A Shenandoah River dam will be removed, many Maryland churchgoers will get water action guides, and invasive purple loosestrife will be ripped up in Delaware, thanks to the latest round of Small Watershed Grants.

The annual grants, awarded by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Program, were announced in September for 93 Bay and river restoration projects throughout the watershed.

The $3 million in grants were awarded to community-based organizations and local governments to create rain gardens that reduce polluted runoff; plant streamside forest buffers that prevent erosion and soak up nutrients; restore underwater grasses that provide critical habitat for Bay dwellers; and undertake a host of other activities beneficial to the Chesapeake.

Altogether, this year’s grants will manage or protect about 4,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat including wetlands, oyster reefs and underwater grasses. Grant recipients will plant more than 35 miles of forest buffers and improve an additional 60 miles of streams that drain into the Bay.

More than 8,000 community volunteers will participate in the projects, while another 85,000 people will get Bay– or watershed-related messages through educational efforts.

“These small grants are making a big difference in promoting citizen-based stewardship and helping to repair degraded watersheds throughout the Chesapeake Bay basin,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who was instrumental in creating the program.

Since Congress created the Small Watershed Grants program five years ago, it has provided $11.3 million to support 350 projects throughout the Bay watershed which, in turn, have been used by recipients to leverage another $27 million in funding sources, according to the Bay Program.

Among the funded projects this year, the Delaware Bay Retriever Club will remove the invasive plant purple loosestrife from the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, while the City of Baltimore will promote the benefits of urban forestry.

A grant to the National Council of Churches will help educate the religious community to increase their participation in restoring and protecting the Chesapeake. It will, among other things, develop a water action guide that will reach 50,000 churchgoers in Maryland.

In Virginia, the Friends of the Occoquan will develop a program to engage the Spanish-speaking community to become stakeholder participants in protecting the Occoquan watershed. The Shenandoah Valley Pure Water 2000 Forum got a grant to help remove a dam on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River at Harrisonburg.

In Pennsylvania, a grant to the borough of Chambersburg will help remove another dam, and a grant to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will help remediate acid mine drainage affecting state game lands in Clinton County.

Proposed projects are reviewed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and selected based on their ability to help meet Bay Program goals set in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.

Most grants are for less than $50,000 and are aimed at stimulating local-level activities. In addition to the regular grants, four “legacy” grants of $100,000 each were awarded to innovative projects that restore habitats, develop locally supported watershed management plans or promote environmentally sensitive development.

The legacy grants went to:

  • The Antietam Watershed Association to develop an outreach campaign for the Mennonite community and to restore riparian buffers within the Antietam watershed. As part of the project, cattle will be fenced from six miles of stream and 50 acres of riparian buffers. Ten acres of wetlands will also be restored or enhanced.
  • The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to support a Builders for the Bay effort to develop a strategy to implement Bay-friendly development practices in the Altoona region of Pennsylvania. Local stakeholders will identify changes to codes and ordinances that would help reduce impervious cover, conserve natural areas and minimize stormwater pollution.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation to launch a riverwide framework to guide future shoreline and estuarine habitat enhancement projects along the South River in Maryland, and to complete a demonstration restoration project. Outreach efforts will ensure that waterfront landowners understand the purpose of the framework and how they can help to implement it.
  • The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust to conduct a forest conservation campaign and a community outreach effort to build support for watershed management planning in the Cacapon and Lost River watersheds of West Virginia. As part of the effort, 1,000 acres will be added to the Hampshire County working forest conservation hub and 500 acres will be added to each of the Hardy and Morgan County working forest conservation hubs.

Funds for the grants come from a variety of agencies, including the EPA’s Bay Program Office, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-Based Restoration Program, the Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining, and the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as from private organizations, including the Altria and the Rauch foundations.