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Working Through the Tide

Local volunteers keep Bay cleanup moving in spite of missed deadline

Spa Creek Conservancy volunteers work with employees of Hyundai of Annapolis and Bates Middle Schoolers planting a rain garden outside the West Street car dealer.

2010 was supposed to be the year we cleaned up the Bay. 

Its nutrient- and sediment-reduction and dissolved-oxygen and underwater grass-improvement goals: all deadlines we missed.

But as 2010 ends, many people are still working for a cleaner Chesapeake.

Here’s a year-end review of what two local grant-winning projects are doing to change the way we do things on dry land — because everything we put on land ends up in the Bay. 

The Spa Creek Conservancy and the Scenic Rivers Land Trust shared $200,000 in this year’s round of Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The two are among 34 projects to receive grants in the Chesapeake’s 64,000-mile watershed stretching across five states and the District of Columbia.

 

Spa Creek Conservancy

The Spa Creek Conservancy has dedicated its $141,648 to capture stormwater runoff at Rich Morton Lincoln Mercury and Hyundai of Annapolis, both part of West Street’s urban drainage into the creek.

On December 9 their work began, as volunteers from the conservancy, Hyundai and Bates Middle School dug and planted rain gardens at the front and back of Hyundai of Annapolis.

Here’s how their digging and planting on a busy street helps save the Bay.

Imagine you’re a raindrop falling onto West Street. Water acts as a solvent, so you pick up anything from car fluids to lawn fertilizers as you travel downhill. On West Street, this downhill trip takes you tumbling down roofs, roads, sidewalks and other hard surfaces. These impervious surfaces stop water from sinking into the filtering layers of soil. In a stream of warm stormwater, you rush into the Bay loaded with nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. 

Spa Creek Conservancy and its partner, the Center for Watershed Protection, imagined how the car dealerships on West Street could be part of the solution rather than the problem. If the huge volumes of stormwater running off these dealerships’ parking lots and roofs could be slowed down — absorbed in soil, especially soil anchored by plants — large volumes of stormwater could be cleaned and cooled before reaching Spa or College creeks. 

Two adjacent dealerships, Hyundai of Annapolis and Rich Morton Lincoln Mercury, are included in the grant. The new rain gardens, stormwater planters and sand filters clean out pollutants in the water flowing off the sites. The gardens will use the natural filtering powers of native plants and shrubs and aim to be beautiful, too. 

With the Annapolis Hyundai work finished, the Rich Morton Lincoln Mercury job is scheduled for spring. 

 

Scenic Rivers Land Trust Preserves the South River Greenway

Scenic Rivers Land Trust looks beyond paved places, working with property owners to protect wild land through easements. Landowners give up the right to further develop a piece of land but retain other private property rights.

“Easements can be the most cost-effective way to preserve land and private property rights,” says the trust’s Rick Leader.

That’s because landowners get significant reductions in property taxes and can earn charitable-gift tax deductions for the value of the easement. Easements protect wild places because the agreement “runs with the land” into perpetuity, even after the property has been sold or inherited.

Protecting forest in the South River Greenway has been a long-term goal for the trust. Through easements and working with Anne Arundel County, 2,500 of the 6,000-acre goal has been secured, including two of the largest undeveloped tracts remaining in the county. 

Much of the Greenway is ecologically valuable forest interior surrounded by other forest. At home in them, 18 locally threatened bird species have been counted, including the brilliant promonthory warbler and scarlet tanager, the euphonic wood thrush, the skylarking ovenbird and the pileated woodpecker, the last large American woodpecker, whose haunting drumming resounds deep into the forest. Lots of reptiles also depend on this kind of habitat, and the forested waterways are historic spawning streams for yellow perch and river herring. This large tract of forest, braided with 100 miles of streams and a patchwork of 800 acres of wetlands, is not only home to millions of animals and plants but also naturally slows and cleans water draining into the river and ultimately into the Bay. 

Scenic Rivers Land Trust has big plans for its $65,858 share of the grant: moving beyond the South River to protect land in other watersheds, especially the West and Rhode rivers. Living up to those plans takes building lasting relationships with landowners, engaging communities in restoration projects in the South River Greenway and monitoring and restoring protected plots. The group will also be part of a stewardship committee to manage Bacon Ridge, a 300-acre property in Crownsville.

“As it is a giant chunk of open space in proximity to an urban area,” Leader says, “this property will be an incredibly significant park project for Anne Arundel County for the next two decades.”

*   *   *

These two projects by themselves — even with 32 more Small Watershed projects — will not save the Bay. But as the EPA launches new large-scale efforts to enforce pollution limits mandated by the Clean Water Act, progress still comes one drop at a time. 

“Every one of us contributes to the river’s decline,” said Bob Lewis of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, another of this year’s funded Bay savers. “We all have to step up. What happens on land, ends up in our river.” 

Find all three dozen Small Watershed projects at www.chesapeakebay.net/smallwatershedgrants.aspx.

College graduate Eric Smith, a summer-time Forest Service worker still seeking full-time work, was a Bay Weekly junior reporter in boyhood.