Wanted: Landowners on the Upper Shore to Help Reverse Northern Bobwhite Declines by Dan Small

The Natural Lands Project is looking for landowners interested in setting aside marginal cropland to help declining Northern Bobwhites. Since 2015 we have been working throughout Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, in addition to these current efforts we would also like to target two areas that currently have small quail populations. These two areas, one each in Kent and Queen Anne’s, have some existing habitat, but we could have a major positive impact on the quail population by installing additional acres of nesting and brood rearing habitat. In Queen Anne’s we are looking to work with landowners along Lands End Road from Southeast Creek south to the Corsica River and in Kent, farms between Betterton and Still Pond (see accompanying maps).

Male Indigo Bunting in a wildflower meadow planted in 2016 by NLP.

People growing up on the Eastern Shore in the 60’s and ‘70s remember well the loud expressive whistle ‘BOB-white’ emanating from around the farm in late spring and lasting throughout the hot summer months. In the cooler months, bird dogs searched for the scent of nearby quail coveys through wooded edges, scrubby briar tangles, hedgerows and bean fields across property boundaries followed closely by their owners. This characteristic bird, the Northern Bobwhite, of Maryland’s agricultural landscape has disappeared from all but a few isolated areas throughout the Shore. Along with the decline in quail populations, we hear fewer grassland birds and see fewer pollinating insects and wildflowers.

There are myriad theories for the drastic decline in grassland biodiversity in such a short period of time and most, if not all, have a grain of truth to them. However, without a doubt the single largest driver of bobwhite decline on the Eastern Shore is habitat loss. Several factors have contributed to habitat loss; there are simply more people living on the shore and as a result we have more developed areas. Additionally, our farms have changed. The acceleration of farming technologies after World War II brought with it larger equipment and increased use of herbicides and pesticides, tools that allowed farmers to till more ground more of the time. This, in turn, led to larger and larger farms and fewer and fewer small fields. Suddenly the ‘back forty’ that was periodically fallow and permanently surrounded by a hedgerow was no longer. Today much of landscape on the Shore is defined by crops, forests, waterways and buffers of exotic cool season grasses—similar to lawns—with little in between.

Map showing target area in Queen Anne’s County, an area where additional habitat would substantially help Northern Bobwhite populations.

But all is not lost. In 2015 Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) partnered with the Chester River Association (CRA) and Tall Timber Research Station, the nation’s leader in bobwhite research and management of fire-dependent ecosystems, to launch the Natural Lands Project (NLP) with a $700,000 award from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Using the remarkable habitat restoration success at CES’s research station on Chino Farms in Queen Anne’s County and CRA’s success at promoting best management practices on local area farms, NLP set out with the goal of creating a balance between cropland and wildlife habitat to improve water quality. NLP promotes and installs native warm season grasses as best management practices that will help reverse bobwhite population declines and reduce excess sedimentation and nutrient runoff in our waterways.

Map showing target area in Kent County, an area of small farms and hedgerows – the addition of nesting habitat would help Northern Bobwhites.

In addition to buffers and fields for bobwhite NLP also installs wetlands in poorly drained areas of marginal farm fields. Wetlands are phenomenal at reducing nutrients and preventing sediment from entering the Bay’s tributaries, with the added benefit of proving critical habitat for over-wintering waterfowl. Following up on the successful launch of NLP in 2015, CES was just recently awarded another round of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to continue adding habitat for grassland biodiversity and to help improve the Bay’ water quality – see http://chestertownspy.org/2017/09/24/500k-grant-to-center-for-environment-and-society/

It is important to note that productive farming, vibrant wildlife, and healthy water are not mutually exclusive. By taking marginal cropland out of production and planting a mix of native warm season grasses and wildflowers we are creating areas for bobwhite, other grassland birds, and pollinators to find much needed food, shelter, and breeding sites.

Male Northern Bobwhite on Chino Farms.

On Chino Farms there is a thriving native bobwhite population, in fact, now the largest in Maryland. This is a result of well-managed grasslands and early successional habitat that weave throughout a for-profit conventional agricultural operation. Since 1999 when marginal areas of row crops were converted to native habitat, these grasslands have reduced an estimated 80 lbs phosphorus, 1200 lbs nitrogen and 40,500 lbs of sediment from entering our local waterways annually. Our experience and results on Chino make us confident that habitat is the key missing ingredient for quail to once again to thrive on the Shore. As an Eastern Shore community we now need to work on landscape-level change, installing and managing grasslands and wetlands alongside of our farming priorities.

If you would like to find out more about the project, arrange a farm visit or see/hear quail on Chino Farms contact Dan Small, dsmall2@washcoll.edu or 410-708-4479 or visit www.washcoll.edu/nlp. We are looking forward to working with many more of the Eastern Shore’s best land stewards as NLP grows.

 

Open House at Horn Point Laboratory October 14

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory invites the public to a free Open House on Saturday, October 14, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located along the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the laboratory is renowned for its study of marine ecosystems.

The theme for this year’s event is “Bay Strong – fighting for a clean environment.” It features exhibits by the laboratory’s scientists of their investigations in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas along the Atlantic Coast. This year’s theme will introduce our visitors to the super heroes fighting for a healthier Chesapeake Bay. All Community Open House activities are free and open to the public, and children will receive a free t-shirt.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Bay. Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays that make it easy to understand,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman.
– Build a healthy marsh and learn who are our best partners in this effort.
– See an animation of the travels of oyster larvae as they move from the reef where they spawned to their new, permanent home reef.
– Match up a DNA sequence to microscopic creatures important to the food chain.
– Touch a sturgeon whose ancestors date to the Jurassic period
– Create different shorelines and model weather’s impact with laser imaging over a sand pit.
– Meet and talk to graduate students about their environmental career goals.
– At the children’s activity booth, create animals that live in the water with thumb print art. Play games that teach fun facts about the Bay. Go on a scavenger hunt through the exhibits to learn how the Bay’s super heroes are fighting for a cleaner environment.

The open house is designed to interest all ages and will take place rain or shine. The Horn Point Laboratory campus is located 2020 Horns Point Road on Route 343 outside of Cambridge, Maryland.

For more information, visit  http://www.umces.edu/hpl/openhouse or contact Carin Starr at cstarr@umces.edu, 410-221-8408.

Part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s statewide network of research centers, the Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are world-respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and investigations of sea level rise and storm surge.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
For 90 years, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has led the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories spanning from the Allegheny Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, our scientists analyze changes in rivers and streams, monitor air quality, sample fish populations, and assess the impacts of climate change along our coastal communities. We provide sound scientific advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu

Ride for Clean Rivers Tops $60,000

On Sunday, September 18, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) hosted hundreds of cyclists from across the region who converged at Chesapeake College to experience firsthand the Midshore’s natural beauty during the 13th Annual Ride for Clean Rivers.

Close to 400 riders took to the backroads of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, exploring rural countryside, and visiting Tuckahoe State Park, the small town of Queen Anne, and Kingston Landing. It was a day filled with fun, friends, and fitness. MRC would like to thank everyone who cycled, volunteered, sponsored, and cheered throughout the day. With such strong support, MRC raised well over $60,000 toward protecting and restoring Midshore rivers.

MRC staff (L-R) Matt Pluta, Meta Boyd, Rebecca Murphy, Suzanne Sullivan, Elle O’Brien, Jeff Horstman, Ann Frock, and Kristin Junkin.

Thank you to Dock Street Foundation, KELLY Benefit Strategies, Chesapeake College, Agency of Record, Bay Imprint, Bay Pediatric Center, Bike Doctor, Bicycling magazine, Blessings Environmental Concepts, The Brewer’s Art, C-Jam Yacht Sales, Diamondback Bikes, Dr. Computer, S.E.W Friel, The Orthopedic Center, Solar Energy Services, and Sweetwater Brewing for sponsoring this year’s ride. Thank you to rest stop sponsors—Adkins Arboretum, 4-H Chesapeake Bay Club, and Sprout—and the SAG (support and gear) crew that helped keep riders safe and energized. Bike racks were provided by Cambridge Multi-Sport, food was catered by BBQ Joint and Chesapeake College, and the band was Edgemere. And finally, thank you for the support of all riders and rider sponsors. Congratulations to the top fundraisers, Bob Eisinger, Hutch Smith, Debi McKibben, and Tom Fauquier. McKibben was the winner of a Century 2 bike, generously donated by Diamondback.

All proceeds from Ride for Clean Rivers support MRC’s education, restoration, and water quality monitoring programs.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the waterways that comprise the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River watersheds. For more information, visit midshoreriverkeeper.org, email kdroter@midshoreriverkeeper.org, or phone 443.385.0511.

PA legislator’s bill to privatize cleanup gets mixed review

A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants Keystone state municipalities struggling with Chesapeake Bay mandates to let private industry take care of it. He says for-profit companies can get the job done better and more cheaply than government can. Others, though, are not so sure.

State Sen. Richard Alloway II, a member of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, introduced the Clean Water Procurement Program bill in June. It would require 850 municipalities under orders to reduce their stormwater pollution to pay $500 million over 10 years into a state-managed fund.
That fund would be used to pay private entities for making nutrient reductions to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the federal “pollution diet” for the estuary.

“I have a fundamental feeling that government shouldn’t be shelling out money or doing the work,” said Alloway, a Republican who represents several south-central counties. “Government has been doing that for years, and we’re still behind. The private sector is going to provide the solution with technology.”

Alloway’s bill is one of several introduced in Harrisburg this legislative session that seek new strategies for financing water-quality improvements in cash-strapped Pennsylvania, which has cut environmental programs even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly warned the state that it was missing pollution reduction milestones.

Bills similar to Alloway’s have been introduced without success at least three times since 2013, all at the behest of Bion Environmental Technologies. It’s one of two companies that have built state-financed pilot projects in Pennsylvania intended to reduce farm runoff. Alloway acknowledged that the bill he introduced this year was drafted by Bion, though he bridled at critics’ suggestions that it’s a bailout for the company.

Bion and another company, EnergyWorks, underwritten in part by state loans, installed systems on two large farms a decade ago to demonstrate technologies that can convert nutrients in animal manure into marketable byproducts. The projects were touted at the time as a way to keep animal waste from fouling streams and the Bay, while also generating economic benefit. And the nutrient reductions themselves were to be salable to others required to reduce their pollution.

At the time, Pennsylvania was also developing its first nutrient trading program, initially intended to help municipalities save money on costly upgrades to wastewater treatment plants by paying farmers to curb their runoff. Advocates of the projects said the state loans they got would be repaid with income from nutrient “credit” sales.

Equipment in the floor of Kreider Farms’ dairy barn collects manure. Unable to generate sufficient revenue, the project to convert cattle waste into energy and other byproducts has shut down. (Bion Environmental Technologies)

Bion, though, is in default on the $7.8 million state loan it received to build a manure treatment system on Kreider Farms, a large dairy operation in Lancaster County. The facility has been shuttered for three years, a move Bion CEO Dominic Bassani said was needed to stop losing $25,000 a month in operating costs.

EnergyWorks also fell behind on repaying at least $11 million in state financing to build its $40 million system at an egg-laying facility near Gettysburg. EnergyWorks has renegotiated the terms of its loan and continues to make partial payments.

The two large pilot projects were betting on selling nutrient credits for $8 to $10 per pound to pay back their state-funded loans — but nutrient credits have traded at a fraction of that for the last seven years. Wastewater treatment plants were expected to buy most of the credits, but many chose to upgrade their plants instead.

“Our facility was created as a nutrient credit generator; it was not an afterthought or part of the process,” said Patrick Thompson, president and chief executive officer of EnergyWorks Group, who supports Alloway’s bill. “This is an implicit public-private partnership. We went into this [believing] that we would create a public good. And it was up to the state to create a market for this public good.”

Bion CEO Bassani said he doesn’t see Alloway’s bill as a municipality-funded bailout. Rather, he said it gives cities and towns an affordable alternative to costly projects aimed at reducing stormwater pollution. “We’re offering nutrient reductions for less,” he said. “You’re reducing such a small amount and spending a fortune. Until you can figure out how you’re going to solve this problem, stop the spending. This is taxpayer money.”

As written, Senate Bill 799 would tweak the Pennsylvania nutrient trading program with an influx of new buying power — $50 million a year — garnered from communities required to reduce polluted runoff from their streets and parking lots. Stormwater pollution is the only source of the Bay’s nutrient problems that continues to grow.

Alloway and Bassani argue that instead of investing in costly infrastructure projects, municipalities can meet their nutrient-reduction obligation by paying to have farms deal with their animal manure. By “buying” nutrient credits for practices on farms, the municipalities would be absolved. Companies like Bion and EnergyWorks would bid to get 10-year nutrient-removal contracts.

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors opposes the bill, accoreding Elam M. Herr, the group’s assistant executive director. “As written, there are too many unknowns,” Herr said. Many municipalities have invested heavily in meeting their state and federally imposed stormwater control requirements. They’re also mandated to reduce sediment as well as nutrients, he said, which is not a pollutant currently covered by the state’s trading system.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation blasted a similar bill two years ago, saying it “threatens to derail current clean water restoration efforts and divert critical funding from proven science-based practices, while favoring proprietary, corporate-backed and costly manure technologies.” But B. J. Small, spokesman for the foundation’s Pennsylvania office, declined to comment on the current bill.

PennAg Industries Association, an agricultural trade group, recently wrote a letter to Alloway supporting the bill — but with a long list of questions and clarifications needed for full support. “PennAg supports the use of technologies as one of the approaches for the Commonwealth to utilize. However, there is not one standalone solution which will generate all the necessary results for Pennsylvania to meet the Bay obligations,” wrote Christian R. Herr, the group’s executive vice president.

One of the bill’s most vocal critics is David Hess, former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, who now represents the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He contends that Alloway’s bill is too narrowly drafted, and that it would funnel more taxpayer money into specific high-tech agricultural projects. He said that he, and his clients, have problems with that.

“We need to work with Senator Alloway and others to bring more private capital to family farms to make up for the deficit in state funding,” he said, “ “but instead of bringing in a system that would benefit one technology and one solution, we encouraged him to look at these other alternatives instead of high-cost high technology.”

Alloway’s bill, which has just four co-sponsors, is pending in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, where it’s expected to get a hearing in the next few months.

He said the bill is just a starting point, and he has invited environmentalists, farm interests and municipalities to help revise it. But he insists that private enterprise be involved, and that it have a dependable source of revenue.

“You’re never going to meet your goals by appealing to businesses to do things for the good of the environment,” he said. “When businesses do something, they do it for the good of the bottom line.”

By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News Service

$500K Grant to Center for Environment and Society

A male bobwhite quail at the Natural Lands Project

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) $500,000 to expand its innovative Natural Lands Project into the mid-shore. The foundation grant meets $801,000 in matching funding from CES and its partners, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and Pickering Creek Audubon Center, for a total of $1.3 million for the project.

The Natural Lands Project (NLP), piloted at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station at Chino Farms, enlists the support of local landowners to restore grassland habitat for bobwhite quail and other species while also creating buffers that help filter runoff into the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries.

“The Natural Lands Project encompasses the best of what we do and teach—it restores habitat, cleans the Bay, and perhaps most important, it provides an example to our students of how the cultural links between environment and society can be used in restoration,” said John Seidel, director of the CES. “That social and community element in restoration is critical to the future of the Chesapeake, as well as to watersheds around the world.”

The grant, announced Sept. 19, was among 44 projects awarded through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants and Small Watershed Grants programs, as well as other partners. Washington College is the only institution of higher education among the recipients.

“Through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and our partners, especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, continue to invest in locally led efforts to protect and restore the more than 100,000 miles of local rivers and streams that feed the Bay,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO, NFWF. “These investments demonstrate that the actions necessary to restore local rivers and streams go hand in hand with opportunities to enhance local communities.”

One of the biggest issues for the Bay on the Eastern Shore is agricultural runoff. Collaterally, as more acreage is put into agriculture, grassland and upland habitats are vanishing, and with them, iconic species like the bobwhite quail. Using the restored grasslands at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station, Dan Small, a field ecologist with CES and now coordinator of the NLP, has been conducting surveys to document the quail population in the restored grasslands and around the farm. By last year, Small and Washington College student researchers documented an average of 25 calling males and an estimated 29 coveys—the highest concentration of the species in the state of Maryland since its precipitous decline began decades ago.

As a game bird, the bobwhite historically is on a cultural par with the Canada goose on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its loss was keenly felt among hunters, sportsmen, and farmers. In an effort to motivate landowners to create more habitat for the quail—and, by extension, create buffers that would help reduce agricultural runoff into the Bay’s tributaries—the CES worked with the Chester River Association in 2015 to spin the quail restoration into the Natural Lands Project with a $700,000 award from the Department of Natural Resources.

“The concept was simple,” said Mike Hardesty, associate director of programs and staff at CES. “Transform less-than-productive agricultural land into natural habitat for iconic species. Give landowners a cultural reason—even more compelling than a financial one—to set aside some of their land for habitat management, which in turn would benefit local water quality and Bay restoration efforts.” The NLP also restores wetlands in order to achieve similar water quality and wildlife benefits.

In the first two years, the NLP created 274 acres of native upland grasses and wildflowers in marginal cropland on 11 participating farms. Ten wetlands projects—25 acres of wetlands in fields with unproductive soils poorly suited for growing crops—were also completed. College students and CES researchers began what will be a continuing survey of bird populations to monitor abundance and diversity at each site.

The new funding will be used to expand the project to into the middle and upper Eastern Shore to 285 more acres of buffers and 16 more acres of wetlands. Before receiving the award, five landowners signed on for an additional 115 acres. CES expects this project and its focus to grow and the model to be used in watersheds across the country.

Watch a video about the Natural Lands Project.

 

MD Septic Pollution Lawsuit Cleared for Trial

A Caroline County judge has ruled that a former Maryland woman who sued the state and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro, blaming them for the loss of her family campground to unchecked septic pollution, will have her day in court.

In early September, Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen denied a motion by the town and the state to dismiss the case, saying that a jury needed to decide if either bore responsibility for the pollution to Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre impoundment on the 100-acre property that Gail Litz used to own.  The judge has yet to set a trial date.

In 1996, the Caroline County Health Department closed the campground’s lake to swimming, citing unsafe fecal coliform levels in the water, which were traced to failing septic systems in nearby Goldsboro.

That same year, the town signed a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment acknowledging that residents’ septic systems were failing. The order outlined a schedule for the town to install a public sewer system and said Goldsboro would be fined $100 a day if it did not comply.

The town never undertook the wholesale fix, and the state didn’t enforce the order. In 2010, Litz lost her property to foreclosure and filed a lawsuit, alleging the town and county’s negligence cost her the property.  She asked for $7 million in compensation.

Campen wrote that the “most significant and overarching disputed fact” in this case is whether, and to what extent, the pollution of Lake Bonnie continued after the 1996 consent order. “This factual dispute must first be resolved by a jury before other factual or legal issues can be addressed,” the judge wrote.

For seven years, across various courtrooms, Goldsboro’s attorneys said that the town had no money to fix the problem, and that Litz had waited too long to file suit.  The state also argued that it was not legally obligated to enforce the consent order. Lawyers for the MDE contended that they could not force Goldsboro to pay.

Those arguments prevailed in lower court hearings, but in February 2016, Maryland’s highest court said that the state’s failure to enforce the consent order could be viewed as “inverse condemnation” if Litz could prove it was the septic pollution that caused her loss. The case was sent back to Caroline County Circuit Court for a trial.

A trial was all Litz has wanted since she filed the lawsuit seven years ago. After losing her home and lake, she moved in with her son and his family in Florida, and worried that she wouldn’t have any inheritance to leave them.

“I just want responsibility taken and my children and I to be compensated,” she said. “No one can replace the home we loved and treasured.”

This summer, as the case went before Campen after the town and state filed to dismiss it, both began raising new arguments. After years of not disputing Litz’s claim that Goldsboro’s failing septic systems contaminated Lake Bonnie, MDE attorneys spent much of a July hearing questioning how much of the lake’s problem could be laid on the town. They pointed to other possible sources, including a small llama herd and a chicken farm. In motions filed before the hearing, they also contended that Litz lost her property because of poor business decisions.

Meanwhile, Goldsboro’s attorneys, who had always argued the town could not afford the fixes, said the town was “not obligated” to fix residents’ septic tanks because they were private and fell under the county health department.

In 1985 and again in 1988, Goldsboro residents voted down a sewage plant that would have raised their rates. The plant would have cost several million dollars, but at that point, the federal government was willing to fund 90 percent of it. The cost to Goldsboro residents: between 39 and 62 cents a day, according to Litz’ lawyer, G. Macy Nelson.

After the bank foreclosed on Litz’s property, it sold the campground and lake for $400,000 to a family that now uses the land as a private residence. Three decades after the county health department declared that Goldsboro desperately needed a wastewater treatment system, the state and federal government funded a solution. In 2015, the county broke ground on a $19 million wastewater plant on Greensboro that will connect to the 100 or so homes in Goldsboro, about 10 miles away, next year.

by Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun.

An Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Toast to Sandy Hoon

In a few weeks, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will be having their annual gala in Kent County to honor one of their organization’s founders, Alexander “Sandy” Hoon, who passed away a few months ago. The Spy was delighted to hear the news of the gala.

While Sandy might have been best known in his senior years as being the father of the well-known attorney in town, Philip Hoon, the legacy of Sandy Hoon’s contributions to Chestertown, Kent County, and a good bit of the Mid-Shore are not only noteworthy but truly worthy to celebrate.

While no one could never accuse Sandy of shyness, like many of his generation, it was not in his core nature to take a bow. Like many of a certain age, he never sought credit for when he and other dedicated Mid-Shore land conservationists, like former Governor Harry Hughes and Centreville attorney Howard Wood, helped formed the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy in 1990.

But the results of that fledgling organization, twenty-seven years later, show how remarkable that achievement has been. Since those early days, literally thousands of acres of some of the Eastern Shore’s most extraordinary landscapes have been permanently protected in all five counties of the Mid-Shore.  Just as importantly, the ESLC has taken on a leadership role in keeping small towns in the region vibrant with such stunning successes like the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton or the transformational plans for the Cannery Building in Cambridge.

The Spy sat down with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s first and only executive director, Rob Etgen, and Sandy’s son Phil to reminisce  about Sandy and his impact on land conservation.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the ESLC gala please go here

The Most Important Fish in the Bay Needs Help

Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on September 6, 6:30 p.m. at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in downtown Easton for an evening of all things menhaden. CBF is screening the short film Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay, followed by a discussion of the current state of the fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. CBF’s Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden will describe the critical role that menhaden play in the Bay’s food web and answer questions from the audience. One lucky audience member will walk away with a fun and fishy CBF gift basket.

Menhaden face potential new threats along the Atlantic coast. Right now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responding by considering revisions to its fishery management plan. One proposed amendment to the plan could help keep more fish in the water by including important guidelines—called “ecological reference points.” These will help fishery managers ensure that enough of these essential fish remain in the water, serving their role as a vital food source.

Any threat to this critical fish is also a threat to the countless Chesapeake critters who rely on it. Learn more about the current state of this fishery and what you can do to help on September 6. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at cbf.org/MenhadenFilm. Contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410/543-1999 with questions.

If you can’t make the event, you can still make your voice heard. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 18 from 6-8:00p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College, Cade Center for the Fine Arts – Room 219, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD. Written comments on ASMFC’s Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden will be accepted through October 20, 2017. Comments can be sent to comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3).

 

ESLC Teams Up with Lyon Distilling for Limited Batch of Black Rum

A local nonprofit known for land preservation and town planning on the Eastern Shore has hooked up with one of Maryland’s finest distilleries for a good cause.

Lyon Distilling Company of St. Michaels, known since 2013 as a micro, craft distillery producing ultra-small batches of award-winning rums and whiskeys in St. Michaels, has released its latest concoction – a special, limited batch Black Rum with a percentage of every bottle sold benefitting the projects and programs of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC).

This rum varietal features a rich and smooth finish, with subtle touches of oak spice and sweetness. From the bottle’s packaging: “Together we are committed to protecting the land on which we work and play, and encourage you to sip this delicious spirit soundly knowing that a portion of your purchase helps fund ESLC’s many worthwhile endeavors.”

“We’re so excited to help support the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy with our Black Rum,” says Lyon owner and co-founder Jaime Windon. “I’ve always admired partnerships like this. Philanthropy is so important to us and as a startup we are limited in what we can do. But we try to do everything that we can locally, and this is the first effort that has been organized at this level. Exciting times!”

ESLC plans to commemorate the release of the Black Rum partnership with a happy hour party on Thursday, August 31st from 5-7pm at their headquarters in Easton. Bottles will be available for sale with Lyon staff on hand providing tastings and joining in the celebration. ESLC’s Communication Manager David Ferraris described the partnership as “a natural fit.”

“ESLC is ecstatic to have its name associated with a local company producing an exceptional product,” said Ferraris. “Since their arrival on the Shore, Lyon has made it clear that they support local initiatives that are near and dear to their hearts. Protecting and preserving the environment in which they live and conduct business is one of those initiatives, so this makes perfect sense.”

For more information, please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165.

Pilot Project planned to Dredge Conowingo Dam Sediments by Tim Wheeler

Declaring the sediment buildup behind Conowingo Dam a growing threat to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday a pilot project to dredge up a tiny portion of the accumulated silt and sand.

Speaking at a press conference at the dam, Hogan said the state later this month would issue a request for proposals to dredge 25,000 cubic yards of sediment by next spring from the reservoir upstream of the hydroelectric facility on the Susquehanna River.

The intent, he said, is to pin down what it would cost to dredge massive quantities of sediment from the Conowingo “pond,” as the reservoir is called, and to find out if there are viable markets for reusing the material. He said that he hoped the project would help the state determine whether large-scale dredging is feasible — even though an earlier study concluded that dredging the built-up sediment would be costly and provide little overall benefit to the Bay.

Since its completion in 1928, the 94-foot high dam has been trapping millions of pounds of sediment, as well as the nutrients attached to the particles, keeping them from flowing into the Bay 10 miles downstream. But the pond has been slowly filling, and a study led by the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that it has reached capacity and now does little to prevent material from reaching the Chesapeake.

Another concern is that major storms, and even routinely heavy spring rains, can scour large quantities of the deposited sediment from the river bottom and flush it into the upper Bay.

“Much of our efforts to protect the Bay and safeguard our environment for future generations could be wiped out by the effects of one bad storm,” Hogan said. “Simply put, this is a growing threat which must be addressed.”

Hogan’s announcement came on the heels of a brief, invitation-only, closed-door “summit” about the dam at a nearby volunteer firehouse. The meeting, the second that Hogan has held on Conowingo, was welcomed by rural elected officials who’d been invited and have long complained that the dam is a bigger pollution threat to the Bay than almost anything coming from their portions of the watershed, including farming, septic-based development or stormwater runoff.

Charles D. “Chip” MacLeod, a lawyer for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, a group of seven rural counties, most of them on the Eastern Shore, called the summit “total vindication” of its position that the sediment buildup behind the dam should be made a priority of the Bay cleanup.

“We’ve lost sight of the real problem,” said Richard Rothschild, a commissioner from Carroll County, one of the coalition members.

Others are not so sure. Alison Prost, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who was not invited to the summit, issued a statement saying that “while dredging could be a part of the solution” for cleaning up the Bay, the Corps study indicated that the most cost-effective way to reduce pollution coming across the dam would be to carry out more runoff control practices upriver.

Hogan, though, has aligned himself with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s position on the dam since he campaigned for governor in 2014, claiming that state and federal officials and environmentalists were ignoring Conowingo’s threat. He recently became chairman of the Executive Council that oversees the federal-state Bay Program restoration effort, which gives him greater clout to press his case.

The Republican governor said he was gratified that scientists have come around to agree with his position on the importance of dealing with the sediment behind the dam.

The scientific assessments, though, don’t exactly concur. The Corps of Engineers study found that between 2008 and 2011, only 13 percent of the sediment coming into the Bay from the Susquehanna was scoured from what had been deposited in the reservoir behind the dam. Even during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, a major flood, only about 20 percent of the sediment that flooded into the Bay originated from sediment stored behind Conowingo, while the rest was flushed downriver past the dam without ever being deposited.

But the diminished trapping capacity of the dam does mean that more nutrients from up the Susquehanna are washed downriver to the Bay, where they contribute to algae blooms and fish-stressing low-oxygen conditions in the water. To compensate, the Corps study estimated that areas upstream of the dam would need to keep an additional 2.4 million pounds of nitrogen and an extra 270,000 pounds of phosphorus annually from getting into the river. That would require a 9 percent greater reduction in nitrogen and a 38 percent greater cut in phosphorus from now to 2025.

Dredging the sediment and nutrient buildup from behind Conowingo would in theory allow the dam to trap more sediment, as has happened in the past. But the Corps study found that this would be costly and of limited benefit to the Bay. To restore sediment levels to what they were in the mid-1990s, the study estimated, 25 million cubic yards of silt would need to be excavated. The Corps estimated that could cost up to $3 billion. And unless the flow of sediment coming down the river is curtailed, the pond would gradually fill in again. Roughly 3 million cubic yards a year, or 1.5 million pickup truck loads, would need to be dredged annually to avoid losing ground. The Corps study estimated that could cost anywhere from $48 million to $267 million each year.

Clean Chesapeake representatives maintain that the Corps study was flawed. And in any case, they suggest some short-term actions are needed now, because Pennsylvania is lagging so badly in reducing its pollution to the Susquehanna. “It’s breathing room for the Bay,” said MacLeod, the coalition lawyer.

But a recently completed study by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science found that phosphorus flushed past the dam along with sediment scoured from the reservoir “would not have a large effect on the Chesapeake Bay.”

The state last year issued a “request for information” seeking preliminary proposals for dealing with the sediment behind the dam. It received 13 responses suggesting dredging and other options for using it to treat soil or create building materials. Roy McGrath, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, said the request for proposals would be more detailed.

The federal-state Bay Program is re-evaluating the progress made to date in restoring the Chesapeake’s water quality, and is finalizing new computer modeling to project what more needs to be done. Meetings are planned this fall, and states are expected to begin drawing up revised cleanup plans next year. Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s environment secretary, said state officials hope the information gleaned from the demonstration project will help shape those plans.

“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed,” said Bob Meffley, a Cecil County councilman who was among the summit invitees. He said he lives on the Bohemia River which, like much of the Bay, is showing signs of recovery, with underwater grasses seemingly everywhere and crabs plentiful — “except when we get [heavy] rain.” he added. Then, he said, they don’t see anything, because of the sediment stirred up in the water.

Others in attendance at the summit saw the dredging demonstration as a minor step, but one still worth taking.

“What it represents is a sliver of the problem,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “It’s important,” she added, “because they want to see if they can engage the private sector in (finding) innovative uses (for the sediment), but what’s equally important is to recognize that 80 percent of the (pollution) load coming down the Susquehanna is from the upstream watershed and 20 percent is from scour.”

Cecil A. Rodrigues, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting mid-Atlantic regional administrator, said federal regulators are interested in seeing the results of Maryland’s demonstration project.

“We don’t care where reductions come from,” he said, adding that if the test indicates it’s feasible, it could be factored into future cleanup plans. But whether dredging is done or not, he said, upstream pollution reductions will still be needed.

Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a conservation group, who was also invited, praised Hogan’s move. But he said it should not take away from working to reduce pollution from upriver, while enlisting private as well as public involvement.

“The sediment behind the dam is a major issue and should be addressed in the most creative way possible,” Dunn said, “but perhaps more important is a focus on reducing future pollution from coming down the river, otherwise our children will be dealing with this same issue.”

In his press conference remarks, Hogan seemed to acknowledge that. He said that dealing with the sediment and nutrients behind the dam is “just one of many approaches we must take.” But he added that he considered it “an extremely important one.”

The demonstration project will be funded by Maryland, but Hogan made it clear that if it led to more dredging, he expected financial help and cooperation from Exelon Corp. the dam’s owner, as well as from the federal government and the states upriver. Maryland has held up renewal of Exelon’s federal license to operate the Conowingo hydroelectric facility, citing concerns about the impacts on state water quality of the sediment buildup.

“This is not just Maryland’s problem,” Hogan said. And in response to a reporter’s question, he said, “If it comes to that, we’ll file suit against the EPA and the upstream states.”

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.