” – could be the fourth-largest since 1985.

The annual summer ecological forecast uses data such as nitrogen loads, wind direction and sea level to predict dissolved oxygen levels in the Bay’s mainstem. The forecast is split into early summer (June to mid-July) and late summer (mid-July to September) because scientists have observed a significant change in oxygen levels following early summer wind events.

The forecast is supported through research at the Chesapeake Bay Program, Johns Hopkins University, Old Dominion University, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Lab.

For more information about the dissolved oxygen forecast, visit Chesapeake Eco-Check’s website.



Jun
07
2011

Virginia developing "no-discharge zones" on Northern Neck to reduce pollution from boat sewage

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is seeking federal designation of several Northern Neck creeks and rivers as “no-discharge zones,” which would prohibit overboard dumping of treated or untreated sewage to reduce bacteria contamination in local waterways.

No-discharge zones promote the use of pump-out facilities and dump stations to safely dispose of sewage from boats. The certification of marine sanitation devices, which treat and/or hold sewage on vessels, is targeted to meet fishing and swimming standards in local rivers.

Shellfish harvest restrictions due to fecal bacterial contamination are common throughout Virginia’s tidal Chesapeake Bay tributaries. This contamination has been linked to a variety of sources, including failing septic systems and sewage discharge from boats.

DEQ is proposing no-discharge zones for select water bodies in Richmond, Lancaster, Northumberland and Westmoreland counties. The four-county proposal will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review by July.

Virginia already has no-discharge zones in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, and in Broad Creek, Jackson Creek and Fishing Bay in Middlesex County. In the Lynnhaven River, one marina reported that pump-outs nearly doubled when the tributary was designated as a no-discharge zone. Fewer boat sewage discharges combined with other pollution-reduction measures led to the re-opening of 1,462 acres of condemned shellfish growing areas to commercial harvest.

DEQ and the Northern Neck Planning District Commission will host a public meeting on June 14 to summarize the no-discharge zone application. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the A.T. Johnson Alumni Museum in Montross. DEQ will accept public comments on the application June 15 through July 15, 2011.

Visit DEQ’s website to learn more about Virginia’s “no-discharge zone” program.



May
19
2011

Meet Jeff Corbin, the new "Chesapeake Bay Czar"

EPA Senior Adviser for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River Jeff Corbin discusses the challenge and importance of Chesapeake Bay restoration in our latest feature.

I have recently been given the opportunity by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to serve as her senior advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. I am both honored and humbled to serve in this role (as well as over-whelmed and sleep-deprived).

On my second day in my new position, I found myself in a late evening meeting with the EPA deputy administrator discussing urgent Chesapeake Bay issues. On his conference table was a report he recently received and on the cover was an aerial view of the Hoover Dam. If you’ve never seen what the Hoover Dam looks like from above, I can assure you that it is awe-inspiring. To think that we humans could build such a massive structure, divert enormous natural forces, and do it in the midst of the Great Depression, got me thinking - if we can build a Hoover Dam, surely we can restore the Chesapeake Bay and rivers that feed it.

I do not make that conclusive statement lightly. Full restoration of all of the Bay region’s waters will not be easy, cheap, or without stumbles and obstacles. So then why do I say we can do it? Because not a single person I have encountered in my 14 years of restoration work has said we shouldn’t restore the health of the Bay and its rivers. And I mean not a single person. Not an elected official, not a wastewater treatment facility operator, not a homebuilder, not a farmer – no one. And that gives me great hope.

This is not to say that various interests don’t have concerns about the timeframe for restoration, or funding concerns, or how the pollution reduction responsibilities were divvied up. But they all acknowledge that we need to figure out a way to get the job done.  And we will. Through the states’ newly developed watershed implementation plans and the federal government’s recent Chesapeake Bay Executive Order Action Plan, we have the vision and the strategies to see this restoration effort through.

Interestingly, many of the people who sent me congratulatory notes after hearing about my new position also expressed their condolences. I realize that they did so jokingly, but it really made me wonder why so many people would make that comment.

Is it because the Bay partnership’s restoration efforts are under scrutiny? If so, why would we discourage scrutiny? We are committed to restoring a national treasure and investing significant federal, state and local revenues to do so – we should be scrutinized. But after the scrutiny, let’s come together and get on with our restoration work.

Is it because of the sizable projected costs? We’ve always known those costs existed – they’ve been spelled out in detail in the various “tributary strategies” developed a decade ago by the Bay jurisdictions, in reports prepared by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel in 2004. If we are now questioning whether the costs are sustainable, then were we ever really “committed” to meeting our previous “commitments?”

Or is it because of the sometimes seemingly insurmountable political divide that exists in Washington? If that is the case, I remind everyone of the following quote: “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense.” Who said that? President Reagan, in his 1984 State of the Union Address. He then announced a sizable budget increase for the U.S. EPA – specifically for the purpose of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

I ask that we stop thinking of the expenses of a clean Bay as “costs” and start treating them for what they really are: investments. Investments in clean water that will generate considerable economic gain for the region.

I ask that we redouble our efforts and commitment to do what it will take to fully restore the health of our rivers. Clean the rivers and the Bay will take care of itself. I am referring to the collective “we” – EPA and other federal agencies, Bay region states, districts and local governments, numerous stakeholder interests, and millions of Bay watershed residents.

In 1961, President Kennedy didn't say to the American people, "Let's try really hard to put a man on the moon"; rather, he committed the nation to do so by the end of the decade. If you go back and read the various Bay Agreements that have been adopted since 1983, the word “commitment” is used extensively.

So if we are serious when we say that the Chesapeake Bay is a “national treasure,” and we wish to honor our past commitments, then let’s gather the strength, will and resources to achieve the Bay equivalent of landing a man on the moon – or maybe something easier, like building a Hoover Dam.

We can do this – and the world is watching us.

Jeff Corbin's avatar
About Jeff Corbin - Jeff is Senior Advisor to the EPA Administrator for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. In that role Jeff helps coordinate all aspects of the agency’s Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts and serves as the chief liaison among the Office of the Administrator; federal, state and local government partners; and community and nonprofit stakeholders.



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