Pennsylvania

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.

Member Highlight: Lancaster County Conservancy

Our most recent member highlight goes to Lancaster County Conservancy (LCC), a Pennsylvania based group working towards cleaner water in the Lancaster region. With over 2,600 members, they work hard to ensure and secure a healthier future for the environment of Pennsylvania.The Conservancy is governed by an 18 person board of directors who have responsibility for the direction of the LCC, all chosen by the community. We spoke to Fritz Schroeder about what makes this organization so important and why they need your support. 

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Tell us about your organization and your mission:

The Lancaster County Conservancy’s mission is Saving Nature – Providing wild and forested lands and clean waterways for our community. The Conservancy was founded as a land trust in 1969 by local hunters and fisherman who were concerned about the loss of natural lands. Today the Conservancy owns over 5,000 acres, 40+ miles of trails, and 35+ miles of streams. In addition to land protection we have three departments that focus on: stewardship to ensure ecological function, management and care of the 5,000+ acres, education to instill a passion for nature that ensures the ongoing care of our wild lands for generations to come and Urban Greening, which focuses specifically on clean water infrastructure issues urban and suburban areas of Lancaster County.

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

Lancaster Water Week presented by the Lancaster Conservancy is entering its 2nd year, June 1 – 9, 2018. This event focuses in on the way water connects us all - celebrating the unique waterways of Lancaster County, educating the public about the challenges we face and opportunities we can create, and activating people to get involved in their watershed community. We also have First Friday in Downtown Lancaster, which is the official kick off to Lancaster Water Week. This event celebrates art in the community, connecting local culture with local environmental issues.

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

We hope to continue our preservation of protected areas, while strengthening community involvement. Our Urban Greening Program and Best Management Practice education require continuous effort and growth to make a difference, and we look forward to expanding this into a greener Lancaster. The Lancaster County Conservancy is also expanding its outreach in 2018 to target a family and millennial audience.

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

The conference has been invaluable in growing our knowledge about Bay wide issues and we’ve met many wonderful professionals. We are more than excited to be hosting the conference once again here in the City of Lancaster in 2018 and can’t wait to share our community with new and old friends. 

For more info, contact Fritz Schroeder, director of urban greening.

Coalition Success: Federal Funding Secured for Pennsylvania Agriculture

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

On October 4, at the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council (EPA Administrator, Bay state governors, the mayor of D.C. and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission) it was announced that over $28 million would be available for targeted agricultural conservation practices in south-central PA. The breakdown of funds was approximately:

  • $12.7 million from the US Dept. of Agriculture
  • $11.8 million from PA state agencies
  • $4 million from EPA

This is a big deal! A small portion of these funds had already been announced and disseminated (e.g., $3 million of EPA money announced by NFWF in August at their Chesapeake Stewardship Grants press conference), but these very targeted funds are critical to pick up the pace on agricultural lands in south central PA.

The Coalition has been very active all year trying to obtain additional funds for agriculture in PA, working with various Members of the House and Senate, meeting with officials at the Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President, OMB, USDA and EPA.

Family, Faith, Farming and Clean Water

The Caseys and the Smuckers– two Pennsylvania families with a rich history in different lines of work, but with a lot of the same interests: family, faith, farming and clean water. I was lucky enough to be part of a great day where two scions of these well-known families spent a few hours together looking at conservation problems and solutions on an Amish farm in Lancaster County, PA.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is the senior Senator from Pennsylvania and a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. His father was governor of Pennsylvania. Joe Smucker has taken over his family’s dairy farm outside of East Earl; the farm has been in his family for generations.

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Jenn Quinn (PennFuture) and I laid the groundwork for the tour earlier in the year when we were visiting Pennsylvania Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. In our meeting with Senator Casey’s Senior Policy Advisor we first thanked the Senator for his past support for full funding for the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants.  Then, we pitched the idea of getting the Senator out to look at some projects that were already funded. That offer, after some lengthy negotiating and a few date changes, is what led to this tour on a perfect summer day in early August.

The conservation practices on the Smucker Farm came from many sources – funding and/or technical assistance from an array of agencies and organizations, as well as the vision of Joe Smucker and his family. We focused on a Chesapeake Stewardship Grant that had been given to the Stroud Water Research Center, which in turn worked with a number of farms and farmers in the region. We had folks from Stroud, TeamAg, Lancaster County Conservation District and PennFuture join with those of us who organized the tour. The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), who administers the grant programs, hosted the tour. We were joined by Russ Redding , Secretary of Agriculture for Pennsylvania, as well as a number of neighboring Amish farmers who wanted to see what was going on at the Smucker Farm. We were also joined by a reporter with the Lancaster Farming newspaper. Click here for his take on the day.

We were met by the entire Smucker Family – Joe, his wife Martha, most of their kids (some were still working in the field), Joe’s father (Joe Smucker, Senior) and their neighbors. Senator Casey arrived and spent time chatting with the Smuckers, including their children, and all the neighbors.

Joe Smucker led the tour and showed us a new manure stacking area. He told a story about the large open manure pile that served as the farm’s “storage” area right next to where we were standing.  He noted that every time he walked by the pile it bothered him because he knew that when it rained the manure washed down the hill into the creek in the valley on the farm. As soon as he was able to get assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), he fixed this problem. We also looked at a forested riparian buffer that was recently planted along the small creek (headwaters of the Conestoga) in the farm’s valley. We learned about the Smucker Farm use of no-till farming techniques and cover crops, and their conservation plan. All of these conservation practices depended on financial and technical assistance from an array of sources, including Stroud and NFWF.

Joe Smucker was asked if he would be going around talking to other Amish farmers and encouraging them to install many of the conservation practices that he had. He gave a calm, reasoned and eloquent response – that started with “No”, but that he was willing to “lead by example” and would be happy to show what he did and talk to anyone who contacted him about it.

Senator Casey was very interested in many of the aspects of the conservation practices that were being used on the Smucker Farm, including how to get more of those practices onto other farms in Pennsylvania.  Senator Casey also interacted with the Smucker children, including their young daughter, where he related a story about being the father of four daughters.

At the end of the day Secretary Redding and I had a few minutes to discuss a proposal by Governor Wolf(D-PA), where he was seeking $10 million from USDA for conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed portion of the state. We urged Senator Casey to weigh in with the Obama Administration in support of this proposal.  Shortly after this tour, Senator Casey sent a very strong letter to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality, both in the White House, urging the Administration to provide additional support for conservation practices on farms in the Chesapeake Bay portion of PA. We’re hoping to learn the fate of this proposal by October 4, when the Chesapeake Executive Council (Bay watershed governors, EPA Administrator, DC Mayor and Bay Commission chair) has its last annual meeting during the Obama Administration.