It also means keeping a close eye on what goes into our waterways. Reducing runoff - both from agricultural and urban stormwater sources - is one of the best ways to keep water quality high.
Agricultural runoff is a concern when it comes to water quality - both because of chemicals and nutrients added to the land, and because of how agriculture can disturb natural habitats. In early 2015, we launched a new partnership focused on improving water quality and habitat across the Delmarva region, which is key to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Our unique coalition, which we are co-leading with the Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association, brings together 30 partners - conservation organizations, industry, government agencies, and scientific institutions - to identify and promote conservation practices that make business sense for Eastern Shore farmers who improve wildlife habitat and help clean our water. In January 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will invest $5 million to help support the partnership
- The Nature Conservancy is working with Delmarva Poultry and others to switch the bedding in poultry houses to switchgrass. Switchgrass is a mature grass that doesn’t require fertilizers, is perennial, and stores nutrients in roots that can grow to be four feet deep. Establishing a local source of switchgrass would be good for farmers and for the environment.
- Scientists are studying the way water flows over farmland. The goal is to help farmers build effective forest buffers, help maintain flood plains, and restore wetlands wherever possible.
- The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers to find ways to preserve conservation benefits while not hurting farmers’ bottom line.
We’re also seeking innovative financial methods to deal with stormwater in Washington, DC and other Chesapeake Bay cities. Older water systems like DC’s have a combined sewage overflow problem. Usually combined sewer systems transport all of their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged to a water body. But in times when there is too much rain, stormwater and sewage combine and flow right into the river, untreated.
One way we can prevent these waters from combining is making sure that stormwater is absorbed into the ground, rather than running off into the sewer. Doing so requires converting concrete surfaces to grass and other absorbent surfaces. So we’re looking for creative ways to work with both the government and private entities to convert paved areas to absorbent areas in a way that is cost-effective.
Maintaining healthy forests, which naturally filter out sediment and nutrients, is another effective method of keeping water quality high.
Although oyster reefs don’t filter the water we drink, they protect the land from storms and filter our water in a way that can reduce the amount of pollution in it. (An oyster can filter almost 50 gallons of water a day when filtering for food). But they’re also among the most endangered reefs on the planet. The Nature Conservancy is helping work toward restoring oyster reefs in 20 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025, starting with Harris Creek on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At 370 acres, it’s the largest oyster restoration project on the Eastern Shore—larger than the National Mall. We put baby oysters (spat) into oyster shells to return to an artificial reef.
The Nature Conservancy is working on all these fronts to protect water quality in Maryland and the District.