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Q&A with Watershed Scientist Kathy Boomer

Two years ago, TNC watershed scientist Kathy Boomer was hired to help the Conservancy’s Maryland chapter use science to determine some of the best conservation-management tools. For example, because the Eastern Shore is relatively flat, Kathy uses a scientific tool called LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to look at the topography at a scale so fine that it reveals the slight elevation differences. This allows TNC to predict how water is moving across the landscape and determine the best places to put wetlands that can intercept nutrient and sediment deposits that make water undrinkable.

Kathy was recently appointed to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). STAC provides scientific and technical guidance to the Chesapeake Bay Program on measures to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay. Members with a broad array of scientific backgrounds help identify key information gaps, review technical information, and make recommendations to the Chesapeake Bay Program to improve water resource management across the watershed.

We caught up with Kathy to find out what this new role means for TNC and for conservation in the Chesapeake Bay.

Nature.org:

What will your role be as a member of STAC?

Kathy Boomer:

My background in water quality modeling and wetland biogeochemistry helps fill an open vacancy on the technical committee. Perhaps my strongest asset, however, is a demonstrated ability to synthesize model information across different spatial scales and to ground that information in an applied-management context.

Nature.org:

Why are you excited about this opportunity?

Kathy Boomer:

Our membership presents a number of exciting opportunities for our Chesapeake Bay restoration program. First, we have an opportunity to contribute directly to the science, which guides policymaking and resource management across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Second, it gives us a good opportunity to identify key information gaps and prioritize research needs. Finally, it gives us a great opportunity to build scientific collaborations that will most effectively meet those research needs and help us improve resource management in the future.

Nature.org:

What is your main role as an applied scientist for The Nature Conservancy on the Eastern Shore?

Kathy Boomer:

My role in our Eastern Shore work, and actually all projects, has been to integrate scientific information with our management plans in a way that will help us improve our outcomes. Specifically, I help identify targets (i.e., what we’re trying to accomplish in terms of water quality improvements), evaluate the outcomes of different management alternatives and prioritize those opportunities based on scientific model predictions. I also help develop monitoring plans to evaluate the efficacy of the selected management actions.

Nature.org:

How will the work you’re doing for TNC benefit STAC?

Kathy Boomer:

The information we’re using to evaluate alternative management actions is based on previous work by the Chesapeake Bay program and STAC. By design, we are trying to build directly (and explicitly) on the key information gaps identified by these panels in the past. For example, we estimated the water quality benefits of wetland restoration based on a synthesis of information pulled together by STAC, and our monitoring plans are designed to evaluate those predictions. Similarly, we used the Chesapeake Program Model predictions to evaluate impacts from land use management in the local watersheds and we will measure runoff and water quality to determine if we are adequately identifying nutrient and sediment source “hotspots” across the landscape.

Nature.org:

How does the work you’ll be doing as part of STAC play into TNC’s mission?

Kathy Boomer:

As a member of STAC, we will have a critical link with the Chesapeake Bay watershed scientific community. This will provide an ideal opportunity to help identify and enhance key information needed to shape effective policies aimed at improving water quality throughout the Bay watershed, protecting Bay fisheries, and enhancing ecosystem resilience to both human impacts and climate change. This network also provides a great opportunity to build scientific collaborations that will improve our understanding of how best management practices help us achieve our mission objectives.

Nature.org:

What does this kind of partnership mean for conservation of the Bay?

Kathy Boomer:

TNC has a strong reputation for their objective viewpoint and ability to work with a wide variety of stakeholders, and also for bringing science into a management context. Working with STAC will provide and even stronger opportunity to engage the broader scientific community in our Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

Nature.org:

How does STAC’s work help benefit people living in the Bay?

Kathy Boomer:

Our aim is to reduce what is called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is the maximum amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that can remain in the Bay and still meet state water quality standards that ensure our waterways remain swimmable and fishable. This regulatory framework has already had direct effects on all of us who live in the Bay watershed. For one, all municipalities in the Bay watershed states must implement strategies to reduce non-point source pollution. This will include low-impact farming practices, stormwater retrofits, septic system modifications, all of which will be paid by various fees and taxes (e.g., the Maryland ‘flush’ tax). STAC has and will continue to provide key support to the Chesapeake Bay Program in evaluating the efficacy of land management practices and updating these “pollution diet” numbers.


About the Interviewer
Lindsay Renick-Mayer is an associate director of marketing based in Bethesda, MD.

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