Bay Journal

Getting grounded is best way to make sure cleanup efforts soar

  • By Jim Edward on July 01, 2011
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Volunteers plant trees and shrubs along the banks of Beaver Creek in Washington County to protect the banks from erosion and to buffer farm runoff. The activity was funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  (Dave Harp)

With the way our fast-paced world moves these days, it's sometimes hard for each of us to keep our feet on the ground, let alone find time to think about really doing something to help save the Chesapeake Bay or even a local creek or stream.

More than 17 million people and thousands of creeks, streams and rivers make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For decades, the Bay jurisdictions (the six Bay watershed states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and the District of Columbia) and local communities have worked together to improve the health of these waters.

Despite these efforts, too much pollution continues to harm local waterways. When excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reach the Chesapeake, these pollutants cloud the water and create algal blooms that deprive the region's fish and shellfish of oxygen. Impaired waterways impact all of us - our health, our local economies, our recreational opportunities and our local fish and shellfish all suffer.

Our local waterways - your local waterways - get impacted every day by anyone who drives a car, occupies a building, flushes a toilet, or eats food produced in the 64,000 square miles that drain to the Chesapeake Bay.

While it is important to protect the waters that are in our own backyards, it is also important to make sure that our activities do not impair the water quality of downstream communities. By participating in the process and working together, we can make clean water a reality for every community throughout the watershed. One way to start is to "get grounded."

So what does it mean to get grounded? To me it means to find a sense of balance again, to uncover and renew your energy or interest.

When the Chesapeake Bay Program's Executive Council's annual meeting takes place on July 11 in Richmond, VA, its theme is about doing just that. The top-level representatives of the various jurisdictions in the Bay watershed will be encouraging us all to "Get Grounded: From Your Backyard to the Bay" - to "dig in" to the Bay mentally and/or physically or some other way.

Right now, for the Executive Council representatives, getting grounded means being fully focused on implementing their jurisdiction's restoration plans developed in support of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL. These Watershed Implementation Plans, or WIPs, are the specific, local road maps that each jurisdiction will follow between now and 2025 to reduce their nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads to the Bay. In developing these plans, the Bay states, district and hundreds of local governments are assessing what it means to get grounded in the Bay watershed right now.

Much of the focus of implementing these plans is on various "source sectors" - urban/suburban, agriculture, wastewater, septic systems and air deposition to the Bay and its tributaries. But another significant sector is the residents of the watershed because to restore the Bay, we all need to do our part.

On this more personal level, "getting grounded" could involve digging in by gardening and really getting to know, literally, the ground on one's property.

Soil testing kits are relatively inexpensive, available at hardware stores and usually simple to use. Having information on the soil can help in choosing the best, low-maintenance plants for an area; knowing how much, or even if, fertilizer is needed for a lawn or garden; and helping to best make use of runoff with rain barrels or rain gardens.

Getting grounded in one's local area could also mean taking the time to learn about the streams, creeks and rivers in the community or getting to know one's street or yard better.

Runoff is a major player in the health of waterways large and small. Plants reduce runoff and prevent erosion.

Websites like the Bay Program's www.PlantMorePlants.com provide helpful tools and sample plans for beautiful, more Bay-friendly landscapes.

Finally, getting grounded could also mean doing some in-depth exploring of new places this summer in the Bay watershed. From Cooperstown, NY, to southern Virginia, there are many opportunities to get away and experience different climates, habitats and activities - whether one hikes

in the woods, fishes on a stream, sails or cruises on the Bay or just visits a local park.

There's much to discover about the Bay and its diverse regions, and many meaningful ways to go about doing so.

We know that cleaning up our waterways won't happen overnight. We will have to make tough decisions, taking a new look at the way we impact our waters. But by getting grounded, participating in the process and working together, we can make clean water a reality for every community throughout the watershed.

I encourage you to be aware and think about how you impact your local environment... and even perhaps challenge yourself to get creative about reducing your footprint. Get grounded, dig in and learn about the Bay ecosystem - it's beautiful, fascinating and rarely as simple as it seems.

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About Jim Edward

Jim Edward is acting director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Read more articles by Jim Edward

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