The Chesapeake Bay is in recovery. In 2016, the Bay earned a grade of C- on the “State of the Bay” report — a positive sign that recovery efforts are working, according to environmentalists across the board. This is the first time the Bay has received a grade of C- since the first “State of the Bay” report was issued 20 years ago.
According to Alan Girard, Eastern Shore director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who oversees the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s presence on the Eastern Shore, “We are at ‘Ground Zero’ here on the Shore for agriculture, oysters and crabs, and changing land use issues. If all the environmental practices are in place by 2025, we should meet the water quality standards set out in 'The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.'”
“The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint” grew out of the Clean Water Act of 1972, which established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States. In our region, the law requires states to determine if water quality issues exist and how to address these issues. The Blueprint has ensured that everyone shares in the responsibility for cleaning up our waterways.
Girard points to upgrades in wastewater treatment plant technology, Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented by Shore farmers for filtering runoff from agriculture, and growing investment across the Shore in reducing pollution from stormwater as the reason for the Bay's improvements. But the commitment of conservationists across the region to educating the public about the plight of the Chesapeake Bay, and developing new and innovative ways to address the challenges the Bay is facing should also be credited with these developments.
Dr. Tom Fisher, professor, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, has worked to monitor water quality issues and land use changes for more than 30 years on the Shore. Through a 2013 National Science Foundation Grant, Horn Point Laboratory has been trying to understand how water quality around Greensboro at the Upper Choptank River responds to BMPs on the land.
“We need agriculture to feed us, but we also need agriculture to be as non-polluting as possible to the water. Because 60 to 80 percent of land use is agriculture in this area, we are working with farming communities in four watersheds around Greensboro in the Upper Choptank to put into place more BMPs to see if they decrease pollution,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the majority of farmers in these watersheds have been very supportive and understanding.
“I have learned from farmers that the decisions they make are economic ones. We have raised money to help cover the cost of BMPs to the farmer, to take away any financial barriers for them to participate. Their decisions have an impact on local water quality,” Fisher said.
Fisher added, “We are seeing results. In the experimental watersheds where we have increased BMPs, we are seeing improvements in water quality. However, in one of the experimental watersheds where we have less farmer cooperation and fewer BMPs, the concentrations of nitrogen are increasing. We have also realized that BMPs, like cover crops, applications of gypsum to farm fields, and drainage control structures need to be used together and in a systematic and coordinated way.”
One organization helping to coordinate systematic efforts in monitoring water quality on the Lower Shore is the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance. This environmental nonprofit, with key help from volunteers, performs extensive water quality monitoring in the Nanticoke watershed in Maryland and Delaware. The water quality data collected by NWA can be used for decision-making because of authorization by the Environmental Protection Agency for state and federal agencies to use it in high level assessments, like evaluating the effects of dissolved oxygen levels on fish health. NWA is one of only a few nonprofits to have this designation.
Lisa Wool, executive director of the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, said, “Our organization deals with both farmers and homeowners regarding nitrogen and phosphorous pollution issues. Because homeowners have not gotten as much education as farmers, we have to sell the ‘why’ with them, which drives us to make education more fun.”
The organization’s Designer Ditches program helps educate homeowners and property owners about the ditches on the Shore. The Alliance works with restoration professionals at Environmental Concern in St. Michaels to come up with design templates and to select plant material to design and install projects on properties to help filter water.
“Our Paddle the Nanticoke program helps people see the environment in a new way – experiencing otters and eagles along the way. We try and develop new programs every year, encouraging people to get out and get on the rivers to appreciate what we have,” Wool said.
Working to improve water quality from a different angle is Erica Baugh, program director of Upstream Alliance, located in Annapolis and Grasonville. Her organization’s mission is to provide expeditions on the Eastern Shore, which connect people to nature. Upstream Alliance’s Superintendents Environmental Education Collaborative, a national project to enhance environmental education in the schools from the top down, takes superintendents on field trips to help them learn how to enhance environmental education in their schools.
“The collaborative supports our goal to graduate environmentally literate students,” Baugh said.
Upstream Alliance was started by Baugh’s father, Don Baugh, who worked for Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s educational program for 38 years. After he retired, he recognized a critical need to develop the next generation of environmental leaders, by using expeditions to create significant life experiences, further capturing their hearts and minds, while creating networks with other leaders. He founded Upstream Alliance and began leading expeditions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and in the Delaware River and Delaware Bay.
According to Erica Baugh, the organization’s name is based on going upstream to the root of the problem to find the solution.
“If you get people to go upstream, they can find the source of the problem,” she said.
Upstream Alliance also has a commitment to the next generation of conservationists and is providing conservation expeditions that provide immersion experiences for conservation leaders. By connecting both “emerging leaders” (new leaders) to “distinguished leaders” (experienced leaders), Upstream Alliance is creating an environmental network for professionals.
“When the Clean Water Act was adopted in 1972, a number of new environmental jobs were created. Today, many of these experienced conservationists are retiring. They still have a lot to give, so we designed a mentorship program, which enables them to pass down their knowledge to the next generation through these collaborative trips, helping younger conservationists to advance their careers,” Erica Baugh said.
“There is a lot of passion and love from environmentalists in the conservation movement on the Eastern Shore,” she said.
Two such environmentalists who are passionate and share a love of the Chesapeake Bay are Kate Livie and Ben Ford of Kent County. The two met when Ben was waist high in the Chesapeake Bay, working for Environmental Concern, and Livie was working as the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. After marrying, the two continue to share their passion for the Bay’s environment through their careers and their civic engagement, living as they teach others to do.
Both are educators, working to create the next generation of Chesapeake advocates, scientists, and stewards. Livie, author of the 2015 prize-winning book, “Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future,” is a prolific writer, teacher, and Bay environmental historian. She currently serves as adjunct faculty at Washington College, where she teaches a freshman seminar about the Chesapeake’s environment, culture, and people. Ford is the Chesapeake Semester program specialist at Washington College’s Center for the Environment and Society.
According to Ford, the Chesapeake Semester is a 16-credit college program, taking place each fall, that explores the Chesapeake through study, fieldwork, and outdoor adventure.
“It uses place-based experiences in a humanities framework to give students a better understanding of the human and social dimensions of environmental issues. Chesapeake Semester students study the ecosystem in-depth and analyze solutions to environmental problems, and explore the nexus between science, policy, and people’s everyday life,” Ford said.
Livie also teaches with Chesapeake Semester, and together, the couple leads paddles down the Chester River, trips to Chesapeake Native American reservations, skipjack overnights, and days deep into the marshes of Dorchester.
“For 10 years, the Chesapeake Semester has produced the next generation of Chesapeake Bay stewards. They go to work for advocacy groups, environmental nonprofits, and entities like the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory. This program is an amazing opportunity to educate Bay advocates who will raise their voices to affect regional and local change,” Livie said.
Livie and Ford also are willing to be those advocates when they feel the call. Along with other Kent County residents, they have started a grassroots community effort to fight the potential placement of a new Bay Bridge. Through “Stop the Span,” they are rallying to fight the potential placement of a third span into rural Kent County, a project they suggest has the potential to destroy the environment and tight-knit communities under the sprawl that could follow.
In reflecting on her marriage and professional partnership with her husband, Livie quips, “We get to work together, travel together, and teach together. It’s an awesome collaboration for two Bay nerds like us.”
The complexity of the issues surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries continues to challenge environmentalists on the Shore. The work of these organizations and individuals are impacting how we live our lives and how we affect the watershed where we live.
Girard, in summarizing the state of the Shore’s environmental efforts, said, “It takes a village. All the groups involved are making a difference under the umbrella of “The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint,” acting in a coordinated way to get results. We are finally getting it right.”
HOW YOU CAN BECOME INVOLVED
“Water quality on the Shore is human-related, both through human waste and agriculture. Two pieces of simple advice are for homeowners not to put lawn fertilizers on their lawns and for farmers to work with the University of Maryland Extension to employ cover crops after corn and soybeans.” – Dr. Tom Fisher, professor, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.
“Get educated, volunteer and advocate. Understanding the issues, engaging ,and taking action is critical. When people get involved, they get passionate and they advocate for a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay. Advocacy affects change in our environment.” – Alan Girard, Eastern Shore director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“Every day, people need to care, connect, and collaborate with others. Get outside and experience nature. Connect with other citizens to talk about the issues. Collaborate on the issues and see how you can help. Immersion is key to seeing and understanding the problem firsthand, building a love for it and reigniting a spark.” - Erica Baugh, program director, Upstream Alliance.
“As a passionate oyster advocate, I want people to make informed choices about where you buy your oysters. Which industry you support may determine the future of the oyster industry on the Shore.” – Kate Livie, author, teacher, social activist, and adjunct faculty for the Chesapeake Semester at Washington College’s Center for the Environment and Society.
“People who want to be advocates for the Bay and the environment need to be engaged in local and regional politics, keeping their minds open to different viewpoints.” – Ben Ford, program specialist with the Chesapeake Semester at Washington College’s Center for the Environment and Society
“As areas get more developed, natural areas can’t absorb the impact of the development. Citizens can do simple things like reducing chemicals and pesticides on lawns. We are realizing a lot more that these little things add up.” – Lisa Wool, executive director, Nanticoke Watershed Alliance.