Chesapeake Bay

It’s all about the Network: Funding Agricultural Practices that Restore Clean Water

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

 

by Kelly Shenk

 If you are a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are some great workshops providing information on ways to finance conservation practices to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center  is holding a series of Agricultural Finance Workshops in Delaware and West Virginia and the Upper Susquehanna region in Pennsylvania later this year.  In January and February, I participated in the Ag Finance workshops that were held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and found them extremely informative.

These workshops provide a wealth of knowledge about programs to assist in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. I learned that while funding is available, certain procedures need to be followed closely.  Some of the types of funding available include: USDA Farm Bill funding; state agricultural cost share funding; federal and state loan programs; public and private grant programs; and tax credits.  There are also creative ways to combine these funding mechanisms that reduce the amount you, as a farmer, would pay.

Take for example, fencing in the Shenandoah Valley. Fencing is a low-tech way to protect waterways by keeping cattle out of streams. There are a number of programs to help fund stream exclusion and we heard about several at the workshop:  Farm Bill programs, the VA agricultural cost share program that covers up to 100% of the cost of stream exclusion, and other programs for farmers who need more flexibility in the type of fence and width of buffer installed. There’s even a program to pay farmers $1 for every foot of fence they have paid for themselves to cover the maintenance costs.

 The workshop presenters are familiar with each other’s programs, so they know how to “piggy back” programs to minimize the cost to farmers.  Most importantly, they know the producers in their region and understand their issues.  They discuss the available options with the farmer, decide on a plan of action, and then identify the program or mix of funding programs that will meet the farmer’s needs.  With this approach, the technical network helps farmers address issues with the least amount of cost, hassle, paperwork, and confusion.

I left these workshops encouraged by the dedicated cadre of technical professionals that are out in the field every day working with farmers to find solutions to protecting water quality while keeping farmers farming.

For more information on future workshops, contact:  Jill Jefferson, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, at jilljeff@umd.edu.

 

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor. 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Progress in Communities: It All Starts with Science

This week is the 43rd Anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and we are marking the occasion by revisiting how our collective efforts on behalf of the American people help local communities become cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable. As the Assistant Administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I can’t help but see a strong undercurrent of science and engineering in every success story.

Over the past four plus decades, EPA scientists and engineers, along with their partners from across the federal government, states, tribes, academia, and private business, have supplied the data, built the computer models and tools, and provided the studies that have helped communities take action to advance public health and protect local environments.

In every area of environmental and human health action, EPA researchers have helped local communities make progress. While examples abound, here are just a few:
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Spectacular views of bald eagles over the Susquehanna River

By Roy Seneca

Anybody who has witnessed the beauty of a bald eagle soaring above knows that it can be quite exhilarating.  Not only is the bald eagle a proud national symbol, but it is also an incredible environmental success story.

It was not too long ago that bald eagles in our skies were on the verge of extinction due to the impact of pesticides like DDT.  But today, bald eagles can be sighted in the skies across the country thanks to environmental laws that protect them and have allowed their population to surge.

Well, if you get a kick out of seeing one or two bald eagles, you should take a trip to the Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Md. to witness an amazing sight of up to 100 or more bald eagles in one location.  During late fall and throughout most of the winter, the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River may be the best location east of the Mississippi to witness these incredible raptors.

A shot of a bald eagle in Conowingo, MD. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer daisyj85 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

A shot of a bald eagle fishing at the Conowingo. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer daisyj85 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

The bald eagles congregate at the dam because it provides them with some easy meals.  When the dam’s turbines are running, it provides a steady water flow filled with fish on the surface where the bald eagles and other birds swoop in to feast on.

The location also attracts large numbers of gulls, herons, black vultures and other birds, but the bald eagles are the stars of the show.  When they are not fishing, the bald eagles sometimes perch in nearby trees and perform acrobatic shows in the sky above the river.  Photographers, birdwatchers and families come out to see the birds throughout the season.

It’s peak viewing time if you’d like to see for yourself.   For more details, check out this blog.

About the Author: Roy Seneca works in the press office for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

By Lina Younes

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit several sites in Maryland and Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay. I marveled at the beauty of this important watershed. Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers six states and Washington, DC? In fact, it’s the largest estuary on the U.S. mainland.

Even if you don’t live along the coast, did you know that what you do at home, at school, at work or in your community affects the water quality and well-being of this important ecosystem? So, what can you do to protect the bay or your local watershed? Here are some tips:

  •  Use water wisely. Start by turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving. Also, take shorter showers instead of baths. Make sure that you have a full load of laundry or dishes before using the washer and/or dishwasher. Repair leaking faucets and toilets.
  • If you like gardening, plant native plants. They require less water and nutrients and are more resistant to pests.
  • As part of your next landscaping project, consider planting a rain garden. It’s a great way to reduce water runoff.
  • Keep your car in shape to avoid oil leaks, which contaminate water. If you change your car’s oil yourself, take the used oil to a service station for recycling. Did you know that used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water?
  • Use greener cleaning products with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label. They’re safer, they protect our water and they’re better for the environment as a whole.
  • Get involved in your community to increase awareness of water quality. Participate in a stream or park cleanup activity.
  • Pick up after your dog. Don’t let his waste pollute our water.

If you’re still doubtful of the link between your activities and water conservation, I recommend you watch this video so you can be part of the solution.

What did you think? Do you have any suggestions? We would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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We’re Still in the Bay Watershed?

By Tom Damm

We’re getting ready to take our daughter back to college in Pittsburgh next week.  I remember last year when we took the trip, we were heading west along the Pennsylvania Turnpike – one driver switch and nearly three quarters of the way across the state – when we saw this sign: “Leaving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”

Really?  Way out here?

It reminded us of how vast the Bay’s drainage area is (large parts of six states and all of the District of Columbia) and how actions – good or bad – affecting local waters in Steelers country can impact the Bay itself where the Ravens and Redskins rule.

If you’ve been on the road this summer, you may have seen the Entering/Leaving the Bay watershed signs along major highways in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were put up in the late 1990s by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a tri-state legislative advisory panel, to mark boundaries of the watershed and to help people understand more about Bay restoration.

Bay Watershed Sign

Bay Watershed Sign

For everyone but the driver, take a close look at the signs as you ride by.  They’re original works of art reflecting symbols of the Bay watershed’s bounty – fish, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and clean water.  Each one is designed a little differently, depicting iconic species and activities recommended by the local areas.  The western Maryland sign on I-68 between Frostburg and Grantsville, for instance, features brook trout, river rafters and a black bear.

You’ll see the signs as far east as I-76 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and as far south as I-81 north of Roanoke, Virginia.

In only a few words, these signs convey some big messages, namely that efforts to restore the Bay are also benefitting local waters and local economies, and that the activities of everyone, everywhere in the 64,000-square-mile watershed make a difference in water quality – for the Bay and for the 100,000 or so creeks, streams and rivers that feed it.

Have you seen watershed signs for the Bay (or other watersheds) in your travels this summer?

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s All in the Mindset

By Kelly Shenk

At a recent farm tour I was on, a dairy farmer in Augusta County, Virginia said:  “Pollution isn’t related to size, it’s related to mindset.”  And the mindset of many farmers is one of innovation, creativity, and a thirst to find better ways to keep their farms profitable and local waters clean for generations to come.

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

The farm tour was part of the recent Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  It’s my favorite meeting of the year.  It’s a chance for all the grantees who receive funding from the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund to share their successes and lessons learned from their projects to restore polluted waters.  The room was filled with over 100 of the most creative thinkers from State agricultural agencies, conservation districts, non-governmental organizations, farming groups, USDA and EPA — all with a common interest in preserving our agricultural heritage, keeping farmers farming, and having clean local and Bay waters.  We all came to the meeting with the mindset that we can have it all through creativity, innovation, and strong partnerships that help us leverage funding to get the job done.

From all the energized discussions with the grantees and farmers, it was very clear to me that farmers are true innovators and problem solvers.  They have a can-do mindset in figuring out how they can run their business efficiently in a way that is good for clean water and for long-term profitability.  As this grant program has matured, so has our approach.  We are finding that there is no better way to sell farmers on ways to reduce pollution than to have fellow farmers and trusted field experts showing how innovative solutions such as manure injectors, poultry litter-to-energy technologies, and even the tried-and-true practices such as keeping cows out of the streams can keep them viable for generations to come.  I’m confident that this mindset will catch on and that we can achieve our common goals of thriving agriculture and clean waters.

About the Author: Kelly Shenk is the Agricultural Advisor for EPA Region 3.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cabin Branch: Let the Healing Begin

By Nick DiPasquale

Most of us who live in an urban or suburban setting really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like.  In some cases we can’t even see streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind.

Cabin Branch pre cleanup

In 2005 a major volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

The remnants of streams we can see have been filled with sediment and other pollution and the ecology of the stream has been altered significantly.  The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat having been destroyed.  This didn’t happen overnight.  The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”

I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis.  The project is being undertaken by the Severn Riverkeeper, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources .  The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources . The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which carries the polluted runoff into the Bay.  Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem causing the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project first hand – one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly over many decades of development.  Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions.  The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment.  (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions. The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and use of green infrastructure which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature.   It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.

About the Author: Nick DiPasquale is Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors.  He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

You can also see this post and much more Chesapeake Bay content on the Chesapeake Bay Program Blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How’s the Bay Doin’?

By Tom Damm

When the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch wanted to get a sense for, “How’m I doin’?” he’d ask people on the street.

Bay Barometer Cover ImageThe Chesapeake Bay Program takes a more scientific approach when it considers the state of the Bay and its watershed.

It crunches all sorts of statistics and produces an annual update on health and restoration efforts called Bay Barometer.  The latest one is now available.

So how’s the ecosystem doin’?

The science-based snapshot shows that while the Bay is impaired, signs of resilience abound.

A number of indicators of watershed health, like water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, point to a stressed ecosystem.  But other factors, such as a smaller than normal summertime dead zone and an increase in juvenile crabs entering the fishery, provide a brighter picture.

Recent restoration work and pollution cuts also offer signs of progress for the nation’s largest estuary.

Learn more about Bay Barometer or read the full report.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Power of Partnerships: Habitat Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay

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Brown pelicans are among the many species of birds that visit Poplar Island

By Ross Geredien

Last November, I accompanied U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists to inspect a unique habitat restoration project led by the FWS Chesapeake Bay office. Here’s my account of that day:

The wind stings my face as we skim across the water. To my left, the bay’s silvery sheen meets leaden clouds at the southern horizon. I look to my right and see a northern gannett, a large, oceanic bird, floating on the surface.

I’m on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workboat, heading across Chesapeake Bay at 24 knots. It’s a brisk morning, and our destination is Poplar Island, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deposits the dredge spoil from Baltimore Harbor’s approach channels.

Poplar once boasted a lively fishing community, complete with weekend retreats and abundant wildlife. From 1840 to 1990, erosion reduced the island to just 10 acres. Since 1998, however, spoil deposits have restored Poplar to over 1,100 acres of productive marshland, and wildlife is once again flourishing.

Upon reaching the island, some 90 brown pelicans perch nearby. “It’s unusual to see this many,” says Chris Guy, one of the biologists. “Especially this late in the season,” responds Pete McGowan, another biologist. We discuss how recent storms have blown them off-course. They have found refuge at Poplar.

Over 200 bird species use Poplar Island during the year. As we explore the island, thousands of geese and ducks congregate on large, artificial ponds called cells. We also see uncommon species: night-herons, dowitchers, swans, and loons. The abundant waterfowl attract predators like birds of prey. Indeed, in the afternoon a rare short-eared owl flushes from the grass. “First of the season!” shouts Chris.

What makes all this possible? Poplar Island is a partnership among federal and state agencies. The Corps of

Aerial view of Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay (Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Engineers manages the dredge spoil operation under the Clean Water Act. The Maryland Environmental Service monitors water quality and nutrients while the Fish and Wildlife Service supervises the restoration. The University of Maryland also investigates a variety of ecological questions here. As a fellow working in the EPA’s wetlands program and a former biologist with the Maryland Wildlife Service, this intersection of wildlife, Chesapeake Bay, and clean water issues naturally resonates with me.

The weather has turned fair as we depart, wind-blown spray glistening in the sunlight. I leave Poplar with a new appreciation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the efforts to restore its habitat.

About the author: Ross Geredien is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education serving in the EPA’s Office of Water, where he works on wetlands permitting issues. Previously, Ross was a wildlife biologist for the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources where he mapped the state’s rare, threatened and endangered species.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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