The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay was founded in 1971 by a diverse group of citizens concerned about the declining health of their beloved Chesapeake Bay.

They represented business, agriculture, conservation, academia and government. Originally named “The Citizens Program for the Chesapeake,” this group was a catalyst for the creation of today’s Chesapeake Bay Program led by the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1977, our first office opened in Hampton, VA, and the name was changed to the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

This year marks the organization’s 45th anniversary. For four and a half decades, the Alliance has worked tirelessly to build partnerships among the diverse array of communities, businesses, groups and governments to expand the work of restoration throughout the watershed.

With a small staff and a lot of ground to cover, it now supports a wide portfolio of innovative programs that put boots on the ground. Once focused on helping to develop the policies and agreements that guide restoration efforts; today we find ways for all to work together to get the job done.

We are excited to be preparing for our anniversary celebration — the Taste of the Chesapeake on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

The Taste returns to last year’s new and exciting venue — the rooftop of the Belcher Pavilion at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. Last year’s event drew more than 350 people from the business, environmental, academic and political spectrum. The Taste raises funds used to support the “on the ground” programs and projects of the Alliance and is an opportunity to recognize outstanding watershed leaders in the Chesapeake community.

The Alliance could not achieve its mission, nor have the impact we have on local communities without joining together with outstanding environmental leaders like our 2016 award winners who bring passion, knowledge and hard work to the Chesapeake’s cause. This year’s winners are innovators, strong consensus-builders and tireless advocates for clean water where the need is greatest; in our cities and towns, and on the farms of our rural landscapes.

This year, our Environmental Leadership Award goes to Tom Schueler.

The award, which honors the Alliance’s founding director Fran Flanigan, recognizes a person whose long-standing commitment to the Chesapeake illustrates the Alliance’s mission of fostering partnerships and building environmental stewardship.

Tom has been a pioneer for more than 30 years in finding practical and effective approaches to reducing the problem of stormwater runoff and affecting the development process in ways that better protect and restore watersheds. He began his passion for urban watershed issues with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, where he led the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Team — one of the first efforts to comprehensively restore an urban watershed. It was there that Tom began to develop his innovative thinking on ways to protect urban streams.

To allow himself more freedom to pursue this work, he founded the Center for Watershed Protection in 1992 and through the force of his ideas and technical skills, built the Center into a national leader in watershed science and practice. Tom wrote many widely used references, like the Practice of Watershed Protection, Rapid Watershed Planning Handbook, and the Impacts of Impervious Cover on Aquatic Systems. His ideas and recommendations have been incorporated in state and local regulations and national guidance that governs stormwater work in the Bay states and communities across the country.

Tom left the Center and turned his attention fully to the Chesapeake watershed, forming the Chesapeake Stormwater Network in 2009. This nonprofit organization is devoted to promoting more sustainable stormwater practices across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He also serves as the stormwater technical coordinator for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and directs the Chesapeake Bay Stormwater Training Partnership, which provides webcasts, workshops and on-line training for engineers.

When you get to know Tom, you can appreciate how all that talent is wrapped up in a unique package — with an irreverent streak, a dry and sarcastic humor, a penchant for creative acronyms and a love of all things water, he is just plain fun to work with. His email address says it all, you can find Tom at watershedguy@hotmail.com.

The 2016 Watershed Champion of the Year Award will honor Robert Whitescarver, a watershed restoration scientist, farmer, writer and educator.

Bobby retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service after 31 years in the field. He has helped farmers all over Virginia exclude livestock from more than 500 miles of stream and has been a leader in creating forest buffers along those streams — he is responsible for planting more than half a million trees. Bobby has gained the reputation of being a partner with farmers who trust him to design grazing systems that keep livestock out of streams; restore streams and fish habitat; improve the health of the herd; and provide economic return to the landowner.

Bobby and his wife, Jeanne Hoffman, also lead by example: They’ve installed buffers as well as watering and pasture systems on their own commercial cow/calf operation in Swoope, VA.

Bobby is president of Whitescarver Natural Resources Management LLC, an environmental consulting firm. Additionally, he teaches natural resource management at James Madison University and is a freelance writer. He writes and publishes an award-winning conservation blog, and has been published in Virginia Cattleman, Virginia Wildlife Magazine, the Bay Journal and several newspapers throughout the country. Bobby regularly shares his experience and philosophy of conservation with others across the Bay watershed.

For the Alliance, and myself personally, Bobby has long been a trusted adviser and partner in our shared goal of healthy streams and healthy farms in the Chesapeake watershed. We share a practical knowledge and firm belief that it can happen because we have seen it.  The Alliance is proud to recognize an outstanding watershed champion, and we invite you to follow his work through his website at gettingmoreontheground.com.

Our 2016 award winners are representative of the many dedicated people who inspire us to sustain and strengthen our commitment to the Bay and its rivers. We are proud to recognize these exceptional leaders. We hope you will join us in this celebration on Sept. 15 in Annapolis! For details about the Taste of the Chesapeake, please visit allianceforthebay.org.