With National Environmental Leaders on Hand, CES Launches “Chester River Watershed Observatory”


National and regional environmental leaders came to Washington College last week to dedicate “a remarkable story that begins here,” the innovative, collaborative Chester River Watershed Observatory, created and administered by the College’s Center for Environment & Society.

“It is very bold. The nation will be watching you,” said Patrick Noonan, founder and chairman emeritus of The Conservation Fund and a founder and current board member of The Chesapeake Conservancy. “It is a model for the Chester, but more importantly it’s going to be a model for every state in the watershed and every state in the nation, and I predict it will go across the world. It is a remarkable story that begins here today, and we should all be proud for being a part of it.”

At the May 30 dedication ceremony, Noonan, who also developed the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail on the Chesapeake, joined Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Pew Charitable Trusts president Rebecca Rimel, environmental advocate and Chesapeake Bay Foundation co-founder Truman T. Semans, College President Mitchell Reiss, CES Director John Seidel, and others in cutting the ceremonial ribbon strung between two of the buoys that will be among those monitoring the river as part of the observatory.

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CRO Dedication

“This new observatory is an exciting initiative,” O’Malley said. “I’ve heard the words as I’ve been listening here, and I’ll just put the word ‘intelligent’ in front of them. Intelligent networks, intelligent collaborations, all with the purpose of creating more and better actions. That’s what it’s going to take.”

As part of the celebration, Ed Nordberg, chair of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, presented Semans with the College’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in Conservation, created to honor leaders in the environmental movement. Semans, who was among those who initiated the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the late 1960s, has worked nationally and regionally to further the goals of the environmental movement. “Perhaps most significantly, Truman was at the forefront of building bridges between the corporate world and the environmental movement,” Nordberg said. “As early as the 1970s, he was a leader in financing pollution control equipment for industry to help meet the goals of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. As vice chairman of Brown Advisory, he has been instrumental in making that firm a world leader in sustainability investing.”

Monitoring buoy

Monitoring buoy

As soon as the dignitaries cut the ribbon, CES staff aboard the College research vessel Callinectes launched the first buoy into the river in front of the group. The launch was followed by demonstrations of equipment that will be used throughout the observatory.

Created and administered by the College in collaboration with four research universities and multiple federal, state, and regional organizations and agencies, the CRWO will connect surrounding communities to the river’s future and provide more thorough information on which to base decisions that will positively affect the river and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. The initiative is based on three interconnected platforms:

Information: The CRWO supports a series of buoys, monitoring stations, research vessels, and autonomous craft that will record a wealth of data about the river, from its headwaters to its mouth at the Chesapeake Bay, several times a day, every day. Coupled with monitoring of variables such as weather events, fish migrations, and land-based factors including agricultural and urban water management practices, the data will be accessible to schools, citizens, agencies, organizations, and scientists through a publicly accessible website developed in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observation System (MARACOOS).

Education: The CES is working with nearly 40 educators in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties to teach data-gathering techniques and to develop K-12 lesson plans that incorporate the CRWO. As students progress through grades, their data-gathering and analysis skills will grow more sophisticated. By graduation they will have a 12-year dataset, experience in building robotics and conducting field research, and a deep personal connection to, and understanding of, the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Collaboration: The project draws on the expertise and cooperation of many, including CES staff led by Director Seidel and Deputy Director Doug Levin; the director of the College’s GIS lab, Stewart Bruce; the College’s environmental sciences and biology faculty; Hach Hydromet, a Danaher company that specializes in water-quality analysis and equipment; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey; the Maryland State Department of Education and Department of Natural Resources; the University of Maryland, University of Delaware, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Rutgers University; Kent and Queen Anne counties public schools; the Chester River Field Research Station at Chino Farms; Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge; the Chester River Association; and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

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