Supporting Farmers in Pennsylvania

INTRODUCTION

Pennsylvania’s 58,000 farms produce $7.4 billion worth of crop and livestock products on 7.6 million acres. This represents only a fraction of the economic benefits — food manufacturing, support services, and related businesses generate approximately $135.7 billion in total economic impact annually, maintaining 579,000 jobs with $26.9 billion in earnings throughout the Commonwealth.

In addition to the economic impacts, what happens on this farmland directly impacts our communities and, most importantly, our local water quality. Pennsylvania’s 6,798 stream miles that are impaired by the results of agricultural activities — especially nutrient runoff, soil erosion, and unrestricted livestock access — need improved environmental stewardship on farmland.

BACKGROUND

Most farmers are working diligently on land and water stewardship, but often need technical and financial help. Agricultural producers are squeezed by low prices for their products and steep increases in the cost of fuel, real estate, and other operating costs, making conservation investments difficult to bear on their own. Federal farm conservation programs only meet a fraction of the annual need, so additional resources are imperative to help farms invest in conservation.

For almost 40 years, Pennsylvania laws have required farms to develop and implement plans to manage manure and other nutrient sources, and to prevent erosion and sediment loss. In addition to reducing water pollution, these plans improve crop utilization of nutrients and keep top soil in place to sustain long-term production. However, measures to ensure that farms have and follow these plans only began in earnest after 2010 with limited resources, so significant gaps remain.

Many farms are now focusing on production systems that reduce tillage intensity to maintain soil structure, responsibly incorporate manure, and sustain a cover of living plants to improve soil health and reduce water pollution. This increases water infiltration, retains soil moisture for periods of drought, and reduces stormwater runoff and soil erosion during heavy rains. Soil and nutrients stay in agricultural fields for production, rather than degrade local streams. When adopting new production methods, farms often need technical advice adapted to their soil, terrain, climate, and production goals.

FOUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO SUPPORT FARMERS AND CLEAN WATER

1. Increase funding for the following:

  • Cost-share programs to help farms invest in conservation practices and provide conservation easements, especially in watersheds impaired by agriculture;

  • Available Resource Enhancement and Protection tax credits to $12 million annually;

  • Conservation Districts, conservationists, land trusts, and private sector conservation and nutrient management planners to provide technical assistance to farms establishing conservation practices; and

  • The Department of Environmental Protection to adequately enforce state laws.

2. Restrict Clean and Green preferential tax savings to landowners meeting all state and federal regulations.

3. Restrict livestock access to streams through applicable legislation.

4. Provide more resources to support forested buffers and tree plantings.

For more information on protecting and restoring Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams, see the Pennsylvania Clean Water Briefing Book.

Chemung River Friends

Chemung River Friends have been a part of the Coalition for over a decade, so we figured this was a great time to highlight our long-time N.Y member. Chemung River Friends is a non-profit organization that teams up with municipalities to protect all waterways throughout the Chemung River. We spoke with Jim Pfiffer, director of Chemung River Friends for an inside scoop on the organizations endeavors.

Tell us about your organization and your mission.

Incorporated as a 501(c)3 in 2009.

Our mission: Protect and promote the 45-mile-long Chemung River and its tributaries, and encourage the public to better use, enjoy and respect our waterways for recreation, education and a peaceful commune with nature.

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

We helped build and maintain 10 public boat launches, three riverside trails and several fishing access sites. We lead guide paddle trips, hikes, bike trips and cross-country ski trips. We have removed more than 14 tons of trash and illegal dump sites along our waterways and trails. We developed and maintain a concise online river paddling guide that features real time river levels, safety tips and river history.

We teach paddling and safe water classes. We present public education programs about river ecology, the water cycle, pollution, river history and environmental stewardship. Because it is often difficult to bring the public – especially youth school classes – to the river for education programs, we purchased a portable and foldable 16-foot-square pool that we take to schools and community centers, fill with hydrant water, add kayaks and canoes and use it to teach water safety and basic paddling.  

We work with area farmers, golf courses and private land owners to help them use environmentally safe and clean water practices. We give free monthly public education presentations about river wildlife and plants at a riverside restaurant and bar in Elmira.

We developed a citizen scientist program to teach volunteers how to collect and analyze macroinvertibrates from our rivers and streams, and report their findings to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who uses the info to monitor and remediate pollution issues in our waterways. 

Since our inception we have increased tenfold the recreational use of the river. Through our education and water safety programs we have drastically reduced the number of drowning (one in 10 years) and emergencies on our waterways.

We obtain grants and private funding to purchase river rescue boats, motors, trailers, rescue mannequins and cold water rescue suites. We donated this equipment to fire departments that respond to river emergencies. We provide river rescue training for firefighters and other emergency personnel – last year we did a night rescue training program for 23 firefighters from seven fire departments.

We erected four osprey nesting poles on our waterways, including a newly installed osprey camera that provides the public with 24/7 real time viewing of a pair of nesting osprey’s on the river in downtown Elmira.

Since our inception we have helped the local population to realize that our waterways are important assets to regional development and quality of life. We are proud to say the most of the public now have a better respect and understanding of the benefits that our waterways provide. The public is more environmentally conscious and works with us to keep our waterways and environment clean, safe and accessible to all.

Our philosophy: We’re all on this canoe trip together. Let’s paddle in the same direction.

What was your favorite part of Chesapeake Lobby Day this year?

Working with and learning from other clean water supporters as a group. I learned so much just talking with and hearing about the issues, problems and solutions that my cohorts face, that are the same as mine. The camaraderie and sense of “we are all on this paddle trip together” unity is refreshing and important in achieving our goals.

I discovered how to better lobby our elected officials, what to expect and what not to expect. I was surprised by the young age, and often times seemingly inexperienced, legislative staff members that we met with and talked too. I wasn’t  always confident that they fully understood what we were lobbying for and why.

Best of all, I enjoyed learning about the projects and program being done by my fellow coalition members. We really have a talented, experienced and passionate group of  advocates who work hard to protect and promote our clean water and environment.

 

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

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

Photo courtesy of Chemung River Friends

We are installing an osprey camera to allow the public to view a pair of ospreys that have been nesting on an island in the Chemung River for the past six years (raised at least 15 offspring). We use those ospreys as an attention-getters and  calling cards to get members of the public, who might not otherwise care about the river, interested in the river and in protecting these amazing birds.

The camera will allow thousands of people – especially youth and schools – to watch and learn from the ospreys and realize the roles and importance we play in keeping the rivers clean, safe and appealing to future osprey nesting families.

The more people who watch and fall in love with the ospreys, the easier it is for us to raise funds, secure grant and in-kind support to allow us to continue to protect and promote our waterways and encourage the public to better use, respect and enjoy our natural resources.

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

Educating and informing the public about the TDML diet and what individuals, neighborhoods, and communities can do to help meet the anti-pollution requirements.

We are developing a 2019 year-long public education program, with a local TV news station and area water-quality organizations, to explain to residents how and why we need clean water and how it can help improve our economy, community health, quality of  life and environment.

Topics include: combined sewer systems, riparian buffers, rain barrels and gardens, don’t pour toxins down the sewers, lawn and landscaping chemical use and alternatives, flooding, non-littering and picking up litter, etc.

Result: Cleaner water in the Chemung River Watershed means cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay.

How has being a member of the Coalition benefited your organization?

The networking, combined knowledge/experience, publicity, assistance with information and problem solving.  

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

Virginia Association for Environmental Education

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We’re kicking off this month’s Member Highlight by welcoming our newest Coalition member, Virginia Association for Environmental Education (VAEE). VAEE is a Virginia based non-profit organization comprised of a web of environmental education professionals, working together to advance sustainability and environmental education throughout the Commonwealth. We had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Helen Kuhns, VAEE secretary and advocacy chair to gain insight into their organization.

Tell us more about your organization and your mission:

VAEE is the professional organization for environmental educators in Virginia.  Our organization represents a professional network of outstanding environmental educators, individuals and supporting organizations who work together to achieve our mission: to support environmental education capacity, professional learning and networking among our membership, as well as advancing Environmental and Sustainability Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. VAEE offers conferences, trainings and support to regional EE teams and individual members throughout Virginia. VAEE is the official Virginia affiliate for NAAEE, the North American Association for Environmental Education.

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

VAEE has developed and recently launched the first cohort in the VAEE Virginia Environmental Education Certification Program which provides in depth opportunities to new and seasoned EE professionals who are focused on:

  • Building a strong foundation of environmental literacy.

  • Networking with other Virginia environmental educators.

  • Improving your organization’s programs with new environmental education techniques.

  • Supporting professionalism in the field of environmental education.

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

VAEE represents Environmental Educators across the Commonwealth who focus on a variety of issues unique to each region. Whether it is water quality, air quality, carbon emissions, sustainable energy, habitat, ecosystem and watershed preservation and conservation, equity, climate change, sea level rise, or any of the other pressing issues in Virginia, there are EE professionals teaching of needed changes and modeling behavior. There is no environmental issue that does not touch our EE community. Therefore, we wish to focus on those issues that impact our community’s lives regionally and locally towards a healthier environment in Virginia.

 

What are you most excited about joining the Coalition?

VAEE is looking forward to the opportunity become part of this network of environmental professionals, to strengthen its messaging and provide the added resources of the VCN community to its members. VAEE looks forward to having a stronger voice through the platform provided by VCN to take a stand on issues that impact our EE community.

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

 

Building a Lasting Voice for Conservation Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley

Tell us about your organization and your mission.

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Iconic rolling working farmland and expansive public forests. World-class rivers and streams. Friendly historic towns and a high quality of life. There is much to protect in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 2018, four local community organizations joined forces to form Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley to ensure the Valley way of life is sustained by our rural landscapes, clean streams and rivers, and thriving communities for generations to come. 

The Alliance is led by a talented and engaged volunteer board of directors, with deep community connections throughout the service area, and staffed by the seasoned community leaders who directed each of the legacy groups. And while the legacy organizations have now merged into a single entity, their important work and close community ties endure as part of the Alliance mission – to advocate, educate, and connect people to conserve the natural resources, cultural heritage, and rural character of our region.

 

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

Our work is so dynamic in nature it’s impossible to pick just one project, so here’s a bit about our current work.

County Level Advocacy. We are working closely with county-level Advisory Councils in three of our six counties to improve local land use and transportation planning, increase land protection and water quality measures, safeguard our rural communities, and promote compatible economic development in agriculture and tourism.

Alliance’s service area.

Alliance’s service area.

Supporting Communities That Oppose Gas Pipelines. Dominion Energy’s proposed 42-inch high pressure Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to threaten Valley landowners and our water resources. The Alliance provides organizational and advocacy support to the local coalition of elected officials, residents, and landowners challenging the destructive and unneeded project.

Interstate 81. The Interstate 81 corridor and its future is a cornerstone issue for the Alliance, because it affects farmland, streams and rivers, Civil War battlefields, and the success of local businesses. The Alliance engages the public and lawmakers to seek sensible improvements to Interstate 81 that are compatible with scenic views of the working landscapes and natural resources you enjoy as you travel the corridor.

 Utility Scale Solar. The Alliance recognizes that scaling up renewable energy can be a significant positive step if properly implemented and can bring economic opportunities for businesses, utilities and landowners. We’ve recently developed a tool to assist localities and communities in consideration of several proposed utility scale solar projects in our area – to ensure projects are appropriately sited, considering designated land use and natural and historic resources.

 

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

MORE County Level Advocacy.  Our on-the-ground relationship with communities in our service area has been pivotal in our success, and we are excited to have expanded capacity to meet and engage communities in the northern part of our service area.

Work on the ground. With the headwaters of the James, Potomac, and the Shenandoah arising in the Shenandoah Valley and flowing towards the Chesapeake Bay, water is of great value to our communities. We’ve always advocated for land and water protection, and now we’re ready to get our hands dirty. We’re building collaborations to get more on the ground-- conservation easements to protect working farmland and forests and agricultural practices that improve water quality. We are proud to work with our partner agencies and organizations and their fine track record of engaging landowners and farmers in conservation.

Compatible Economic Development. Agriculture. Tourism. The sustained beauty of our landscape and our quality of life depends on those sectors being successful. We are exploring innovative approaches and building connections between farmers and local markets as well as supporting initiatives that will advance tourism, further preserving our landscapes and creating business opportunities in our towns and for communities.

 

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

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The support, encouragement and resources of the Coalition and its members was invaluable as we explored the creation of our organization. Now that we are scaling up, we find confidence in having Coalition members to call on for ideas, examples and best practice as we grow and implement new programs.

 

 

2019 Young Professionals of Color Mentorship

Young Professionals of Color Mentorship Program

Are you interested in developing leadership and management skills? Are you also looking to improve your communication and interpersonal skills? How about increasing your confidence and reinforcing your own knowledge? If so, then the Young Professionals of Color Mentorship Program is a great fit for you!

The Choose Clean Water Coalition values our members, especially the interpersonal relationships that are built when we work together. Established in 2016, the Young Professionals of Color Mentorship Program is a united effort to support individuals working in the environmental sector. Our program provides mentorship to individuals seeking to excel in their careers and also strengthens the leadership abilities of our mentors. Participating in this unique partnership will foster better relationships among clean water partners and help build a pipeline of diverse leaders interested in advancing our watershed goals throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

When and where?

The program will kick off at the Choose Clean Water Coalition’s Annual Conference on May 20, 2019 at 5:00PM at the Marriott Camden Yards Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. During a happy hour program, mentors will be paired with young professionals to begin a journey towards fulfilling a supportive professional relationship.

What you can do to get involved:

Nominate a young person of color who might want to participate so we can make sure they receive an invitation to our kick-off event OR nominate yourself! Agree to be mentor or a mentee, today!

Responsibilities include:

o   Attend kick-off event on May 20th at 5PM in Baltimore, Maryland

o   Commitment to one year of engagement

o  Monthly conversations with your mentor/mentee

o  Minimum of three in-person meetings with your mentor/mentee

o   Ability to be a thoughtful, effective, and insightful listener and communicator

o   Desire to build and strengthen the environmental community

This is a short term commitment to foster a diverse and long-lasting community.

Sign up today by emailing Mariah Davis at davism@nwf.org.

Please note that this program is open to all of our members- regardless of class, race, ethnicity, age, and gender.

Virginia Association for Biological Farming

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This month we highlighted Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF), our newest addition to the Coalition family. Their community covers a wide range of farmers, gardeners, researchers, students, professionals and supporters of local and sustainable food systems. We spoke with Michael Reilly to learn what VABF is all about.

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Tell us about your organization and your mission.

The mission of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) is to promote, educate about and advocate for biological and organic farming and food production.  Our diverse membership includes farmers, gardeners, seed growers, orchardists, livestock producers, large and small-scale vegetable producers, foodies, grain growers, compost makers and generally those interested in producing high-quality, nutrient-dense foods for their communities.  Our members focus on soil health practices and diverse production methods that regenerate the biological systems necessary to feed a healthy plant, animal and human population.

 

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

VABF is currently working with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) to develop a regional network of farmers and food producers to provide broader depth in training and mentoring programs and expand the notion of soil health and nutrient-dense foods beyond state borders.  The establishment of a Soil Health Collaborative is especially exciting as we connect with partners from within and outside the farm world to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers interested in growing high quality food using regenerative practices and soil health principles.

VABF outside.jpg

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

One of the primary goals of VABF is to provide a network for small, diverse family farms to connect for support, training and assistance with biological farming practices, including the marketing of high quality products.  Commodity-based agriculture gives little thought to nutritional quality of food products or the environmental impacts those systems have on local communities, and therefore have proven to be unhealthy and unsustainable.  We are excited about the resurgence of and focus on local, sustainable and biologically-grown products and their ability to add value to the income stream for small family farms.

Our ultimate goal is to build food systems that feed themselves.  Using practices that mimic natural systems, biological and organic food production allows for the reduction of off-farm inputs in farming, improving water quality and quantity management, sequestering carbon in our soils and reducing the impact that unnecessary use of fossil fuels in industrial agricultural systems has on our environment.

 

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

VABF is very excited to be part of the Coalition and trust we can add a valuable agricultural voice to the Coalition’s efforts. As part of this partnership we’d like to help raise more awareness about the dramatic differences between harmful, degenerative, chemical-based industrial agriculture, and beneficial, regenerative, organic, biological farming. Due to the pervasiveness of the former, the latter is usually overlooked, and we hope to foster a more informed dialogue about the realities of different farming practices.

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

Coalition Members Head to the Hill

We have seen time and time again that when our work for clean water faces challenges and threats, our Choose Clean Water members show up – and we show up in numbers. This was evident in 2017 when the president’s budget eliminated funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and it was on display this week, when more than 100 members of the Coalition gathered on Capitol Hill to meet with members and staff in 40 different congressional offices. This year, we as a community are fighting not just for the funding we have had in the past, but what we need to meet new challenges to restore the rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

On March 6, the Coalition formally requested that Congress increase funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, specifically $90 million for the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, up from $73 million. This is the first time in five years that the Coalition has asked for increased funding and the request was met with much enthusiasm from our supporters on the Hill. In our letters to Congress requesting the increase in funding, we had 144 Coalition member organizations signed on, a record number of signatures. This show of commitment was a powerful tool during the congressional meetings.

The biggest highlight of the day was our lunch briefing, where Coalition members, recipients of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Small Watershed/Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants, funders, and members of Congress came together to discuss the state of the restoration effort and our commitment to pushing the effort forward. 11 legislators joined us, including Senator Cardin (D-MD), Senator Van Hollen (D-MD), Congressman McEachin (D-VA), Congressman Trone (D-MD), Congresswoman Luria (D-VA), Congressman Wittman (R-VA), Congressman Cartwright (D-PA), Congressman Ruppersberger (D-PA), Congressman Raskin (D-MD), Congressman Connolly (D-VA), and Congressman Cline (R-VA). All talked about their support for funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration and the important role that our Coalition plays in moving this effort forward.

There are many reasons to ask for this increase, but two of them are climate change and the Conowingo Dam. When the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint was created in 2010, it was estimated that the Conowingo Dam would trap pollution through 2025. However, last year, new research determined that the reservoir behind the dam was actually full, and as a result more pollution was entering the Chesapeake Bay than had been originally accounted for. Now it is estimated that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup will need to reduce an additional 6 million pounds of nitrogen every year to mitigate water quality impacts from Conowingo. Also, the Chesapeake Bay region saw record amounts of rainfall this past year, resulting in increased flooding and runoff into local streams. These major rainfall events are only expected to increase with climate change, which will require on-the-ground pollution and flood reducing projects to adapt to new pressures.

In addition to increased funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Coalition is also asking Congress for a 50 percent increase in funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Trails Program and to fully fund the 2018 Farm Bill’s conservation programs to ensure responsible farms in the Chesapeake region remain economically viable. The Coalition is also requesting that Congress not ignore clean water issues when they put together a Federal Infrastructure Spending Package. The Coalition recommends tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $5 billion to be included in such an Infrastructure Package. This Fund provides low interest loans for sewage treatment and stormwater control upgrades and retrofits for local governments and ratepayers in every state.

Congress and the Coalition are now waiting to hear from the Trump administration on the proposed FY20 budget and what it will say about our Chesapeake funding, but one thing is for sure, we will be ready to respond.

You can see our sign on letters here.

Patapsco Heritage Greenway: Member Highlight

Meet Patapsco Heritage Greenway! This organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland, aims to protect, preserve and restore the environment throughout the Patapsco River Valley. We spoke with Hannah Zinnert, who antiquated us more with their mission, projects and goals.

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Tell us about your organization and your mission:

Patapsco Heritage Greenway (PHG) is the managing entity of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area, one of Maryland’s 13 certified Heritage Areas. Our mission is to preserve, protect, interpret and restore the environment, history and culture of the Patapsco River Valley.

PHG is at a unique intersection of the local environment, history, heritage, recreation, and tourism. We conduct both environmental and historic resource stewardship. Our environmental program consists of volunteer-based group stewardship events throughout the Patapsco watershed, including stream cleanups, invasive plant removals, tree plantings, tree maintenances, and environmental education events. We also run a Stream Watcher program, in which we train local volunteers to adopt a portion of the Patapsco River or Patapsco tributary by walking, cleaning, monitoring, and reporting on their area.

         

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

During the upcoming year, Patapsco Heritage Greenway will be working on expanding our outreach, specifically within the Latinx community. Patapsco Valley State Park, portions of which are located within our heritage area boundaries, has a large population of Latinx visitors who use the Patapsco River and its surrounding areas for various reasons. We want our outreach and stewardship efforts to be inclusive of all those who utilize and love the Patapsco River. Thus, we are really excited to be spending this upcoming year working on improving our Latinx outreach through online media, print, and on-the-ground efforts.

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

One of our goals for the future is to improve our water quality monitoring efforts in the Patapsco, specifically to understand the impacts that the quantity and quality of stormwater has on this watershed. Our current monitoring efforts focus on basic physical parameters of the various tributaries in the watershed. In the future, we want to be able to include more robust chemical and biological monitoring on a more consistent basis. With these improved monitoring efforts, we would create a well-rounded watershed report card as both a reference and public outreach tool.


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

We are really excited to be a part of the Choose Clean Water Coalition! We hope to use this Coalition as an opportunity to learn from other groups’ successes (and failures), as an opportunity to crowd-source information and discover new ideas, and to improve our partner network so that we may continue collaborating on future projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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

All photos courtesy of Patapsco Heritage Greenway.

Farming in Virginia: Let the Earth Heal

In 2018, the Coalition was approached by its Virginia members to help communicate about the benefits of the Commonwealth’s Agricultural Cost-Share Program. This program helps farmers implement best management practices (BMPs), like stream fencing, tree plantings, and well installation, on their land by helping to offset the costs of these projects. 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. As part of our effort to educate the public about the importance of this funding, the Coalition embarked on conducting a series of recorded interviews with farmers who have used the funding on their land.

Driving through the hills of western Virginia, I couldn’t help but think back on everything that we had done to get to this point. For months, our Coalition members and the local Soil and Water Conservation District representatives had worked to find farmers who had benefited from the Commonwealth’s Agricultural Cost-Share program and were willing to talk about it to a total stranger (me) and on camera. I understand. I don’t know how much I would enjoy some random person coming to my home and recording me walking around my property while asking me questions about my work. However, once we were there it wasn’t hard to get folks talking about all of the work they had done on their land.

The first visit we went on was a late addition to our shooting schedule and I am SO thankful that we were able to make it work. Not only was it the only sunny day out of the two filming days, but the farm manager, Tony Pullaro, was incredible to meet. Tony grew up on a family farm in New Garden, Virginia, but has been managing Edgemont Farm for the past 25 years. I was shocked to learn that Edgemont Farm has been around since 1796 and is home to one of the last residential buildings designed by Thomas Jefferson. The property also includes more than 500 acres of farmland.

Tony has been working with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003, when they installed their first stream exclusion fencing and planted their first buffer. Touring the property, you can see the difference 15 years of conservation makes. The trees are tall, strong and healthy, and Tony has noticed more fish and other aquatic life showing up in the stream. The last project was just installed in 2017, which installed more fencing to exclude all the remaining streams and, in partnership with the James River Association, planted trees in the new buffer.

In total, Edgemont Farm has received $63,531.92 from the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program, which has enabled them to install roughly 16,000 feet of stream exclusion fencing and created 40 acres of buffer. They also installed nine water troughs in conjunction with the stream fencing to create a 10 paddock rotational grazing system.

This is why the Coalition and its Virginia members support increased and steady funding for the cost-share program. To learn more about this program, visit www.vcnva.org/agriculture/

South River Federation meets West/ Rhode Riverkeeper: Arundel Rivers Federation

Jeff Holland and Jesse Iliff (Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation)

Jeff Holland and Jesse Iliff (Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation)

South River Federation and West/Rhode Riverkeeper joined forces late October to create, Arundel Rivers Federation (ARF). Soon after, we welcomed the consolidated organization to the Coalition family. ARF is based in Edgewater, Maryland, and is committed to protecting and restoring water quality and aquatic habitat in the South River, West, Rhode, and Herring Bay watersheds, through science, restoration and advocacy. We had the chance to speak with Jesse Iliff to learn more about the new federation’s mission and goals.

Tell us about your organization and your mission:

Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation

Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation

Arundel Rivers Federation uses science, restoration and community action to protect, preserve, restore and enhance the waters of the South River, Rhode River, West River and Herring Bay on the western shore of the Chesapeake.

Formed from the consolidation of the South River Federation and West & Rhode RIVERKEEPER®, Arundel Rivers Federation is an action-oriented organization, guided by science, providing aggressive advocacy, targeted and thoughtful restoration, and community action to pursue a holistic vision of clean, fishable, swimmable waterways for our local communities.

 

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

It is hard to pick which of the many irons in our fire is burning brightest right now. Whether the innovative Bacon Ridge project that uses in-situ woody material to slow stormwater and arrest erosion by imitating beaver dams, or the upcoming legislative session which may ban single-use Styrofoam in Maryland is most exciting depends on which staff member you ask. We are also halfway through an intensive monitoring experiment of layered stormwater management projects in an urban environment that will generate innovative scholarship to guide decision makers and restoration practitioners throughout the Bay watershed. Whether it is restoration, advocacy or science, Federation staff always have their hands busy and their boots dirty.

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

Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation

Photo courtesy of Arundel Rivers Federation

For western shore tributaries like those we protect, the largest source of pollution is urban and suburban stormwater. If we ever hope to meet our pollution-reduction goals and provide our communities and aquatic life with the clean water they deserve, we need to get a hold on development impacts and attendant stormwater pollution. In Anne Arundel County, we are working to ensure that the General Development Plan currently under development is as ecologically responsible as possible. Concurrently, the State of Maryland is developing a new Watershed Implementation Plan, and Arundel Rivers Federation is intent on ensuring that the proposals for stormwater management in that document are aggressive enough to arrest the growing pollution loads from stormwater. Finally, many jurisdictions across the State, including Anne Arundel County, are in the process of revising and renewing their MS4 permits, and Arundel Rivers will work closely with the County to ensure that Anne Arundel County sets the gold standard for stormwater management.

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

Each of the Federation’s founding organizations were Coalition members, and we hope now, as then, to benefit from the breadth of experience and wisdom in making positive environmental change in the Bay watershed. The Coalition’s membership provides an excellent sounding board for vetting ideas, developing strategies, and celebrating success, and we look forward to continuing that partnership.

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

Transition Howard County: Member Highlight

Last month, the Coalition gained our newest member, Transition Howard County. Transition is an all-volunteer organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland, that focuses their work on building better communities throughout Howard County by means of sustainability and resilience. We had the pleasure of speaking with Steering Committee Chair Margo Duesterhaus, to learn more about the ins and outs of this local organization.

Photo courtesy of Transition Howard County

Photo courtesy of Transition Howard County

Tell us about your organization and your mission:

Transition Howard County is a nonprofit focused on creating sustainable and thriving communities within Howard County. We are part of the national Transition US movement that provides inspiration, encouragement, support, and networking, committed to building resilience across a wide range of social needs such as food, water, health, economics, and energy.  Transition US is in close partnership with the international Transition Network, a United Kingdom-based organization that supports the Transition movement worldwide. Transition Network provides a global platform for expressing and exchanging ideas and projects that demonstrate Transition principles. Transition Howard County is the 144th officially recognized Transition Initiative in the United States and is the first official Transition Initiative in Maryland. Our mission is to promote practical solutions for Howard County’s transition to greater sustainability.  Our tag line is “Live Local and Prosper!”

Photo courtesy of Transition Howard County

Photo courtesy of Transition Howard County

Transition Howard County has been in existence since 2012 and has over 1,000 members.  We partner with numerous other organizations that are focused on sustainability, including businesses, government agencies, and other nonprofits. Our activities include Repair Cafés, book discussions, movie nights, field trips to local farms, socials, leaf parties, and educational events on a variety of topics including easy gardening, climate change, healthy food, land use, community health, and community solar and other forms of renewable energy. We participate in other coalitions such as the Local Health Improvement Coalition and the Howard County Climate Action Collaboration. We publish an electronic newsletter that highlights our activities as well as other local sustainability events.  We have several active Google email groups that are focused on discussing different aspects of sustainability such as food and economy.  Our web site is www.transtionhoco.org and our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/TransitionHoCo.

 

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

Maryland Fibershed. Courtesy of Transition Howard County

Maryland Fibershed. Courtesy of Transition Howard County

Transition Howard County is very excited to create the Maryland Fibershed. A fibershed is a cradle-to-cradle system of creating clothes from regionally grown fibers, natural dyes, and local talent.  Similar to the local food movement, a fibershed is the new local clothing movement.  The fibershed concept started in California and is spreading around the globe with the creation of numerous regional fiber systems that build soil and protect the health of our biosphere, including our watershed.

Transition Howard County's goal is to grow a resilient and local textile supply chain in Maryland. The Maryland Fibershed will increase interest in using local, sustainable materials among fiber artists, hobbyists, and clothing makers.  Transition Howard County has created the free Maryland Fibershed Directory to promote the organizations that are part of the Maryland Fibershed to help people and organizations easily find local fiber suppliers and customers.  The directory includes farmers, ranchers, mill owners, felters, spinners, weavers, natural dyers, and more. Any organization that is primarily located in Maryland and participates in any part of the fiber lifecycle can be listed in this directory.

Transition Howard County wants to help local fibershed organizations thrive.  The directory is just the first step.  A variety of activities are being planned to increase interest in local fiber supplies and products, such as tours of organizations that are part of the Fibershed.  We are also exploring other ways to help connect Fibershed organizations with each other to share sustainable practices and develop a stronger local economy.

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

One issue area that we are planning to focus more on is agriculture.  We want to see more local food produced in Howard County so we are working on plans for a Transition Incredible Edible Garden. This will start as a small herb and vegetable garden in a public community space at a senior center in Columbia.  It will be a visually attractive landscape to show how lawns can be transformed to produce food and better manage stormwater. We want to start an inclusive conversation around a lifestyle of eating our landscapes. The motto is “If you eat, you’re in!” The harvest of the garden will be free to anyone who wants to stop by and pick some berries or take some herbs.

We plan to partner with other local groups to engage the community in the volunteer efforts to start and maintain the garden and share the produce. We hope this first garden will inspire many more around Howard County.  We are already in conversation with organizations about installing a Transition Incredible Edible Garden in their public spaces.  These gardens will enable people to participate in positive actions and be part of solutions that provide resilience in our own communities. Food can be a unifying action that helps people see the need to find new ways of living in conjunction with nature and wildlife for the benefit of our watershed.

 

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

Transition Howard County is very happy to join the Choose Clean Water Coalition.  Partnering with other organizations is the key to success.  While each organization has its own goals, we are all stronger and more effective by collaborating together.  We are impressed with the work of the Coalition, including the successful advocacy for the pipeline ban in Maryland.  Through the Coalition we hope to learn about and support activities of other member organizations that are in alignment with Transition Howard County’s goals.  We also hope to share information about our activities that may be of interest to other coalition members. Clean water is critically important to life on this planet and this coalition will help us keep up with the issues and advocacy in the Chesapeake watershed.

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

Welcome, 116th Congress!

On January 3, members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition headed to Capitol Hill to connect with new and returning members of the 116th Congress. The Chesapeake Bay watershed has 12 new faces in its delegation on the Hill, including:

Congressman Delgado
Congresswoman Luria
Congresswoman Spanberger
Congressman Meuser
Congressman Brindisi
Congressman Riggleman
Congresswoman Wexton
Congressman Joyce
Congressman Trone
Congressman Cline
Congresswoman Houlahan
Congresswoman Miller

The Coalition will be heading to the Hill again on March 6 for Chesapeake Bay Day. Stay tuned for more information.

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 such as 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.