Interior Announces $6 Million Grant for Blackwater Refuge

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The US Department of the Interior announced yesterday that the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County will receive just shy of $6 million to conserve 2,500 acres of habitat to protect migratory birds.

The funds were approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which allocates funds to the Interior Department to acquire and conserve migratory bird habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The commission meets twice a year to allocate funds and Blackwater Refuge was one of only five projects nationwide to receive grants in the announcement.

The Blackwater grant is aimed at protecting “migrating and wintering American black ducks, mallards, Canada geese and greater snow geese, as well as habitat for black rail, salt-marsh sparrow and other wetland-associated migratory birds. The project will add over 2,600 acres to the refuge’s public hunt program, expanding public opportunities for white-tailed deer, sika deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting,” according to a press release on June 19.

The funds are made possible from the Duck Stamp program and will go directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the project. The stamp program was established in 1934 and 98% of the revenue goes to buy and protect wetlands.

Clean Chesapeake Coalition-funded Documentary Nominated for Local Emmy Award

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The Conowingo Dam, the main target of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s lobbying efforts

In a press release dated June 18, the Clean Chesapeake Coalition announced that on Saturday, June 22, the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will host its 61st Emmy Awards in Bethesda, Maryland. Among many worthy nominees are producers Thomas and Matthew Locastro of Locastro Design, LLC for The Conowingo Factor, which was funded by the CCC and distributed by Sinclair Broadcast Group. This is the fifth nomination the Locastro brothers have received for their documentary work and the second collaboration between the two and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC).

It was the summer of 2014 when the Locastro brothers discovered the situation at the Conowingo Dam. “We had never heard about the Conowingo Dam before, much less all of the controversy surrounding it. That’s what made it even more shocking when we learned that Exelon was about to renew the Dam’s 46-year operating permit,” says Matthew. “At that time, my brother and I were thinking about starting a video production business together and this seemed like a great project to kick things off,” explained Thomas. Working at breakneck speed, the two conducted interviews over a three-day period and 19 days later, released The Conowingo Scandal on YouTube. According to Matthew, “we weren’t really sure what to expect with taking on the project. We just knew we wanted there to be a bigger conversation about the issue. We were amazed at how fast things ended up taking off.” Within weeks, their 2014 video had electrified an online debate, received national coverage with the outlet Think Progress, and even got them an audience and screening with then-Gubernatorial candidate, Larry Hogan, and his team of advisors.

Since that time, the Locastro brothers have built a thriving documentary production company that has won a regional Murrow, three Emmys and has had films featured at various domestic and international film festivals. Their documentary, Saber Rock, was released in theaters and became one of 77 films that competed for the 2018 Short Documentary Oscar. This earned them a 7-minute interview on CNN. Thomas says, “As we developed the craft of documentary filmmaking, we would sometimes think about our first video on the Conowingo Dam and wonder if we would ever get a chance to remake it. We were thrilled when we got the opportunity to partner with both the Clean Chesapeake Coalition and Sinclair Broadcast Group to help get this story in front of even more people.”

Both the original and The Conowingo Factor were commissioned by the CCC whose member counties have, since its inception in 2012, advocated for prudent, fiscally responsible strategies to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. To that end, the CCC has been drawing attention to the threat it sees is posed by the Dam, whose reservoir has reached dynamic equilibrium and is no longer effectively trapping nutrient-laden sediment from loading into the Bay. The CCC has been at the forefront of this issue for years, long before the current surge of interest in the threat the infilled reservoir poses to Bay health, back when certain special interest groups were still calling the impacts of the Conowingo Dam a “red herring” in the context of saving the Bay. Says CCC Chairman, Ron Fithian, “Anyone who was around when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972 knows that it signaled the end of the oysters in the Upper Bay. Though they didn’t end up having to use the explosives they placed in case they had to blow the Dam, the amount of sediment that came through those open spill gates smothered oyster bars and other aquatic life that still hasn’t recovered… almost 50 years and billions of restoration dollars later.”

The Conowingo Dam is currently owned by Exelon Generation Company, a Fortune 100 company with 2018 revenues of $35.9 billion dollars. Since prior to the Dam’s operating license expiring in 2014, Exelon has been seeking a new, 46-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Part of this process calls for a Water Quality Certification from the State of Maryland under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Serious concerns voiced by the State resulted in Exelon voluntarily withdrawing its application and re-submitting it for several years running, while they sought to address the issues raised through the process. In April 2018, the State of Maryland was finally able to issue a Water Quality Certification but did so with conditions, as is their federally mandated right through their jurisdiction over the navigable waters of the State. Exelon responded by suing Maryland in two courts and administratively.

CCC member counties and their county officials remain disappointed at the lengths Exelon is willing to take to shirk environmental responsibility associated with the operation of this lucrative power station. This private, for-profit corporation claims that the Maryland Department of the Environment’s qualifications for a Water Quality Certification are “impracticable.” Meanwhile, Maryland counties with annual budgets that are a tiny fraction of Exelon’s revenues are spending enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars to develop and implement their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and help Maryland meet its Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) goals. At the same time, local economies of Bayside counties are hurt by the Conowingo Factor impacts on the seafood and tourism industries.

Last week the Chesapeake Bay Program, quoting the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), reported that in the spring of this year, 2019, the Susquehanna delivered 102.6 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay. To put that into perspective, consider that the Maryland Department of the Environment calculates that a single conventional septic system releases 23.2 lbs. of nitrogen annually into the groundwater; if they are upgraded, this figure is cut in half. There are approximately 420,000 septic systems in Maryland. Based on the USGS figures, this means that in a few months, the Susquehanna delivered the same amount of nitrogen that 4,422,414 conventional septic systems, or 2,211,2017 upgraded systems, deliver in a year. How many billions are we spending to upgrade septic while ignoring the upstream problem posed by decades of pollution collecting behind the Dam waiting for spill gates to open?

Well-supported by science and enforceable under the law, the Hogan Administration has embraced the once-in-a-generation opportunity to impose licensing conditions requiring the owner of Conowingo Dam to properly manage the vast quantities of nutrients, sediment and other contaminants that are accumulated in the reservoir above the Dam and scoured into the Bay, not just during major storm events but now, with increasing frequency, because of the loss of trapping capacity in the reservoir. The CCC remains supportive of these crucial efforts and to that end, in March of this year filed a Motion to Intervene in the Petition for Declaratory Order by Exelon Generation Company now pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). County officials realize that, in the event of a 25-year storm (which has an 80% chance of occurring over the life of the new operating license), the efforts financed through billions of taxpayer dollars and charitable contributions will be as dead as the oyster reefs that flourished in the Upper Bay before they were smothered by the sediment scoured from behind the Conowingo Dam during Hurricane Agnes. In the event that The Conowingo Factor wins an Emmy later this month, it may provide a further boost to the State’s efforts to require that Exelon not only receives lucrative benefits from the public waters of the State, but also plays a part in protecting this valuable resource.

Residents Question Funding of Clean Chesapeake Coalition

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The Conowingo Dam, the main target of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s lobbying efforts

During the June 4 public hearing by the Kent County Commissioner on the county budget for Fiscal Year 2020, Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall and William Herb, a retired hydrologist who lives on Fairlee Creek, raised questions about the county’s donation to the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The draft budget includes a $17,000 donation to the Coalition, an amount matched by five other Shore counties, for a total of $85,000. Since 2013, the first year of the Coalition’s existence, the county has donated $159,000 to the Coalition. In addition to Kent, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, and Queen Anne’s counties are members of the Coalition. Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian is chairman of the Coalition.

The objective of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, according to its website, is “to pursue improvement to the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in the most prudent and fiscally responsible manner – through research, coordination, and advocacy.” It specifically identifies the reservoir of the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation, as “the largest single point source of pollution to Bay waters.” The Conowingo Dam is located on the Susquehanna River just before it enters the Bay.

Herb, who testified first, said, “The Coalition wastes taxpayers’ money by pursuing a campaign against Exelon, and erroneously blames future contamination threats on the Conowingo Dam. The Coalition’s website identifies no staff or contract support with technical expertise. Members of the Coalition are public officials whose resumes demonstrate no scientific or engineering capability. Commissioners Jacob and Mason would be unwise to seek my advice on how to run a business. Commissioner Fithian would be equally unwise to ask me how to harvest oysters. The Commissioners should not unwisely get advice on complex hydrologic and environmental issues from those with no qualifications.”

He went on to note, “The Coalition purports to be in favor of a clean Chesapeake, but documents no successes in reducing even one ounce of contamination to the Bay. […] The Coalition’s budget for 2020 projects 78% for Legal, including lobbying, 11% for General Administration, and 11% for Communication, but not one cent for pollution reduction.”

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian – Photo by Jane Jewell

Herb said, “All of the sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus that have entered the Bay in the past, or that will enter the Bay in the future via the Susquehanna River have their origins in Pennsylvania and New York, and not in the operation of the Conowingo Dam. If the Commissioners and the Coalition are really serious about protecting the Bay, they should seek to collect from these two upstream states, and not from a private entity, whose major environmental transgression seems to be having deep pockets.”

Finally, Herb asked that Fithian, as Chair of the Coalition, should recuse himself from any discussion, action, or vote regarding the Coalition to avoid a conflict of interest. He offered to present his technical analysis of the Conowingo Dam and the Bay to any or all of the commissioners.

Grenville Whitman at the Kent County Commissioners’ budget hearing, June 4 – Photo by Peter Heck

Whitman referred to a letter he and Herb wrote to the commissioners on April 29, which made two requests: that the commissioners conduct a public hearing “to determine what actual, tangible, real benefits Kent County residents have received from their substantial investment so far;” and that Fithian recuse himself from any discussion and abstain from any vote on his group’s funding request. He went on to list the kinds of questions the commissioners should ask before continuing the funding: what benefits have Kent County residents received for their $159,000 donations since 2013? What are the Coalition’s three most notable accomplishments in that time? And have the Coalition’s records been audited after it has received nearly $1 million in public funding?

Whitman said, “Until these questions—and others—are put to the Coalition and the Coalition responds, this funding request has not been subjected to due diligence. I ask that this request be denied, and that $17,000 be re-directed to a program that directly benefits Kent County residents. The county school system comes to mind.”

Whitman also questioned the ethics of the commissioners in allocating county funds to a group chaired by one of their members. “Perhaps the county Ethics Commission should be invited to look into this arrangement and rule on it,” he said. He questioned the ethics of the county “doling out public money” to a group that lobbies against federal and state programs and policies. He said the Coalition was within its rights to so lobby, but for them to use public funding for the purpose was questionable.

The commissioners did not respond to either Herb or Whitman at the budget hearing. At their regular meeting Tuesday, June 11, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the FY2020 budget. All three commissioners took part in the vote.

Large Summer ‘Dead Zone’ Forecast for Chesapeake Bay

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Ecologists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan are forecasting a large Chesapeake Bay “dead zone” in 2019 due to well-above-average river flows associated with increased rainfall in the watershed since last fall.

“The forecast this year reflects the high levels of precipitation that have been observed across the Bay’s watershed,” said report co-author Jeremy Testa of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “The high flows observed this spring, in combination with very high flows late last fall, are expected to result in large volumes of hypoxic and anoxic water.”

The bay’s hypoxic (low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excess nutrient pollution, primarily from agriculture and wastewater. The excess nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae, which then sinks and decomposes in the water. The resulting low oxygen levels are insufficient to support most marine life and habitats in near-bottom waters, threatening the bay’s crabs, oysters and other fisheries.

This summer’s Chesapeake Bay hypoxic or “dead zone,” an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and other aquatic life, is expected to be about 2.1 cubic miles, while the volume of water with no oxygen is predicted to be between 0.49 and 0.63 cubic miles during early and late summer.

The predicted volumes are larger than the dead zone observed during the summer of 2018 and would be among the four largest in the past 20 years. Measurements of the Chesapeake Bay’s dead zone go back to 1950, and the 30-year mean maximum dead zone volume is 1.74 cubic miles.

“The forecast is not surprising considering the near-record high flows in 2018 that have continued into 2019,” said Bruce Michael, director of the Resource Assessment Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “That said, bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations are improving over the long-term in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay, indicating our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution throughout the entire watershed are improving water quality conditions, helping to support fish, shellfish and our aquatic resources.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will conduct bimonthly Bay water quality monitoring cruises June through August to track Bay summer hypoxia. Results from each monitoring cruise will be available on the Department’s Eyes on the Bay website at http://eyesonthebay.dnr.maryland.gov/eyesonthebay/index.cfm

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Bay Report Card released earlier this spring gave the Bay a grade of “C” in 2018, in part due to the extreme precipitation. Spring rainfall plays an important role in determining the size of the Chesapeake Bay “dead zone.” This year, exceptionally high spring rainfall and streamflow is transporting nitrogen to tidal waters in amounts above the long-term average, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which provides the nitrogen-loading estimates used to generate the annual hypoxia forecast.

In spring 2019, the Susquehanna River delivered 102.6 million pounds of nitrogen into the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac River, as measured near Washington, D.C., supplied an additional 47.7 million pounds of nitrogen, according to USGS. This is well-above long-term averages of 80.6 million pounds from the Susquehanna and 31.8 million pounds from the Potomac. Loads from the Susquehanna have not been this high since 2011.

“Managing estuarine responses to changing conditions on the landscape continues to be one of the nation’s environmental challenges,” said Joel Blomquist, hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “The science partnership in the Chesapeake Bay is setting the standard for supporting environmental managers with observation-based science.”

“This year’s forecast is for the fourth largest dead zone in the past 20 years, illustrating that more work needs to be done,” said University of Michigan aquatic ecologist and report coauthor Don Scavia. “The Chesapeake Bay dead zone remains considerably larger than the reduction goals, and we’ll never reach those targets unless more is done to reduce nutrient pollution.”

The bay outlook is based on models developed at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, with funding provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and data generated by the United States Geological Survey and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Throughout the year, researchers measure oxygen and nutrient levels as part of the Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Program, run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. This year’s findings will be released in the fall.

CBF Report: The State of the Blueprint

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A new Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) report examining the state of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint found both good and bad news.  While no state is completely on track, Maryland and Virginia are close to having the programs and practices in place to restore water quality and meet the 2025 goal. Pennsylvania, however, has never met its nitrogen reduction targets and its current plan to achieve the 2025 goal is woefully inadequate, detailing only two-thirds of actions necessary to achieve its goal.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is also true for the partnership working to restore water quality across the region,” CBF President William C. Baker said. “Today, unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s link is not only weak, it is broken.”

After decades of failed voluntary efforts, in 2010 the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was developed and a deadline for full implementation was set for 2025. Experts around the world agree it is our best, and perhaps last chance for success.

The good news is that the Blueprint is working: Grasses are increasing, the dead zone is getting smaller, and blue crab populations are rebounding. But recovery is fragile. And the road to finishing the job is steep.   However, many of the practices to reduce pollution will also sequester carbon and help slow climate change.

What makes the Blueprint different than previous attempts is that it has teeth. It includes pollution limits and requires the Bay states and District of Columbia to design and implement plans to meet them. It also ensures accountability and transparency through two-year, incremental goals called milestones, and sets a goal of having the programs and practices in place by 2025 that will result in a restored Bay.  Our peer-reviewed economic analysis found that the economic benefits provided by nature in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will total $130 billion annually when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to providing oversight and enforcement of the Blueprint. If any jurisdiction fails to take the appropriate actions, EPA has said it will impose consequences. It has the authority to increase the number of farms that it regulates by extending permit coverage to smaller farms, review state-issued stormwater permits to ensure they are adequate, and condition or redirect EPA grants.

“Pennsylvania has failed to uphold its promise to reduce pollution to its surface and ground waters since the six state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was launched in 2009,” Baker added. “If EPA does not hold Pennsylvania accountable, CBF and others must consider legal action.”

CBF assessed Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia’s milestone progress to date and whether or not states are implementing the pollution-reduction commitments they have already made. Together, these three states are responsible for 90 percent of the pollution fouling the Bay and its rivers and streams.

Each of the states have drafted a new Clean Water Blueprint (formally known as a Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan) detailing how they will finish the job. Where we identified shortfalls, we are making recommendations on what is necessary in their new plans to achieve the goal.

To see our full report including the details of efforts to date, visit:   www.cbf.org/stateoftheblueprint

Virginia

Virginia is on track to achieve its 2025 goals, provided it accelerates efforts to reduce pollution from agricultural sources and growing urban and suburban areas, while continuing progress in the wastewater sector. Virginia has a strong roadmap for success; the key is implementation.

The Commonwealth released a strong but doable draft plan to reach the 2025 goals. However, the plan also underscores the additional work that lies ahead, especially to further reduce pollution from agriculture and stormwater

Virginia’s Blueprint shows exactly what actions are needed to accelerate the pace of reductions of all sources of pollution to our waters.   The plan relies on expanding existing programs that have proven successful, as well as new initiatives.

For farms, that includes keeping livestock out of all permanent streams and requiring detailed plans to reduce pollution from the vast majority of cropland. For developed areas, that includes strong support for programs that manage stormwater pollution, expanding protections for sensitive areas from development, and additional action to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer. To address climate change, Virginia is a leader in the region by accounting for anticipated pollution increases from extreme weather.

“The State of the Blueprint report indicates overall progress in Virginia, especially by wastewater treatment plants,” said CBF’s Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin. “But a good plan is just the first step. We need to make sure that Virginia’s Blueprint remains strong, and that funding is in place to achieve these goals. Now is the time to let Virginia’s leaders know that implementing a strong Blueprint is our great opportunity to ensure clean water for future generations.”

The coming days are critical to success as Virginia finalizes its last update to its Blueprint. The public is invited to submit comments to: chesbayplan@DEQ.Virginia.gov

Maryland

Maryland is on-track to meet its overall nutrient reduction targets by 2025, due in large part to investments to upgrade sewage treatment plants, which have exceeded goals, and in farm management practices. Pollution from developed lands and septic systems continues to increase, challenging the long-term health of Maryland’s waterways.

Maryland has a long track record of investing in clean water, which has put the state on a path to reach pollution reduction goals for nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment in the third phase of its Clean Water Blueprint. The reductions will mostly be made through a combination of wastewater treatment plant upgrades and reducing pollution from agriculture.

While the Blueprint provides a path to the 2025 goals, it is short on strategies to maintain them. The plan relies on annual practices that are less cost effective and don’t provide as many benefits for our climate and our communities as permanent natural filters.

In agriculture, the Blueprint relies heavily on annual practices such as cover crops and manure transport that require significant repeated investments. The state should transition its investments to increase long-term natural filters such as forested stream buffers and grazing livestock on permanent pasture. While the state is planning to subsidize farmers to plant nearly 500,000 acres of cover crops each year, it is only committing to plant 1,200 acres of new riparian forest buffers and move 2,500 acres of crop land into pasture.

Maryland is lowering expectations to reduce runoff from urban and suburban development in the third phase of the Blueprint. The draft expects Maryland’s 10 most developed counties and Baltimore City to treat runoff from impervious surface at about half the pace required over the previous eight years. The draft cautions that the reduced pace may even be slower because new MS4 permits for these jurisdictions have not yet been finalized. The effort is not making enough progress to reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces—pollution from developed areas that is continuing to grow. By 2025, stormwater is predicted to contribute more pollution to the Bay than wastewater in Maryland.

“It’s reassuring to see Maryland has developed a path to meet its pollution reduction goals by 2025,” said CBF’s Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers. “But the state is putting an emphasis on costly annual practices such as cover crops and street sweeping to meet the goals when it should be focusing on sustainable efforts that will reduce pollution long-term. Those efforts include converting row crops to permanent pasture, reducing stormwater runoff in our cities before it erodes streams, and creating streamside forest buffers and wetlands to absorb and treat what does run off the landscape. Bigger goals for long-term, permanent practices will reduce climate change impacts and maintain clean water beyond 2025.”

The public is invited to submit comments to: Maryland Watershed Implementation comment form

Pennsylvania

The Commonwealth is signficantly behind in implementing the pollution reducing practices necessary to achieve the 2025 goals, particuarly from the agricultural and the urban/suburban stormwater sectors.

Wastewater treatment plants have met and exceeded goals and targets for making reductions by 2025. But agriculture and stormwater efforts have fallen significantly behind. While most farmers embrace conservation, a lack of financial and technical support has stifled progress. Keeping soils, nitrogen, and phosphorus on the land instead of in the water is good for soil health, farm profitability, and life downstream.

Pennsylvania’s draft Blueprint to reach the 2025 goal does not achieve the nitrogen pollution reductions necessary to meet its obligations. The draft plan would achieve roughly 22.7 million pounds of nitrogen reduction each year, or about 67 percent of the goal of achieving 34.1 million pounds.

Also, the resources to implement the plan do not currently exist. As drafted, the plan estimates the need for $486 million a year to implement it. Compared to existing resources, there is a shortfall in annual funding of nearly $257 million. Although the plan contains several proposed funding sources, none have been passed. The Administration and Legislature must act.

“Agricultural activities are the largest identified source of stream pollution. The limited success has been due to a lack of adequate technical and financial assistance to farmers,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.  “Now is the time for the Commonwealth to show leadership and make the necessary investments to ensure that Blueprint goals are met.  If it does not, EPA must enforce the Blueprint and impose consequences.”

Pennsylvania has also not established a programmatic milestone accounting for growth and new sources of pollution such as population growth and conversion of forest and farmland to development.

The public is invited to submit comments to:  ecomment@pa.gov

Chesapeake Report Card: Bay Health Decreased Last Year due to Rainfall but General Trend Improving

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The Chesapeake Bay score decreased in 2018, but maintained a C grade, according to the 2018 Chesapeake Bay Report Card issued today by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). This was due to extremely high precipitation over the year. Despite extreme rainfall last year, the overall trend indicates that Chesapeake Bay health is improving over time.

“While 2018 was a difficult year for Chesapeake health due to high rainfall, we are seeing trends that the Bay is still significantly improving over time. This is encouraging because the Bay is showing resilience to climate change,” said Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Almost all indicators of Bay health, such as water clarity, underwater grasses, and dissolved oxygen, as well as almost all regions, declined in 2018. In particular, chlorophyll a and total nitrogen scores had strong declines due to very high rainfall causing nutrient runoff that then fed algal blooms. However, the overall Bay-wide trend is improving. Since 2014, all regions have been improving or remaining steady.

“Our administration is pleased to see continued improvement in the health and resilience of our most precious natural asset, the Chesapeake Bay. Since taking office, we have been focused on improving the health of the Bay, investing a record $5 billion toward wide-ranging restoration programs. This report, along with the great news that Maryland’s crab population has grown 60%, is yet another promising sign of ongoing improvement of the Bay and that our continued investment is making a difference,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Of the many factors that affect Chesapeake Bay health, the extreme precipitation seen in 2018 appears to have had the biggest impact. The Baltimore area received 72 inches of rain in 2018, which is 170% above the normal of 42 inches. As a result, the reporting region closest to Baltimore—the Patapsco and Back Rivers—saw a decline in health, decreasing to an F grade in 2018. The strongest regional declines were in the Elizabeth River and the Choptank River. The two regions that remained steady were the Lower Bay and the York River.

“The extreme precipitation in 2018 was a key issue, and current science shows that with climate change this area is going to be warmer and wetter,” said Peter Goodwin, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “The Bay is in fact showing resilience in the face of climate change and extreme weather events, underlining that the restoration efforts must remain vigilant to continue these hard-won efforts.”

Fish populations received a B grade, showing a steep decline from the previous year’s score of A. Striped bass numbers sharply declined in 2018, while blue crab and bay anchovy scores declined somewhat (although blue crab are showing a revival in early 2019). These drops in scores are a cause for concern as smaller populations could lead to further declines in the future.

“This is not the time to put the brakes on efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Our progress has been hampered by extreme weather events, but we must keep fighting,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. “The health of the Chesapeake Bay depends on all of us in the region—federal, state, local, and private partners—working together toward a common goal: the preservation and restoration of the watershed, which in turn ensures better health for our citizens, economy, and local wildlife.”

“Improving the health of the Bay doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month or a year. We must be constantly vigilant in our efforts to restore the Bay, and that starts with providing adequate funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and other cleanup efforts,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. “I will continue working through my role on the Appropriations Committee to prevent attempts to cut funding and to provide the Bay with the resources it needs to thrive.”

Actions that individuals can take to contribute to a cleaner Bay include reducing fertilizer use from all sources, carpooling and using public transportation, and connecting with people across the entire Bay Watershed to work together.

This is the 13th year that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Integration and Application Network has produced the report card. It is the longest-running and most comprehensive assessment of Chesapeake Bay and its waterways. This report card uses extensive data and analysis which enhances and supports the science, management, and restoration of the Bay. For more information about the 2018 Chesapeake Bay Report Card including region-specific data, visit chesapeakebay.ecoreportcard.org.

View The Chesapeake Bay Report Card here.

Kent County High’s Ronald Parker Becomes New Student Ambassador

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Ronald Parker III, a ninth grader at Kent County High School, was chosen by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) to represent his district of Kent County in the non-profit organization’s new Student Ambassador Program. The Chestertown resident is one of several students selected who demonstrates a desire to improve his school and community by making his voice heard in discussions related to education policy.

“I applied to become a Student Ambassador because I want to help my fellow classmates and help my school become a better place, and this is my opportunity to do so,” says Parker. “Successful leaders have to be bold, open-minded and good with people. I love being a student leader.”

Parker currently holds a 3.89 GPA, is acting treasurer in the Student Government Association, a center and power forward for the high school basketball team and a drummer in the school band. Outside of school, he works part-time at Beverly’s restaurant and participates in the Horizon’s summer program. He also participates in the Next Generation Scholars program, which provides personal attention, guidance and education about opportunities that can help shape the future for students who come from families with a demonstrated financial need. After high school, Parker wants to attend college and pursue a degree in psychology.

“We are so pleased to have Ronald as a member of our 2018–2019 inaugural class,” says Nona Carroll, chief strategy officer for MBRT. “A natural leader and effective communicator, Ronald also exhibits empathy, which is a core competency in building leadership skills. He is in a prime position to use his voice to represent his district.”

MBRT’s Student Ambassador program provides students with the opportunity to learn and develop leadership skills that will help them succeed throughout their academic journey and in the professional world. Ambassadors gain confidence in their skills to lead and communicate effectively as well as how to interact with professionals and manage their time.

As Parker and the rest of the Student Ambassadors step into leadership roles, they will provide feedback on MBRT programming and resources as well as communicate their views on issues such as state education policy. Student insight will help inform MBRT’s development of and involvement in innovative ways to ensure every student has a future and every business is a success.

 

Pickering Creek… the Natural Choice by Tyler Redman

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Ever since I was young, I have loved the outdoors. The animals, plants and overall atmosphere that came with it captivated me. So, when I heard I could help out at Pickering Creek as a Junior Naturalist (JN), I was elated. I had already been going there for school trips, so I was eager to start as a JN in my 7th grade year. The staff at Pickering Creek do a wonderful job of preparing the JNs by offering Citizen Science classes throughout the school year, where we learn all about the environment around Pickering Creek, outdoor safety, and about nature in general. We also go on several field trips to other natural areas like Patapsco State Park, Calvert Cliffs Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. In addition to the field trips, we volunteer at a number of events, including at the public library and at Pickering Creek itself, where we get to teach the community about different animals, such as an assortment of turtles and share information about nature and conservation.

Tyler Redman

One thing I love about Pickering Creek is that there is a heavy focus on helping the environment we live in to thrive. I have participated in bird-banding and Monarch tagging to collect data for research being done on migration patterns. Pickering Creek also encourages JNs to invite their family to help volunteer at events organized by Pickering Creek such as marsh grass planting in Dorchester County.

Pickering Creek has prepared me well to instill my love for the environment in the youth who attend Pickering Creek Eco Camp. It’s thrilling to see the young campers just as excited about nature as I was at their age. Whether through showing them a type of animal or playing a fun game, there is always something to do that teaches them more about the environment. It is fun to see the same campers year after year and to meet new ones because that means they are having fun, want to keep coming back, and are telling others about their experiences. The summer ends on a sad but extremely fun note. Even though we have to wait another year until the next EcoCamp, all of the JNs are invited to one big campout where we share fun stories about the past weeks, develop lasting bonds, and enjoy the great outdoors at Pickering Creek.

After all of the amazing experiences I’ve had at Pickering Creek, I began to wonder, “What could I do to give back to a place that has taught me so much and helped me develop so many life skills?” That is when I decided to do my BSA Eagle Scout Project at Pickering Creek. So, after reaching out to the Pickering Creek staff, I chose to re-route and create new trails. During my time as a JN this July, it was fun to see the campers enjoying the new trails I built and it felt great knowing that I gave something back to Pickering Creek. As well as building trails, I constructed two benches which were placed at ends of trails that overlook the creek. The views from each bench are serene so people will be able to rest and enjoy the beauty of Pickering Creek. I also built a birdhouse that I placed in a tree at the end of the creek overlook. It has the image of a Blue Jay wood burned onto the front of it and is specifically meant to provide a nesting place for Blue Jays or other birds. This bird house is special because “Blue Jay” is my JN nature name that the campers call me.

I know I’ll always love the outdoors, whether it means pursuing a career that relates to the environment and animals, or just exploring and going on outdoor adventures. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in both Boy Scouts and Pickering Creek, which have increased my love and appreciation for nature. I’m excited to continue to make more memories at Pickering Creek. This exceptional place has impacted my life in such a positive and incredible way and I will always remember it.

If it hasn’t already, I hope someday Pickering Creek will impact yours as well.

Tyler Redman is a Junior Naturalist at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. For more information, please go here.

2018 Bay Health Score Drops as Massive Rains Increase Pollution

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) biennial State of the Bay report score decreased one point this year to 33, equivalent to a  D+. The drop was largely due to increased pollution and poor water clarity caused by record regional rainfall.

“The good news is that scientists are pointing to evidence of the Bay’s increased resiliency and ability to withstand, and recover from, these severe weather events. And this resiliency is a direct result of the pollution reductions achieved to date. In addition, we did see increases in scores for dissolved oxygen and Bay grasses since 2016, but the recovery is still fragile,” said CBF’s Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee.

Established in 1998, CBF’s State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay’s health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available data and information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score from 1-100. Taken together, these indicators offer an overall assessment of Bay health.

“This is a challenging time for Bay restoration. Massive environmental rollbacks in clean-water and clean-air regulations proposed by the Trump Administration may make achieving a restored Bay more difficult,” said CBF President William C. Baker.“Another restoration hurdle is the fact that science expects more extreme weather events in the future as the result of climate change.”

Two of the 13 indicators, dissolved oxygen and Bay grasses improved. In the pollution category, toxics were unchanged, while water clarity, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution were worse. In the habitat category, scores for Bay grasses and resource lands improved, and buffers and wetlands remained the same. In the fisheries category, scores for oysters, crabs, and rockfish remained the same, while the score for shad declined.

This year’s score is still far short of the goal to reach 40 by 2025 and ultimately a 70, which would represent a saved Bay. The unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation serves as the theoretical benchmark and would rate a 100 on CBF’s scale.

The Clean Water Blueprint requires the Bay jurisdictions to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments have committed to achieve specific, measurable reductions. The states agreed to have the 60 percent of the needed programs and practices in place by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025.

Of the primary Bay states, Virginia and Maryland were close to meeting the 2017 goals but need to accelerate pollution reduction from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Pennsylvania continues to be far short of its goals, mostly as a result of falling behind in addressing pollution from agriculture.

“Pennsylvania’s farmers are facing tough economic times and can’t implement the necessary practices on their own. The Commonwealth must join Maryland and Virginia to fund proven clean water initiatives to help farmers,” Baker added. “If the state legislature does not fund efforts to reduce pollution in its next session, EPA must hold Pennsylvania accountable. In addition, we are standing with The Maryland Department of the Environment to require that Exelon mitigates for the downstream water quality damage caused by their operation of the Conowingo Dam, which changes the timing and form of pollution reaching downstream waters. One cost-effective mitigation option is to help reduce the pollution coming down the Susquehanna River before it can ever reach the dam.”

CBF’s Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin said:

“The State of the Bay report comes as Virginia’s legislators are preparing to make decisions in the General Assembly that will determine the health of our rivers and the Bay for years to come.

“Governor Northam has proposed a historic investment in farm conservation practices and reducing polluted runoff from Virginia’s cities and suburbs. The General Assembly has long recognized the importance of restoring the Bay, and their continued support is vital to ensuring the Bay’s recovery doesn’t backslide. Legislation is also needed to increase the ability of local governments to use trees to improve water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

“The outcome of this General Assembly session is vital to the future of the Bay. By working together, we can restore our waters and improve the economy and protect the quality of life here in the Commonwealth.”

CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost said:

“Cleaning up the Bay is long-term and difficult.  Setbacks happen. In Maryland, we’re grappling with heavy rains this year that caused extended high flows in the Susquehanna River, which flushed debris, sediment, and other pollutants into the Bay. We’re also beginning to understand the implications of the state’s new oyster stock assessment that showed the oyster population in Maryland’s portion of the Bay has fallen by half since 1999.

“Yet despite these setbacks, the ecosystem is showing resilience to this year’s environmental stressors due to increasing growth of underwater vegetation and robust investments in land preservation.  While we can celebrate these successes, we must also focus on making policy changes to ensure the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint can handle the realities of changing weather patterns that challenge the Bay’s long-term health. Expanding Maryland’s protections for oysters and forests are changes leaders should pursue to make the Bay more resilient.”

CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell said:

“There’s a lot of work left to be done in Pennsylvania.  And the unprecedented rains of last year, which threaten to become the new normal, left farmers and families without their crops, their homes, or in some cases, even their lives.

“But there is a growing energy and enthusiasm that the Commonwealth can meet the challenge.  More farm conservation practices have been found than were known, communities are banding together to address stormwater issues, and long-term river studies are showing improving trends.  Poised to capitalize on this momentum, the Commonwealth has led a collaborative, stakeholder-based effort to create the third iteration of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

“Now is the time for Pennsylvania’s elected leaders to accelerate this momentum by investing in the priority practices, places, and partnerships that will bring the plan into reality. 

“Investing in nature-based efforts, like strategically placed trees alongside streams and streets, rotational grazing, and farm field cover crops will result in more productive farms, vibrant communities, healthy streams, and a saved Bay.”

In summary, Baker added, “The Blueprint is a road map to a restored Bay. If the states and EPA do their part, we can succeed in achieving the greatest environmental success the world has ever seen.”

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