The voice of the MRC carries across the Shore
Special from the Star Democrat
— The voice of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy can be heard from Annapolis to the farmer’s field, echoing throughout Delmarva the call for clean waters and improved Bay health.
MRC has been working for the health of Chesapeake Bay tributaries for eight years, and are licensed by the Waterkeeper Alliance — a network of over 180 bay, river and lake programs throughout the U.S. The MRC has built a team dedicated to outreach, advocacy and education about the importance of the Bay region waters.
The riverkeepers, along with the help of volunteers, monitor water quality in the Miles, the Choptank and the Wye rivers, as well as the Eastern Bay, and all of their tributaries. This data is compiled and annually presented to the public in the organization’s annual State of the Rivers report card. This year’s event took place on April 29, and data analysis showed continuing improvement.
“We’re here to help people find solutions,” said Tim Junkin, the founder of MRC. Junkin, an attorney for over 30 years, established the conservancy in 2008 and served as its director until the installment of Jeffrey Horstman, the current executive director and the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper.
The Conservancy has found significant success with denitrifying woodchip bioreactors for farm runoff filtration. MRC was the first to bring this technology to Maryland, after staff scientists researched its use in the Midwest. Several of these bioreactors have been installed on local farms to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farm fields before reaching the Bay. They are efficient, removing up to 90 percent of pollutants and are a relatively inexpensive solution for landowners, said Junkin.
“The woodchips act like a super intense forest,” Junkin said, adding that they soak up the excess nitrogen and phosphorous before it reaches the waterways.
Currently, there are denitri-
Installing the bioreactor at Starkey Farm.
fying woodchip bioreactors installed at Dean Voorhees Farm and at the Brennan Starkey Farm, both in Caroline County.
With these new technologies, programs, personnel and initiatives, MRC still works towards the same mission since its inception — to advocate for the health of the rivers and the living resources they support.
MRC focuses on three major areas to accomplish this mission: education, outreach and advocacy.
EDUCATION With recent changes to high school graduation requirements to include an environmental literacy component, MRC has stepped up to the plate to offer ecological education classes.
In this program, local high school students have found the classroom in nature, not only learning the science, but actually participating in hands-on activities that restore the Chesapeake Bay area. To date, students involved in the program have helped to create stream buffers by planting trees — a remarkable 15,000 trees in the Mid-Shore area, said Junkin.
Younger children can also learn about Bay health and protecting the water and land from litter and pollution in MRC’s Waste in Our Waterways program, specifically focused on helping the younger generation understand the importance of good land
“We need to create appreciation and care to teach good stewardship to the next generation,” said Junkin.
Additionally, MRC works with at-risk youth and those with developmental disabilities in a new educational initiative. Nurture By Nature works in partnership with Channel Marker Inc. to bring students out into nature.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, “The Great Outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments,” by David Pearson and Tony Craig, “Proximity to greenspace has been associated with lower levels of stress, reduced symptomology for depression and anxiety, while interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and individuals with depression.” (Read the full article at www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov.) In this vein, MRC has brought the classroom to nature, rather than simply the knowledge to the classroom.
OUTREACH Raising awareness with the community is a primary concern for MRC. Their water quality monitoring program involves 50 volunteers who collect data at more than 100 different locations.
This monitoring also allows the team to identify hot spots — areas that have abnormally high levels of pollutants — and determine the cause and source, as well as a solution that’s beneficial for the community, towns, landowners, and the health of the Bay.
“By going out and providing solutions, we can do it all,” Junkin said. This year’s report shows improvement in all of the 16 primary locations except Crab Alley Bay at Kent Island, a testament to the fact that efforts by nonprofit organizations like MRC, communities and concerned residents are making a difference.
The MRC also provides community programs for making smart green choices and raising awareness about individual responsibility. Homeowners can learn about reducing fertilizer use, and boaters can take advantage of the MRC’s new pumpout boat, which can go out to boats and offer sewage disposal, reducing bacteria levels in high recreational boating areas from dumped waste.
They also work with landowners to conduct wetland restoration projects. At the historic Kudner Farm in Queen Anne’s County, 1.65 acres of farmland was restored to its natural wetland state, with an additional 2.4acre area constructed to increase the capacity. These wetlands will intercept the ground and surface water runoff from the field and will serve as sedimentation basins.
The Hope House, another historic property, located in Talbot County, also underwent a recent wetland restoration project. The MRC constructed earthen berms and three vernal pools to obstruct and treat runoff from 30 acres of adjacent farm fields. The area was seeded with native vegetation.
ADVOCACY MRC’s reach extends to Annapolis where their knowledgeable staff has been representative of Eastern Shore concerns during legislation on Bay region regulations. Recently, Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper, was key in the creation of a new regulation for science-based assessments of oyster populations. Pluta’s testimony, along with advocation on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, resulted in the regulation being passed overwhelmingly in April of this year, said Junkin.
The MRC advocates for laws that protect and improve waterways, and work with the government during legislative sessions to provide scientific data to support legal measures to improve the health of the Bay and its tributaries, such as the lawn fertilizer reform law and a ban on arsenic in chicken feed.
VOLUNTEER The Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is always looking for help working towards the health of the Bay and its tributaries. For more information on volunteering or any of the MRC’s programs, go to www.mid shoreriverkeeper.org.
To learn more about the pumpout boat service, or to schedule a one-time or recurring service, call 410-8294352. The pumpout boat will run from May 13 to October 16, 2016.
From left to right are Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy Executive Director Jeff Horstman; Donna Morrow, division manager, Boating Services Unit at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources; and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum President Kristen Greenaway aboard the Eastern Shore’s first pump out boat, which will give boaters on the Miles and Wye rivers a way to dispose of sewage.
The denitrifying bioreactor project at Starkey Farm.