Posted by Dan E B. on Mar 21st, 2012 10:19am


Project Clean Stream

Celebrate Earth Month: Join Project Clean Stream

Help at Local Stream Cleanup

The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed have many facets, but a personal connection between residents of the watershed and their local stream or river may be the most vital relationship in this work. People will care for and protect the things they know and love. The Alliance works to create this connection by providing experiences that encourage committed people, communities, organizations, and businesses to get involved. On April 14th from 9AM to Noon, Project Clean Stream will once again aid in the restoration effort. Throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, thousands of people will be participating in this annual event coordinated by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, our sponsors and partners.


The Alliance organizes and hosts opportunities for volunteers to spend a few hours outside cleaning trash from streams or otherwise improving their communities. At the same time, volunteers are joined in community service with their neighbors, co-workers, and other volunteers. These volunteers beautify the neighborhoods in which they live and work, but also gain awareness about the impacts they may have on the environment.


In 2011, more than 5,000 volunteers removed over 300,000 pounds of trash and debris from area streams.


(photo credit South River Federation)


(photo credit South River Federation)


There are two ways to help out with Project Clean Stream. As a general volunteer, it is easy to find a nearby stream or roadside cleanup site to volunteer to pick up trash, like tires and other discarded items.


Those who would like to create their own cleanup site can contact the Alliance to find out how to become a Site Captain. Through grants from Perdue and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Alliance works with partnering organizations — local watershed associations and regional county staff — to set up cleanup sites, recruit volunteers and provide supplies like trash bags, gloves, and first aid kits.


No matter how you help, volunteering a few hours of your day sends a powerful message. Project Clean Stream volunteers care enough about the Chesapeake Bay and their community to make a change. Without your help, we won't reach our goals.


Information on how to start a cleanup site and a map of locally registered cleanup sites can be found at http://allianceforthebay.org/pcs.

For additional information or to schedule an interview, contact
Dan Brellis at 443-949-0575 or dbrellis@allianceforthebay.org.

Attend the Project Clean Stream event on Facebook and share it with your friends.



©2012 - All Rights Reserved

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Posted by Dan E B. on Nov 16th, 2011 10:59am

Early this week, a message was released on the Chesapeake Network entitled "Please sign-on to Oppose Barrasso/Heller Amendment to Energy and Water Appropriations (H.R. 2354)". This message was sent on behalf of Clean Water Action, an organization that is collecting names to fight the passing of this Amendment.

This message, and its responses, have caused some interesting reactions, so I’d like to host this post as a place for continued conversation on the topic. Firstly, a brief note on the Amendment itself, and then I will speak to some of the responses passed around on the Network regarding the Amendment.

The Amendment

If passed, the Barrasso/Heller Amendment (SA 939) would prevent Federal agencies, such as the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers, from regulating certain waterways. The EPA has proposed a new draft guidance that would allow these agencies to regulate not just all navigable waterways, but interstate, intrastate and even non-navigable ones as well (i.e. tributaries and isolated wetlands). The Barrasso/Heller Amendment seeks to block the draft agency guidance and any future rulemaking from the EPA and the Corps on the matter.

The Two Sides

On the surface, this issue seems to be heavily partisan, with Republicans generally supporting the Amendment (limiting Federal authority over waterways), while Democrats opposing it. Currently the Obama administration favors increasing federal authority over waters now protected by state law.  Many groups agree with the President, including Clean Water Action andNational Resource Defense Council, saying that the Amendment “would kill a good government initiative to clarify the types of waters the Clean Water Act protects” (cleanwater.org).

Supporters, such as National Association of Conservation Districts and Property Rights Alliance argue that the Amendment “prevents […] expansion of government power by clearly defining and limiting the waterways which the federal government can regulate” (freerepublic.com).

Member Messages

With respect to the responses being sent about this issue, I would like to remind all of our members that any opinions or comments expressed by our members are not necessarily those of the Chesapeake Network itself or the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

I encourage you all to be open minded to all members of this group and to all the constituents that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Voting on the Amendment in the Senate will be tomorrow. I encourage you all to continue your discussion as a comment on this post.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Sep 7th, 2011 2:52pm
From Our Yard to the Bay in Clay Mural

It’s never easy to bring nature into a classroom, but teachers and students at the Hampstead Elementary School in MD have found a way to recreate it in a fun, educational and brightly colored way.

The ceramic mural project, From Our Yard to the Bay in Clay, was completed in the spring of 2011 and visually makes the connection between rain and streams to the Chesapeake Bay, highlighting a host of our native flora and fauna.

Terry Whye, the coordinator for the Artist in Residency program, along with Barbara Hammond, the Hampstead Art Instructor, organized this project to bring an innovative new teaching method to the students.

Sharon Bailey, President of the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance, helped the students understand the concepts of the Chesapeake Bay and the watershed, using educational models of communities and their watershed provided by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Every student, including the kindergarteners, was involved in some piece of the mural.

Artist in Residency Students

“They each got to choose which piece of the local flora or fauna to sculpt and they learned a lot about watershed ecology in the process”, Bailey says. Whye remarked that teachers immediately begun expressing how they plan to use the mural in next year’s curriculum.

Possibly the greatest attribute of the mural was the final rewarding experience it brought to all those involved, including the organizers, teachers, students, local environmental organizations and a large group of community volunteers.

We hope to see more excellent projects like this that can incorporate community and cooperation building along with environmental stewardship.

From Our Yard to the Bay in Clay Mural

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Posted by Dan E B. on Sep 2nd, 2011 1:29pm

A new study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recommends “a moratorium on fishing until reefs and self-sustaining populations are restored.” This would indeed be referring to oysters!

Researchers say that despite major efforts, such as aquaculture, oyster sanctuaries and enforced anti-poaching laws, oyster populations in the Bay are still at a sharp decline. This is due to continued fishing, disease and habitat loss.

Read the full article on the Washington Post website: http://wapo.st/pPhaTc  

What will this hold for Chesapeake Bay states? Do you think governments will ever implement such a halt on oyster fishing, and if so what will this mean for the economy and the environment, both short and long-term?

Most importantly, do you think this is what is necessary to save the much needed Chesapeake Bay oyster population?

 Please let me know your thoughts in a comment below. 

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Posted by Dan E B. on Jun 28th, 2011 2:51pm

A new, exciting resource is coming your way! The Chesapeake Commons is a geospatial data sharing tool that lets users easily upload data, pin it to specific geographical points (i.e. latitude and longitude), then share, rate and discuss the results.

"The Chesapeake Commons helps people find data, ask questions and quickly test assumptions with easy to use mapping tools. With Chesapeake Commons, users can share their data with others and track how it is used."

I was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one presentation and tour of the Commons from the admin himself, John Dawes, Jr.

John began by pointing out the uniqueness of the Commons. This online software can take complex mapping data and display it in a way that most people can understand visually. Not only that, but it allows users to view and manipulate the data who wouldn't otherwise have the means to do so.

The Commons is still in its 'soft-release' phase, but already has some impressive datasets available. Many of these are from funders networks such as the CBT, NFWF, and CBFN as well as state records. As more members grow and data is added, the more potential arises for map creation and sharing.

All of the data on the Commons is public and the Commons itself is completely open-source. Public information like this helps to ensure that that data is up-to-date, accurate and transparent. Open source software can basically be translated into faster, more impressive updates to the system.

John also emphasized the practicality of the Commons. He gave examples of generating maps from state 303d data, nutrient/sediment loads, and wildlife corridors. Generating maps from these critical data can allow watershed and lobbying groups to focus on 'high priority' sites and targets.

After his presentation, John walked me through the steps of uploading data to the Commons and creating a map of my own. Luckily for me, I happened to have Project Clean Stream data from 2011 available, so we got right into it. I uploaded the dataset, did a tiny bit of labeling and reshuffling and voila! I had a map of my cleanup sites with all their contact information and results.

I had a good time playing with the markers and watching my map change. John also showed me how to add addition datasets to my map, like the Chesapeake Bay stream reaches layer and county lines. Below, I share with you a snapshot of my dataset. I've decided to display the sites by the amount of trash bags collected per site. The larger and greener the marker, the more bags of trash were pulled out of streams/woods. Please feel free to click the link, zoom in and move around on the map, it's quite interesting. Not only that, but you can inspect markers to view the data associated with that particular point.

Trash Removed from PCS2011 (small)

At the end of our meeting, John and I discussed how we could work to incorporate the Chesapeake Network into the Commons and vice versa. John values the 3,000+ members of the Network, and I know many of you have data to share or are interested in viewing and discussing the public data on the Commons.

I'll share more of the details of how we plan to integrate once we get moving along and begin to finalize things, but I am very excited about it, and I know John is as well.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out the Chesapeake Commons and see for yourself.


Have you already heard about the Chesapeake Commons, become a member, uploaded data? Let me know what you think in a comment below. 


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Posted by Dan E B. on Apr 26th, 2011 10:00am

Volunteers remove trash, debris from streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay

Local streams and woodlands received a clean start to Earth Month as thousands of volunteers came out on the first Saturday in April for Project Clean Stream, one of the largest cleanup events in the Chesapeake Bay region. Perdue proudly presented Project Clean Stream 2011 as the event's first lead sponsor and allowed for some serious results. Easily topping previous years and our 2011 goals, on April 2nd Project Clean Stream brought in almost 300,000 lbs of trash (150 tons, the weight of 11 school buses) with nearly 4,900 volunteers at an impressive 217 cleanup sites! In addition, sites were asked to track the number of plastic or glass containers removed; sites reported a remarkable 130,000 containers. Even larger numbers are on their way; 20 sites are still on target to submit results.

Results and efforts such as the ones seen from Project Clean Stream are a true testament to collaboration and partnerships. Over 90 different watershed groups and businesses helped to organize cleanup sites for 2011. Perdue alone boasted over 50 cleanup sites throughout Maryland and Delaware and even states outside of the Bay watershed including states as south as Georgia and as west as Kentucky and Indiana. The Alliance was successful in securing sites in Pennsylvania and Virginia as well as introducing invasive species pulls and tree plantings to the event. On a more local level, watershed organizations, such as Blue Water Baltimore and Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, dramatically expanded the number of sites and community involvement within their watersheds.

Lou Etgen, Associate Director for the Alliance states, “Project Clean Stream is a multidimensional program. It makes our streams and woodlands safer and cleaner, encourages people to get outside and investigate their local streams, and connects volunteers with their local watershed groups. Most importantly, it brings community members together and educates volunteers on the importance of environmental stewardship and inspires them to make a difference!”

Of course ideas for next year are already under way and even larger goals are coming into focus. “I’d love to see cleanup sites in every state in the Chesapeake Bay watershed”, says Dan Ellis, the coordinator for Project Clean Stream 2011, “The power of this sort of event is that everyone lives near a stream of some kind; we can get the message across that actions from hundreds of miles away still influence the Chesapeake Bay.” Ellis also hopes for an incorporation of more tree plantings and invasive species pulls in the future. “Maybe a theme for PCS2012 could urge that cleaning a stream isn’t just removing trash, it’s restoring it to a more historic past.”

Project Clean Stream

Under the coordination from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with the help of Perdue, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and partnering watershed groups, cleanup sites were significantly increased in quantity and distribution. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay applauds the efforts of our volunteers, contributors, and partners in this important out-reach initiative, and understands that Project Clean Stream would not be possible without the assistance of the many individuals that work towards making this annual clean up a success. This year, Project Clean Stream coordinated a total of 153 cleanup sites plus the additional 50+ sites coordinated by Perdue.


For more information about Project Clean Stream, or to schedule an interview with Dan Ellis, visit www.allianceforthebay.org/pcs, call (443) 949-0575 or e-mail dellis@allianceforthebay.org.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Apr 21st, 2011 3:39pm

What is a SWAP?

Now that my time has freed up a bit from Project Clean Stream, I’ve had a chance to revisit some things I started to get involved with prior to March. Don’t worry; I’ll be putting something out about PCS2011 very soon. We’ve almost gotten all results in and numbers are quite astounding. However, I’m here today to blog about SWAPs.

Volunteers helping with invasive species removal & tree planting

A SWAP is a small watershed action plan, and they’re popping up all around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. A first Google search reveals SWAPs in the Gunpowder, Back River, Jones Falls, and many others. In its simplest terms, a SWAP is a strategy that outlines how we will clean up our streams.

This strategy focuses on bringing the small watershed into compliance with water quality criteria, mainly determined by Bay & local TMDLs, the NPDES Municipal Discharge Point, stream surveys, and other studies.

A Novel Approach

Interestingly enough, SWAPs are unique because they partner state and county governments with local watershed associations, citizen awareness campaigns and volunteer activities. In a collaborative effort, they compose an outline of the existing watershed area, identify sources of pollution, examine alternative ways to enhance our watershed, determine costs, and decide who will implement the options.

Brilliant! Combine the passion of the environmental activists and citizens with the power of the government.

Not only that, but volunteer activities get citizens involved in their community and educated on issues like stormwater and pollution. This is great; now the watershed group can work with other, regional organizations’ projects (i.e. Project Clean Stream, TreeVitalize Streams) for support and to really expand their efforts. Again- brilliant.

My First SWAP Meeting

The first Community Meeting for the Loch Raven Reservoir SWAP (includes Beaver Dam, Baisman Run & Oregon Branch) was at Oregon Ridge on February 16th.

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy is a major player in this initiative. Their work with restoration is powerful.  I know from just dealing with GVC for Project Clean Stream; they coordinated around 20 cleanup sites. In addition, they organize tree plantings, citizen monitoring, forest and stream buffer plantings, various educational events- the list goes on…

Julie Schneider from the Center for Watershed Protection gave an overview of the watershed’s current condition. Then, employees from the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability laid out the ideas and plans for the SWAP.

Nancy Pentz gave the vision and goals for this SWAP. These come in the form of input from stakeholders, business partners, institutional partners, and data from studies on stormwater ponds and streams.

SWAP Goals Next Steps
  • Local TMDL compliant: reduction in Nitrogen, Phosphorous, bacteria levels and mercury
  • Address impervious surfaces (improve stormwater management)
  • Incorporate National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems
  • Two additional meetings for the Loch Raven SWAP
  • CWP Stream Assessments
  • Create incentives (tax breaks) for county residents/businesses
    • Solar energy
    • LEED certified
    • Green Roofs
  • Focus on prevention to avoid future restoration

Case Example – Public Concern

Afterwards, a few property owners spoke up, expressing their concerns. They didn’t need to be convinced that managing stormwater and runoff was necessary (which was a happy surprise to me). Instead, they listed examples of cases where their requests for implementation and appropriate accountability have gone unheard. Instances like ongoing erosion problems on yards and illegal zoning of new buildings. One property owner declared, “We’re not lucky we live in a clean watershed- we work hard for it!”

It’s good news to me that there are citizens in these watersheds that care and want proper regulations for the Chesapeake Bay. However, they feel ignored, thus leading to apathy. The citizens can do a lot, but they need the help from the county. On the other hand, the county wants to work hard to see these changes come to light, but sometimes get their hands tied up in bureaucracy.

The Good in it All

Next Loch Raven SWAP Meeting
May 25th,6:30 - 8 p.m.
Oregon Ridge Nature Center
Beaverdam Road

All in all, government backed initiatives like this SWAP promise change for the better. With the county working with watershed organizations like Gunpowder Valley Conservancy and residents, it’s certainly a force to be reckoned with for a cleaner, more regulated Chesapeake Bay.

I’m looking forward to the next SWAP meeting for Loch Raven Reservoir. In this next meeting, I hope to see examples of progress taken and data for implemented actions. SWAPs are a positive step forward for regulations & prevention and will help the Chesapeake Bay and local communities.

As always, I value your feedback and input. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Mar 3rd, 2011 1:44pm

Project Clean Stream 2011

Perdue presents Project Clean Stream 2011Chesapeake Bay Trust offers Project Clean Stream 2011 with grant

Celebrate Earth Month; Join Project Clean Stream

Volunteers Needed to Start Local Stream Cleanups

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is organizing the 8th annual Project Clean Stream, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest coordinated stream cleanups. Project Clean Stream 2011 will take place Saturday, April 2, 2011, from 9 AM to 12 Noon, at more than 165 stream cleanup sites across the Chesapeake Bay area. The Alliance increasingly partners with environmental non-profit organizations, City Recreation & Parks Departments, and larger corporations in an attempt to expand the cleanup effort each year. Project Clean Stream is coordinated to connect individuals with their local watershed association and to help us make our local streams, wooded areas, and shorelines safer, cleaner, and more beautiful. 

As the Alliance expands the efforts of Project Clean Stream outside of central Maryland, we are asking if watershed organizations, institutions, community associations or any other organizations will aid in managing cleanup sites and volunteers. Project Clean Stream requires volunteers on two levels. Firstly, Site Captains lead cleanups and orient volunteers at their respective site. The Alliance provides Site Captains with assistance as needed, including training, organizational checklists, cleanup materials (trash bags, gloves, first aid kit), and necessary forms. Secondly, we need a general volunteer crew for stream cleanup.

The Alliance would like a member of your organization to become a Site Captain and help organize a cleanup site. We will gladly work with you to find a cleanup site and organize volunteers. This year, we are also able to offer a stipend of $75 per cleanup site that you register (minimum of 2 cleanup sites).

Project Clean Stream volunteers improve their community by removing trash, tires and other discarded items from area streams and nearby roadsides. In 2010, over 3,600 volunteers removed more than 118,000 pounds of trash and debris from area streams!  This year, we hope to recruit 4,000 volunteers, remove 150,000 pounds of trash and register 165 cleanup sites. Please consider hosting a stream cleanup near your area. Without your assistance, we cannot reach our goals.

Project Clean Stream is coordinated by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and supported by our generous corporate sponsor, Perdue, and by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  Partnering organizations include local watershed associations and regional county staff.

To volunteer or start a stream cleanup near you, contact Dan Ellis at 443-949-0575 or dellis@allianceforthebay.org . Additional information is also available at http://allianceforthebay.org/pcs and on facebook (share with your friends) - http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=193098080718672.

P.S. Look at the March 2011 issue of the Bay Journal for a nice article on PCS2011.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Feb 16th, 2011 11:56am
Below is a sample letter from a cause known as 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting. I thnk it is appropriate to share this post on the Chesapeake Network because a large large majority of the news and information that is shared and reported on environmental issues comes from public broadcasting. Any public broadcasting radio, web or televsion station delivers interesting reports on sciences and the environment everyday. We, as environmental interested individuals, should do what we can to help keep public proadcasting funding.

If Mr. Rogers were here, would he go to Washington?

He did. In 1969, Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to express his disagreement with a proposal by President Richard Nixon to cut federal funding for public broadcasting. Rogers detailed the guiding influence of television, and helped sway the Senate’s decision to leave funding for public broadcasting in tact.
More than 40 years later, public media faces an even greater challenge. Several bills now before Congress would eliminate funding for public broadcasting. These funds are used to keep your local public broadcasting stations high-quality non-commercial programming with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including
children, minorities, and low-income Americans.
Questions? Email Marsha@MarshaWalker.com or jfnelson@170MillionAmericans.org

Help us tell Congress that funding for public broadcasting is too important to eliminate. Take 30 seconds, and add your name in support of public media. (www.170MillionAmericans.org)

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Posted by Dan E B. on Feb 8th, 2011 2:12pm

It’s February, and we’re all just getting used to 2011. Reminders of New Year’s resolutions and deadlines for ambitious spring and summer projects are stuck in our heads. Other than a very busy time of the year in planning Project Clean Stream for the Alliance, February 2011 marks an important time for me. It was the end of January, last year that I was hired by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as the Chesapeake Network Administrator. It dawned on me the other day, and so, I thought I’d share with you some of things that I’ve experienced at the Alliance and on the Chesapeake Network.

When I first joined the Alliance, I was the first Network Administrator and charged with growing the Network, expanding features and increasing its social networking use.  I wanted to share with you some statistics and new features over the past year on the Chesapeake Network.

Welcome Page Facelift- One of the first things I did on the Network was restructure the welcome page. This is what new users to the Network see and I thought it had the potential to be a window into how the Network can be used. I made the most used sites of the Network easier to find and added an easy way to tell your friends about the site through popular social networks. I also added a Community Spotlight and Community News feature to get an idea of the current activity on the Network.

Increased Members- Last year, there were about 1,500 members on the Network. In a year, we’ve seen it grow more than a thousand to 2,731. A lot of this has been in part due to the many groups that have decided to bring their members onto the Network. Some of the most active ones are the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council, Chesapeake Stormwater Network and Potomac Basin Stewards. There are 96 groups living on the Network with an average of about 11 messages sent each day within them and the main Network email.

Chesapeake Network on twitter

Social Networking- On June 30th, 2010 I created a twitter account for the Network. In 7 months we’ve obtained over 400 followers and it directs about 45 new visitors to the site monthly. Twitter was my way of reaching out to interact with other members of the environmental community that are not on the Network. Through the twitter account I send short summaries of events, conversations and questions that you post on the Network. You can follow the Chesapeake Network on twitter @ChesapeakeNet.

Events & Interactions- Finally, I’ve been working on making the Chesapeake Network not only a way to meet and find like-minded peers, but also as an information and conversation portal. When I starting looking around the Network in February 2010, the first thing I noticed was an empty community calendar. This was right after I had been searching the internet for lists of conservation activities and events to participate in around the Bay. I made it my goal to populate this calendar with Bay-wide events and encourage others to do the same. Now, the community calendar has an average of 5-7 events per week! Along with events, I’ve also been working on increasing the interactions between members on the site. Things like the discussion forum and blogs have begun to grow and take shape.

Looking back, I’m largely proud of what the Chesapeake Network has become. However, I can’t help but look into what is in store for the Network in the year of 2011. I’m very excited of what it has the potential to be and how it will grow in the next year. In the next couple of months, I’ll be working on the Chesapeake Network tremendously. With the help of money from a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant and Eric Eckl of Water Words That Work, we’ll be developing and remarketing the Network to better suit the needs of its members and to better reach out to potential members. Some surprises are in store as well. In the near-term you can look forward to an implementation of Chesapeake Bay Trust’s version of a Watershed Implementation Plan tracker. More details to come!

The month of February and March also signify a very busy shift in my schedule. I am coordinating the Alliance’s Project Clean Stream, which is set for April 2nd, 2011. I’m working to make PCS2011 the largest yet and expand into all Chesapeake Bay area states. I’d appreciate your support with sharing the event to your friends and participating in a cleanup near you. The website is http://www.allianceforthebay.org/pcs/; here you can find information on PCS and nearby cleanup sites, also how to sponsor or become a partner. Also, join the facebook event to help spread the word.

I want to thank all of the Chesapeake Network members for being so determined and passionate about the Chesapeake Bay. I value any and all feedback. Please post as a comment below what you like best about the site or suggestions for improvement.

Thanks.  I look forward to another year with you.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Dec 30th, 2010 5:04pm
Happy New Year in 2011
Thank you all for your continued support & effort in protecting the Chesapeake Bay!

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Posted by Dan E B. on Dec 10th, 2010 3:59pm

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, entrepreneur, or great inventor to protect the Chesapeake Bay. There’s no need to become disheartened from a problem because you can’t think of the solution. Indeed, in many cases the solution has already been discovered and put into practice. In a new series of blog posts titled Look Around, I will be interviewing, photographing and highlighting some work from fellow environmental groups within the Chesapeake Bay area. This is my attempt to showcase the problems we all face in environmental activism and how our peers are dealing with them.

First up: Look Around: Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

It’s easy to forget that parts of New York drain into the Chesapeake Bay. I know it can be hard to convince MD & VA residents that their actions affect the Bay, but imagine the challenge they have in NY. However, this hasn’t stopped the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC), an organization of 19 conservation districts, from performing some remarkable work with farmers, individuals & wetlands.

Upper Susquehanna Coalition

On September 2nd, I was given a tour of the upper most reaches of the Chesapeake Bay drainage basin by USC staff where some real results were evident. I met Erin Heard, USC Tributary Strategy Specialist, in Broome County and headed up to the headwaters of the Bay in Madison County to meet Troy Bishopp, The Grass Whisperer. Troy is employed by the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and The Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist.  He is a ‘jack of all trades’ guy who also owns & operates Bishopp Family Farm with his family; writes a monthly column for Lancaster Farming; updates his website & blog (TheGrassWhisperer.com); and is a Toastmasters speaker, fence installer, grant writer, and event planner- among other things!

Troy & Erin promised to show me around different farms that they have been working with closely. Their goal is to get cattle grazing in open range, diversified grass pastures and out of feed yards by implementing a sustainable grazing system where grass is not depleted, cattle are kept out of streams, and vegetated buffers are established along those streams to filter out excess nutrients and sediment.

Some farms are fully embracing USC’s goals while others are just taking baby steps. Troy first showed me a fantastic ‘toy’ he is excited about- the hydraulic fence post pounder. Having a Conservation District/USC owned machine is a serious advantage in farming and keeping cattle out of the streams that run alongside the farm. When cattle are allowed access to walk in the streams, they contribute to the erosion process that can degrade streams, cloud water, and limit aquatic vegetation growth. Also, their excrement can contribute to nutrient loads in local streams.  These streams eventually find their way to the Chesapeake Bay where excessive nitrogen and phosphorus have been determined to lead to algal blooms that lower oxygen levels in the water and release harmful toxins.

With the fence post pounder, farmers can install fences much faster & more efficiently. This keeps the cattle out of the streams and provides a buffer zone to filter out nutrients before they reach the water. Troy told me that dozens of farmers are utilizing his tool; about 100 farms have gotten fences in four years. The District lends it to the farmer, free of charge, and does little advertizing for it. He says that the availability and ease of the machine spreads quickly via word of mouth through the close-knit farming community.

Hydraulic fence post pounderFence installed using the fence post pounder

The first farm that we visited is one that has worked with Troy and the District’s post pounder. Troy casually refers to the farm as Robbin’s Farm. He pulls off on the side of the road and shows me the fence running all around the grazing pastures & the barn. One of the sons of the farmer drives by and stops to say hello to Troy. He is reserved, but exchanges a few esoteric comments with Troy, then drives off. Troy turns to me and says, “That’s not what you normally do, that’s not how you talk to your clients. But we worked together; set up this laneway and fence, we’re friends now”. Troy points out the drainage depressions along the road that act to carry rainwater runoff into a wetland located at the corner of the farm.

Wetland buffer on White Eagle Farm that catches runoff from the nearby road and the corn field in the distance. Not only does it filter out some nutrients and prevent them from being swept into the stream, but it provides habitat & biodiversity. I noted several wild flowers, cattails, shrubs, small trees, insects, frogs, and birds.Diversified grazing fields for cattle replace mud and/or grass monocultures.Cattle rotation (grazing rotation) is a technique where cattle are moved to new sections of the field throughout a set time. As the cattle graze in one area (segregated by fences), the grass in the other sections are given time to grow. http://www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/whip/projects/whip_thrntvt.html






We hop in the car and visit the wetland on property owned by White Eagle Farm. Off the side of the main road we walk down a steep hill covered in mint, wild flowers and shrubs. The wetland is within a few yards of the edge of a large corn field. There are cattails, flowers, shrubs, grasses and a few small trees surrounding the swampy pond that make up the wetland. This acts to filter the runoff from the farm, crop fields, and the road, then trap sediment and nutrients before the water runs into the stream.

We drive around a bit and Troy shows Erin and me some other farms he’s worked with. He points out a few vegetated stream buffers along the edge of one farm and a field that he and the landowner worked to transform from invasive weeds to a grazing pasture. We drive over a small bridge and Troy points out that the Chenango River below us is the headwater of the mighty Susquehanna River that flows all of the way down into the Chesapeake Bay.

One of the last stops is the farm of Allen Riley, the current Sheriff of Madison Co, NY. Troy drives to the top of a hill which over looks the 110 acre pasture fields. This seems to be Troy’s pride and joy because of Allen and his hard work to create a pleasing diverse landscape. There’s a pond on the top of the hill, surrounded by several sectors of fenced areas and a few small patches of trees. In one of the fenced areas, a few dozen beef cows lazily graze.

The Riley farm is one of many that have adopted a planned grazing rotation. This is a practice where the pasture is fenced into a few major sub-division pastures; the cattle are then rotated into these different sections throughout the month. For instance, each day the cattle are herded into a new paddock with the use of portable electric fencing, allowing the grass to rest up to three and a half weeks in order to rejuvenate the plant roots before being munched on again. Grazing rotation is the cure to a barren and muddy field that can plague farms in early spring and late fall. These cows are clean and their fields are open and lush. Troy also pointed out that the fields weren’t a monoculture of yard grass. A closer look reveals different grasses, clovers and sedges through the pasture. The farmer uses the water in the pond for the cows, but keeps it fenced off to minimize their impact.

Panoramic: a section of the farm owned by the Sheriff of Madison County, NY. Highlights trees for protection/shelter, fencing to keep cattle out of water source and fencing to create sections for grazing rotation.

The stream at the bottom of the hill lies between the road and the edge of the grazing pasture. Troy convinced Riley to install a buffer between his pasture and the stream, utilizing cost share funds from USDA conservation programs like CREP, EQIP and New York’s EPF fund. This buffer consists of grasses and shrubs on the stream-side of the fence. Like the wetland, this buffer treats the nutrients and sediments caused by rain runoff from the farm before it can enter the stream. Troy sighs with a sense of pride before we leave the sunset on the hilltop, “Most people don't want to be bothered, but these are farmers, they've become my friends, so I feel connected. I could call Allen and he would pick up…" even though he's the sheriff of Madison County.

On the drive back to the office, Troy & Erin recollect and emphasize the importance of their work in New York & Pennsylvania. They encourage best grazing management practices, by equating it to a slogan, “wall to wall buffers”, coined by USC Coordinator, Jim Curatolo; shift from bare fields to grazing rotation; fence off roads and bodies of water so they are not polluted or eroded by cattle; and set up vegetated buffers and wetlands to filter runoff from the farms and roads before they enter the streams.


I praise their work and efforts, but how do they do it? Here’s what they had to say:

1. Make relationships- approach the farmer with just a greeting at first, then slowly introduce what you're trying to accomplish.
Don't knock on the door and tell them what to do. After a few visits, give a summary of what the farmer can do to help the environment and the farm.Don't pressure them, leave a card, let them think it over and let me know.
The Grass Whisperer
2. Send the right message- put your goal into perspective.
USC educates their clients that we live in a holistic watershed, which includes wetlands, grazing, crops, septic, urban, etc and we need to do what we can. They push for what the farmer already wants - good profit and healthy animals - and say land conservation practices will come along.
Upper Susquehanna Coalition
3. Find your opportunities- know your area and actively scout for change.
Troy drives around and looks for opportunities. He knows the farmers in the area, shows them the potential for change and offers resources to help.
The Grass Whisperer
4. Prepare enticements- sometimes incentive-based conservation is the only way to move forward when profits are low.
USC is well versed in finding matching incentives for the farmer. They know there are monetary as well as quality of life incentives to build wetlands when grazing animals are fenced from such areas and they know the grants that are applicable to their area.
Upper Susquehanna Coalition

So what do The Grass Whisperer and Erin do when a farmer is interested in conservation?  They implement a statewide program known as Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM). First they walk and visit with the farmer on his/her property about their goals and prioritize water quality concerns on the farm. Then they ask the farmer, “What do you want” to change and how do you see you’re landscape in the future?  They tailor the site renovation to the specific needs of the farmer based on the highest water quality concern the farmer is interested in addressing first. Then, Troy, Erin and other members of USC work on planning and site design. They work up a budget and write grants with their partners for the farmer (state and federal usually offer a 50/50 match). Once the planning, design, budget and money are all in place- the farmer does the work and implements the design. It’s the farmer who has the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of the project.

Most importantly, Troy, Erin and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition family of 19 conservation districts keep the connections they’ve built. Regular visits and phone calls help strengthen their relationship and ensure that the plan remains sustainable and beneficial to the farmers, local water quality, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank you very much to Erin Heard, USC & Troy Bishopp for organizing my trip and taking me on a tour. Other than agriculture, USC does tremendous work with wetlands. Unfortunately, I was unable to see any of their projects because we ran out of time. I hope to get in touch with the wetlands & wildlife specialists at USC for a closer look at their projects.

For more information on the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, visit their website: U-S-C.org. For more information on Troy Bishopp, his blog if full of insightful resources- http://TheGrassWhisperer.com.

You can view more photos from my trip on the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Flickr Page

Don't forget to 'Follow' my blog (new feature) to make sure you receive all the latest updates, posts & comments.

As always, I welcome your input, please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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Posted by Dan E B. on Nov 16th, 2010 3:52pm
Chesapeake Watershed Forum 2010

The Chesapeake Watershed Forum was held for the 5th time as an annual conference for anyone interested in protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The Forum was held at the lovely National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV.

As Jack Lynch blogged yesterday, the overwhelming theme that seemed to emerge was stormwater. The Forum is split into 6 tracks, each with a different subject. However, be it how to divert rain runoff into a rain garden, reduce it with pervious concrete or clean it up regarding the Bay's pollution diet, stormwater was the hot topic this year. In case you missed it, all of the powerpoints & handouts from each of more than 30 presentations will be available for download on the Chesapeake Network Library. In addition to presentations, the value of the Forum is much larger. Just under 300 individuals gathered between Nov 11 - 14 and engaged in workshops (conservation landscaping elements & website redesign), group discussions, general networking and a talk by John Quigley (Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)).

Marcellus Shale

Secretary Quigley's talk on Saturday night, discussing the Marcellus Shale gas drilling, was probably only heard by two thirds of the Forum attendees; however, it was potentially the most influential and important. He first apologized for being the only one in a suit and promised the audience he was "not a stiff". He began by giving the audience a quick summary of the drilling & fracturing practices being used in Pennsylvania. The land area of PA that has potential for "fracking" (the process of fracturing shale, 2 miles under ground, with high pressure water to release natural gas) is about 3/4 the state, and opportunities exist all of the U.S.

This is a "game changer" says Secretary Quigley, and indeed it is. While this abundance of natural gas in the U.S. can deliver cleaner resultant energy (half the carbon emissions of coal) to support the entire U.S. for 20 years, there is a cautionary tale here. Secretary Quigley admits that natural gas is a better option than 'dirty' coal and oil; however, he urges the necessity for regulations on the fracking companies. And note, he doesn't say "tighter regulations", because in this case, fracking seems to be exempt from most/all regulations out there!

The downsides to fracking are abundantly clear:

  • deforestation due to building roads & setting up drill sites- resulting in loss of habitat and forests
  • water usage- millions of gallons of water are used per pump, and each pump can be activated several times over its life
  • water quality- the water pumped into the earth is mixed with sand and "nasty" undisclosed chemicals that are not safe for drinking
  • spills & leaks- cases have been reported of cattle dying from contaminated drinking water and communities with flammable drinking water located next to a fracking site
  • radioactive components: naturally occurring radioactive uranium in the shale can be released from the practice of fracking, posing a contamination risk
Fracking workers

And about the regulations? Fracking was cleverly exempt from the 2005 Energy Bill & Clean Water Act. So to start, the chemicals used are kept secret and therefore, it is very difficult to hold these large companies accountable due to the inability to trace the chemicals in the event of a spill or leak.

Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, says that these fracking companies must disclose the chemicals being used, and then "limit the amount of toxic chemicals to zero".

Fracking businesses are "privatizing profits and publicizing costs" was an overbearing slug during Secretary Quigley's talk. And in a story on 60 Minutes (Shale Gas Drilling: Pros & Cons), we see examples of towns and homes crippled by the result of fracking drills overtaking the area.

Secretary Quigley's talk was informative and inspirational, if not a little overwhelming. The key points?

  1. Regulations must be set for fracking! Write to your state congressperson, Vice President Biden and President Obama and urge them to incorporate fracking into the Clean Water Act.
  2. Organize with other environmentalists and individuals that have a stake in the environment! Secretary Quigley said many times we need to be organized and speak as one voice; this includes working with hunters, hikers, anglers and all other outdoor people.
  3. Get awareness out to the public! Many individuals don't know what fracking is or the potential dangers involved; public health and safe drinking water are being overlooked for money and economic gain.

Does Secretary Quigley say "no" to fracking? No, he does not. On the 60 Minutes piece a question was posed: is fracking the problem or is the problem human error? Secretary Quigley suggests that the answer is human error. He does not deny the benefits of using the natural gas in the U.S., but he certainly does not blind himself to the potential and current consequences of under-regulated drilling. It's about the environment, and he encouraged everyone in the room in an overpowering closing remark that we are "all Pennsylvanians today, if not by jurisdiction," by water and we need to join together to protect this most precious natural resource (not natural gas), our streams and health.

As always, I’d love to hear what you have to say; please leave a comment below!

I strongly urge you to watch the 60 Minutes’ story on Fracking as well.
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Posted by Dan E B. on Oct 29th, 2010 5:17pm

The question is on everyone’s mind: will the EPA’s new TMDL succeed in restoring & preserving the Chesapeake Bay? Some say it seems like a great step, but will changes ever happen unless bay states make a move? This is becoming an important issue to consider as pressure increases on Virginia to uphold its expectation from the TMDL.

On Wednesday, 27 October, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler visited the Gunpowder River as the third stop on his 2010 audit of the Chesapeake Bay. Attorney General Gansler spent the day on the river & in the classroom as he explored the Gunpowder River above and below the reservoir, and held meetings at Towson (Goucher College) and Timonium (Dulaney High School), MD.

I went to hear him at Goucher College. It was a short, one hour meeting. About 20-30 people were in attendance including students, professors, environmental leaders and elected officials.

Most of the discussion was familiar, someone would point out a problem with the treatment of Maryland rivers and he would respond with the politics of why we shouldn’t hold our breaths for change. It’s not anything against Attorney General Gansler; he was being honest with us. However, this is how we’ve backed ourselves into a corner. Change is hard to come by, because: “lawyers are very good at telling us why we can’t do something” [Gansler]; there are too many hoops to jump through for approval; the separation between federal, state and county laws are extremely limiting.

Personally, this talk was a bit of a downer. We can’t enforce riparian buffers on residential lawns because of money, we can’t fine non-point source pollution because it’s not covered in the Clean Water Act, and the worst of it- the EPA’s enforcement for noncompliance is casually and often brushed off as if it were a threat from a 5 year old.

To be slightly more optimistic, MDE is working diligently on enforcement. A representative for Attorney General Gansler told the audience that MDE files about 700 cases of enforcement per year, some including up to six figure penalties.

The Attorney General also mentioned some great new projects. One of which is a “chicken poop power plant” for the Eastern Shore (no explanation necessary). Another one is called the Drug Take-Back Program, of which he seemed surprising optimistic and excited. He described it as a program that would allow safe disposal of unused drugs, both prescription and non.

Currently, the FDA advises that certain medicines, which may be harmful if consumed, should be flushed down the toilet or sink after the medicine is no longer needed. As many of you know, this is bringing up serious environmental concerns, and is one of the reasons we have “fish in Maryland and Virginia and other states that no longer know whether they are boys or girls” [Gansler]. The Drug Take-Back Program would allow individuals, as well as assisted living staff & physicians, to return unused/expired medicines to a pharmacy where they will be combined into a hazardous material container and eventually taken to be disposed of in an enviro-incinerator.

Unfortunately, there is no current, easy way to dispose of unused drugs in an environmentally-friendly manner. Some options to consider are taking them to your local hazardous waste disposal center or wait for your next community drug take-back collection program. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community.

It was also mentioned that there is progressive work with the Maryland Governor for improved smart growth legislation.

Walking out of the meeting, it became, once again, abundantly clear, that change will happen once it’s too late. Many people won’t really start caring or working on the bay until it’s a smudge-filled swamp like something out of The Lorax. Never-the-less, change will never happen without thoughtful, visionaries such as environmentalists. What it comes down to: it’s not just up to one environmental leader, everyone needs to get involved, interested and active.

You can view some more photos from the Gunpowder River Audit.

Attorney General Gansler promised the 2010 audit to be available on Earth Day. Until then you can view the 2008 & 2009 audits on the OAG site.

As always, I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment below!

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Posted by Dan E B. on Sep 3rd, 2010 3:22pm

Ned TillmanAuthor and environmental advocate, Ned Tillman wrote and published the book The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action. Since its release in 2009, Ned has seen immediate success with his book which was the 2010 winner of the Excellence in Journalism Award by the Renewable Natural Resource Foundation of Bethesda, Maryland and the 2010 winner of the Best Book on Environmental and Natural Resources by The American Society for Public Administration.

The book focuses its efforts on sharing the natural beauty and accessibility of the Chesapeake Bay area. It is broken into 4 parts: The Land, The Bay, The Watershed, and Human Endeavors. I had the opportunity to read the book and chat with Ned on the phone one afternoon. The first thing he asked me was if I was outside enjoying the beautiful weather...

Ned cares deeply for the Chesapeake Bay, where he spent his childhood and where he still lives today in Columbia, MD. He has a background in geology and spends the first quarter of the book on the geological history of the land east of the Appalachian Mountain range.

In a strong effort to encourage people to take more action towards the preservation of the Bay, Ned makes comparisons between his childhood adventures and experiences with the desire to protect what you know and love. Most of the stories are presented in an animated, action-like narrative, evoking excitement in the reader and illustrating the setting of the story as intense and dynamic.

The second section of the book, The Bay focuses on the flora and fauna throughout the bay area. Ned recalls his childhood experiences of hiking, canoeing and exploring the bay and its rivers. At the end of each chapter he tells his readers how they can help to preserve the Bay as individuals and as corporations.

The Chesapeake WatershedNed strived to make the book 1) entertaining and 2) provide people with a sense of responsibility and a feeling of power to change. He sees significance in "individual action", putting the knowledge in peoples' heads. Once people start talking about it, even the most daunting tasks can be addressed and accomplished.

In Part III - The Watershed Ned begins with a story of exploring the Patapsco with his daughter, Leigh. While walking on the water's edge, Leigh says, "This place is so close to home, why haven't we been out here before?". This is an all too common question... Ned tells me that he is always disheartened when he's outside and alone on a beautiful day.

Chapters like "Finding Fungi", "Foraging", "Chickens and the Bay" and "Chasing Crabs" provide some comic relief while still conveying strong messages to motivate the readers to become more active outside in nature. Ned draws comparisons between the natural processes of fungi and the complexity of ecosystems, showing that if we take the time to learn, everything in nature will amaze us.

The final portion of the book reinforces the consequences of human interference. Ned explains how significant human impact is on the environment and what we should really do to help. In the end, he admits there is hope for the Bay, but not without a lot of work and persistence.

Ned targets his book to a general, large audience. The range runs from individuals that have lived in the watershed for their entire lives, like Ned has, to people that have just moved near the Bay from across the country. Ned's book has been used by corporations, business leaders, colleges, high schools and even fourth grade classes.

Ned's plugs:

You can find the book for purchase on Amazon.com. You can also visit the Book's website: TheChesapeakeWatershed.com. If you've read the book or have something to share about it, OR if you have any questions, please write a comment below.

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