Maryland

Member Highlight: ShoreRivers

In 2017, three groups from Maryland came together to form ShoreRivers -the Chester River Association (CRA), Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), and Sassafras River Association (SRA). ShoreRivers protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through community education, advocacy, and restoration of wetlands. Merging organizations can be tricky – however, these three have done an exceptional job of it. United, they are able to harness the collective power of their organizations and bring together more than 3,500 supporters who are passionate about improving their local rivers and streams. We spoke to Tim Junkins, communications director of ShoreRivers, to learn more about this newly formed organization.

So Tim, what brought your three specific groups together? What was the common ground?

All three groups come out of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and focus on agricultural pollution which is a huge issue in the area. We all concentrated in on rural areas as our hubs of work. This merger was actually a long time coming, when some of our major funders began to dry up, it was suggested that the time might be right to explore coming together in a more serious way.

Why are nonprofit mergers important to completing larger goals?

Smaller organizations coming together, pooling their resources, really creates a greater presence for these groups in the community – we especially wanted to have more standing in Annapolis. By becoming a larger group we are able to move from regional funding to national funding, opening up many more opportunities. Larger funding equals larger projects and the sum of all of us is greater than the individual parts.

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What has been the most difficult part of a merger and what has been the most rewarding part?

Well, people/groups are emotionally invested in particular constituents, as well as have pride in their organizations as individuals. These groups are often, reasonably so, worried about losing their distinct connections with the river communities. It’s challenging to bring together everyone in a way that highlights separate strengths. There is tremendous excitement building over the merger, the new name, and new logo – really makes ShoreRivers feel more complete. We also are focusing in on keeping our connections to local watersheds, fostering those relationships, as well as keeping River-keepers in each area.

If there was one piece of advice or a lesson learned on mergers from this experience, what would it be?

It’s very important to involve each group and treat everyone as an equal part – no matter how small or large the group is coming in. For example, Midshore Riverkeeper was significantly larger than Chester or Sassafras - however, as a part of ShoreRivers, we have to make sure to share in influence equally. This creates a healthy partnership, and likely a longer lasting one as well. Also taking things at a good pace, taking your time. This merger took 6-7 months to really get going. Create confidence, create trust between everyone.

Are there any events you all have coming up or extra facts that the community should know about?

Most of our big events just passed actually, we had a merger press release this past season! We do have a film festival going on this coming February, and then our next major event will be in April, after the holidays/winter. I also wanted to highlight that ShoreRivers will have 17 full time staff members and a new board of leaders combined from all of the groups – 15 people including 5 local farmers. Our new main office will be in Easton, with smaller offices in Chester and Sassafras.

For any more questions about ShoreRivers, feel free to explore their website or contact Tim Junkins.

 

 

The Forest Conservation Act of Maryland

Forests do not often get the credit they deserve when it comes to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, but here at the Choose Clean Water Coalition we want to put a spotlight on this important part of the ecosystem. Forests work like giant sponges, absorbing rain water and pulling it into the soil. This absorption of water keeps the soil moist and able to grow vegetation, which creates the forests that provide food, shelter, nesting sites, and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on land.  Forest buffers also help to stabilize stream banks and improve water quality. Their large root systems keep the soil in place, keeping sediment from eroding into water ways and act as large filters to clean rainwater runoff. This is a hugely important part of keeping our Bay clean from stormwater and agriculture pollution. Forests are also economically valuable, as they supply wood and paper products, generate jobs and income, provide the state with a recreational income from parks, and increasing property value. 

When settlers arrived in the Chesapeake Bay region, their impression of the land was that there was “too much wood” and said the view of the untapped America was “an undulating surface of impenetrable forest”. These ancient trees were about 40 percent taller than the young new trees that grow here now. Between 1982 and 1997, the Bay watershed lost more than 750,000 acres of forestland. Today, there are about 24 million acres of forest and the watershed is losing about 70 acres each day. So how do we continue to benefit from the economic value of our forests without losing everything? Sustainable forestry is a broad term for management techniques that respect the environmental, social, and economic values of the forest – while still allowing for harvesting.

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Bay jurisdictions have worked to mitigate this issue. In 1991, the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of Maryland was passed to protect our forest habitats from over-foresting. The act is primarily implemented on a local level, through the Department of Natural Resources. The FCA covers private and public forested areas 40,000 square feet or larger – with a few exceptions including highway construction. Thanks to the FCA, before construction is started applicants must submit a Forest Stand Delineation and Forest Conservation Plan. These are used to determine the best areas for construction, review information on the soil and trees present at the site, as well as a schedule, a reforestation plan, and a plan demonstrating minimal ecological disturbance. These mitigation requirements vary by plot size and essentially require replanting of trees to compensate for what is lost.

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Maryland has not altered its FCA since 2013, and now it is up for review this coming legislative session. About half of the Bay watershed is in Maryland, so, it is extremely vital that the decisions made in the 2018 Conservation Act positively impact the watershed. As for changes to the current FCA, some conservationists believe that the replacement ratio for trees should be 1:1 throughout all of Maryland, and done directly by those building on the land. Previously, builders have been able to pay a fee to the county instead of replanting, but it is difficult to track how those fees are used. The consensus from environmentalists is that without stricter rules on how replanting is done, "no net loss" is not truly fulfilled. It is imperative that we remember why the Forest Conservation Act was implemented to begin with – and to carefully weigh the benefits and risk of modern construction on our beloved wilderness.

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

Toxic Runoff in Maryland

Industrial Sites Ignoring Law, Polluting Communities and Waterways

A law enforcement culture that is soft on polluters and a state permitting system riddled with loopholes is leaving Maryland communities and waterways at risk from the toxic mix of rainwater and chemicals that wash off of old cars in junkyards and out of landfills or agricultural supply sites across the state.

According to a November 2017 report from the Center for Progressive Reform and the Environmental Integrity Project, more than 900 industrial facilities in Maryland are subject to the state’s industrial stormwater “general permit,” a critical tool developed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to achieve the Clean Water Act’s fundamental goals of prohibiting toxic water pollution and restoring vibrant local waterways. These 900 facilities can be found in urban and rural areas, from Maryland’s westernmost counties all the way to the shore. But many of them are concentrated in low-income communities, raising concerns about the social justice implications of MDE’s weak enforcement and permitting programs.

The key to Maryland’s industrial stormwater general permit is that facilities are required to get a permit to pollute, then live within its limits. The facilities that pollute the most are required to test their polluting discharges and then report to the state on whether they’re within legal limits.

The report finds, however, that more than a third of the industrial facilities required by their permits to report results of stormwater runoff pollution testing are discharging such toxic metals as lead and copper in excess of legal limits, threatening the health of local residents, wildlife, and the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, the report finds that about 14 percent of facilities with such permits don’t bother to report the results of testing, if indeed they’re conducting tests at all, meaning that, all told, close to half of the facilities required to report on their stormwater runoff aren’t in full compliance with the law.

That kind of rampant failure to follow the law is only possible when enforcement is feeble, and that’s exactly what the authors of Toxic Runoff from Maryland Industry found. Although the state’s environmental policy is generally regarded as progressive, it has begun turning its back on deterrence-based enforcement, following in the footsteps of the federal government. As of September 2017, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had only inspected 54 percent of the facilities that reported excessively polluted discharges. In addition, between 2014 and 2017, MDE inspected only 42 percent of the industrial facilities that had failed to file required reports on their polluting discharges, raising the possibility that these companies could be discharging untold quantities of toxic pollutants into the state’s waterways.

As is often the case, the burden from pollution highlighted in the report hits the state’s low-income communities hardest because the industrial facilities doing the polluting are often sited right on their doorsteps. CPR Policy Analyst David Flores, a co-author of the report, noted that low-income areas of East Baltimore, Prince George’s County, Salisbury, and Anne Arundel County are particularly hard hit.

Among the more egregious examples of polluters’ failure to comply with their permits:

  • Cambridge Iron and Metal Company in East Baltimore discharged stormwater that contained lead that exceeded acceptable levels by an average of 717 percent.
  • Potomac German Auto in Frederick had stormwater with aluminum that exceeded acceptable levels by 1,127 percent.
  • Salisbury Scrap Metal, Inc., on the Eastern Shore had stormwater with copper that exceeded acceptable levels by 1,564 percent.
  • The Southern States agricultural supplies outlet in North Cumberland, MD, had zinc in its runoff that exceeded acceptable levels by an average of 1,378 percent.

For more:

The Center for Progressive Reform is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary. The organization's 50+ Member Scholars -- working academics at institutions of higher learning across the United States -- provide research, analysis and commentary on a range of issues related to the environment, health and safety.

Member Highlight: Rock Creek Conservancy

As the only organization solely dedicated to Rock Creek, Rock Creek Conservancy plays a huge role in protecting and improving the creek's health. Development around Rock Creek threatens the water quality that even a boarder of park land cannot fully control. Thanks to Rock Creek Conservancy, the community has become more educated and aware of how they affect this local oasis. We spoke to Katy Cain, the Conservancy's communication guru, about what makes this organization so incredible. 

rockcreek.jpg

Tell us about your organization and your mission:

Unless you live in Washington, D.C., chances are you aren’t familiar with Rock Creek. The section of Rock Creek that you might know is Rock Creek Park, America’s first urban National Park, which is housed entirely within D.C. and taken care of by our partners at the National Park Service. People use the park daily to play, to commute, to learn, and to escape the non-stop motion of America’s most powerful city.  

Rock Creek Park by itself is more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park, but the actual creek is even bigger. It starts as a spring on an unassuming golf course in Laytonsville, MD, and winds 33 miles south, through Montgomery County, MD and Washington, D.C., to the Potomac River. The creek’s watershed is made up of 77.4 sq miles of primarily urban landscape, all of which impacts the health of the creek.

Rock Creek has been important to people for centuries, but such an old urban park comes with unique problems that will only get worse without our help. Heavy litter, invasive species, erosion, and stormwater pollution are just some of the things that put the health of the creek’s ecosystem at risk.

That’s where Rock Creek Conservancy comes in. The Conservancy, originally called “Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment (FORCE),” was founded in 2005 by a group of concerned citizens on a mission to protect Rock Creek and its park lands as a natural oasis for all people to appreciate and protect.  In order to ensure the health of Rock Creek, we take a system-wide approach, working throughout the entire Rock Creek watershed to address the challenges that the creek faces.

To realize our mission, we run four overarching programs: volunteering, youth education, restoration, and advocacy. We mobilize over 5,000 volunteers annually to restore Rock Creek, making up 42 percent of all volunteers who work in Rock Creek Park NPS. Our programs tap into the rich tapestry of people who reside in Washington D.C. and Maryland, so that together we can create a culture of environmental stewardship that lasts for generations. Through these programs we plant rain gardens, install rain barrels, remove invasive species, engage communities, pick up trash, and so much more.

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

One project that has us excited is the Rock Creek Conservation Corps (RC3), which is a part of our youth education efforts. This past summer was our third year running RC3, which employs (yes, employs) students from District high schools to work on conservation projects throughout the Rock Creek watershed.

The 4-week program is intense, requiring RC3 crewmembers to work in teams to remove invasive plants, install stormwater management infrastructure, and maintain trails. But the crew members learn more than how to use tools and build berms; they develop essential leadership skills and engage with their communities both in person and through social media.

The past two years we have also included a Green Jobs Panel, which brought the crew members face-to-face with successful people who work in or around conservation. By meeting people who look like them at different stages in their careers, the crew members see that there are many legitimate options to continue making a difference beyond the work they do with RC3.

This year the program doubled from 20 to 40 students, and we have plans for it to expand to 60 in the summer of 2018. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for our crew members and for this program.  

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

Did you know that Rock Creek has a raw sewage problem? D.C.’s sewers are directly connected to drains and downspouts, which are in turn connected to the local water treatment plant and, in the case of overflows, Rock Creek and the Potomac River.

This means that when it rains heavily, the sewers can overflow, and D.C.’s favorite parks and waterways can end up full of raw sewage. As long as this issue persists, the creek will not be completely safe for humans and wildlife.

We are currently working to “Drain the Rain” with DC Water’s Downspout Disconnection Program, which will disconnect people’s downspouts from the sewer system. This will reduce the chances of an overflow event. A pilot project to assess the efficacy of this plan has just concluded, and we are hoping to focus more on this issue as we expand the project into phase two.

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

We believe that local action can lead to global change, but we know that the only way to do that is to work with like-minded organizations and people. The Choose Clean Water Coalition helps to do that by pulling all of the talent in these smaller watershed groups together to work towards a common goal. By getting us all on the same page about important issues, we are able to communicate more effectively and ultimately affect a larger change in the world.

For more information on Rock Creek Conservancy, contact Katy Cain

Potomac Pipeline

Big Oil always seems to find a way to threaten the environmental health of our communities, whether it be in the form of spills or through fracking. One of the most recent threats is from pipelines, which yield negative impacts from its construction and maintenance. An analysis by Richard Stover, Ph.D, found that, since 1986, pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels of oil per year, which is equivalent to 200 barrels every day.

The highly-publicized controversy of the Dakota Access Pipeline was a grave reminder of how vehemently the public opposes pipelines, and the lengths these billion-dollar oil companies will go to undermine these efforts.

In the Chesapeake watershed, a familiar figure to environmental injustice, foreign oil superpower TransCanada aims to run a fracked-gas pipeline from Bedford, PA, under the Potomac River and to Morgan County, WV. As one of the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, TransCanada will yet again be putting communities at risk with this “Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.”

via Skytruth.org

via Skytruth.org

This proposed pipeline poses immense threats to water quality and public health, which is why this pipeline project must be stopped.

Pipeline Effects Clean Drinking Water For Millions

The Potomac River is a source of water for six million people, so it should make sense to most that a fracked-gas pipeline has no place being built under such a vital resource. TransCanada spilled nearly 17,000 gallons of oil onto rural land last year, and had two other leaking incidents in 2011. The construction alone could put area wells at great risk as well. Placing trust in TransCanada to safely build and maintain an oil pipeline under the Potomac would be putting clean drinking water for millions at risk.

Pipeline Would Run Through Vulnerable Karst Geology

via Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey

via Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey

Karst topography is a sensitive geology characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. Easily susceptible to the transmission of pollutants through connected underground aquifers, Karst allows for the easy migration of pollutants into aquifers that run into the Potomac River. Hydraulic directional drilling under streams in this geology will create pathways for water to drain down and dissolve the limestone around the pining. This drilling can create sinkholes that would put the pipeline at risk, and can cause subterranean ruptures and even explosions. 

Pipeline Is An Example of TransCanada Using Misleading Tactics

TransCanada would have you believe that this pipeline is a necessity and that it would bring jobs to the area, but these are just outright lies. The construction of this pipeline would employ out-of-town workers, and the positions would be temporary. The application for this project also includes no evidence for a "need" for natural gas in the Eastern Panhandle, yet TransCanada continues to move along with the project. Using age-old scare tactics that have displaced many landowners in the past, TransCanada has been facing landowners and farmers with the dilemma of willingly selling their land or having their land seized through eminent domain.

Say NO to the Potomac Pipeline

via No Potomac Pipeline Facebook

via No Potomac Pipeline Facebook

Just because TransCanada thinks it has the right to build this dangerous pipeline, doesn't mean we have to stand by and let them. The #NoPotomacPipeline campaign, initiated by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, is already in full swing with the support of a few other organizations. Many of the same members of the "Don't Frack In Maryland" campaign — who saw victory in their efforts to ban fracking in Maryland though legislation and garnering support from Gov. Larry Hogan — are fighting to stop the construction of this pipeline.

Once again, Gov. Hogan holds great power in this situation, as he has the authority to reject the Section 401 Water Quality Certification for this project under the Clean Water Act. Although he did end up passing the legislation that the "Don't Frack" movement supported, we need to ensure he'll support us again by making our voices heard. A few weeks ago, hundreds of Marylanders and West Virginians united to demonstrate their resistance to the pipeline. Standing hand in hand on the James Rumsey Bridge, the "Hands Across the Potomac" demonstration was a reassuring display of unity against faceless corporations. We hope Hogan saw this demonstration and heard the voices of those who will be directly affected.

If you want to ensure that your voice is heard on this matter and would like to join the #NoPotomacPipeline movement, we suggest signing up for our partners' action alerts. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Waterkeepers Chesapeake are two organizations that are providing great resources to get dissenters of the pipeline involved.

On Monday, November 8th, those organizations will be hosting a meeting at the Washington County Free Library to discuss the pipeline and volunteering opportunities. Those who are interested can RSVP to the free event, which will take place from 6:30pm-8pm. 

Like the symbolic joining of hands on the James Rumsey Bridge, we must all join forces to stand up to Big Oil and Gas. We've won battles like this before, and we must work to make sure we do it again.

Joe DeWitt is a communications intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition. 

Coalition Success: Maryland Bans Fracking

In March 2017, a number of successes came out of Maryland’s state legislature, including a ban on hydraulic fracturing. The ban to protect the precious Marcellus Shale formation, local waterways, and drinking water in the Western part of the state had overwhelming, bipartisan support and Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, signed and passed the ban into law noting that, “Protecting our natural clean water supply and natural resources is critically important to Marylanders, and we simply cannot allow the door to open for fracking in our state”. Maryland and New York are the only two states that have banned fracking in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   

The threat of natural gas development within the Bay watershed has been a long contested debate. For the last nine years, the Coalition’s Shale Workgroup has pushed back at the local, state, and regional level to champion precedent setting policies to address the impacts of shale gas drilling. The significance of this historic ban speaks volumes to the work of Coalition members, specifically in Western Maryland. Efforts on the ground in favor of Maryland’s fracking ban legislation was seen from 37 diverse Coalition members, including faith groups, sportsmen, and conservation non-profits. Strong support was vocalized through a series of sign-on letters addressed to Governor Hogan and six state legislators whose districts would be impacted by fracked natural gas.

Maryland’s ban on fracking is not just a huge victory for  one portion of the Chesapeake watershed, it will also protect  drinking water for tens of thousands of people and species of wildlife. This victory signifies the importance of collaboration and working together. Each member of the Choose Clean Water Coalition -no matter how big or small- plays a key role in protecting the Chesapeake. The ban serves as a Coalition win and demonstrates the power of our ability to provide capacity to our members and drive strategic action for the protection of our natural resources.  

Mariah Davis is the field manager for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Eastern Shore Farm Tour Shows it Takes a Village to Save the Bay

If you are anything like me, you didn’t exactly excel in the “hard sciences” while in school. Maybe that’s why you studied the humanities in college and ended up in law school? Yep, me too. If either of these realities sound like you, then you would probably react to someone showing you a handful of “bioreactors” and in-ground “phosphorus slag filters” the same way that I did: open-mouthed confusion and a profound realization that I should have paid more attention to Mr. Olsen in chemistry class. However, if you’re like me and crave opportunities to learn something new, I imagine that you would have had just as good a time as I did on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

On Monday, about two dozen environmentalists and I were given a tour by Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy of “On-Farm Water Quality Enhancement Projects” within the Choptank River Watershed. Despite the beating sunshine and oppressive humidity, the few hours we spent traipsing through tall grasses and down dirt farm roads were both exciting and fascinating.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy drove us to and walked us through three different farms in and around Ridgley, Maryland where Best Management Practices (BMPs for the uninitiated) have been installed. Mae Vue Farm, Mason’s Heritage, Cedarhurst Farm, and each of their respective owners were gracious hosts and were doing great things by allowing these BMPs to be put in place and continue to both monitor and filter harmful nutrients from entering nearby waterways.

Now, in addition to the heat, my head was spinning for a whole set of other reasons while on the tour. I frantically jotted down terms of art which I later Googled and Wikipedia[d] with equal fervor. Terms like: denitrification walls, woodchip bioreactors, anaerobic processes, and tile line. I will not go into any great depth about what these terms mean specifically—my own understanding is tenuous at best—but what I can tell you is that these practices and the interplay between them work. Since 2013, these agricultural best practices have seen annual reductions of roughly 15,941lbs. of nitrogen, 222lbs. of phosphorus, and 1,675lbs. of total suspended solids. These are impressive numbers, and with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy and their partners’ continued efforts, the numbers and ultimately the Bay will only get better.

I’ll say it again: I’m not a numbers guy. I want to save the Bay through persuasion and policy. Some do their part by developing devices which use bacteria underground to transform Nitrate-nitrogen into dinitrogen gas and release it safely into the air instead of surface waters (look at me now, Mr. Olsen). Others get their hands dirty and dig the trenches needed to house these devices. And some are farmers, providing for their family and their community, who take risks and allow these practices on their land for the greater good of the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. The point is, it takes all types of people to make a difference, and I for one am proud to be part of that group.

Montgomery County DEP Tour Shows Investment in Stormwater Initiatives

Not long ago, I was asked to do something at work that I was never asked to do in any of my previous jobs. I was asked to create a document which outlined my professional goals while working with the Choose Clean Water Coalition. I was pretty floored by how good of an idea this was. Never before had an employer taken such an interest in my professional development, so I set out to ensure the opportunity wasn’t squandered.

The first thing I jotted down was fairly straightforward: to get outside, in the field, and see firsthand some of the projects that resulted from the Coalition’s continued and ardent advocacy. Almost instantly, I was afforded the chance to check this item off my list by attending a tour of stormwater infrastructure and stream restoration projects in Montgomery County—a very informative outing facilitated by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A handful of other clean water advocates and I began our day at DEP headquarters and received a crash-course presentation on some of the steps that Montgomery County is taking to make sure that areas with the the most need for restoration and infrastructure work are getting attention. They walked us through their game plan, a five-phase initiative which guides a project from planning and design, all the way through to post-construction monitoring.

We learned that DEP is doing some truly great stuff out in the field, including projects still in the design phase. Montgomery County DEP has applied BMPs and restoration techniques to the equivalent of roughly 4,374 acres of impervious surface—an impressive number to say the very least.

Being presented with the numbers is one thing, but I wanted to throw on my boots and get out and see these practices first-hand. This is exactly what we did. DEP staff loaded us into a pair of vans and brought us to a total of five different restoration sites, each one in a different stage of completion. First we visited a completely finished project, the “Hollywood Branch Stream Restoration.” This location, nestled within the Anacostia River Watershed, boasted a 4,470 linear foot project length, including a natural stream channel design, and connection to existing floodplain and vernal pools areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, we went to the site of a proposed project. What is now a dry stormwater retention pond at the end of a quaint cul-de-sac, will soon become a shallow wetland that will not only hold stormwater drainage from 31 nearby acres (26% of which are impervious), but promises to be so aesthetically appealing that nearby residents have threatened to dust off their old row-boats in anticipation of some leisurely jaunts across the floodplain.

All in all, it was a remarkably successful afternoon. I only lost 5 pounds of water weight due to the humidity, and I didn’t get a single tick bite. Most importantly, I was reminded that our efforts are not for nothing. If you’re willing to get outside and wander a bit, there is a lot of measurable work being done to clean up where we live, work, and play and to provide greener spaces for future generations and for ourselves.