ShoreRivers Presents State of the Rivers Benchmark

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With data collected by four professional Riverkeepers and nearly 100 citizen scientist volunteers, ShoreRivers is proud to present its annual State of Rivers Series and Report Card Release. A series of five presentations will feature water quality grades, regional trends and data points, and strategies and solutions to clean our rivers. Maryland’s Eastern Shore waterways are being choked with nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff from both residential and commercial properties. Seasonal flares of bacterial contamination pose risks to human health. Water quality monitoring for these and other pollutants is a signature component of ShoreRivers’ operations and the only comprehensive testing of our local rivers currently being conducted. Learn about your river at the event near you in Cambridge, Chestertown, St. Michaels, Grasonville, or Betterton; details at ShoreRivers.org/events. 

ShoreRivers Director of Riverkeeper Programs and Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta remarks, “Water quality monitoring programs are the foundation on which ShoreRivers bases our advocacy, restoration, and education work. These programs allow us to keep a vigilant pulse on our local waterways. We invite all of our volunteers, landowners, elected officials, and everyone who cares about our rivers to join us as we discuss the ways we can work together to achieve clean and healthy waterways in our region.” The 2018 Report Card encompasses four watersheds that span more than 1,650 square miles of the middle and upper Eastern Shore.

All events are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided. ShoreRivers appreciates its 2019 Marquee Sponsor, Dock Street Foundation, and 2019 State of the Rivers Sponsor, The Easton Group and the Easton Branch at Morgan Stanley. Thanks also to the individual event sponsors: Dukes-Moore Insurance Agency, Tow Jamm Marine Towing & Salvage, and Bayheads Brewing Company.

State of the Rivers presentations will be as follows: 

Thursday, April 25, 5:30pm – State of the Choptank
Robbins Heritage Center, Cambridge

Thursday, May 2, 5:30pm – State of the Chester
Washington College Hynson Lounge

Friday, May 3, 5:30pm – State of the Miles and Choptank Rivers
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels

Thursday, May 16, 5:30pm – State of the Chester and Wye Rivers, and Eastern Bay
Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Grasonville

Friday, May 17, 5:30pm – State of the Sassafras
Betterton Volunteer Fire Hall 

For more information, contact Julia Erbe at jerbe@shorerivers.org or 443.385.0511 ext. 210.

ShoreRivers Receives $10,000 Perdue Foundation Grant to Further Conservation Drainage Program on Delmarva

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ShoreRivers received a $10,000 grant from the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation. Along with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Bailey Wildlife Foundation, this grant supports work to accelerate agricultural conservation drainage best management practices that improve water quality while sustaining or increasing crop production.

“This project represents the first partnership between ShoreRivers and the Perdue Foundation,” said Tim Rosen, director of agriculture and restoration for Shore Rivers. “New and diverse partnerships such as this help achieve water quality and agricultural goals aimed at creating a sustainable future for Delmarva.”

 “At Perdue, we’re proud to join ShoreRivers in this new partnership that will help improve the Delmarva community and make local farms, including some of those farmers who raise poultry for Perdue and sell us their grain, more economically viable and environmentally sustainable,” said Steve Levitsky, vice president of environmental stewardship for Perdue Farms.

The Perdue Foundation was established by company founder Arthur W. Perdue in 1957 as the charitable giving arm of Perdue Farms. It is funded through the estates of Arthur W. Perdue and Frank Perdue and provides grants on behalf of Perdue Farms in communities where large numbers of their associates live and work.

Conservation drainage is a selection of best management practices that allows for traditional agricultural drainage needed for production while also reducing nutrient and sediment pollution. ShoreRivers works with farmers on Delmarva to implement conservation drainage projects with the objective of installing demonstration projects that showcase how environmental and agricultural goals can be mutually met to maintain a healthy environment.

“The implications of this work have far-reaching, positive effects by allowing Delmarva farms to be more economically sustainable while addressing uncertain future weather conditions and improving water quality, thus creating a landscape that can be cherished for generations,” said Rosen.

Using the funding from Perdue Foundation, ShoreRivers has installed two projects in Dorchester and Somerset counties. In total, ShoreRivers will install seven conservation drainage projects on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. Specific practices being installed are blind inlets, saturated buffers, water control structures, and new drainage tile designs for use with a drainage water management plan.

For more information about ShoreRivers’ conservation drainage programs, contact Tim Rosen at ShoreRivers at trosen@shorerivers.org or 443.385.0511 ext. 209.

Tragedy of the Soft Shell and Razor Clam

I read Tragedy of the Commons many times in my undergraduate career. We are all familiar with the premise: overuse of a common resource for personal benefit ultimately eliminates that resource, spoiling it for everyone. To ensure that our common resources do not become depleted in Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) works to “preserve, protect, restore, and enhance our environment for this and future generations.” Specifically, DNR strives to create balance between our economy and our environment, which we at ShoreRivers commend and support. 

Consider the eastern oyster, for example, a filter feeder that improves water quality and habitat, and is an iconic menu item for locals and tourists alike. A DNR Fishery Management Plan is needed for this species to ensure that we continue to see both ecological and economic benefits for generations to come. This is an example of a state agency regulating a natural resource so that all can benefit.

Two lesser known bivalve species in the Bay provide similar ecological value. Soft shell clams and razor clams filter the same volume of gallons in one day as the oyster. Numerous studies have found that these species once played an integral role in the Chesapeake’s food web, as a primary food source for multiple predators. Unfortunately, also similar to the eastern oyster, these clam species are on the brink of extinction in the Chesapeake Bay.

The soft shell clam fishery has been “boom and bust” since the invention of the hydraulic dredge in the 1950’s. “Boom” times with high harvest rates and high numbers of clamming licenses are followed by “bust” times with significant drops in clam populations, which result in lower harvest rates and fewer licenses. 

Considering the high ecological value these species provide and their current low populations, ShoreRivers believes they are in need of conservation. Without a DNR Fishery Management Plan, there is currently no balance between the economic and ecological value of these clams. To ensure this balance is established and that there are clams in our Maryland waterways in the future, ShoreRivers fought for a Fishery Management Plan for the clam fishery during the 2019 Maryland Legislative General Assembly. This bill would have initiated relatively low-cost studies of current clam populations and habitats, impacts to the population from climate change, and economic and ecological values of clams.  

Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources was not supportive of this bill and was unwilling to compromise. DNR’s main argument was that these species are too transient and difficult to study. However, considering that there have been studies of these species in the past (although none that inform regulation), and the fact that these species continue to be harvested, we feel that this decision clearly states that DNR is supportive of the economic value of these species, more so than the ecological value. If we are unable to study a species, consider the ecological value, or make regulation recommendations that promote sustainability, then we should not have that commercial fishery.

Yes, we are all familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, but it seems as though our current administration is choosing to ignore the warning signs of resource depletion. To be clear, I am in support of sustainable fisheries – fisheries that provide economic value, support our local watermen, and ensure that species continue to provide ecological benefits to our ecosystems.

However, if, according to DNR, it is not possible to find balance between economy and ecology, then which side should we choose? What repercussions might we see if we lose the soft shell and razor clams? As Miles-Wye Riverkeeper, I have the privilege of giving a voice to the river; I have no doubt the river would choose the side of ecological benefits.

 

Elle Bassett
Miles-Wye Riverkeeper
ebassett@shorerivers.org
443.385.0511 ext 213


ShoreRivers Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week – March 31 to April 7

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ShoreRivers has launched its fourth annual Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week (LFAW) from March 31 to April 7, 2019. For this initiative, ShoreRivers partners with other organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed to provide awareness about lawn fertilizer usage. Last year, LFAW reached over 24,000 individuals via social media, and aims even higher for this year.

The goal of Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week is to inform the public about the effects of lawn fertilizer, while encouraging individuals and lawn care professionals to reduce fertilizer use and turn to organic products for healthier lawns and waterways. This social media campaign includes daily posts that highlight native plant landscaping that requires less fertilizer, as well as ways to make composted fertilizer. LFAW also focuses on the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus—two key ingredients in fertilizer—on water quality for the Chesapeake Bay. Runoff of these nutrients from lawns into waterways is known to cause harmful algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, rob the water of oxygen, and threaten underwater life.

Last year, this campaign introduced ShoreRivers’ new River-Friendly Yards program. ShoreRivers, with support from Chesapeake Bay Trust and Queen Anne’s County, is working to empower residents in the Chester and Sassafras watersheds to implement best practices and establish more river-friendly yards that mimic the natural environment to benefit water quality. ShoreRivers encourages residents to adopt river-friendly practices to achieve healthy waterways across Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The 2019 campaign will give an update on the program and highlight Maryland laws and regulations. It will include fun, simple, and attractive ways to transform yards. Maryland’s Nutrient Management Program has the goal of protecting water quality by ensuring that both farmers and urban land managers are safely applying fertilizer. Lawn fertilizer accounts for approximately 44 percent of the fertilizer sold in Maryland. There are over 1,300,000 acres of lawns in Maryland; almost 86 million pounds of nitrogen lawn fertilizer will be applied to these properties each year. It is critical that everyone know the importance of applying fertilizer in an effective and environmentally sound manner for the health of Maryland’s tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay.

Follow along with Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week 2019 by tuning into ShoreRivers’ social media pages.

More details are available at mda.maryland.gov/Pages/fertilizer.aspx. Additional guidance, along with seasonal and yearly fertilizer rates, is available at county extension offices or online at extension.umd.edu. For more information about Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week, visit shorerivers.org or contact Rachel Plescha at ShoreRivers at rplescha@shorerivers.org or 443.385.0511 ext 208.

Waugh Chapel Breaks Ground on ‘Green’ Parking Lot

CAMBRIDGE — After years as a blighted, empty lot, construction has begun to replace broken concrete and rusted metal with an environmentally friendly Green Parking lot on the 400 block of High Street.

Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church, with the assistance of Cambridge Main Street and Shore Rivers obtained grant funding to renovate the lot. The project is being completed by Nichols Lawn & Landscape and is slated for completion this spring, weather permitting. Support for the project was received from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT).

The parking lot will be available for public use in addition to regular church services and special events. Linda Henry, representing Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church shared her excitement for the project. “I am excited to see the improvements to the church property begin. It is truly a blessing.” The Rev. James C. Whitaker, pastor of Waugh Chapel shared, “On behalf of the members, we express our deepest gratitude to all of the community organizations that joined together to make this possible for our church and community.”

“This lot revitalization is the result of community partners working together to meet a community need, while also reducing the impact of storm water pollution flowing off our streets and into our rivers. This project will be another great example of supporting a growing Cambridge, while keeping water quality a priority.” Suzanne Sullivan, Shore Rivers.“This project was a win-win for Waugh Chapel, the 400 block of High Street, and downtown Cambridge,” shared Katie Clendaniel, executive director for Cambridge Main Street.

Cambridge Main Street has identified blight as a critical issue in many areas of the downtown. Ms. Clendaniel shared that this work will be an important asset to not only the Church, but to nearby businesses and organizations like the Woman’s Club, the Community Garden, and the Robin Hood Shop. “We were excited to partner on this project and hope to use this type of public, private collaborative model more in an effort to improve streetscape and engage property owners in the core.”

This is the second community partnership project on Waugh. The Church approved the Cambridge Community Garden in 2015, which starts its fifth season in 2019. The garden provides space for the community to gather, grow, eat and share the harvest.

More information about the project can be found at www.downtowncambridge.org.

A Message from our Director of Riverkeepers - Oysters and Talbot County Council

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An important piece of legislation is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly that would protect our oyster sanctuaries “in perpetuity,” giving actual meaning to the word “sanctuary,” and allowing oyster aquaculture to occur within and as a complement to protected wild oysters inside these sanctuaries. The bill is labeled House Bill 298 and Senate Bill 448 “OYSTERS-TRIBUTARY-SCALE SANCTUARIES-PROTECTION AND RESTORATION.

ShoreRivers has been working for years to advance measures to restore and protect our oyster populations. On behalf of our several thousand members, we strongly support this bill. Numerous other organizations dedicated to Chesapeake Bay restoration support this bill. ShoreRivers’ staff professionals, in fact, have been testifying in Annapolis in support of this bill. It came as quite a surprise to learn, not from our county council, but from others while testifying in Annapolis, that the Talbot County Council is trying to undermine these efforts and has written a letter to state legislators formally opposing this bill. 

In the letter, the council made statements such as, “we are very concerned that the state’s focus on aquaculture in sanctuaries is being done at the expense of maintaining a viable public oyster fishery.” And, “sanctuaries have not yet proven themselves as a better restoration option than a well-managed oyster fishery.” Going further, the council wrote, “A properly maintained fishery can keep the oyster stock healthier and more vital than an unattended and unmanaged sanctuary.”

At ShoreRivers, we have been studying this issue for years. We are science-based. We find these quoted statements surprisingly uninformed, and, in our view, contrary to the science, to the welfare of our rivers, and to the views of many county residents. Moreover, to our knowledge, there was no opportunity for public input in the council’s decision to attack this bill, no public advance notice that the council was considering this issue, and no public vote by the council.

 Regarding the council’s letter, first, there is no scientific basis to call our oyster fishery “well-managed, properly maintained, or viable.” It is well known that our current oyster population is less than 1% of historic levels. Since 1999, our population of adult oysters has diminished by half. Whether our state should allow the harvest of wild oysters at all is a reasonable question. No other fishery in the world that has been so decimated even permits a wild harvest. In the late 1980s, Maryland imposed a five-year moratorium on striped bass fishing, and in the 1990s, goose hunting was suspended to protect populations that were nowhere near as decimated as our oyster population.

 Second, these sanctuaries are, in fact, working. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by state and federal agencies, and countless efforts have been made by numerous private nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens to create and populate these sanctuaries. Two of these key sanctuaries benefit Talbot County directly, one in Harris Creek and one in the Tred Avon River. Data from Harris Creek, the first of these to be seeded, show that oyster reefs within the sanctuaries are meeting the success metrics for oyster density and biomass. A recent study by The Nature Conservancy found that restored reefs in Harris Creek are able to filter all the volume of water in the creek in less than 10 days during the summer months, and they have the potential to remove one million pounds of nitrogen over a decade. The sanctuaries have exceeded all expectations. The benefits of similar type sanctuaries to restore decimated fishery populations has been proven to be effective countless times around country and the world.

 Third, to say that large tributary-scale oyster restoration will “seriously or fatally injure the industry, causing loses in both jobs and revenue” is shortsighted. A study released earlier this month by Morgan State University found that “fully mature oyster reefs in the Chesapeake would yield a 150 percent increase to blue crab harvest and an estimated $10-million increase in annual fishing revenues in the region.” Hotels, marinas, bait shops, and other marine industries in the county would surely support the added benefits from a boost in recreational fishing and tourism brought by having restored oyster reefs.

 The Talbot County Council represents more than one constituent group. ShoreRivers has thousands of members, and we were never given the opportunity to have our views considered by our council. To our knowledge, other constituent groups, such as our growing aquaculture industry, were not given such an opportunity. The public at large was not given this opportunity. We find it objectionable that our council would seek to undermine this important State bill without providing its entire constituent base with the opportunity to be heard. And that it would seek to undermine it based on uninformed and misleading statements.

Robust oyster populations are essential in restoring and protecting our rivers and bay. We hope the members of our community who support real “sanctuaries” will let their views be known both to our state representatives and to the Talbot County Council.

Matt Pluta
Choptank Riverkeeper
mpluta@shorerivers.org