Surrender, humiliation, and poor management are not what comes to mind at this time of year when we salute the memory of George Washington. We honor instead the Father of his Country, the leader of the Continental Army, the modern Cincinnatus who surrendered his sword and general’s commission at Annapolis after independence, and the first President of the United States, elected unanimously.
But the young Washington, often overlooked, made many missteps and bad calls, as at Fort Necessity in 1754, where poor planning and misjudgment resulted in appalling casualties, humiliating defeat by the French, and the seizure and publication of his personal diary. Indeed, the inexperienced commander could be impetuous, highly emotional, and even reckless at times.
How did that young man with ambitious dreams become one of our country’s greatest political and military leaders, the gold standard by which we judge our leaders today? What can we learn from Washington’s unlikely and awe-inspiring ascent from military failure to statesman and founding icon?
To help us answer these questions, Washington College, which General Washington and his officers helped create in 1782 as the new nation’s first college, asked five eminent historians to discuss Washington’s virtues and explain what made him a giant among his contemporaries, the greatest leader of his day, respected and admired around the world.
What emerged is a complex portrait of leadership, revealing some of the many elements that formed Washington’s character and his deliberate effort to be a new type of leader for a newly democratic society. He displayed an amalgam of virtues, some rooted in his eighteenth-century society and others that are timeless.
“Physical courage under fire,” writes Stephen Brumwell, author of George Washington: Gentleman Warrior, was central to the honor code of Washington’s day. Yet even by that standard Washington was exemplary. He did not just lead his men into battle, his calming presence rallied his men to victory in the battle of Princeton in January 1777 and at Monmouth the following year. His suffering with his troops during the winter of hardship at Valley Forge is famous; less well known is that he never took leave during the entire war.
Whether in battle or in office, Washington had a highly developed sense of honor and what constituted honorable behavior. According to Professor Richard Beeman, Washington was “motivated in his public life by civic virtue. . . . His ability to subordinate his personal interests to the public good in all public behavior and demeanor served as examples for others to follow.” For example, Washington refused to accept any pay for his service as either commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War or later as president, despite the financial hardship this caused him. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood insists, “Above all, he was wary of being perceived as having a private interest or stake in something. . . . He had a strong moral sense of how he should behave.”
Washington also learned from his mistakes and surrounded himself with talent. Author Richard Brookhiser reminds us that Washington “drew upon others who were in some sense smarter than he was, but he himself knew what to do and where he wanted to go.” It took remarkable self-confidence to hire Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay as his first cabinet officers. They were men of “true ability, all much smarter than he was,” says best-selling historian Joseph Ellis. A lesser man would have feared being overshadowed or diminished by these ambitious rivals. Not Washington, who wrote that “much abler heads than my own” were needed to achieve the larger mission of uniting the still fractious states and forging one country from many contentious individuals.
Washington prepared himself intensively for leadership by emulating successful people he encountered and by following a volume of 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour, which he meticulously copied as a kind of how-to manual for self-made success. Maintaining a fastidious appearance, refraining from public displays of emotion, and generally keeping quiet in good company, he became the George Washington we recognize today, the iconic man Brookhiser dubs our “founding CEO.”
What leadership lessons can Washington teach us? How do ideas of leadership today compare with those of the self-educated and self-made Washington?
We spoke to three more experts about those questions. The leadership characteristics most needed today, according to Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, are “a steadiness in purpose, personal courage, and unstinting allegiance to the common good—the public interest.” Rebecca Rimel, president and chief executive of the Pew Charitable Trusts, agrees that “leadership is not about self, but about stewardship: the care and cultivation of resources not your own.” However, she cautions that leadership is more challenging today than before because of the “rapid pace of change. Effective leaders must be able to embrace uncertainty, and be both flexible and comfortable with the challenges and opportunities that come with it.” Dr. Ralph Snyderman, chancellor emeritus at Duke University, says that “heroic leadership is harder today,” because one answers to more stakeholders than before and must demonstrate greater transparency and accountability and less deference to specialized expertise.
All these people believe that leadership can be learned but society needs to do a better job of providing more opportunities for young people and role models for them to emulate. And they believe that effective leadership must be guided by a strong moral compass and unshakeable ethics. Washington certainly would have agreed.
On this President’s Day, we would do well to honor not only George Washington’s singular accomplishments but the emerging leader who grew into the Father of his Country, who developed discipline, cultivated courage, and learned from his early experiences. The leadership lessons of the young George Washington are more than relevant today. They speak directly to a new generation of young people who aspire to lead our communities and our country.
This article is by Mitchell B. Reiss, the 27th president of Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland.
Reprinted from the Forbes Leadership Forum from February 12.
On the same day that “The Monuments Men” started playing at the Chester 5 Theatre, a new exhibit called “artNOW Philadelphia” opened at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery. The two could hardly be more different in their approach to art but they both make you think a lot about its nature and value.
The movie is an entertaining story that would warm the heart of any art lover. It’s a film based on the true story of the rescue of thousands of masterpieces of art stolen by the Nazis in World War II. Over and over again, you gasp as the actors discover a Michelangelo, Van Eyck or Rodin hastily stashed in a mine or a castle, and more than once the question is asked, “Is art worth dying for?” Of course, the answer is yes.
In the Kohl exhibit, the questions are very different and the answers far more elusive. On view through March 7, artNOW Philadelphia is the third of the College’s series of exhibits featuring work by prominent young artists from nearby cities. It’s a show that asks a lot from the viewer, probably more than most will want to bother with.
Assistant Professor Benjamin Bellas makes his aim in curating artNOW abundantly clear in his accompanying essay. Set in the form of a detailed definition of the words “challenging” and “challenge,” it’s a provocation to do your best to comprehend the assembled work by these seven artists from Philadelphia, work that is by turns discomforting, humorous, irritating, inspiring, opaque, and highly thought provoking.
“The Monuments Men” presents art that’s breathtakingly beautiful (as well as familiar to anyone who’s taken an art history class) but in this exhibit, even when it’s present, beauty isn’t the issue. Julianna Foster’s photography-based images are eerily lovely, and Amze Emmons’s illustrative drawing style is exquisite in its clarity and simplicity. On the other hand, Leslie Friedman’s neo-Pop Art installation is purposefully crass and annoying. As if Andy Warhol was still alive and well, its row of silkscreened green nudes line up across from a pile of oversized multi-colored Coke cans and sugar substitute wrappers where an endlessly repeating video loop shows a masturbating woman.
Like the other artists in this show, Friedman is less concerned with the aesthetics of art than with the ways we communicate and build our belief systems. Her in-your-face look at consumer culture’s passion for overstimulation and vacuous pleasure is fairly predictable, but it offers a cursory nod to the fact that in a world of titillating underwear ads, graphic news videos and online pornography, art long ago lost its power to shock.
Tim Portlock’s work also considers consumer culture but in a more penetrating way. His urban landscape sprawls into the distance under windswept clouds bathed in the kind of transcendent light you’d find in a 19th century painting by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Cole, artists who celebrated the scale and rugged beauty of the American landscape. At six feet wide Portlock’s archival inkjet print, “Clone,” shares the expansive quality of their inspiring vistas, but under its heaven-lit sky is a flat, gray landscape of empty buildings. Houses, restaurant and big box stores are all up for sale as new construction waits unfinished. Reacting to the thousands of buildings standing abandoned in Philadelphia, Portlock reconsiders the American dream, suggesting that in the postindustrial age, capitalism’s faith in unlimited growth is no longer viable.
Ryan Wilson Kelly and Marc Blumthal also play with how our perceptions of America’s history and values have been shaped. Blumthal impishly cuts and pastes a speech by George Bush into a rousing jumble of nonsensical phrases that retain a very American-sounding flow of political rhetoric, while Kelly has great fun turning our nation’s history into myth. His video, “The Wizard Franklin,” is an engaging little story that retells the American Revolution in condensed form, turning three of the founding fathers into beings of mythological stature.
In many ways, there’s a wide gap between “The Monuments Men” and “artNOW,” but both make you ponder art’s raison d’état. Many of the paintings and sculptures in “The Monuments Men” were commissioned by patrons of the church with the purpose of educating and inspiring by illustrating stories from the Bible for an illiterate congregation. Some might also call it propaganda or even brainwashing.
The artists in this show all use art as a method of investigating the impact of how information is presented. Living as we do in the Information Age, we see images of disaster constantly. Amze Emmons borrows such images from the media, honing, editing and splicing them to suit his purposes. His work distills instantly recognizable signs of poverty, environmental degradation and refugee displacement into engaging, beautifully drawn and cheerfully colored scenes. Disaster is commonplace, they seem to say, but it’s okay, life goes on. We’re constantly bombarded with this message, so why should we not believe it? Why worry?
Whether in terms of politics, culture or human nature, artNOW is intended to raise questions. If you want to get something out of this exhibit, you need to spend time with it. If you don’t, you won’t begin to understand the layers of meaning and intercultural discourse that went into Ruben Ghenov’s work. His paintings are consummate exercises in spatial gymnastics, abstractions that promise glimpses into complicated realities without offering specifics. You can simply appreciate his prodigious skill, or you can take the sparse clues he and Bellas offer in the catalogue and do some research. The internet is the perfect place to start. For Ghenov, as for all artNOW’s artists, you’ll find websites and links to articles and interviews, as well as to related work by other artists, poets and writers, and you’ll be launched into a process of reading, investigation, consideration and synthesis.
This show is all about being willing to explore and go beyond the boundaries of convention to open to new ideas. Julianna Foster has a magical way of questioning conventional thinking. She “documents” what she terms a “fantastic event that allegedly occurred” with images of patterns of lights suspended in the night air, strangely shaped clouds over water or low hills, and a house apparently floating in the sea. Obviously, whatever this mysterious occurrence was, it can’t have been real, yet allegedly there were witnesses.
Foster is asking a series of questions. How do we take in something that we can’t conceive of being true? Why is it so difficult to admit the existence of something outside the bounds of accepted knowledge? And if it’s a challenge to an individual’s belief system, how much more so for the established institutions of government, science and religion?
In assembling the work of these artists, Bellas dares students, viewers and citizens in general to take the initiative in searching out greater knowledge and widening our perspectives. The rescue efforts of “The Monuments Men” were aimed at not just at recovering beautiful objects but also the ideas and ideals spawned during a thousand years of culture. ArtNOW challenges us to practice learning and thinking creatively, for these are the most necessary skills we humans can possess in these times of unprecedented global change.
After listening to YMCA’s Eastern Shore Director Robbie Gill talk for ten minutes, it is hard not to immediately see the potential of this 150 year old institution setting up camp in Denton or Preston. Gill, a “lifer” within the YMCA community since early childhood, sat down with the Spy last week to talk about his organization’s extraordinary outreach programs now happening in Easton, St Michaels, Caroline County, and soon in Centreville.
In his description of these high impact efforts to keep young people thinking and doing, the positive implications for the Mid-Shore to include an important ally like the YMCA in all aspects of lives, young or old, seem almost irresistible.
This video is approximately ten minutes in length.
While it might not be a certified blockbuster for the Academy Art Museum, the exhibition of South Korean-born Chul Hyun Ahn’s work has become one of the museum’s most popular shows in recent memory. So much so that the AAM has extended the exhibition until February 23.
The Spy talks to Academy Art Museum curator Anke Van Wagenberg about why Ahn’s work is so unique and how he uses several tricks of illusion to successfully, as the title of the exhibition suggests, allow viewers to perceive infinity.
The video is approximately two minutes in length
Chul Hyun Ahn: Perceiving Infinity
November 16, 2013 – February 23, 2014
Academy Art Museum
106 South Street
Easton MD, 21601
There’s a well-known saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So when college student Emily Chandler spent four months there during a study abroad, she did what all the Romans do. She ate and ate, savoring some of the most delectable foods she’d ever tasted, as good and sometimes better than her Italian-American mother had cooked for her. Emily found the food to be “a big distraction” from her art studies and began to make a “study” of the various foods around the country.
When she returned to the States, Emily interned with Slow Foods, a nonprofit originating in Italy which is dedicated to supporting and protecting small growers and artisan food producers, safeguarding the environment, while promoting biodiversity. After graduating Wesleyan with a degree in studio art, Chandler found herself working in a New York cheese shop.
She realized that there was still a need in America for more regional and artisan Italian foods, not the typical canned and mass produced variety. As an artist and student of the arts, she realized that making foods the right way was also an art.
When her parents purchased a vacation home in Talbot County twelve years ago, they encouraged Emily to move here as well, they even offered to be her financial backer as well as advisors in a food business, being business school grads themselves.
That’s when she decided to open her own Italian market, Piazza, located in the Talbottown shops in downtown Easton. Piazza refers to the countless public squares in every Italian town, where visitors and locals gather at fountains, public markets and restaurants– to eat or just hang out and socialize.
Piazza market in Easton is all that–a place to eat, a food market and a great place to socialize while learning about Italian foods.
“I wanted this business to feature foods from the Italy of today, distinct foods from each region, for each season there’s something new. We stock Valpolicella Ripasso wine from the Veneto, Cicerchia beans from Umbria, olive oils from Tuscany, Sicily, Lazio, Umbria, Basilicata, Liguria and Puglia. Our white balsamic vinegar is wonderful, it’s from Emilia Romagna. Setaro is the featured brand of pasta from outside Napoli. We have a large range of cheeses in stock– about 30 varieties at a time. Our cheese selection is a mix of American, Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish and Dutch varieties. We always have three types of cured hams in stock, including Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto San Daniele.”
Most of their offerings are imported, a few things are locally made to Italian standards, like fresh pasta by the Easton restaurant Scossa, Chapel Country Creamery cheese, locally made goat cheese. Other locally made items include a tofu, Rise Up coffee, and a local honey. American artisan cheeses hail from Vermont and California, their salami is from Virginia and California.
In the five years Piazza has been open, it has grown to be a popular eatery as well the place to find the best fresh cheeses and meats, gourmet olive oils and countless other market products.
They offer a variety of sandwiches, paninis, salads and more. There’s seating inside and out in warmer weather. Their best-selling sandwich features Campana prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.
“My mom did cook a lot of Italian food when I was growing up, and we continue to cook together often, we also try to make things we’ve eaten together in Italy. The tuna salad we make at the store is based on the way my mom prepares hers. It’s made with capers, parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest; no mayonnaise.”
Are there any new additions on the horizon? Chandler would like to do more catering, anything from lunch platters for local businesses wine & cheese for your pre-dinner, an elegant cocktail party, a backyard casual dinner, or a full sit-down dinner.
“We are expanding our prepared foods, and more selections for our take-out
Dinners: meatballs, eggplant parmigiano, spinach or pork lasagna, chicken gravy simmered in tomato sauce, pesto Alfredo, linguini and clams, baked ziti, and several sauces, all offered on a rotating schedule. We have a well-versed staff who have worked here for years and know their products.”
These grab and go meals are a wonderful real-food alternative to fast foods, and perfect for a boat outing or picnic, or on the way home from a busy work day.
One wonders, has it been difficult for a well-traveled gal from Northern Virginia with roots in Italy to settle down in Easton? Not so much.
” I enjoy this community, everyone we’ve met has been engaging and genuinely nice, interested in what we have and receptive to Piazza. We always love it when people come in and tell us where they’ve been in Italy.”
The market also features a big map of Italy to look over as well as food and travel books on the country known for its incredible food, architecture and art.
A more acidic bay could make it more difficult for mollusks, such as oysters, to build their shells through a process called calcification. But it could help crustaceans, such as blue crabs, build their shells more quickly, said Justin Ries, a professor at the Marine Science Center at Northeastern University in Boston.
This could disrupt the evolutionary balance of the two, Ries said, because blue crabs prey on oysters.
Ries reached these conclusions after growing oysters and blue crabs under lab conditions of high carbon dioxide (higher than found in nature now). His research doesn’t mimic nature, Ries said, but it does provide clues to how increased acidification in the bay could affect the two organisms in the future.
Typically, about 30 percent of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed into oceans, where it becomes carbonic acid and makes the water more acidic. As carbon dioxide becomes more prevalent in the atmosphere, more of it ends up in the ocean as well.
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased by about 36 percent – from about 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million – in the past 200 years, said Whitman Miller, a research scientist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased by 120 ppm was in the pliocene era – 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago – and that increase took 10,000 years, Miller said.
Since the Industrial Revolution, which began in about 1760, the ph level – the scale of how acidic water is – of the world’s oceans has decreased by 0.11, indicating a 28.8 percent increase in acidity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Further decreases in the ph level of 0.1 to 0.5 are expected during the next 100 years, according to a 2009 paper by Miller.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change trends over the past century are caused by human activities that are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at historically high rates.
In the Pacific Northwest, oyster larvae have already been struggling to build their shells, according to the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit group advocating for healthy oceans.
Coral is also vulnerable to acidification; a 2009 Oceanography Society study found that an increase in ocean acidity will make it harder for coral to grow.
It’s more difficult to predict how acidification will affect the bay, Miller said. Things get more complicated when saltwater and freshwater meet in the bay, and there are other complicating factors, such as how deep the water is in different parts of the bay.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a really complicated system,” Miller said. “When we think of acidification, we’ve got to think about it differently than we do in the open ocean because the sort of absence of this really convenient equilibrium.”
State Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring a bill that would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to evaluate probable effects of acidification in the bay and other state waters and include recommendations about how to address the issue in a 2015 report.
Luedtke said acidification could “absolutely” hurt watermen who make their living from the oyster and crab industries in the bay.
“It creates a real change in ocean ecosystems for shellfish,” he said, “and Maryland being a state that is very oriented towards the water, I think it’s important that we sort of develop a strategy at the state government level to deal with the consequences of this.”
Little research on acidification in coastal systems has been done, and it’s badly needed, Miller said. In order for the Maryland Department of the Environment report to be successful, he said the report must be assembled by a wide range of people, including scientists, policymakers, watermen and people who manage natural resources.
Some watermen, however, are skeptical that the bill would help identify negative effects of acidification and ways to combat them.
Tim Devine, owner of Barren Island Oysters in Hoopers Island, said he hopes his oysters can be resilient against acidification because he feels helpless to do anything about it – even with Luedtke’s bill.
“There’s nothing a group of politicians comes up with that’s going to end up helping us out. That’s just the way it goes,” he said. “By the time it gets agreed upon, it doesn’t do anything.”
Steve Allen, of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, said Luedtke’s bill could help improve understanding of acidification in the bay.
“I think it’s more important to have correct science investigate potential issues that could arise from ocean acidification,” he said. “That way, we can be ready for it when and if it does occur.”
The “single best” way to combat acidification in the long term, Luedtke said, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, he added, there’s lag time associated with this; even if greenhouse gas levels were cut, it would take a long time for the effects it could have on acidification to be felt.
The effects that acidification could have on the bay and its inhabitants are unclear. But he believes that better understanding of the phenomenon – whether or not Luedtke’s bill facilitates this – is possible.
“Because of its complexity, it means it’s a headache to work in in some respects,” Miller said. “But if we can understand what’s happening in the Chesapeake Bay, we can understand what’s happening in almost any coastal system just by means of its complicated nature.”
Brian Compere, Capital News Service
How has the recession affected Talbot businesses and do you have stats on how many have closed their doors?
Unfortunately a small number of businesses have had to close their doors due to the economy. However the chamber has seen an increasing number of new businesses starts, which outweighs the number of business closures.
Talbot County economy is very dependent on real estate, tourism, construction, medical services and government. The sale of real estate in Talbot County is driven by discretionary purchases of secondary homes and due to the economy and new government regulations that segment of the market has been negatively impacted. On the positive side Talbot County real estate sales in 2012 were up 30% over 2011 and 2013 sales were up nominally over 2012.
Since the beginning of the recession the construction market has seen a severe downturn. We have seen an implementation of new building codes, state regulations and increasing anti-growth sentiment from local governments. The net result of all of these factors is the loss of businesses, which in turn leads to less opportunities hiring in the construction trades.
Tourism Industry revenues took a dip in 2009, yet have seen steady growth the past four years. A growing segment of Talbot County tourism is from it becoming a wedding destination.
What do you envision for this year and beyond? Are there new businesses just opening or getting ready to open in Talbot Co.? What do you see as a critical requirement to strengthen the local economy (such as public transportation, lower taxes and other business incentives)?
I envision that 2014 will see modest business growth in Talbot County. We will continue to see some segments of our economy do better than others based upon consumer confidence. We continue to get inquiries from individuals interested in starting or relocating a business to Talbot County and anticipate that we will also experience some business closures.
Talbot County’s property and income tax rates have been among the lowest in the State of Maryland. The Talbot Chamber is pleased to see that the Town of Easton is giving serious consideration to lowering the impact fees.
Talbot County is a very desirable location to live, work and play. We have a thriving arts and entertainment community that features award-winning restaurants, museums and a host of special events. We are home to the Waterfowl Festival, Academy Art Museum, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Plein Air, Tuckahoe Steam & Gas Show. One unique attraction in our county is the Oxford- Bellevue Ferry.
The chamber’s Government & Regulatory Committee has been working with the Talbot County Office of Economic Development and the newly formed Easton Economic Development Corporation (located at the chamber office) to…. formulate strategies with local government agencies to redesign and fine tune the development process.
Public transportation in rural areas is a critical component to get people to work, get medical services and meet shopping needs. The Talbot Chamber has been a very supportive partner in the creation of the MUST Bus System. Unfortunately funding for rural transportation continues to shrink and costs of operations continue to rise.
You have worked with historic preservation groups in the area; do you see the historic aspects of Talbot County as beneficial to the business community and the local economy in general?
Talbot County’s rich history attracts many tourist to our community. Our waterman’s heritage, Frederick Douglas ties to our county, and the many historically designated buildings are very appealing to history buffs.
What has the Chamber been doing to help local businesses…. any new approaches or techniques? Is the multimedia center, the internet or any other high tech marketing strategy being utilized?
We have a new Chamber website, free counseling by SCORE members, weekly e-newsletters promoting networking events, seminars and free Lunch & Learns with special emphasis on how to use social media as a marketing tool. The Chamber has partnered with other Talbot County organizations to lobby for modification or opposition to proposed legislation that is onerous to business, both on a local, state and national level. The Chamber has an active Member-to-Member Discount program; we offer our members three conference rooms to use for meeting clients, staff or Board of Director meetings or to facilitate strategic planning meetings.
A large part of my efforts on behalf of our membership is to be an advocate for the Free Enterprise System. This Legislative session is my fourteenth year as a member of the Maryland State Chamber Legislative Committee, reviewing and taking positions on approximately 200 bills that will affect (state and local) businesses each session.
What business person in the nation (or world) do you most admire, and What is your most recently read favorite book?
I’m a strong advocate of the Free Enterprise system. I have been an admirer of Warren Buffet since I had the opportunity to hear him in person when I worked in Nebraska.
My latest book is Johnny Carson (bio) by Henry Bushkin.
Alan Silverstein has served 31 years as a Chamber of Commerce executive, and has served as president and CEO of the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce since 2001.
With a book contract now in hand, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s education director Kate Livie has humbly entered that rarified world of Chesapeake writers, including the great William Warner, James Michener, and Gilbert Byron, who have tried to express in words the remarkable beauty of one of the world’s ugliest species.
The drive to tell that story for the Kent County native is a simple one. The daughter of the Scott Livie, Kent County’s late county commissioner, the beneficiary of Echo Hill Outdoor School, as well as hundreds of trips with her dad and sister along the Chester River, Kate recounts a special childhood on the Bay to the Spy, as well as how her love of oysters, and those who harvest them, led her to coming back to the Shore as both an educator and conservationist.
The video is approximately ten minutes
Pull a bucket of water from the Chesapeake, and each drop will most likely be from a different place and tell a different story about how it got there.
For some, it’s been a pretty short trip that started as a drop of rain that smacked into a parking lot, then flushed quickly into a local stream and reached the Bay a few days later.
Some may have soaked into Piedmont soil a decade ago and only recently emerged in a stream after traveling through groundwater.
Some drops from the Eastern Shore may have fallen as rain when John F. Kennedy was president, seeped into the Delmarva’s slow-moving aquifers, and now, after 50 years, finally made it to the Bay.
A few may have even started their journey before the United States was a country.
Collectively, the drops offer more than a history lesson; they provide a cautionary tale about how rapidly people should expect to see significant water quality improvements in the Chesapeake.
All of the drops of water absorbed nitrogen, which readily dissolves in water, and is one of the major pollutants in Chesapeake Bay. But they likely all contain different amounts of nitrogen, because they absorbed the nitrogen at different times, in different places, when more or less was being applied to fields and when nitrogen-reducing management practices might not have been in place.
For example, the “youngest” water in the bucket might carry reduced amounts of nitrogen because cover crops, an effective nitrogen reducing practice, were planted when it fell as rain. But older water that predates cleanup actions may contain higher levels of nitrogen.
“It’s really a mixture of water ages that ends up in a stream,” said Scott Phillips, Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “Some water travels over the land as storm runoff and is really young. Even the groundwater discharged into the stream is a mixture of ages. It is a complicated situation of many ages of water and associated nitrogen going into a stream.”
That mixture complicates efforts to sort out overall water quality trends because improvements are often masked by “old” — often dirtier — water that is still moving through the system.
Scientists refer to the delay from when a pollution control action is taken to when it results in a water quality improvement as “lag time.” The concept is not new, but recent reports suggest lag times may delay the attainment of Bay cleanup goals longer than previously recognized — bedeviling efforts to show that billions of dollars of investments are reaping significant benefits to the Bay and its tidal rivers.
“The potentially long periods of these lag times do not constitute an excuse for inaction, but they do constitute a reason for being patiently realistic about the time scale for observing results,” said a recent report from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program partnership
A new study from U.S. Geological Survey scientists showed just how much patience may be needed. It found that so much of the rainfall on the Delmarva Peninsula soaked into the groundwater, and its groundwater moved so slowly, that roughly a third of that water reaching streams is more than half a century old.
That means much of it still predates the spike in agricultural fertilizer use that occurred in the 1960s and ’70s. As a result, even though some “young” groundwater is part of the mix, the overall nitrogen concentrations reaching Eastern Shore rivers through groundwater are continuing to rise, and in many places it will take decades for that “old” groundwater with high nitrogen concentrations to be flushed from the aquifers.
The scientists examined the concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons and radioactive particles in the groundwater samples drawn from springs in the Delmarva Peninsula to determine its age. Since the 1940s, different levels of CFCs have entered the atmosphere each year and the ratio of tritium to helium in particles has varied as the result of nuclear tests. Those concentrations are reflected in the rain, which absorbs the elements, giving scientists a way to age the water when it emerges from springs.
The study, led by USGS scientist Ward Sanford, concluded that a 13 percent reduction today in the amount of nitrogen reaching groundwater was needed simply to keep overall nitrogen levels steady in 2050.
A diet with lag times?
A bucket of water pulled from the Bay in 2025 will likely be cleaner than one pulled out today — just as one pulled out today would, in most areas, be cleaner than one in 1990. But it likely will have far more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment than was prescribed by the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet, or total maximum daily load, which set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can enter the Bay from each state and major tributary.
Those limits are intended to help the Bay and tidal portions of its tributaries meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity and chlorophyll a (a measure of algae). Those standards are aimed at protecting aquatic life.
The TMDL calls for all actions needed to reduce pollution levels to acceptable levels to be in place by 2025. But because of lag times, the TMDL made no prediction of when water quality standards would actually be met throughout the Chesapeake.
If lag times are not factored into decision-making and better communicated with the public, support for cleanup efforts could be undermined, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee report cautioned. “We have to do a better job of communicating that these anticipated lags are in the system and that improvement is not going to happen overnight,” said Gene Yagow, a senior research scientist in Virginia Tech’s Biological Systems Engineering Department, and one of the lead authors of the report.
Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she is concerned about maintaining public support if tangible progress is slow. “How are you going to maintain momentum when currently we are hard-pressed to point to many success stories?” she asked. “I think the solution is to look for success stories, to find areas where we have done a lot of implementation and where we expect things to turn around.”
Bay officials are seeking to bolster their communication of the difficult issue.
For instance, Environmental Protection Agency officials are also pushing efforts to better quantify the level of water quality improvement that can realistically be expected in 2025. While the Bay wouldn’t fully attain water quality standards by then, such predictions could help show that actions are having expected responses.
“Obviously, water quality standards attainment is the ultimate goal,” said Jon Capacasa, director for water quality protection with the EPA’s mid=Atlantic region. “But the public can derive a lot of benefits from the incremental reductions in nutrients and sediments to the Bay along the way. It is not one big on/off switch in 2025.”
Pollution control efforts should also get a boost in coming years. Efforts to upgrade wastewater treatment plants have progressed rapidly, and officials expect most to be upgraded by the end of next year.
But after 2014, most of the nutrient reductions will have to come from nonpoint sources — mainly runoff from farms, urban and suburban areas and other land uses. With each passing year, smaller portions of the nutrient control actions being implemented will be fully felt in the Bay and tidal rivers by 2025. Portions of those improvements will continue to be offset by “old” nutrient pollution emerging from slow-moving groundwater.
But over time, the hypothetical bucket of water drawn from the Bay should increasingly reflect improvements from the nutrient controls efforts now under way — and those that will be taken in the near future.
“People like myself, we wouldn’t be in this business we are in if we didn’t have some level of optimism,” said Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office. Lag times, he said, provide a reason to keep taking action — not to give up.
“Two generations back, they didn’t see the level of degradation that would be caused by high nitrate levels in the groundwater,” he said. “Yes, it might be a future generation that is actually going to see the full effect of what we do today. But we have to do it.” Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.
By Karl Blankenship
Bay Journal News Service