“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
This quote is often used to characterize the efforts of individuals working for small organizations who get great things done. As I’ve traveled throughout the watershed over the past four years, I’ve repeatedly witnessed the remarkable work of these local organizations. Just recently, I attended a kick-off event for the fourth revision of the Elizabeth River Project’s Watershed Action Plan. More than 70 people attended, representing the major stakeholder groups in the Elizabeth River watershed: community representatives; local, state and federal government officials; business leaders; teachers and university faculty; and members of environmental organizations—a true collaboration.
The Elizabeth River flows between the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake as it makes it way to the Chesapeake Bay. Once one of the most heavily polluted water bodies in the region, the area has faced significant environmental challenges. Money Point, along the Southern Branch of the river, was once a 35-acre “dead zone” contaminated by creosote, a chemical used as wood preservative. Most would find the thought of taking on these environmental challenges more than a little daunting. But in 1991, four local citizens outlined a vision for creating an organization to do just that, establishing the Elizabeth River Project just two years later.
The Elizabeth River Project released its first Watershed Action Plan in 1996, updating it every six years. The 2008 Plan established a set of guiding principles: build strong partnerships through collaboration, incorporate environmental education into every action, plan proactively to reduce impacts from sea level rise, monitor progress using indicators tracked against a baseline and promote environmental justice for all stakeholders. With each revision to the Watershed Action Plan, the goals have grown to be quite ambitious. In their current work on a fourth update to the Plan, the group’s determination only continues to grow.
In 2014, the Elizabeth River Project issued a State of the River report assessing the health of each of the five major branches. By any measure, the success of the past 20 years in meeting the ambitious goals they set for themselves is, in a word, incredible. On the notorious Southern Branch, including Money Point, more than 36 million pounds of contaminated sediment have already been removed, with further improvements underway. The number of fish species observed in the area has increased from four to 26, and the rate of cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions in the mummichog, an indicator species, has dropped from above 40 percent to almost background levels.
Several programs run by the Elizabeth River Project work to increase awareness among various segments of society and to reward citizens who take positive steps to improve their environment. Their River Star Program highlights homes, schools and businesses that take simple steps to protect the Elizabeth River. With the help of donors and other supporters, they developed the Learning Barge, a solar- and wind-powered barge equipped with living wetlands, an enclosed classroom, composting toilets and a rainwater filtration system. More than 50,000 people—including 20,000 K-12 students—have been educated on the barge, which is moved from location to location by tug operators that volunteer their time and equipment. Restoration work by the Elizabeth River Project and its partners led to the opening of Paradise Creek Nature Park—40 acres of land along Paradise Creek, a tributary of the Southern Branch—in 2013.
While the Elizabeth River Project and its partners have accomplished amazing things in a relatively short period of time, they continue to look ahead at the work still left to do. On March 23, they held a kick-off meeting to once again revise and update their Watershed Action Plan—the first of four meetings that will culminate with a plan that guides the collaborative efforts of the organization and its partners for the next six years. Just as I have no doubt they will set their aim high when establishing their goals for the years to come, I also have no doubt they will achieve those goals in large measure. The Elizabeth River Project and its partners have never been intimidated by the magnitude or complexity of the challenge. It’s their river, and they are reclaiming it. They serve as an inspiration to all of us.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
Nobody enjoys paying taxes or fees to the government. Whether or not you believe in “big government,” April 15th is no one’s favorite day of the year. But it’s important to remember that when we put money into local governments, we benefit from what good government offers. It’s easy to feel more positive about paying a fee when you know the money is being put to good use.
Three Maryland towns – Berlin, Oxford and Salisbury – recently decided to be examples of what I’d call responsible, Bay-friendly government when each of them voluntarily established its own stormwater utility. A stormwater utility operates in a similar way to an electric or water utility; it generates funds by charging a fee for service and uses those funds to improve the community’s quality of life by updating sewer systems, addressing flooding issues, reducing polluted runoff in local waters and better planning for the impacts of climate change. These programs were not requirements from the state or federal government; rather, residents felt it was necessary and appropriate to create a funding source to deal with the problems facing their communities.
In January 2013, the town of Berlin passed legislation to reduce flooding and clean up local rivers and streams. The fees established by this legislation will generate almost $600,000 annually to improve stormwater management, repair existing infrastructure and reduce chronic flooding. Over time, this stormwater utility will save the town money by avoiding damage to the city’s infrastructure and reducing the impacts of flooding on local businesses.
In 2012, the town of Oxford – working with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Finance Center and other partners – conducted an assessment of the town’s existing stormwater conditions. The recommendations of the assessment included the creation of a stormwater utility. Over the years, residents of Oxford have seen more areas flood on a more frequent basis and felt they had to find a solution. Town Manager Cheryl Lewis believes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will give flood insurance discounts to communities that take action to address stormwater issues themselves.
Salisbury recently became the latest Maryland town to voluntarily establish a stormwater utility through a unanimous decision by its city council. But these programs aren’t exclusive to Maryland – across the Chesapeake Bay region, local governments have taken charge to help protect their local waters. From Washington, D.C., to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Lynchburg, Virginia, cities large and small have not only established stormwater utilities but have also implemented stormwater credit programs to reward homeowners who install rain gardens, pervious pavement, green roofs and other methods of reducing the amount of runoff from their property.
In many of these cases, these programs are dealing not simply with nuisance flooding, but with chronic flooding that disrupts business and results in lost income. While some opponents of the stormwater utility approach refer to the fees as a “rain tax,” supporters see it as a way to protect local waterways and drinking water sources from polluted stormwater runoff.
It’s encouraging to see groups rise above the rhetoric, recognize there is a problem, and take positive action and responsibility to address it, instead of waiting to be forced to make a change. These issues affect their community, their homes and their businesses, and they are taking charge.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
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.
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.
That’s the question 15 groups from the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia answered for their local political leaders through the Chesapeake Bay Program’s first-ever Local Action Video Showcase this spring. The videos showed citizens across the watershed working to do their part to restore the Bay. From river cleanups and rain garden plantings to best management practices and living shorelines, all of these groups are pitching in to help protect the Bay and their local rivers.
The groups’ projects were showcased at the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting on June 3 in Baltimore. The Local Action Video Showcase was an opportunity for local groups to show the Executive Council their conservation and restoration work and reinforce the idea that the watershed’s 17 million residents really can make a difference in the Bay restoration effort.
Local Action Video Showcase from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.
One group from Baltimore, the Herring Run Watershed Association, showed off their LEED Gold certified building, which employs composting toilets and various recycled building materials. The group aims to educate the public not only about the effects they have on their local waterways, but on the Chesapeake Bay as a whole.
Evergreen Elementary School in Leonardtown, Md., also showcased their green building, which has a green roof, rainwater cisterns used to fill up toilets, and photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine used to power outlets in the school. By exposing students to green practices from a young age, the school hopes the students will become the next generation of stewards needed to restore the Bay.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science submitted two videos, showing a living shoreline project and the removal of “ghost” crab pots that have been plaguing the Chesapeake Bay.
And the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News showed its efforts to keep the water clean, including a trash pickup and installing forested shoreline buffers.
But those in Maryland and Virginia aren’t the only ones working to make a difference. There are many restoration projects taking place in all six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Troy Bishop with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and the Madison County, N.Y., Soil and Water Conservation District gave Executive Council members a virtual tour of his farm, showing off the grazing and best management practices he uses. He showed that simple and practical changes can really make a difference.
One teacher in West Virginia and her students helped install rain gardens with the Opequon Creek Project Team. As an environmental science teacher, she emphasizes to her students the importance of working locally to improve the environment. In this case, they rain gardens they helped plant will trap polluted runoff before it reaches Opequon Creek, which runs to the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
Students in York, Pa., worked with the Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna to plant forested buffers along a creek. The group not only gets students physically involved in restoration activities, but emotionally involved by seeing how they are helping the environment by planting trees and creating wildlife habitat.
Other videos submitted for the Local Action Video Showcase are:
Izaak Walton League of America, Gaithersburg, Md.
Environmental education and stream cleanup
Magothy River Association, Severna Park, Md.
Oyster restoration and education
Riders in the Environment Improving Native Shorelines, Royal Oak, Md.
Stewardship and planting
Kennard Elementary School, Centreville, Md.
Stewardship and planting
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question is: “In light of recent consumer buying trends, is there any evidence of environmental impacts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed of buying local foods? In other words, how does buying local food help the Chesapeake Bay?”
This is a great question, especially in relation to Maryland’s Buy Local Week, held from July 17-25 this year. Buy Local Week was initiated a few years ago by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission to raise awareness about the benefits of local food and community agriculture. It has since turned into a statewide initiative.
One of the major environmental benefits of incorporating local food into your diet is reducing the distance food is transported from where it is produced to where it is consumed. According to a 2001 report by the Capital Area Food Bank, fresh produce arriving at the Jessup, Maryland Terminal Market in 1997 traveled an average one-way distance of 1,686 miles from the state of production to Maryland.
The pollution associated with this transportation adds a considerable amount of nutrients to all water bodies, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. About one-quarter of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay comes from air pollution, so buying food produced locally is a great way to cut down on emissions.
Another way buying local food helps the Bay is by supporting and preserving local farms. When you buy local food, more of the money you spend goes directly to the farmer that grew it. Local, independent farmers can be vulnerable to development pressure, so supporting them helps them keep their farms going. Conversion of farmland to homes and shopping centers can adversely affect the long-term sustainability of the local farming industry, a significant part of the culture, heritage and economy of the Chesapeake region.
It seems that many people in Maryland already understand the importance of preserving farmland, as 61 percent of Marylanders surveyed by the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy said the issue was very important. Likewise, 78 percent of respondents said they were more likely to buy products identified as having been grown by a Maryland farmer.
So even after Maryland’s Buy Local Week is over, make an effort to shop at your nearest farmer’s market and begin incorporating local foods into your meals regularly. You can help to preserve a rich agricultural tradition, limit pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, support your local economy, and eat fresh, healthy food.
To find your local farmer’s market, check out the following sites:
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events!
Harford County, Md., Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti has been elected chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), a group of 21 local government officials who work to improve the role local governments play in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts and broaden local government participation in the Bay Program.
Councilwoman Lisanti was elected to office in 2006, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed her to LGAC in 2009. During her professional career, she worked for the Maryland General Assembly, the Harford County Executive, and the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning. She has also served as city manager of Havre de Grace, Md. and as vice president and president of the Maryland Association of City and County Managers. Additionally, Lisanti is the executive director of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway.
Lisanti will now lead LGAC in its main task of advising the Chesapeake Executive Council, the Bay Program’s leadership body, about the best ways to engage local governments in Bay restoration. LGAC's current focus is advising the Bay Program on how to involve local governments in the development of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
"Seventeen million people call this watershed home and local government is the closest to those people," Councilwoman Lisanti said. "As a former city manager and now a small business manager and elected official, I feel keenly responsible for ensuring that local needs are identified and funded, and that clean-up efforts are focused on individual actions and shared responsibilities. Local government understands that Bay cleanup is all about our quality of life and economic development."