Supporting Virginia Farmers and Clean Water

There are approximately 46,000 farms covering 8.2 million acres (32 percent) of Virginia. Agriculture is also the largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution reaching local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. While many well-operated farms employ sound conservation practices that protect water quality, a lack of funding and technical resources prevent many farmers from implementing such practices.

The Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) Program is designed to offset the costs of implementing best management practices (BMPs), like installing stream fencing and planting forest buffers, on farmland around the state. In October 2018, the Coalition interviewed three farmers who have utilized the program and have seen both the financial and environmental benefits first hand. While this program is essential to cleaning up our local rivers and streams, the amount of money available for these projects varies from year to year and, in some areas of the state, the demand exceeds available funds.

The Coalition and its members in Virginia support funding the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program at the documented need of at least $100 million per year according to the Agricultural Needs Assessment and upholding consistent and adequate annual funding to ensure certainty. 

For more information on this program, please visit the Virginia Conservation Network.

Let's Trash Talk

 Micro plastics round table. Photo courtesy of AFF

Micro plastics round table. Photo courtesy of AFF

The Alice Ferguson Foundation held their 12th Annual Trash Summit on “Business Solutions for Plastic Pollution,” which united hundreds of community members, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, jurisdiction staff and public officials to discuss corporate entity’s influence on trash pollution prevention. Our host and Coalition member, Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF), aims to connect and educate youth with Mother Nature, the cultural heritage of their local watershed and teaches sustainable agriculture practices such as regenerative egg implementation. AFF found themselves in the trash business when their students noticed all the washed up trash while walking along the shoreline. From that moment, they set out to clean up the Potomac River and arranged necessary clean ups to remove the litter. 30 years later, AFF will celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Potomac watershed clean up this coming April!

The event had TONS of dialogue on solutions to keep our streams, rivers and creeks free of plastic throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, through lively roundtable discussions, informative presentations and knowledgeable speakers. Many speakers shared their concerns, successes and work their organizations are doing to prevent garbage, plastics, and micro-plastics from entering our waterways. My favorite part of the conference was the panel, where key speakers from corporate entities like Busboys and Poets, Farmers Restaurant Group and Marriott International, spoke about how their company has committed to sustainability.

 Photo courtesy of AFF

Photo courtesy of AFF

Dan Simons, co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group, talked about the successes and failures the company in D.C. has faced after committing to not serve or sell plastic bottles or bottled water to its customers. Farmers Restaurant Group prides themselves on being mission above profit and have kept millions of waste out of the waste supply chain by refusing to sell plastic straws, and instead opting for paper and hay straws.

Andy Shallal, the proprietor of Busboys and Poets, joked about how some of his customers actually believe that they “are too cheap to serve straws.” His main focus is stressing the importance of educating the customer about the companies ‘green’ initiatives and why they are implementing these practices.

Denise Naguib, who works for Marriott International, expressed just how huge Marriott’s global footprint truly is. Marriott, composed of 6,900 hotels in 122 countries, began a straw initiative this year to phase out the quarter of a billion stir sticks and straws used by a million and a half of people that come to their hotels every single day.

Thomas Sprehe from KCI Technologies Inc., a consulting engineering business, also spoke on the panel regarding their company’s responsiveness to their clients, by giving them solutions to their waste problems by means of science and engineering. KCI is co-responsible for creating the trash wheel that collects floating debris in the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and soon implementing the WasteShark, an aquatic drone that swims through the water collecting floatable plastics and other non-biodegradable materials from urban waterways. In addition to these devices, they also manage landfills and recycling centers.

 Scott Surovell. Photo courtesy of AFF

Scott Surovell. Photo courtesy of AFF

Following the panel, Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell spoke on his work to clean up waterways since being elected. Senator Surovell works tirelessly with constituents, and has organized daunting clean ups for creeks throughout Northern Virginia. At one site upstream of the Potomac, 180 shopping carts were pulled out of local creeks in just one year, in addition to plastics, bags, containers, tractor tires, bottles and guns. He shared how much of a shock this was to him and the surrounding communities. Pollution of creeks and streams are a recurring problem for the state, that they are still trying to solve. However, Senator Surovell has gained a lot of knowledge regarding everything trash, and was even crowned the Shopping Cart Warrior of Mount Vernon, Virginia. He hopes to engage younger generations to volunteer and get active to build awareness and promote civic activism throughout the community.  

The Summit also gave special recognition to corporate entities that have a commitment to sustainability. One in particular that stood out to me was MGM National Harbor. MGM, taking up a million square feet of space, collects every single bag of trash and sorts them back of house, so that materials that need to be recycled are recycled. Every bit of food waste that MGM accumulates is taken out and placed in their biodigester. I had no idea that a huge company like MGM would be doing this, and hearing about their dedication pleased me tremendously!

 Lori Arguelles. Photo courtesy of AFF

Lori Arguelles. Photo courtesy of AFF

The conference went over and above my expectations. The Trash Summit opened my eyes further to the universal problem surrounding trash, and left such a powerful mark on me. The businesses who spoke are models for their industry, and I am thankful for their hard work and dedication to help fix this problem. Additionally, there was no better way to end such an impactful conference than giving metal reusable straws to the attendees when one simply, traded in their name tag to be
re-purposed. This was the icing on the cake for me and a fabulous parting gift! I know that I am already looking forward to the next Summit and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself, too. Lori Arguelles, director and CEO of Alice Ferguson Foundation said it best, “There is only so much we can do as community activists, there are only so many laws that you can pass and policies that you can put in place, that, ultimately, without our business partners working in collaboration with our community activists and our nonprofit organizations, are we really gonna get there.”

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Farmers are conservationists, too!

Yup. Farmers care, just as much as we do.

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Chesapeake Watershed Forum that was held at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. The conference was created to connect the environmental community and discuss, simply, how to better take care of the Chesapeake Bay and our local waterways. A local nonprofit and Choose Clean Water member, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, hosted the event and man, did it live up to all my expectations.

As a student majoring in Journalism and New Media with a deep-rooted passion for conservation and the environment, this weekend opened my eyes to just how pervasive the conversation around restoration is throughout the community; specifically, on agriculture.

I sat in on many sessions, from Implicit Bias and Gender in Conservation to Self Care in Trying Times, but nothing stuck out to me more than the workshop session titled, "Advancing Soil Health for Productive Agriculture and Clean Water," and let me tell you, it was nothing short of informative and entertaining.

For one, I learned the four, simple and essential principles to healthy soil.

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  1. Minimize Disturbances - No tilling!

  2. Maximize Soil Cover - Cover crops. Keep the soil covered as much as possible.

  3. Maximize biodiversity - Use crop rotation and a diverse mixture of seeds.

  4. Maximize continuous living roots - Keep the plants growing (carbon) for the microbial network.

The most important speaker was Leroy Bupp — a long-time experienced farmer, who advocates throughout his hometown in Pennsylvania for environmentally-friendly farming methods, like no till, reducing fertilizer, and cover crops. “I've been a farmer for 50 plus years, but have been a conservationist all my life," Leroy said. As someone who is just learning about how different industries impact our waterways, it was interesting to hear from farmers about how they can positively impact sustainability and are environmentally conscious. 

I'm a visual learner. So what I appreciated most, was the fact that he debunked the belief that tillage "loosens up the soil," by showing us a visual demonstration featuring 2 tennis balls: One covered in soil from his farm that has not been tilled since 1971, and another ball covered with dirt from his neighbor's farm that still uses tillage (I use the word dirt and soil loosely, because they are not interchangeable).

                                    Here are the results. The picture speaks for itself.

 Ball with tilled soil (left jar) Ball with unconventional methods (right jar)

Ball with tilled soil (left jar) Ball with unconventional methods (right jar)

I'll break it down for you as non-sciency as I can (I'm a mass communications major, so I can understand the struggle to grasp certain scientific concepts).

Tilled soil turns into unhealthy dirt. The clay particles become separated, it oxidizes and compacts itself. When this happens, the dirt will not allow water to percolate through it. Imagine water from the left jar after a rainstorm flowing from a farm that still uses traditional tilling methods. You getting what I'm throwing?

Tillage wreaks havoc among underground habitats, too. Tillage kills over 50% of night crawler worms, 80% of cocoon eggs and 100% of worm and root channels that are needed to absorb water. These critters have a biological responsibility, too. They are part of a healthy soil system.

Non-tilled soil, as shown above, percolates right on through the pores of healthy soil. Thus, the result is translucent water. Let me also note that the jar on the right of the picture is an actual sample from the 13 inches of rain that had dumped onto Leroy's farm from July. He is a walking testimony to how the lack of tillage is the road to clean water.

How are Leroy and other farmers working to reduce agricultural runoff and promote soil health? 

  1. Cover crops - these are plants that are planted after crops have been harvested. They protect the soil for future cash crops, suppress weeds, reduce insect pests and diseases, absorb excess fertilizer, feed the microbes in the soil, enrich the soil with organic matter (we have lost over the last 100 years about 1/2 of our organic matter), improves infiltration and provides a habitat for beneficial insects. Healthy soil systems mean being able to lay off the fertilizer that the pollute water.

  2. Forrest buffers - grasses, trees, plants and shrubs that are planted along the ridges of farm fields and along waterways that help reduce the amount of pollutants flowing from land into rivers and streams. They absorb the polluted runoff and provide habitat for wildlife.

  3. Streamline fencing - keeps the cows, E. coli and chicken waste out of the water.

Unfortunately, these projects can be very expensive, and are hard to start without securing funding from a state or federal fund. Many farmers want to do the right thing for the environment, but do not possess the tools to make it happen. While some are just stuck in their ways. This is why it is imperative that programs be created to help provide funds for farmers to begin these best management practices (BMPs) and for continued maintenance.

I know you're thinking, "Taylor, who cares about farming? How does it in any shape or form affect me?" Well, I thought you'd never ask.

Did you know that agriculture is the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering our streams and rivers? Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment are a big and scary no-no when it comes to water quality.

When we have huge rain storms, sort of like the record breaking ones we just had over the Summer, the rain carries with it fertilizer, manure and herbicides, from farms and garbage from urban development into our local waterways. This is detrimental to aquatic life, our drinking water and causes soil erosion (healthy, stable soil means yummy food for us). The excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that enter these waterways power the growth of nasty algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses. It then robs the water of oxygen that plants and animals are dependent on to survive. So you see, the soil affects our water, which also affects human health.

With all that being said — It’s just nice knowing that we have progressive and innovative farmers who care about land and water conservation as well as keeping our bellies full. We must understand the importance of protecting what nature takes so long to create. I hope that this information and concern for our planet will pass down with each farming generation to come. When you drive past a farm, brightly colored green, with those noticeable BMPs, give them mental props for their commitment to healthy farm practices and clean water.

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Preservation Maryland: Member Highlight

 Photo: Preservation Maryland

Photo: Preservation Maryland

Last month, the Coalition welcomed Preservation Maryland on board as one of our newest members. They are a nonprofit based in Baltimore, Maryland that is dedicated to preserving all of Maryland’s historical sites through advocacy, funding and outreach. We had the pleasure of speaking with Kimberly Brandt, director of Smart Growth Maryland, to find out more on what makes their organization so special.

Tell us about your organization and your mission.

Preservation Maryland is the state’s oldest, largest and most effective preservation organization. Founded in 1931 to protect the best of Maryland, the 87-year old organization has divided its work into several specific categories:

Advocacy: Speaking up and making the case for the policies, programs and funding that make preservation, open space conservation and community revitalization possible.

Outreach & Education: Working to support and empower preservation efforts statewide through coordination, training and direct engagement via our Six-to-Fix program.

Funding: Directly investing in preservation projects through our Heritage Grant Fund, property redevelopment efforts and by working to secure additional private philanthropy in our state’s historic resources.

We consistently work to be a resource for the individuals and grassroots organizations working to save places that matter to their communities. This work takes on many forms, including thousands of hours of technical assistance, capacity building, strategic visioning and establishment of effective partnerships

What is one of your current projects you are the most excited about?

Preservation Maryland is excited about the new Smart Growth Maryland program, which will continue and build upon the work of 1000 Friends of Maryland. The 1000 Friends Board of Directors elected to consolidate with Preservation Maryland earlier this year.

Preservation Maryland was one of the founding organizational members of 1000 Friends of Maryland in 1994 and has been a partner through the years by advocating for the policies and programs that make redevelopment of historic communities and protection of open space a reality.

Preservationists have long made the argument that revitalization of existing communities – and their historic places – is smart growth. When existing communities are revitalized, sprawl development is limited. This symbiotic relationship has kept the smart growth and historic preservation communities advocating on each other’s behalf for many years. The launch of Smart Growth Maryland further solidifies this already strong relationship.

What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future?

Many Maryland cities and towns are struggling while forests and farms are lost to new, car- dependent developments. While minimizing the loss of rural land to development continues to be a priority, Smart Growth Maryland will also increase the focus on investment in established communities. Making it easier for developers to do the right thing remains a challenge that must be addressed. The consolidation of 1000 Friends of Maryland with Preservation Maryland – and the creation of Smart Growth Maryland – presents an exciting opportunity to work with our preservation, transportation and environmental protection partners to grow smarter in Maryland.     

What do you hope to gain from being a member of the Coalition?

Many coalition members have long been partners of 1000 Friends of Maryland. We are excited to be continuing these partnerships under the banner of Smart Growth Maryland and to be working to improve the quality of life in our cities and towns, expand transportation choices and protect and maintain Maryland’s natural areas and open spaces.

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

The Upper Susquehanna Forum Experience

It was a crisp fall day in the Upper Susquehanna watershed, but Choose Clean Water Coalition members were just getting warmed up. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Oneonta, hosted the Third Annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, “Connecting New York to the Chesapeake”, with nearly 100 advocates, clean water practitioners and agricultural experts coming together to share success stories and to build partnerships.

 Ostego Lake

Ostego Lake

Some of us, who arrived a day early, braved the cold, rainy weather and learned more about the problems and successes facing Otsego Lake – the initial source of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. The members met at SUNY Oneonta’s research and education facility on the shores of Otsego Lake, just outside of Cooperstown, New York, and were afforded a short, but magnificent ride on their research vessel once the rain and sleet had eased up.

The following day, we rolled up our sleeves and prepared ourselves for an outstanding conference. It was time to get down to business. Choose Clean Water was welcomed by the Dean of SUNY Oneonta, and also by Congressman John Faso (R-NY). We expressed Choose Clean Water Coalition’s purpose, efforts and victories. Claire Flynn outlined the opportunities for funding provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and their Chesapeake Stewardship Grants. Wendy Walsh announced all of the great work the Upper Susquehanna Coalition does throughout the upper watershed, and what they can provide to assist others in their endeavors.

Government presence was there throughout, with several local government representatives (elected and appointed) who participated in the symposium. Speakers from NY Department of Environmental Conservation spoke on their achievements in the upper watershed. Mary Gattis, Director of Local Government Programs and Coordinator of the Local Government Advisory of Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, galvanized local government officials to collaborate and work together towards common goals.

What was the juiciest talking-point-of-the-day do you ask? Well, that would be agriculture. The biggest topic of conversation for the forum was agriculture – and a lot of it. Jordan Clements with Otsego County Soil and Water, assembled an excellent panel with enlightening dialogue on the region’s dairy farms featuring Dairy Farms and Farmers as Stewards for Water Protection.

Jordan also put together a field trip, which took place towards the end of the day to a local dairy farm, ran by a young couple who are wonderful stewards of their land and water.

 College Camp

College Camp

We had a couple of excellent presentations highlighting local Coalition members and watersheds – from the Butternut Valley Alliance and the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed. Some of us then learned what Pecha Kuchas are – a timed lightening round of powerpoint presentations where the slides are timed to ensure that the speaker speeds things along. It was not, as at least one of us thought, a less visited ancient site in the Peruvian Andes. These presentations were very well done, quick, and highlighted local projects. We also learned a lot about conservation easements from David Diaz, with the Otsego Land Trust.

A few of us also went for a scenic hike on what SUNY Oneonta calls their College Camp – a beautiful 276 acre wooded parcel of land at the top of a large hill (or small mountain) connected to the main campus.

Partnerships were made and continued – some at the post-conference Happy Hour at a local brewery, which included local dairy products compliments of the American Dairy Association North East. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the work of the Coalition’s new State Outreach Lead for New York, Angela Hotaling with NY League of Conservation Voters, who coordinated all of the planning for this great event. Also a special thanks to Les Hasbargen, a professor at SUNY Oneonta who made the venue available to us.

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And before the day was over, there was a lot of discussion about what to do next year. None of the voices were about whether or not there would be a Fourth Annual Forum, but only about where and when it should be. One thing I know is that I’ll be there.

To simply put it – it was a great day.

Presentations:

New York’s TMDL and the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan

Upper Susquehanna Coalition

Aquatic Vegetation Species Program

From the Top of the Watershed to the Bottom of the Bay

Discovering the Butternut Watershed

Chesapeake Stewardship Grant Program

Otsego County Buffer Program

Citizen Science Stream Monitoring Program

Monitoring Otsego Lake

Discovering the Butternut Watershed via Physical Stream Assessment

Peter Marx is the federal affairs contractor for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Year of the Anacostia: Festival del Rio

Festival del Rio is an event designed to engage the Latino community through free bilingual and family-friendly events. This year they also celebrated the Year of the Anacostia. The event was a way for the Hispanic community to unite with the river and learn more about it.

Organizations like Anacostia Watershed Society, EcoLatinos, Anacostia Riverkeeper, Audubon Naturalist Society, Chesapeake Bay Program and more with similar objectives hosted this third annual celebration. They had government sponsors from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Photography by Taylor Montford

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Member Highlight: Namati

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Last month, the Coalition had the pleasure of welcoming our first international member, Namati. Based out of Washington, D.C., Namati is a nonprofit organization committed to placing the law in the hands of the people. Namati situates grassroots legal advocates, also known as “community paralegals,” that work to protect citizens from multiple issues. These challenges span from preserving community land, citizen’s rights and health to exposing environmental injustice. They promote learning and collaboration with practitioners in grassroots organizations worldwide and work to advocate for policies and reforms. We spoke to Alayna Chuney, Environmental Justice Consultant for Namati, to learn more about their purpose.

Tell us about your organization and your mission.

Namati is a Sanskrit word that means “to shape something into a curve”. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. We call ourselves Namati because we’re dedicated to bending that curve.

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Namati is a global organization dedicated to legal empowerment. We focus on “community paralegals”, sometimes called barefoot lawyers or legal empowerment advocates, who demystify law and help people exercise their rights. Namati works with community paralegals in 8 countries and hosts the Global Legal Empowerment Network, made up of over 1500 groups from 130 countries.

Our mission is to build a global movement of grassroots legal advocates who give people the power to understand, use, and shape the law. These advocates form a dynamic, creative frontline that can squeeze justice out of even broken systems.

Legal empowerment advocates treat their clients as empowered citizens rather than victims requiring an expert service. Instead of “I will solve this problem for you,” our message is: “We will solve this together, and you will grow stronger in the process.”

What is one of your current projects you are the most excited about?

This is Namati’s first attempt to support grassroots legal empowerment in the U.S. We have a huge respect for the environmental justice movement here, and we look forward to working with community activists and organizations that are passionate about the environmental justice movement. Namati seeks innovative ways to develop and manage environmental regulation so that they achieve better environmental compliance. We experiment with interventions at the policy level and with institutions and communities. Our program will focus on environmental justice communities in Maryland and D.C and our goal is to create a case mapping system that will allow organizations to effectively track environmental injustices and figure out the legal tools necessary to redress the issue. 

 What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future?

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Namati hopes to focus on environmental issues that impact low-income and minority communities. Our main focus right now is clean water and clean air, but we are realizing that safe housing and lead is a big issue in environmental justice communities and may be something in the future that we look at.

What do you hope to gain from being a member of the Coalition?

Namati hopes to gain lasting relationships with members of the Coalition. There are a ton of resources that the Coalition provides and we would like to use those resources to help us fulfill our mission of fighting environmental injustices. Being a part of the coalition will also allow us to partner with like-minded organizations and to learn about important issues surrounding clean water.

 Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Summer Rain and The Chesapeake Bay

I think we can all agree that water has been dumping into our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay at an alarming rate this summer. Communities throughout the watershed have seen it with their own eyes, with major flooding events causing destruction of property and even loss of life. Maryland alone has experienced the rainiest and wettest year on record in more than a century, with 43 inches of rain falling in July through August. That is the most it’s rained since 1889. One begins to wonder just how much the precipitation has impacted the Chesapeake Bay.

 Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

One of the biggest impacts has been on the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna, which starts in Cooperstown, New York, flows through Pennsylvania, and reaches the Bay in Havre De Grace, Maryland, is the Chesapeake’s largest tributary. The Susquehanna provides half of the Bay’s fresh water and this year river levels have risen to record highs, which in turn has caused major flooding. So much so that Exelon Power, the company that superintends Conowingo Dam and sits on the Susquehanna River, opened the dam’s floodgates multiple times to relieve the pressure building behind the dam. As a result, the dam unleashed nutrient rich sediment and pollution. In the past, the Conowingo Dam was able to hold large quantities of sediment, but the reservoir has reached its capacity, so nutrient and sediment pollution is now making its way over the dam. According to Exelon, the recent amount of debris has been the largest in 20 years. In a statement, Exelon said to have removed 1,800 tons of trash from behind the dam and are still cleaning. When the dam is opened, pollution flows freely down into the Chesapeake, carrying everything from garbage to tree branches and trunks.

In addition to nutrient and trash pollution, the increased water is causing an issue many may not have considered. As an estuary, the Chesapeake receives its fresh water from its rivers and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the all-time-high fresh water flow coming in from its tributaries, the Bay has seen a decrease in its salinity. This can pose a threat to plant and animal life, like oysters and blue crabs, which can only tolerate or thrive in certain water conditions.

 Photo by Matthew Beziat

Photo by Matthew Beziat

Huge rainstorms have proven time and time again how devastating it can be for organisms on land and under water. With heavy rainfall comes not only stormwater runoff but agriculture runoff as well; the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay. The excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that enter the Bay power the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the underwater grasses. It robs the water of oxygen that plants and animals are dependent on to survive. The Bay’s underwater vegetation, where many blue crabs, fish and shellfish reside, is an indicator in determining the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Healthy underwater grasses provide food and habitat for animals, reduces shoreline erosion and improves overall water quality by slowing down the current and filtering sediment.

It will obviously take time for scientists to measure the full effects the rain has truly had on the Bay. In the meantime, let’s do all that we can to prevent any further damage from stormwater runoff by installing rain gardens, rain barrels, forest buffers, and implementing proper conservation practices. If you see trash, pick it up. It will end up somewhere it shouldn’t.  We can’t control the weather, but we can control our own actions.

Learn more about storm water runoff here.

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Must Be Something In The Water

 The Choose Clean Water Steering Committee meets with members of Warm Springs Watershed Association in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

The Choose Clean Water Steering Committee meets with members of Warm Springs Watershed Association in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

“Without the water, there would be no town.” - Jeanne Mozier, Berkeley Springs resident and historian

While it may seem like we are constantly out of the office, the reality is our Coalition staff are usually stuck behind our desks during the year. Part of my job is to share the great work of our members, but rarely do I get to experience it first hand, which is why I was thrilled to be travelling to meet with some of our members in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia last week. While I knew we were going to be visiting the town and seeing member projects, I had no idea how much I would learn about not only our members but the power of water.

The History

The founding of Berkeley Springs can be traced back to the 1740s, when George Washington was sent to survey the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia for Lord Fairfax. After their discovery, the warm springs were said to have medicinal benefits, and as early as the 1750s large bath houses and hotels began to pop up around the springs. The water became a destination for those seeking treatment for everything from anxiety to diabetes, and was even frequented by Washington himself! To this day, people have come to depend on the springs for not only treating their ailments, but also for their drinking water. As we stood learning about the springs, a line of people began to form to fill their empty gallon jugs at the spring’s spigot. As I stopped to take a photo, the woman in line turned to me and said, “it is the best water in the world.”

Pushing Up Daises

 This rain garden is located at the bottom of Greenway Cemetery in Berkeley Springs. The project was made possible by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

This rain garden is located at the bottom of Greenway Cemetery in Berkeley Springs. The project was made possible by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

All of this said, it probably comes as no surprise that the people who live in Berkeley Springs really value keeping their water clean, which could be why there has been such a push for more green infrastructure in the town. The first such project we toured was installed at Greenway Cemetery. Located just across the street from Warm Springs Run, it is a huge plot with a very steep slope. Certain paths and roads through the cemetery would frequently flood and caused cars to become stuck throughout the property. In 2016, Warm Springs Watershed Association worked with a variety of partners to install a rain garden at the bottom of the hill that collects an estimated 100,000 gallons of stormwater runoff during an average rainfall. Funding for the project was provided by a $50,000 Small Watershed Grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (You know, funding that comes from the $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program?), with additional financial support from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia Division of Forestry and Region Nine. Over the past five years, more than 100 additional trees have been planted in the cemetery and they recently installed an innovative hügelkultur-inspired project, which may sound like a delicious German pastry, but is actually a project that will help to reduce flooding downstream.

Greening Main Street

 This innovative project helped reduce flooding on one of the main streets in Berkeley Springs.

This innovative project helped reduce flooding on one of the main streets in Berkeley Springs.

The next project we visited was a series of bioretention cells located along the historic main street of town. Recognizing that it would be almost impossible to create bump outs along the road, which is also a federal highway, the city decided to dig down. They installed permeable pavers that collect water underground for the plants in the bioretention cells to soak up, reducing the amount of water that goes directly into stormdrains. Residents in the town have noticed that when it rains, the ends of the road still flood, while this section of the road with the projects stays dry and allows businesses to stay open. The hope is to eventually install more of these projects along the roadway to help keep even more water from flooding the area and flowing directly into the local stream.

They say the springs are restorative, and although I didn’t have the opportunity to jump in, I did leave Berkeley Springs feeling rejuvenated. Being surrounded by our members who care so deeply about these issues helped to remind me why we all do what we do, why we show up, and why we will continue to show up, each and every day for clean water. Must be something in the water.

Kristin Reilly is the senior communications manager for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Creating Inclusive Spaces: Annapolis Pride

 Photo courtesy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Every June, the nation comes together to celebrate and honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan, New York, which were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. This is why the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” and in major cities across the U.S. the day soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) Pride Month celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposiums and concerts, and attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

Last June, the City of Annapolis made headlines when Mayor Gavin Buckley signed a proclamation declaring June as the city’s first LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We sat down with Jeremy Browning, the founder of Annapolis Pride and staff member of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, to ask a few questions about his experience working with the city to embrace diversity and to bring pride to Annapolis.

Why was it so important to establish Annapolis Pride Month and the Annapolis Pride Organization?

"It's really important because, while there are 600,000 plus people living in Anne Arundel County, there has been no organization to bring people together around Pride like other cities do. We wanted to create a central meeting space for the LGBTQ+ community, which is important for visibility and awareness for those who feel alone and isolated – those who do not feel welcome. The hope is to build a community of shared resources and safe spaces as well as a calendar of events to promote. We want to be a bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and local businesses to include events where everyone can get involved."

What does the acknowledgment of our local LGBTQ+ community mean for all of us?

 Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

"It is a huge deal that the mayor and local government acknowledge that harassment and discrimination cannot be tolerated. This is a powerful message. They recognize that we are marginalized. By acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQ+ community with in our society, we acknowledge the impact LGBTQ+ individuals have on community businesses and the overall structure of Annapolis. As a marginalized group, it is important that we have the support of the establishment and the police force to truly validate our place in Annapolis culture."

 Did you all face any struggles or resistance in the mandating of Annapolis Pride Month?

"Thankfully, no. A letter was sent in May asking if the City of Annapolis would declare June as pride month and we got a call back two hours later with full support. We’ve already received feedback on social media that so far Pride Month has been well received and everyone has been very supportive. We recently experienced some ignorance, with folks making comments like “you already have gay marriage what else do you need,” but people who are not a part of the LGBTQ+ community may not know what it’s like in the day of a life of a LGBTQ+ person and that it takes extra support to bring equality to marginalized groups. So far, we are very grateful that there are been no strong resistance."

 

Are you surprised by how Annapolis Pride has been received?

"Very surprised, but Gavin has been a long time supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. The letter was sent just days before Pride month started in June. It felt like they were ready. They called back in two hours and June 19, 2018 was decided as the proclamation party. Everyone wanted to make a big splash so we hosted it somewhere local versus City Hall. Claire Drapeau, a seventh-grader at Crofton Middle School planned the Pride Walk with the city. I was delighted that they were so supportive. In the past there was resistance, but I think that if Gavin wasn’t Mayor we would be facing more, but that’s also hard to say, because when we were first speaking to the Mayor’s office I was thinking very small scale and they were the ones who pushed for a parade and festival next year. “We want all people here to feel welcome” they told us."

What do you look forward to most about Annapolis Pride Month in 2019?

 Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

"We look forward to bringing the entire community together, not just LGBTQ+—allies, the community, businesses, and all Annapolitans celebrating as one. There are a lot of LGBTQ+ people in Annapolis, but in the past they have had to go to DC or Baltimore in more urban areas to find hubs of the LGBTQ+ community and we hope that this makes it possible for them to feel they do not need to leave to find somewhere to belong. We are excited to host and promote events, as well as to see other organizations create and share their events. We want local businesses to see that this is the right thing to do. Now that this month is more established, we can also make things more out and colorful in 2019, with many more rainbow flags next year. We are excited for youth, transgender and minority people to come together in 2019.

There is not a central meeting place in Anne Arundel County, no "gayborhood" and no designated gay friendly area. I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking down Main Street holding hands with my partner. Many people I’ve spoken to share the same sentiment. By creating events, picnics, and visibility, there is a truly safe space for the LGBTQ+ community."

What kind of future do you envision of the LGBTQ+ community of Annapolis? Do you hope this will affect LGBTQ+ youth growing up in Annapolis? How?

"In summer 2017, I saw a rainbow flag at the St. Luke's Church in Eastport, and that was the first rainbow flag I had ever noticed in Annapolis. Why is that the first one we’ve seen here? It’s now 2018, so you’d think there would be more by now. There were challenges in my personal and professional life as a gay man encountering those who might not be open to people with a lifestyle like mine. I thought it would be great to have a pride in Annapolis, so I started laying the ground work. At the end of May, we launched a Facebook group that now has over 3,300 followers in short amount of time, and through this community we are already planning for 2019.  

We like the idea of “one Annapolis” where we are all together and we are all equal - no matter your race, sexual or gender identity. We hope that one day we won’t need a pride and that feeling equal and welcomed will become interwoven in society.

This Annapolis Pride movement is the most important for Queer and questioning youth/adults. Through visibility, they may realize they are not alone. The more resources that are available in schools and communities, the more comfortable queer and questioning youth they will be exploring and accepting themselves. Growing up here, there was nothing, and a lot of people still feel isolated and alone. I want them now to grow up knowing we have resources here. Someone who is 15 or 16 might not be able to go to more urban areas and discover a Queer community they can join, so we must make their hometown safe and accommodating.

There is no time like the present – and the rights that the LGBTQ+ community has worked so hard for could be taken away. Minorities are always at risk when the majority decides their rights. We cannot just be complacent and think that everything will be fine when there are people actively working against everything we have created. It is important that we stay vigilant and active in our community."

How receptive has your workplace been to Annapolis Pride?

 Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

Photo courtesy of Annapolis Pride

"The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been very supportive of Annapolis Pride, even providing free meeting space. Our Executive Director, Kate Fritz, is a strong ally and truly understands the importance of inclusive and safe spaces. It was Kate's idea to put the rainbow flag on the corner for Pride Month. This really touched my heart and made me even more proud to be a part of the Alliance family. We need strong allies and increased visibility. The rainbow flag is a symbol of inclusiveness. As a society we have made leaps and bounds to gaining equality, but the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination and harassment."

What advice would you give other organizations who are looking to create safe spaces for LGBTQ people?

"Be a leader, be an ally. If you support equal rights, be vocal, be visible. Show your support. Invite LGBTQ+ staff, members, partners, allies to share their thoughts. Ask what your organization and community needs. When Kate Fritz, said we should put a rainbow flag out on the corner, I was nervous. I didn't know what the reaction would be. Before we put the flag up, I asked Kate if she had any concerns about upsetting board members or sponsors and she said, without hesitation, "No, I'm not concerned because it is the right thing to do". Stand up for those who may not be strong enough to stand up for themselves. Inclusiveness and equity for all is not just the right thing to do, it also makes organizations and communities stronger. Don't let fear stop you from doing what is right." 

Jeremy Browning is the development and executive administrative assistant in the Maryland & DC Office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Member Highlight: The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center

This month, the Coalition welcomed new member The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC), a Maryland-based organization that promotes restoration, education, conservation, and overall stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay Region. With tons of activities for the public, they hope to connect with you. We spoke to Courtney Leigh, director of communications and strategic initiatives, to learn more about the programs and mission of CBEC.

Tell us a little about your organization and mission. 

 Over 600 species of birds call CBEC home throughout the year!

Over 600 species of birds call CBEC home throughout the year!

The Wildfowl Trust of North America Inc. was founded in 1979, with the intent to protect wetlands for waterfowl while maintaining captive waterfowl collections for educational purposes. In 1981, the Trust purchased a 315-acre farm tract in Grasonville, Maryland on which it initially established Horsehead Wetlands Center and opened to the public in 1985. In 1998, the Trust purchased an additional 195 acres and placed the now 510-acre preserve under conservation easement.

In 2002, the Trust revamped its mission to address the issues of declining water quality, urban sprawl and habitat loss and set a goal to be recognized as a leader in environmental education and bay restoration. The site was renamed the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center to reflect the new focus of the mission.

The mission of the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is to promote stewardship and sustainability through environmental education and habitat restoration.

                                                                                               

 Take a guided kayak tour! 

Take a guided kayak tour! 

What is one of your current projects you are the most excited about?

I am thrilled that CBEC is expanding our Kayak Programs. CBEC believes that accessibility to the waters of the Bay will increase appreciation, knowledge, and stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem. For this reason, CBEC is hosting six ACA Instruction Programs for Kayak Paddling Skills and Assessments in the spring and summer to ensure paddlers have the opportunity to hone paddling technique and learn safety and rescue strategies. I love facilitating this program by developing the instruction courses, promoting the courses, and teaching the instruction courses.

What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future?  

 Become a Maryland Master Naturalist! 

Become a Maryland Master Naturalist! 

In my new role at CBEC as Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, I hope to focus on engaging more donors to our contribution base that will allow CBEC to effectively serve as the premier environmental education organization in the Bay watershed and maintain our property as crucial habitat for the wildlife of the watershed, while also offering visitors a chance to eco-recreate!

What do you hope to gain from being a member of the Coalition? 

By being a member of the Coalition, I hope to be able to connect with other organizations to find symbiotic partnerships.  I also hope to be able to contribute to initiatives on topics of equity and communications.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water

 

Tools for the modern nonprofit

Managing internal and external communications can be difficult, and just as difficult - finding the best outlets to help. Our communications staff relies on two websites specifically to keep our heads from flying off - Hootsuite for managing social media and Trello for managing ourselves.

 Image courtesy of Hootesuite.com

Image courtesy of Hootesuite.com

In this day and age, it’s vital that your social media accounts stay current, active, and organized. This is where Hootsuite sweeps in to save the day. Through Hootsuite’s platform you can manage multiple networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) all through one page, making the overwhelming world of social media seem, well slightly, less overwhelming. The user friendly set up works for all skill levels, you don’t need to be under 30 and tech savvy. Our favorite part of Hootsuite is that it allows us to schedule tweets, which helps us plan a day or two in advance, schedule tweets for the weekend or holidays, and look over each other’s tweets prior to posting.  It’s also completely cross platform, meaning that it functions well on Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, and mobile platforms. For the nonprofit community, this tool has the added benefit of being free (the standard version), which makes this a realistic option for increasing the extent of your communications reach.  

 Image courtesy of Hootsuite.com

Image courtesy of Hootsuite.com

 Photo courtesy of Trello.com

Photo courtesy of Trello.com

Trello is a personal favorite of mine, and I use it to organize my life – work related and otherwise. Think of it as a day planner with endless tabs and options, never running out of space or needing white-out. When you open Trello, you are shown your first board. Each board you make can be for a different project, trip, event, or anything you need to organize. Within each board, are lists of tasks that need to be done – with customizable labels and checklists within them. So what exactly makes this so great for work? Beyond just being visually stunning (there are some seriously high quality photos to customize each board with) and user friendly, Trello is the ideal project management tool. You can share boards with others, assigning lists and tasks to your team members in a way that allows for everyone to be on the same page and finishing tasks by assigned due dates. Like Hootsuite, the standard version is free to use and completely cross platform as well. Another really cool aspect to Trello is that is works in real time, you never need to refresh to see updates and any changes your team mates make happen instantly on your end.

 Image courtesy of Trello.com

Image courtesy of Trello.com

There are plenty of free tools out there to discover that can make your life easier, but I personally recommend starting with the two I have mentioned if what you need is a little more organization and social media management. The real selling points of Hootsuite and Trello, however, are how they are truly made with the visual human in mind. A simple layout that can manage many layers of information is rare and, with so much to juggle in the 21st century, it is crucial.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water

Making the MOST of Annapolis

On any given day in Annapolis, you can hear the shoes of state legislators slap across the old brick roads of West Street, bump into sailors and Navy plebes, and ogle at rows of beautiful boats in the harbor. Like any idyllic bay-side town, buildings are painted in shades of blue and grey that pay tribute to the neighboring Chesapeake Bay and it is hard to walk more than 20 feet without seeing some sort of tribute to the blue crab, a Marylander’s pride and joy. With centuries of history tied deeply to the Chesapeake, it is easy to see why this special and historic town is a must see for visitors from around the world.

Being a popular tourist location, the Annapolis Visitor Center receives heavy traffic. Rather than maneuvering some tricky parallel parking on the narrow roads or using a garage, visitors can instead conveniently park in the Visitor Center Parking Court. Unfortunately, the parking court was a stormwater nightmare that no one noticed at first. As any good Annapolitan knows, “All Drains Lead to the Bay”, and the impervious (non-absorbent) pavement used to build the parking court allowed for polluted rainwater to slide right into our Bay. Having what was essentially a pollution slip-n-slide just a few blocks from the Harbor seemed like a bad idea, which is why the Municipal Online Stormwater Training Center (MOST) worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment, and government leaders, to come up with a stormwater friendly plan.

 Photo courtesy of  Annapolis Landscape Architects

Following the educational guidance of MOST and using funding provided by the city of Annapolis, the pavement was replaced with permeable pavers – which allowed for rain to soak down into the ground and be filtered instead of directly carrying contaminants, like motor oil, to stormdrains. A center piece rain garden was also built, centering the oblong parking court like an egg yolk. The city also included recycled curbs, solar-powered meters, and bike racks to encourage ecofriendly transportation. In 2015, this project won “Best Ultra Urban Design” from the Stormwater Network – giving Annapolitans one more thing to be proud of.

A large part of this success is owed to MOST, as this group of environmentalists and educators pulled together both the funding and resources to make it happen. No environmentalist complains about having a local government interested in funding projects, but if no one understands exactly how to apply funding to the issue, in this case stormwater, no effective change can happen. Education is key, and MOST offers free online lessons, toolkits, success stories, and more for anyone interested in a better understanding of what they can do for their community’s polluted runoff issues. They even created a map showing a wide range of other stormwater projects around Maryland called Stormwater Success Stories. Environmental passion, proper education tools, and supportive funders created the perfect storm to combat stormwater runoff in Annapolis – and perhaps soon in a city near you.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water

And That's the End of the First Half...

Growing up in a basketball-obsessed family, it is hard not to hear about “Halftime for the Bay”, better known as the Midpoint Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay clean up, without making sports analogies. Also, as someone who does not fully understand all of the often confusing and sometimes wonky components of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, I find it easier to think of it as just one big basketball tournament that started in 2009. We have seven jurisdictions (teams), with three different types of players (agriculture, urban and suburban stormwater, and wastewater), all trying to overcome certain obstacles (nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment), in order to achieve their goals (all projects for a clean Bay in place by 2025).

So grab that Gatorade and towel from the bench. This is Chesapeake Sports Night.

The first half of the restoration effort started off strong and had some stand out players that should be recognized. Teams District of Columbia and West Virginia have really dominated the first half, with player’s reaching their nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment ‘halftime’ goals. These small, but mighty, teams are definitely on track for a win come 2025, as long as the coach can make some strategic adjustments in the second half (more on that later).

The rest of the field is a mixed bag. You have Virginia, who played relatively well, but is still having issues managing nitrogen and sediment. New York is in the same boat as Virginia, but their nitrogen problems have actually INCREASED since 2009. Maryland and Delaware have both played relatively well, but are also plagued by nitrogen problems that they just cannot seem to get under control. And then there is Pennsylvania. A well-known underdog, this team is suffering from major funding issues that are having an impact on their player’s ability to achieve nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment goals for the state.

After such a strong start (for most states), why are so many teams struggling as we enter the second half? They put their faith in one single player – wastewater (I could make a LeBron James joke here, but that’s a conversation for another time.) Wastewater is the water which is used in our homes and businesses, think showers, toilets, sinks, washing machines, etc., that typically goes into a treatment facility to be cleaned before being released either into a local waterway or back into the utility system. All of the states focused on wastewater first, their best and easiest player to manage, by making technical upgrades to their treatment facilities. The only state that was not able to capitalize on their wastewater player was New York, which had major challenges upgrading one of their systems.

However, wastewater is tired. It has been playing for the whole first half, and for most states, treatment facilities are now operating at best available technology. In other words, there is very little wastewater can do for the team and relying on it will no longer help push these teams to their goals. If the states are to ever be ‘champs’, they need to refocus their energy, resources, and coaching on other players, like agriculture, and urban and suburban runoff.

Most states have yet to fully tap into these other players because they are often difficult to deal with. They are complicated sources of pollution to track and measure, and often have many other influences. They also require a lot of ‘fan’ or community engagement, buy-in from the local business community, require engaging with local officials (who do not always make the right calls), and partnering with people who may not be their biggest fan. But much like any basketball team, a strong fan base is essential for victory, and the states must turn their attention to these other players if they are to succeed in 2025.

So what are our notes to the coaches for the second half of this game, I mean restoration effort?

  • West Virginia cannot get complacent. Urban and suburban areas in the state are growing, which means more pollution from this source. Start thinking about plays like green infrastructure now before it is too late!
     
  • Maryland must find and educate officials who will make calls that support fixing stormwater and flooding issues. We have seen enough the past few months to know that we are not doing enough and it will only get worse with climate change coming to town.
     
  • For Delaware, agriculture and urban and suburban runoff have to get their nitrogen under control. A full court press to put more projects in the ground and you could be looking at victory!
     
  • With no agriculture on their team, the District of Columbia must focus on urban and suburban runoff, and they may have brought in a ringer. Many are banking on their new draft pick “Chris”, a 680-ton tunnel-boring machine that will help divert combined sewer overflow away from the Anacostia River.
     
  • For the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is all about investing in their players for the long haul. We are talking multi-year and multi-million dollar 'contracts' for programs like Stormwater Local Assistance and the Agricultural Cost Share. Both of these programs are vital to not only engaging the community in the game, but putting projects in the ground that will help Virginia meet their goals related to nitrogen and sediment.
     
  • New York has to figure out how to tackle their nitrogen problem from ALL sources. They have to come up with a play that upgrades their wastewater treatment facilities and also reduces pollution from agriculture.
     
  • Pennsylvania, do not get discouraged. You may be behind but we are all rooting for you! Mainly because if you do not get things going, we are all in trouble. The state must figure out how to push out more funding for on the ground projects, especially to support the agricultural community. Maybe a dedicated funding source for clean water, perhaps? The last thing we need is the EPA calling a ‘technical foul’ on Pennsylvania.

And what can we, as fans, do? We can be supportive but also hold our teams accountable to their goals; for in this game, there is no overtime.

*BUZZER*

And with that, let’s start the second half.

Kristin Reilly is the senior communications director for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Engaging New Communities in Baltimore

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

On a beautifully bright Sunday afternoon, 241 volunteers from two faith-based congregations in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, joined in fellowship and stewardship as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Latino congregation, Templo de Alabanza y Restauración (TAYR) led the charge in collaboration with community partner, Pathway Church of God, for a joint, bilingual worship service that culminated in:

-        The removal of 500 lbs. of trash from neighborhood streets,

-        The painting of two storm drains, and

-        Maintenance of a 604 square foot native garden planted by both congregations in previous years.

This marked the first of 4 debris cleanups within the Masonville Cove watershed that TAYR will lead as a part of the Patapsco Latino Action Network (PLAN) project. Currently funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants program, this National Aquarium project looks to inclusively address the problem of marine debris in the watershed by engaging Latino volunteers and community members in hands-on marine debris cleanup events, facilitating community-led comprehensive strategies to address debris problems, and building the capacity for Latino community members to develop leadership skills focused on the long-term reduction of marine debris.

The National Aquarium’s connection to the Masonville Cove watershed stems from its involvement in the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership, one of the first in the nation as designated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. What once thrived as a beloved community natural area in the 1940s, became a neglected area of shoreline overrun with invasive species and debris. The Maryland Port Administration, in partnership with Living Classrooms Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Aquarium have worked collaboratively to design an area that would initiate meaningful stewardship opportunities for neighborhood families and engaging programming to connect those individuals to the natural world within their own backyard.

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

The Aquarium led efforts to engage community stakeholders, including residents, local environmental non-profit organizations and city officials, creating opportunities for people to identify and address key environmental issues or interests. These interests include issues such as debris accumulation and community greening, within the surrounding communities of the site. This Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP), which was an initial product of these community engagement efforts, has served as a critical guiding piece as part of our community engagement efforts.

The Aquarium recognized that in order for these efforts to be successful, they had to be viewed through a diversity, equity, inclusion and justice lens. One critical priority of this overall effort was the need for outreach, engagement and programming for Latino families in the community, which represented a growing demographic within South Baltimore. According to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, from 2000 to 2012, the Hispanic population grew by almost 125 percent throughout the state and by 150 percent just in Baltimore City.

The Aquarium, through the implementation of a community pillar approach, has been purposeful in engaging Latino families within the community. From the onset, TAYR not only expressed their desire to become involved in community stewardship projects, but also connect and engage with other local Latino families, building this larger network. Thus, through the PLAN project, the Aquarium looks to not only support, but build the capacity of TAYR to develop these transformational relationships with other local Latino groups and families. The ultimate outcome of this “train-the trainer” methodology, is the empowerment of the congregation to lead community stewardship initiatives.

This year the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership in collaboration with TAYR and HAF, hosted its 2nd ever Latino Conservation Week event! Inclusivity was the uniting theme of this programmatic effort, from the planning onset we knew that TAYR was not available during this actual week, but that didn’t stop us. Driven by a collective desire to celebrate Latino culture and engagement, we planned accordingly to host an event on Sunday June 24th, during which over 80 TAYR congregants had opportunities to participate in guided nature walks, creature features, fishing and safe archery programs, as well as design t-shirts.

Blog written by Curtis Bennett and Andrea Van Wyk, formatted and edited by intern Mary Katherine Sullivan.

The Delmarva Pipeline

Many people may not know this, but our watershed constantly faces new and proposed natural gas pipeline projects. From the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in western Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, activists and environmentalists fight an uphill battle to protect the Chesapeake watershed from potential damage these projects might cause. Earlier this year, the Delmarva Pipeline Company presented plans to build an almost 200 mile long natural gas pipeline that would run from Cecil County, Maryland to Accomac Virginia. While this pipeline has received minor attention so far, it is important that we understand potential risks that come along with transporting natural gas in the stretch of land between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean – two priceless bodies of water.

delmarvamap.png

The natural gas for the Delmarva Pipeline will be sourced from the Marcellus Shale, a gas producing rock formation in the north east of the United States. The proposed pipeline will carry the gas underground along a path that starts in the northern border of Maryland and Pennsylvania, travel straight through Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and eventually stop in the northern part of Virginia’s coastline. This stretch of land is a beautiful and historic part of early America, which many of the families who live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have called home for hundreds of years. This pipeline, will cross through farms, rivers, and forests. Like all pipelines, it runs the risk of explosions, leaks, contaminated water, and of course damages to private property should an explosion or leak reach a home.

With any large scale project happening close to the water, we run the risk of sediments reaching the Chesapeake Bay (see this article from Chesapeake Bay Foundation for more on the general risks of pipelines). Leaks are also a real issue with pipelines, and an underground pipeline like this could have a huge effect on ground water should a leak occur – not to mention any explosive situations that could rattle the ground. For more specific threats to the residents around this proposed pipeline, check out the website for No Eastern Shore Pipeline. Stay informed on the progress of the Delmarva Pipeline and reach out to your local environmental groups to see what you can do – we all have a responsibility to fight for the protection of clean, healthy water. You can impact the future of our Bay watershed for the better. All it takes, is action.

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Here are a few more resources about the Delmarva Pipeline:

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water.

Chesapeake Bay Blueprint Progress

 Photo by Virginia Sea Grant

Photo by Virginia Sea Grant

A few weeks ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released their Midpoint Assessment – a report that highlights the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions’ progress to meet their Chesapeake Bay restoration goals. The report shows that while we are seeing improved underwater grasses, crab populations, and a decrease in dead zones, some states are not on track to meet their goals to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.

 Photo by Matthew Beziat 

Photo by Matthew Beziat 

The Bay jurisdictions have until 2025 to fully implement the plans necessary to meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This Blueprint set scientific maximums for the amount of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus that the Bay can handle during a state of restoration. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s report organized the midpoint results by state.

Here are some highlights:

Maryland was successful in achieving its goals for reducing sediment and phosphorus, but not nitrogen. To improve the nitrogen levels, Maryland will need to explore further work in reducing agricultural runoff and septic system pollution. Pennsylvania was far off on reaching their sediment and nitrogen goals due to polluted runoff from agricultural and urban areas. They have much work to do to reach their 2025 goals. Virginia reached their goals in nitrogen and phosphorus, but not sediment and needs to focus on reducing urban and suburban runoff. Delaware was successful in sediment reduction, but struggled with reducing nitrogen from many sources. The District of Columbia was overall very successful, though they still face challenges with reducing urban and suburban runoff. New York has much more work to do to reduce their nitrogen pollution, and West Virginia has achieved almost all of their goals, with the exception of nitrogen from urban and suburban runoff.

For more a more detailed analysis, check out the full report here.

 

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition

The Chesapeake at the Midpoint

The Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort has become an example for other watersheds in the country, due to the collective efforts of the regional partnership. For the past two decades, federal, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and citizens have come together to secure a bright future for the health of the Bay and the millions of people and wildlife that depend on it.

Midpoint Assessment

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL calls for a Midpoint Assessment, where the jurisdictions will review their progress towards meeting nutrient and sediment pollution load reductions. As one can imagine, each state possess its own set of hurdles. Some jurisdictions have challenges related to stabilizing funding needs for projects like agricultural best management practices and innovative stormwater retrofits, which have proven to be some of the best solutions to address excess loads. Investing in these practices have been very beneficial to jurisdictions in the watershed, but can be tough to implement by state legislatures.

As our population continues to grow there is also a need to account for growth and climate change impacts. To make matters worse, pollution loads from nonpoint sources continue to be a growing issue in the watershed that has been difficult to manage. Lastly, there is a need to address the sediment and nutrient pollution coming over the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, which provides the Chesapeake with 70 percent of its freshwater. These demands must be met in order to achieve our water quality goals.

As part of the TMDL, the states and the District are required to develop Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) – roadmaps for addressing their share of pollution reductions. In theory, the WIPs are supposed to be binding plans, although in practical terms, they are only as binding as EPA is willing to insist that the states live up to their commitments. Each WIP is developed in partnership with 

input from stakeholders, scientists, nonprofits, and local governments, and each jurisdiction is required to develop WIPs at three distinct phases before the 2025 deadline. Understanding where challenges lie within each of the respective jurisdictions will allow the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to streamline implementation. Once released, the Midpoint Assessment can be used to better assess constraints that currently present themselves in the cleanup plan. Until then, let’s take a look at how each of the Bay states have characterized and evaluated prior WIPs, remaining challenges for meeting pollution targets, and how the public can engage in the next Phase of the WIP development. 

New York

 Photo Courtesy of Otsego Land Trust

Photo Courtesy of Otsego Land Trust

The WIP development in New York has been a collaborative effort between New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Cornell University. Implementation took place at the county level by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts who share more than 5,000 conservation projects. Pollution reduction from the agriculture, wastewater, and stormwater sectors have been a main focus in the previous phases of the WIP.

During the Phase II WIP, New York failed to fully implement its nitrogen and sediment reduction goals. While New York has comprehensive programs, particularly for agriculture, tracking best management practices (BMPs) and sharing that information across projects has been difficult.  Fortunately, some improvements were made to curb phosphorus leaching through wastewater and fertilizers. Through the legislature, several laws were passed to limit these pollutants in commercial use. Reinvestments in wastewater, sewer, and septic upgrades were also made to clean water infrastructure. For the Phase III WIP, advocates in New York would like to address the future impact of climate change and improve data tracking. The Upper Susquehanna Coalition is currently developing the National Environmental Information Exchange Network (NEIN) for future data reporting on the Chesapeake Bay Program. The data will be used for WIP III planning and specific data needs. 

Pennsylvania

Prior to the Phase III WIP development, Pennsylvania’s Phase II WIP had little teeth to enforce county targets leading to the state falling short of meeting its goals. Future improvements such as a county level scale and enforceable local TMDL efforts could prove beneficial for the Phase III WIP development. Pennsylvania faces a number of challenges to meeting its commitment to achieving pollution reduction. Insufficient funding resources continue to put a strain on common sense practices that benefit clean water in Pennsylvania. The state lacks a dedicated funding source to implement best management practices and clean water programs. Establishing a dedicated clean water fund, such as the proposed HB20 would be crucial. Along with this, state resource agencies have not received adequate funding over the last several years. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been slashed by roughly 40% over the past 14 years, which has increased wait times on permits and decreased and their ability to provide oversight. There is a dire need to revamp the agriculture cost share program and nutrient credit trading programs.

In addition to addressing these shortfalls, advocates are pushing for a comprehensive plan outlining public engagement to garner buy-in from the community and stakeholders for the Phase III WIP in four pilot counties (Lancaster, York, Adams, and Franklin County). Through this process, the state is hoping to better engage individuals from a variety of backgrounds to develop BMP's to help meet the TMDL. The DEP and the state are doing this from a local level, they want to make sure they allow the counties and their local governments are able to set forth goals that are quantifiably reachable for their region.  The state has developed a steering committee dedicated to restoring its rivers and streams via the WIP process, and the public is encouraged to engage in steering committee meetings to provide input on the WIP, which focuses on local government engagement. For any of that to succeed, however, it is imperative that EPA exerts its authority to implement backstops for pollution reduction goals at the state level, so that goals will be met even if the state’s efforts falter.

West Virginia

The implementation process of WIP II implementation in the state has been steered by the West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Tributaries Strategies Team, a partnership of agencies and non profits working with local governments, utilities, land owners, and the public. Coordinated by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with support from the from the Conservation Agency, Division of Forestry, Division of Agriculture, and the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning 

Development Council (Region 9). This effort has been primarily focused on finding connections among the goals and mandates of local governments with the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. Pollutions reductions from the agriculture and stormwater sectors remain a particular focus in West Virginia. 

 Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

The Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9) staffs the Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Program Coordinator, to work with local governments and utilities to develop projects across multiple sectors to include agriculture and stormwater, This role key is to identify critical matching funds for projects to meet the goals of the TMDL. Two projects in the City of Charles Town and the Town of Bath exemplify how the local governments leveraged existing funds for projects that reduce wastewater discharge and provide solutions to stormwater management through green infrastructure practices. While these projects have helped to mitigate pollution entering the watershed success lies in helping local government solve their identified problems by tapping into the Chesapeake Bay Program effort.

Inadequate funding for conservation practices continues to be an impediment in West Virginia.  For the Phase III WIP development, advocates in West Virginia aspire to see more capacity for local governments to enhance on the ground project coordination.  Planning for green infrastructure and innovative land conservation planning have funding needs, but would be ideal to consider in the development of WIP III. Additionally, there is a need for more robust public awareness throughout the state. Much of the focus on the WIP has been technical without a clear vision as to why these practices benefit local waterways which benefit public health and prosperity for the state.  

 

Delaware

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is leading the effort for WIP implementation in Delaware. The department has convened the Chesapeake Bay Interagency Workgroup made up of representatives from each DNREC Division, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Office of State Planning Coordination, County Conservation Districts, and other stakeholders. The Workgroups will focus on two selected sectors: agriculture and developed. They are responsible for recommending and reviewing sub-allocating methodologies 

to the various nonpoint sources within the basins, assessing current data tracking and reporting systems, determining maximum implementation goals and methods to fill program funding gaps.

Moving forward, targeted local partners and contractors will need to be involved with public forums and discussions as needed. During the next Phase of the WIP, targeted local partners and contactors will need to be involved with public forms and discussions as needed. DNREC has expressed a need for additional resources from the EPA to achieve expectations for milestones. Delaware is on track for Phase III WIP planning targets for phosphorus, but needs work on their targets for nitrogen. Accounting for future stressors, such as population growth and climate change, must be analyzed to ensure nutrients loads are met. During the development of the Phase III WIP, Delaware needs to ensure strong state best management practice verification plans and local government engagement in the WIP development to create clear numeric goals for localities.

Maryland

The state of Maryland has been actively engaged during the WIP development process. Every county in Maryland submitted a Phase II WIP focusing on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reductions with a focus on agriculture, forests, atmospheric deposition, septic, stormwater, and wastewater sectors. Past WIP processes have provided invaluable information about local conditions and capacity to reduce pollution. The plans submitted by the counties have identified specific opportunities to increase the rate of progress towards cleanup goals.

 Photo courtsy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Photo courtsy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Advocates in Maryland would like to see a gap analysis from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on where in fact the state stands on meeting its goals for 2025. In order to meet Bay TMDL goals, MDE and local jurisdictions need to accelerate the pace of projects, as well as provide proper verification of well-maintained best management practices. In order to truly reach and maintain our 2025 goals, Maryland needs to improve enforcement, adaptive management, and funding for execution long term improvements to water quality. In an effort to increase awareness and engage the public during the next Phase of the WIP, the state has been hosting a series of regional workshops. These meetings are intended to inform participants about the Phase III WIP process, provide opportunities for questions and feedback, and promote interaction between local partners 

and state agencies. Presentations will be made by staff of Maryland Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources, and Planning on topics such as the Conowingo Dam, wastewater, agriculture, funding, and more.

During the Phase III WIP development, advocates would like to see MDE request that counties undertake a program assessment that builds on their local Phase II WIP as the first step in local Phase III WIP planning. Planning should include county planning targets to close the gap. Additional tools and technical assistance could also provide more guidance and assistance to counties during the development of the Phase III WIP. In addition, there is a need to fill vacancies within the MDE and other agencies involved in pollution reduction efforts. Funding constraints continue to be a barrier within the state and at the county level to achieve water quality goals.  

Virginia

Localities in Virginia have lacked direction on how to best implement the WIPs and have expressed concerns to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). A recent statewide election cycle positioned Ann Jennings, an established advocate for the Chesapeake and the former Chesapeake Bay Commission Virginia Director, as the Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for DEQ. Nonprofits in Virginia remain optimistic that the future of WIP development in the state will be successful with the new state leadership. Stakeholder groups have now convened under the new administration to prepare for local area planning goals.  

 Photo courtesy of the James River Association

Photo courtesy of the James River Association

This summer the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council is hosting a series of roundtables to hear from local elected officials. Each roundtable will include a facilitated discussion about the challenges, successes, and opportunities communities across the Commonwealth face in protecting and restoring waterways. The information provided will be shared with Virginia’s leaders in order to foster a better understanding of the connection between local issues and priorities and the state’s commitments to protecting downstream waters.

During the development of the Phase III WIP, Virginians are looking for more incentives and support from the state to guide and bolster implementation. A big goal for Phase III is to create local strategies rather than focusing on statewide goals. The conservation community will be making a push to enforce non-regulatory goals that will ultimately be effective in guiding efforts to achieve 

water quality standards. Local area efforts could ultimately be seen as a tool to improve accountability and help guide financial investment for cost-share programs. Overall, connecting the WIP to local water is critically important.   

Washington, DC

Unlike the other Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions, the District has limited space for farmland and green space. Much of the District is comprised of imperious surfaces from parking lots, large buildings, and sidewalks. Due to this, stormwater runoff continues to be the largest contributor to poor water quality entering DC’s combined sewer system. Luckily, stormwater runoff is being mitigated through a variety of efforts to include new municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits, multi-sector general permits, federal facility stormwater compliance, wastewater treatments plant upgrades, and the stormwater reduction credit trading program. The District also has several outreach programs for residents designed to reduce stormwater contamination such as Canopy 3,000. This program was designed to expand the number of trees planted on private property and public spaces with a goal to cover 40% of the District with tree canopy by 2032. Each year, the District and its partners have continued to exceed annual planting goals of Canopy 3,000.

The nation’s capital has stringent MS4 permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which contains requirements for conversion of impervious surfaces to pervious surfaces through green infrastructure. This program is critical since federal facilities make up a large portion of impervious surface in the area. Federal facility compliance with stormwater requirements is a huge challenge in DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) and their combined efforts with be essential to enable DC to meet its pollution goals by 2025. The lack of DC authority to compel the development of effective stormwater control plans by the agencies or enforce them presents and important opportunity to help hold those agencies accountable. Keeping tracking of contaminated stormwater runoff from new commercial facilities and dwelling units will be a focus of the upcoming WIP developments.

Looking forward: Phase III WIP

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL Midpoint Assessment is expected to be released at any moment, and will be a reflection of how far the Bay community has come to meet our clean up requirements. Continued support from local elected officials, members of Congress, businesses, nonprofits and local communities is vital to achieving cleanup goals and to restoring the watershed to health. The region’s economy and its people depend on these efforts to clean up the thousands of rivers and streams.

 

Mariah Davis is the Field Manager at Choose Clean Water.

Member Highlight: Cacapon Institute

We had the opportunity to speak to Frank Rodger of Cacapon Institute to learn what makes this organization so wonderful. Not only were they awarded the Arbor Day Foundation’s Headwaters Award, but their continued work in educating the community and youth has made a big difference in their local West Virginia communities.

Tell us about Cacapon Institute, what makes you all unique, and your mission.

Since 1985, from the Cacapon River, to the Potomac, to the Chesapeake Bay, Cacapon Institute has protected rivers and watersheds using science and education.  The Institute is unique because we focus on hands-on education that engages youth and adults in real-world watershed conservation Best Management Practices (BMPs).  BMPs include tree plantings, and installing rain gardens and rain cistern. BMPs reduce non-point source stormwater runoff pollution at the source, before it can reach local streams.  We are a certified West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection laboratory. We do water testing regularly and, like many groups, we teach the importance of watershed protection.  What makes us unique is that, in addition to the instruction, we provide technical and material support so students, watershed associations, and civic organizations can engage directly in watershed protection and restoration.

Cacapon Institute has three hands-on BMP programs.  PHLOW, Potomac Headwaters Leaders of Watershed, began in 2008 teaching “Watershed 101” to students and engaging them in BMP projects at their schools.  Thousands of students have learned the causes of stormwater runoff pollution, solutions to pollutions, and been personally engaged in mitigating runoff pollution.  Students are learning by doing and leading by example to protect rivers and watershed suing science and education.

Cacapon Institute inherited Carla Hardy West Virginia Project CommuniTree in 2011 and we have grown “CTree” into West Virginia’s largest volunteer tree steward program for planting on public lands. We have provided technical and material resources, including more than five-thousand no-cost trees to our volunteers across the eight counties of West Virginia’s Potomac Basin. The Institute is the “urban forestry” lead for the West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Program. Urban forests are the trees we live with, the trees that grace our towns, parks, schools, neighborhoods, and roadsides.

Cacapon Institute’s newest program “Your Community BMP” is engaging private landowners in tree planting and BMPs. The Institute provides planning assistance, education, and material assistance to private homeowners and businesses to help them reduce their “footprint” and better manage their property to have a positive impact to protect local streams, the Potomac, and the Chesapeake Bay. Private landowners in turn contribute financially and invest their time and energy to make their properties more Bay friendly.

Cacapon Institute’s unique blend of arboriculture, conservation BMPs, education, and science combines to engage youth and adults across all walks of life and backgrounds from the Shenandoah Valley, through West Virginia, and into Western Maryland.  We believe that, with education and the requisite technical and material support, private citizens can have the greatest positive impact to protect and restore local waters, the Potomac, and Chesapeake Bay.

What does receiving the Headwaters Award mean to you all?

 Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Headwaters Award is the greatest honor ever bestowed on Cacapon Institute.  In 2008, Cacapon Institute won first place in the North American Adobe/Tech Soup “Show You Impact” design contest for “Environmental Impact.”  In recent years, the Institute has received the Chesapeake Bay Program’s “Forest Champion” and The Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture’s “Green Leaf.”  West Virginia DEP recognized Cacapon Institute as a “State Champion for Partnership Building.”

In all our years, the most heartfelt recognition Cacapon Institute has received came from Finley’s Green Leap Forward. Elizabeth Finley Broaddus, an 18 year-old student at Highland School with plans to attend the College of William and Mary received the terrible news that she had a rare form of terminal cancer, Cholangiocarcinoma.  As she battled the incurable disease, Miss Broaddus set up Finley’s Green Leap Forward to “support local and global efforts that have a positive impact on the environment, moving us forward towards a healthy, sustainable planet.”  Shortly before passing, for Earth Day 2014, Miss Broaddus selected her first two “Green Leap” grantees, Cacapon Institute in West Virginia and The Green Belt Movement in Nairobi, Kenya.  Every day, we draw strength and inspiration from this heartwarming recognition from a powerful young lady.

What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future (500 words or less)?

 Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute 

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute 

We will continue to protect rivers and watershed using science and education.  We will to expand Carla Hardy West Virginia Project CommuniTree to reach ever more communities and organizations.  Your Community BMP will engage more individuals and strengthen community organizations interested in environmental protection.  Hands-on engagement is the best way to teach the science of watershed protection and educate the public on the importance of personal action to protect the environment.

PHLOW has been teaching school students, at the classroom level, since 2008.  Going forward we want to see Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences become systemic in West Virginia’s Potomac Basin.  As we continue to work with individual teachers and classrooms, we will reach further to engage entire schools and, eventually, we will engage county school boards to make environmental education part of regular curriculum.  Moving environmental education into the mainstream of county programing will ensure all our youth are engaged and learn the value of river and watershed protection.

For more information on Cacapon Institute, contact Frank Rodger.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern at Choose Clean Water

 

 

Training with the Congressional Black Caucus

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Formed in 1971, the the Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBIC) has been an influential voice for people of color in the American government. Using their leverage in politics, these inspiring people have worked to fix economic, social, and political disparities faced by their communities. Specifically, CBCI’s work includes, but is not limited to, reforming the criminal justice system, pushing back against voter suppression, making top of the line education available for everyone, and eliminating racial health disparities. Our own Mariah Davis, field manager for the Choose Clean Water, has been accepted to the CBCI Political Leadership Training – a program that creates strong and experienced future leaders. We sat down with Mariah to ask a few questions on her application to this program.

Why did you apply to join the Congressional Black Caucus program? What drew you in?

I decided to apply for a political leadership program, or at least was drawn to one, once I started to dive into my environmental career. I saw an alignment between the conservation movement and politics that I really wanted to explore. I was searching for a program that would not only help me build my skill set, but one that would challenge me and fit into my current campaign work. I was drawn to this program specifically because it works for my schedule and I personally align with the mission of the CBCI as a whole. I did a lot of research prior to applying and explored programs in the greater D.C. metro area before settling in on this one. Throughout my work in the environmental sector, I’ve developed a really great relationship with members of Congress who are also a part of the Congressional Black Caucus. I have worked with Congressman A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and his staff on multiple outreach efforts over the last few years. Knowing that I already had great relationships with members of Congress involved in the CBCI, I felt encouraged to apply.

What do you hope to gain as an individual from this? What do you think you can offer them?

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I’m really interested in getting to know my peers from around the country who also have experience in campaign work. I think all of their perspectives will be unique, so I’m excited to learn about their backgrounds and skill sets in their respective careers. I’m hoping there will be a great mix of people I can network and build relationships with. This training is meant for those who either want to run for office or for individuals who are interested in supporting campaign work. Over the course of a week, we will develop winning strategies to execute successful campaign plans and fundraising tactics needed to win. Through this simulation, I hope to build upon my existing knowledge to help build out existing campaigns within the Coalition that brings clean water back to the region. In exchange, I can offer a tactful and strategic mindset, combined with a background on environmental justice issues.

 You mentioned the socioeconomic imbalance in neighborhoods of color, why do you think this injustice exists? How can it be improved or solved?

The reality is that racial discrimination has been embedded within our current policies and the way in which the American government is run. Overall, is it very challenging to address the many layers of how we ended up this way. Luckily, there has been an increase in the number of people of color that want to have a seat at the table and become decision makers - this is key to undoing the harmful policies that currently exist. Continuing to empower people around you to vote and to participate in the electoral process is crucial, as well as investments in programs that enable high performing students from undeserved communities to apply for higher education opportunities. From a more political lens, it is important that we support leaders who prioritize their constituents over corporations looking to influence decision making.

Congratulations on your acceptance, Mariah!

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water.