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What's Up Magazine

Eco Saviors to The Rescue

Apr 01, 2018 07:00AM
By Gary Jobson

Cautionary tales of eco-disaster remind us why hands-on local organizations are vital to improving the Chesapeake environment on the front lines.

Tremendous progress has been made during the past 50 years. The Chesapeake Bay is cleaner, the air is less toxic, and garbage is being dealt with in a better way. None of this critical work happens by accident. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was founded 50 years ago to “Save the Bay.” More than 200,000 members support the organization. Long-time President Will Baker told me recently, “CBF is proud of our work to date, but we still have a long way to go before we can declare the Bay is in perfect order.” Last fall, I visited the CBF Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, along with the CBF headquarters at the Philip Merrill Environmental Center on the Bay near the entrance to the South River in Annapolis. Both facilities are Platinum-rated for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). 

Baker explained that the Chesapeake Bay watershed extends to upstate New York, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation works on many science-based initiatives that extend into all watershed states including: agriculture mismanagement, air pollution, chemical contamination, climate change, dead zones in the Bay, natural gas drilling, pollution run off, sewage and septic systems, habitat degrading, shoreline restoration, advocacy, information services, litigation, legislative education, new approaches to clean up, and monitoring the progress of these many projects. In addition, there are many smaller organizations that work on specific areas of the Bay, or specific issues.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. Half of the water of the 64,000 square miles that make up the Chesapeake Bay comes from the ocean and the other
half is fed by 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers, along with rain runoff, that stretch 524 miles from Cooperstown, New York, to Norfolk, Virginia. It is a massive watershed that has been
abused for centuries. As mentioned, however, the Bay is cleaner today than it was 40 years ago. 

I am sensitive to clean water. I grew up in Toms River, New Jersey. In 1953, a Swiss chemical company, Ciba Geigy, moved to town. They operated a chemical dye plant on 1,500 acres of land about 12 miles from the ocean. Ciba’s method of disposing its toxic waste was to release it into the head waters of the Toms River, or bury the waste in metal barrels in the sand on its property. Eventually the barrels leaked and the river, and Barnegat Bay, became polluted. In fact, the river was closed to swimming. Of course, we kept sailing. Ciba’s answer was to build a pipe and send the sewage out to sea. The concept was to disperse the polluted matter into the ocean. It was a great idea until the pipe broke in a school yard. The resulting number of cancers among children was alarming. In fact, more than 100 of my high school classmates have died from cancer. I, too, had a long battle with Lymphoma. While it might be difficult to prove, I am convinced that Ciba Geigy’s irresponsible manufacturing was the cause of my cancer. The area was condemned as a
Super Fund site, and it took billions of dollars to clean it up. Today the 1,500 acres sits as a tragic waste land.
Based on that horror story, here is my lecture. On a hot day over the summer I took a stroll through downtown Annapolis. To my horror, I passed several parked vehicles with people sitting in their cars with the engine running. I am sure they enjoyed the air conditioning inside the car, but the intense heat on the outside was staggering. The pollution from the exhaust coming from those cars adds carbon to the atmosphere and makes it harder for everyone to breath. It is no wonder we are facing a catastrophe if we don’t address climate change. I have made three trips to Antarctica over the past 20 years. During each trip I found the ice to be receding. Warming temperatures are having a dramatic effect on the frozen region. Amazingly, two thirds of the world’s fresh water are trapped as ice on the continent. Last summer when the Larsen C ice shelf broke off, it was a dire warning that global warming is going to affect our sea levels. This is a major problem in Annapolis and many other waterfront towns that dot the Chesapeake Bay. One can witness bad environmental behavior every day. There are many examples of pollution that can be easily fixed. Every flick of a cigarette or leaves blown into the street and not collected adds to our pollution. Simply picking up garbage is a good start. Next time you go for a walk, pick up 10 pieces of garbage. It feels good, and sets a positive example. Education is essential if we are to make progress. 

Anne Arundel County Public Schools
runs an Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Office to integrate environmental learning for all grade levels. The program provides instruction to more than 25,000 students and 8,000 adults each year. The South River Federation has a long-stated mission to protect, preserve, restore, and celebrate the South River and its interdependent living community. The organization monitors water quality, rain garden installation, large scale stream restoration, and one-on-one land owner education. I am heartened by the work of the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which teach environmental curriculum with hands-on activities. 

The Anne Arundel Watershed Stewards Academy runs a series of educational courses for people interested in ensuring clean waters. More than 160 people lead communities to take action for cleaner water. Thousands of citizens are now engaged in the program. Arlington Echo, based in Millersville, works with students of all ages, through hands-on experiences to improve the environment. A few of the projects include: water bottle filling stations, solar panels, rain barrels, waste watchers, recycling, composting, native plantings, rainwater collection and redistribution, and advocating for pervious concrete that acts as a filter. 

For the past 10 years, Lynne Forsman and Elvia Thompson have run a program called Annapolis Green. With unbridled enthusiasm and friendly persistence, these women have worked tirelessly to, in their words, “Make Annapolis the greenest city in Maryland—a place where sustainability is a way of life and a source of pride.” Annapolis Green works with waterside, sailing, and paddling events to host “Clean Regattas.” Forsman reports, “Last year we assisted over 25 events. We use the Red, Right, Recycle for waterside or in-the-water events. We call our overall program Responsible Events & Festivals. We have had the privilege to work the Eastport Yacht Club and its Green Team and with the Annapolis Yacht Club when it hosted a Major Optimist Dinghy Championship for sailors of eight to15 years of age.” These are exactly the type of programs that will make a significant difference in the years ahead. Once one person helps, others soon follow.”

A critical driver for all of these programs is funding. The Maryland General Assembly created the Chesapeake Bay Trust in 1985. The CB Trust issues grants to environmental groups and programs across the state. During fiscal year 2016, $11.4 million was distributed across the state in grants to 495 groups ranging from $700 to Olde Severna Park to $377,000 to the South River Federation. A total of $2.3 million was issued in Anne Arundel County. The centerpiece of the CB Trust funding model is the Treasure the Chesapeake license plate. In the 2016 fiscal year, this amounted to $3.6 million in revenue for CB Trust. In addition to the $20 license plates, the CB Trust has a checkoff/donation line on the Maryland State income tax form, direct donation and fund-raising events, and partnerships with a variety of corporations, federal, state, and county agencies, and private foundations. 

Plant a tree • Install a rain barrel • Volunteer for a local watershed organization • Teach the next generation •  Plant a rain garden and water absorbing plants around your home • Conserve water • Recycle, reuse, and consume less • Reduce or eliminate fertilizer on lawns and gardens • Pick up trash, recycle, and compost.

Last year, I was invited to join the CB Trust Board of Trustees by, then Chairman, Terence Smith and Executive Director, Dr. Jana Davis. Smith had a long career as a national correspondent for CBS News. Davis is a marine ecologist and coordinates the intersection of science, policy, and management. Her undergraduate degree was earned at Yale University and her Ph.D. from Scipps Institute of Oceanography. She explained some of the CB Trust’s impact. “The goal is to provide funding for not-for-profit organizations. We want to get kids outside and volunteers to get their hands dirty planting trees. It is important to encourage community members to get engaged with their environment. We know we can get a clean Bay and clean our rivers. We all want to be able to safely fish and swim in the South River, the Magothy, and even in Baltimore Harbor one day. We want our grantees to work on their own properties.” Dr. Davis gave me a list of things anyone can do to help our environment.

It is heartening to know that these groups are working to make our world a better place. There are many other groups in our state dedicated to improving the environment. Individual and public financial support is vital. When planning your giving this year, consider an environmental group for a donation. The good news is you will be helping you and your family live in a cleaner region.

For More Information…

Arlington Echo -

Annapolis Green -

Annapolis Maritime Museum -

Back Creek Conservancy -

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum -

Chesapeake Bay Trust -

Chesapeake Bay Foundation -

Magothy River Association -

Master Watershed Stewards Academy -

Severn River Association -

Shore Rivers -

South River Federation -

Spa Creek Conservancy -

West & Rhode Riverkeeper -