Protecting natural resources in the Bay watershed requires more than just federal and state initiatives; it requires local involvement as well.

That view has become clear as the Bay cleanup effort has moved "upstream" in the development of tributary strategies aimed at reducing the amount of pollution reaching the Bay from the major rivers in the watershed. Much of that pollution is closely tied to land use - an area where local governments and individuals have more impact than state and federal agencies.

"There is no denying it, our decisions on how many trees to fell for highways, or how many wetlands we fill for development, or how many farms we replace with shopping malls, directly affect the quality of the Bay's waters and the future of the Bay's resources," said Ann Pesiri Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the Bay states.

"Without this acceptance, and a proactive approach to sound planning at the local level, we will continue to witness the piecemeal destruction of the Bay." Swanson, told the audience at the recent Bay Program conference, "A Quality Landscape."

Many local governments and citizen groups are already at work to meet that challenge. Swanson's remarks came at a special awards ceremony to commend those who have recognized the connection between land and water and responded with innovative projects.

1995 Awards For Community Innovation

The Bay Program's Local Government Advisory Committee annually honors seven local governments or community organizations that have demonstrated innovative techniques for protecting and restoring the Bay, its tributaries and surrounding watershed. This year's awards went to:

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, D.C for its Small Habitat Improvement Program in the Anacostia watershed.

The Small Habitat Improvement Program (SHIP) was established in 1990 as a pilot program to package small-scale environmental projects for citizens and volunteers. Goals of SHIP are: restoration of the Anacostia watershed's stream systems, education of citizens and reclamation of streams for local neighborhoods. Working with federal and local government agencies, citizens groups, schools and non-profits, SHIP was implemented in the Watts Branch subwatershed. Results of this nine-month project include:

  • environmental education materials distributed to residents of the watershed;

  • 1,000 storm drains stenciled;

  • removal of trash from streets and stream system;
  • tree plantings that reestablished two miles of riparian buffer.

Baltimore County, Md. for its Riparian Buffer Regulations.

Baltimore County's efforts to protect streams and forests began in the 1980s with an initiative to broaden riparian buffer measures. In 1991, the regulations were codified for the protection of water quality, streams, wetlands and floodplains. The regulations intend to protect riparian areas and encourage growth of existing vegetation. The areas are protected when development is completed through the delineation of buffer areas on record plats and the recording of standard no-disturbance restrictive covenants. The county is tracing the effectiveness of the stream buffer regulation on a database that will report its progress to the public, resource managers and developers.

Howard County, Md. for its Rural Clustering and Density Exchange Option Programs.

Howard County's General Plan was amended in 1990 to include an integrated package of new land use and growth management policies. A key component was the idea of clustering new developments to preserve agricultural land and sensitive environmental resources. Three rural cluster districts were established: Rural Conservation, Rural Residential and Density Exchange Option. The application of these three zoning districts concentrates development on the least environmentally sensitive locations.

Chester County, Pa. for its Landscapes Public Awareness Program.

As part of its efforts to establish a new Comprehensive Policy Plan, Chester County conducted a major public awareness campaign to solicit residents for responses to development questions. A newspaper insert illustrated the effects of sprawl and offered options for future development patterns. Results of the survey indicated that the public was overwhelminingly in favor of changing the current land use pattern of sprawling development. Municipal officials and local planners were also asked to respond to the survey, and their results were consistent with that of the public.

Lancaster County, Pa. for the Donegal Creek Watershed Restoration.

The Lancaster County Conservation District and the Donegal Fish and Conservation Association have formed a cooperative partnership with the purpose of restoring Donegal Creek, a limestone trout stream located in the northwest corner of Lancaster County. The target areas consist of 6.67 miles of impacted stream corridor. Four landowners in the Donegal Springs area are involved in the project and have installed stream bank fencing, stone ford cattle crossings, forest buffer strips, streambank stabliization, or fish enhancement structures. The remaining 19 land owners in the corridor have expressed an interest in implementing these corrective improvements. The partnership provides a thorough explanation to the landowners of the "Riparian Corridor Management" approach to correcting the agriculture-related impacts on the area.

Loudoun County, Va. for its Rural Village Community Design Guidelines.

Loudoun County wanted to develop rural villages at a scale that would continue the county's traditional rural land use pattern and promote the concept of villages. Their creation is intended to provide physical, social and economic centers. According to the guidelines, the villages are a minimum of 300 acres, with no less than 80 percent of the gross land area subject to a permanent open space easement and no more than 20 percent constituting the village center. Key to the village system is the requirement that the village center be served by communal water supply and wastewater systems.

Northampton, Va. for its Coastal Program Special Area Management Plan for Sustainable Development.

Northampton County received a grant in 1991 to create enforceable policies to protect coastal habitat and promote sustainable growth. The Sustainable Development Action Strategy was initiated with the grant. The strategy targets six sustainable development industries for promotion and links each of them with asset protection policies. The county received the National Association of Counties' Presidential Leadership Award for the strategy and was chosen as a site for a President's Council on Sustainable Development Eco-Industrial Park.

Land, Growth and Stewardship Subcommittee Awards

The Bay Program's Land Growth and Stewardship Subcommittee recognized five nongovernmental groups in the watershed as outstanding examples of land stewardship. The groups honored were:

The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, with just 30 trustees and more than 385 members was able to preserve more than 12,000 acres of farmland and natural areas in just five years. Using tools such as conservation easements, Maryland's Farmland Preservation Program and transferable development rights programs, the conservancy works directly with landowners, raising their awareness and harnessing their willingness to fend off sprawl before it occurs.

The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, for their joint effort on the watershed of Sideling Hill Creek, a tributary to the Potomac River. Their whole watershed approach has shown great promise for protecting other rivers in the Bay watershed.

The project began several years ago when the Maryland group launched a $10 million program, Campaign for the Chesapeake Rivers, to protect four of the finest remaining natural tributary streams to the Bay - the Nanticoke River, Nassawango Creek, Namjemoy Creek and Sideling Hill Creek. The headwaters of Sideling Hill Creek are in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania, where more than a dozen rare plants and a myriad of more common plants and animals can be found.

When both organizations realized that their primary tool, land acquisition, would not go far enough, they broadened their scope to include cooperative efforts with agriculture, forestry, Boy Scouts, the National Guard and development interests to identify mutually beneficial approaches to conservation.

The Lancaster County Planning Commission, for the way it tackled growth management in one of Pennsylvania's fastest growing regions.

As part of its effort to develop a comprehensive plan for the county, the commission worked with community leaders, agricultural interests and landowners to create "urban growth boundaries." Centered on a borough or the city of Lancaster, the boundaries are based on target population projections for the year 2010, with their resultant land use needs; existing and planned public facilities; and land capabilities and constraints.

By using a series of newsletters, meetings, background reports and work sessions, the commission kept the process visible and accessible in its effort to build consensus within the community.

The Upper Susquehanna Coalition, for its two-state approach to restoring the Upper Susquehanna watershed. The coalition began in Bradford County, Pa. in 1987. Recognizing that 23.3 percent of the Susquehanna watershed is in New York, the Bradford County Soil Conservation District proposed the creation of a coalition of three northern Pennsylvania and 10 New York counties to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve water quality for the region.

This coalition of grassroots interests includes local agencies, organizations and county governments. It has developed a strategic plan to protect the basin, including tackling nonpoint source pollution. In 1994, they organized a conference, "Susquehanna Neighbors: Exploring New Connections," which drew wide participation from both states.