Environmental Forum Archives
The Potomac Highlands Watershed School's Environmental Forum provides a setting for students and teachers to explore regionally important environmental issues in depth. Students work both as a class and with other students across the internet to understand problems and to seek solutions that are broadly acceptable to their communities.
Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum 2009
on Water Quality and Best Management Practices
March 9 through April 10, 2009
March 2009 -- Despite increased restoration efforts throughout the watershed, the Chesapeake’s health did not improve in 2008, according to the Bay Program’s annual report ... .... Click the link for details.
2/27/2009. Just as SCE Forum participants are beginning their task of seeking consensus-based solutions to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Program and all of the state Tributary Teams are taking part in a "what if" exercise. They are looking at options for dramatically increasing implementation of non point source Best Management Practices. Currently, BMP programs are voluntary, and are funded through cost share programs. In cost share programs, part of the BMP cost is covered through government funding, and part by the landowner (from as little as 50:50 to as high as 90:10).
Here are the two "what if" scenarios the group is exploring:
What do you think? Which of the above ideas has a better chance of helping the Bay Program reach its goals? Is this an "either or" question, or would you consider a mixture of the two approaches? Or would you stick with the way it is done now? The answers you come up with may actually help the Bay Program find their solution.
12/14/2008. Old Ideas Are Polluting the Chesapeake Bay By Angus Phillips, Washington Post.
Why You Matter!
A Welcome from Jeffrey Lape, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program
You are not alone! Click here to see a list and an interactive Google Map of the participating SCE Forum schools (as of 2/11/09). 30 classes signed up - enrollment now closed.
During the SCE Forum, you will join classmates and students from other schools in exploring one of the most complex environmental problems ever to confront the United States, saving the Chesapeake Bay from decades of pollution. You will learn about:
Your challenge as a class will be to propose a solution that really cleans your waters and that your community would find acceptable.
Participating classes can receive technical and financial support to design and implement their own real-world best management practice projects - like this one and this one - as demonstrations of watershed stewardship and as long-term living classrooms.
*Because the Chesapeake Bay's problems are very important to the region, Bay issues are frequently in the news. Take a look at a few of the stories from the last few years.
To enroll a class or youth group in the SCE Forum, or for more information, email Frank Rodgers or call us at 304-856-1385.
While you may debate it in your class, for the purposes of your decision making you must assume that there is, in fact, a big problem, that the problem is as large as the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) says it is, and that the CBP's estimates of sources are reasonable. During the final week, you must work as a group to find a solution to the problem. All serious entries will be posted as submitted (including typos and grammatical errors). "Act of God" solutions will not be considered. In other words, you may not assume that the problem will solve itself. Just keep in mind that what you write will be available for the entire world to read. No pressure.
Finally, there is a lot of information on this page and in associated links. It is only a small part of what is out there on the web and in print on this topic. While everything on this page is important, you can get a pretty good overview of each topic by reading this page carefully and then focusing on the links with a☺beside them.
Words, words words - SCE Forum's essential vocabulary.
Why should we try to restore the Bay? The Chesapeake Bay might seem to be a long, long way from your home. You may never have seen it. Heck, you might never have even taken a step out of your home state. But you live in the Bay’s enormous watershed, a watershed that stretches from upstate New York to southern Virginia, and from Delaware to the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. And you do have an impact on the Bay in the choices you and your neighbors make on how to use and manage our lands. And the Bay has an impact on you, from the oysters many people love to eat in the fall, to providing an important engine for the region’s economy. Simply put, the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. It’s the largest estuary in North America and one of the most productive in the world. Home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, it also provides important economic, recreational, cultural, and educational resources to the more than 16 million people who live in the watershed, and to the region’s untold visitors.
Unfortunately, after many years of receiving pollution from its 64,000 square mile watershed, the Bay is in serious trouble. All of the states in the Bay watershed have committed to reduce the flow of key pollutants - nutrients and sediment - to the Bay, which Bay scientists have determined are the key in restoring it to health. Each of the Bay states has established Tributary Teams to develop strategies for reducing nutrients and sediment, and to implement their strategies. This effort will impact every community in the region for many years to come. To get an overview of what is involved, you can read a summary of West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy here.☺
To help you understand this very complex problem, the Potomac Highlands Watershed School has placed information in the PHWS library, and added links to information on other websites, in five key categories: water quality science, the Chesapeake Bay models, Best Management Practices (BMPs), the Tributary Strategy process, and understanding stakeholders. We also have essays from professionals who work on Chesapeake Bay and related issues to provide their perspectives on the process and the problems. Think of them as native guides and watch for links to their contributions. (Note: Cacapon Institute is deeply grateful for the contributions of our Native Guides to the SCE Forum experience.)
Your first native guide is Al Todd (Watershed Program Leader, USDA Forest Service). Al provides an overview of the restoration effort ☺from the perspective of an insider in the Chesapeake Bay Program. In his essay, Native Guide Todd also emphasizes the need to protect healthy parts of the watershed that are currently contributing to good water quality:
You can’t begin to understand this material without first learning some water quality terminology. Click here to read a short Water Quality Primer. ☺
*Now that you know some basic terminology, we can tell you that the SCE Forum will consider only non point source pollution. Point source pollution is a big part of the problem in many parts of the Bay watershed, but solutions to the point source problem are mostly technological, financial, and regulatory. On the other hand, solutions to the non point source pollution problem have much more to do with educating the general public and gaining acceptance of the need to change the way we manage our landscape. In many ways, the non point source contributions to the Bay’s problems are the more difficult to solve.
While Stream Cleaner is still fresh in your mind, it would be a good time to take a look at the Stream Cleaner Slide Show. It provides a slightly different perspective on the best management practices that are used in Stream Cleaner. Just click on the projector screen mounted over the window in the PHWS High School classroom.
The landscape and proportion of land uses in Stream Cleaner are representative of a typical rural watershed in West Virginia's Potomac Highlands. How does land use in your watershed compare, and how do you think that the differences might change the strategy you will need to clean up your watershed? How might the differences help you decide who your important stakeholder groups should be? You will learn about water quality data from the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia from Native Guide Neil Gillies in the following section on water quality.
Many perspectives on water quality are needed to understand the problems facing the Bay. You can look at water quality in the Bay itself, in the large rivers like the Potomac and Susquehanna as they flow into the Bay, or in the innumerable headwater streams throughout the Bay watershed. Cacapon Institute has been studying headwater streams in the Potomac Highlands since 1985, and this essay ☺ from your second native guide (Neil Gillies, Cacapon Institute) provides perspective on the study of non point source pollutants, specifically nutrients, based on real data from CI's programs.
The next step up is to look at water quality at the large river scale. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is taking a lead role in these studies. You can read a short overview of their Bay related programs here. Read about and see a map of their sampling sites on the major river basins that flow into the Bay here. This link ☺ to the Chesapeake Bay River Input Monitoring Program provides a graphic overview of the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and load contributions from each major river basin. You can read actual USGS publications on Chesapeake Bay water quality through the links found here.
If it hasn't happened already, your teacher should now present ☺ a Chesapeake Bay Program PowerPoint presentation that provides an excellent overview of the science as it relates to the Bay (we sent them the link so they could download this presentation). It describes how excess nutrients and sediment impact aquatic plants and dissolved oxygen levels, and how low dissolved oxygen kills animals.
Scientific models are mathematical representations of the real world. In environmental science, models are often used to estimate the effects of complex and varying environmental events and conditions, to understand large scale processes that can't be observed directly in their entirety. The Chesapeake Bay Program uses various mathematical models to simulate processes in the air, land, and water of the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay drainage basin, which is much too large and complex to isolate for experiments in the real world. Their models use the results of small scale scientific experiments on subjects like the effect of a specific land use change on water quality, and apply them to the whole Bay watershed. These models allow Bay scientists to simulate changes in the Bay ecosystem due to changes in population, land use, or pollution management.
This link☺leads you to a quick look at graphs of nutrient and sediment load estimates from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. These graphs will help you understand where the model predicts pollution is coming from.
It is important to remember that models are not the same as reality, and that the Bay models seek to understand an incredibly complex system of 64,000 square miles. Based on real world water quality monitoring results, the CBP’s scientific and technical advisory committee believes the model is overestimating progress in restoring the Bay. This happens in part because the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model generally uses best management practice "efficiency" assumptions based on idealized research conditions, rather than from field studies on these practices as they are actually installed. It is important to note that the process is under nearly constant review and, as better information is obtained, changes to modeling assumptions are made (this approach is known as adaptive management).
The problem of overestimating progress has led to many controversies and concerns that the Bay models do not simulate actual conditions closely enough. For example, in 2005 the non partisan Government Accounting Office criticized the Bay Program for overstating its progress. They found that largely because the Bay models overestimated progress toward achieving water quality goals, the Bay Program minimized threats to the Bay and was failing to address its problems. You can read the article and follow links to the whole report here.
We continue to use models, however, because they remain the best scientific tool for estimating what average conditions are likely to be in a complex system where reality is enormously difficult to understand and far too costly to physically measure. You can read more on the weaknesses and strengths in this section of the West Virginia Tributary Strategy.
In addition to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s model, the U.S. Geological Service has a statistical model available called SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed (SPARROW), which uses a nonlinear regression approach to spatially relate nutrient sources and watershed characteristics to nutrient loads of streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For more information on the USGS SPARROW map visit this site. It has great information and really wonderful maps of output from the SPARROW model (near the top of the page, labeled Figures).
Cleaning up the Bay is about a lot more than just science and models. It also involves the interplay of science and government policy. The federal government's central role as the Chesapeake Bay Program (U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, etc.), state and local government, and local stakeholders all play essential roles in creating a workable plan and generating support from state and federal politicians, support that will be needed to generate the huge amounts of money to pay for the cleanup.
The states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia - the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to clean up the Bay. They have determined that restoring the Bay’s health will require reducing the flow of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment transported from each of the Bay States into the Bay, and have set maximum loadings for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in each State’s waters.
West Virginia took a uniquely open approach in the development of its Potomac Tributary Strategy by forming the West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy Stakeholder Group. Members of the community were invited to work with the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection, WV Conservation Agency, and WV Dept. of Agriculture in a comprehensive planning process to produce a plan that would equitably reduce nutrient and sediment loads from West Virginia. The stakeholders also sought to develop a plan that would minimize economic and social burdens on our community.
West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy document provides a wealth of information that is referenced below and elsewhere on this page:
To read the entire document, including specific strategies developed by WV stakeholders, (it's 50 pages long), click here, then click on West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy.
Every state in the Bay watershed took their own approach to developing their tributary strategy. To learn more about Tributary Strategies, including your own state's plan, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Tributary Strategies website. ☺ Follow the appropriate link from the above site to review your state's Bay website.
Best Management Practices are methods for preventing or reducing the pollution resulting from some activity. The term originated from rules and regulation in Section 208 of the Clean Water Act. This piece from Watersheds.org provides a simple introduction to the concepts of Best Management Practices (BMPs) as things we can all do that lessen the impact of activities which might harm the environment. Another nice introduction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is here. ☺
All of the Bay states have urban issues, even rural areas like West Virginia. Urban forester Frank Rodgers describes the non point source problems caused by urbanization and suggests a series of urban BMPs that really make a difference here. ☺ Creative approaches to urban BMPs have also been in the news recently. From Ann Arundel County comes news that "County officials tout eco-friendly stormwater fix County officials seek to change developers' hearts and minds as they tout eco-friendly stormwater fix" - you can read about it in The Capital newspaper here .
The Chesapeake Bay Program is constantly working to improve their understanding of the watershed, including their understanding of how well existing BMPs work. They also seek new BMPs to help solve the problems. This paper from the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) (600 kb pdf document) is technical but very readable, and not in the least shy about identifying deficiencies in the current program. The Summary, Introduction, and Background sections are well worth your time.
If you are taking part in the Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum, then you are role-playing as a member of a stakeholder group. This section is about you!
Reaching the ambitious nutrient reduction goals needed to restore the Bay will not be easy. With more than 16 million people living and working in the Bay watershed, our individual impact on water quality takes a toll on the quality of local waters. Each Bay state's Tributary Strategy relies heavily on voluntary adoption of BMPs by the private sector, including farmers and homeowners, to achieve its goals. In rural areas this effort tends to emphasize loadings from the agricultural sector, although the urban sector will be of increasing importance as many areas in the watershed are experiencing explosive population growth. Ultimate success will require working with farmers and homeowners to encourage voluntary reductions of nutrients and sediment flowing from yards, cropland, pasture, and sources of concentrated animal manure such as cattle feedlots. All state tributary strategies seek to reduce pollutant loads by implementing a comprehensive suite of voluntary BMPs.
Regulatory changes are also needed, to require that all new construction projects, including housing developments, manufacturing facilities, and even new schools, be built in a way that minimizes their contributions of nutrients and sediment to local waterways and ultimately the Bay.
The WV Potomac Tributary Strategy's chapter on Challenges to Implementation provides insight into the thinking of different stakeholder groups who actually participated in developing WV's strategy. This is a must read!☺
Your fourth native guide is Matt Monroe (Environmental Coordinator for the WV Department of Agriculture). Matt is a key player in West Virginia's tributary strategy process, and provides his unique point of view on the agricultural community's perspective.☺
Cacapon Institute works to develop approaches that make adopting environmentally friendly farm practices a good business decision for farmers. You can read about a program that produced premium grade "eco-friendly" beef here. Also read about our ongoing experiment in economic incentives: "Farmers as Producers of Clean Water: Providing Economic Incentives for Reducing Agricultural Non-point Pollution."
Your fifth native guide is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a non profit organization with a mission to restore the Bay. They work to build consensus between groups to restore the Bay, which is what you will be doing during the third week of the SCE Forum. Read about their efforts here. ☺
Your sixth native guide is biologist Sandy Burk, author of Let the River Run Silver Again! This book tells the exciting story of students like you who are helping to restore the ecologically important fish American shad. They are now cleaning up streams and rivers in their own neighborhoods- all while performing important community service and earning credit for school too. This is proof that individuals can make a difference, and you can read about it here.
As a member of a stakeholder group; you need to understand as much as you can about the role you play in the Bay's problem and restoration. You also need to understand the roles others play. In order to successfully reach consensus with other stakeholder groups, you need to be able to intelligently discuss your groups concerns and find common ground with others. We’ve provided you with a great deal of information - and now it is your turn to do more research. Go back and look in more depth about your state’s Tributary Team process, use a few of the links below, or find your own resources online, in print, or in the news that will help get your stakeholder Point Of View across to others.
10. Paying for it
Paying for the Bay cleanup will be incredibly expensive. This document ☺from the WV Potomac Tributary Strategy details the costs for West Virginia alone, and West Virginia is only a small part of the solution. There are quite a few government programs that provide cost share money to farmers to help pay for environmental practices.
There are other innovative ways to provide support for protection of our lands:
11. General Links
Chesapeake Bay Program - a link to America's Premier Watershed Restoration Partnership
Chesapeake Bay Program - Tributary Tools. The Tributary Strategy Tools Page serves as a resource to the Tributary Strategy coordinators and teams as they develop their Tributary Strategies. This page provides key information, presentations, data, and other tools to help each jurisdiction develop their Tributary Strategies. It is also a forum for sharing ideas and approaches for distilling down highly technical information into a form that stakeholders can understand and use in developing their Strategies.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Chesapeake Bay watershed. http://www.cbf.org .
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) prepares an annual State of the Bay Report, the annual report card on the health of the Bay. You can see reports from 2000 through 2007 here.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is a regional nonprofit
organization that builds and fosters partnerships to protect and to
restore the Bay and its rivers.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is a regional nonprofit organization that builds and fosters partnerships to protect and to restore the Bay and its rivers.http://www.alliancechesbay.org/
About WATERSHEDSS: A Decision Support System for Nonpoint Source Pollution Control http://www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/. To adequately control nonpoint source pollution of a water resource, water quality managers must focus on minimizing the impacts of individual nonpoint source pollutants. The strategic choice and placement of best management practices (BMPs) in the watershed can successfully reduce the input of individual pollutants and may improve water quality. WATERSHEDSS (WATER, Soil, and Hydro- Environmental Decision Support System) was designed to help watershed managers and land treatment personnel identify their water quality problems and select appropriate best management practices.