ESSEX — Senator Ben Cardin and other key local and state leaders in conservation efforts joined environmentally-minded students last week in Essex to announce new grant monies from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support statewide environmental efforts.

Local environmental groups such as Gunpowder Valley Conservancy (GVC) as well as large state departments, like the Maryland Department of Agriculture, received portions of a $12.74 million grant from the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, a partnership between the NSFW, the U.S. EPA and various environmental programs.

The grants will generate nearly $21 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $33.5 million.

The intended outcome is that the accomplishments made by organizations that received these grants will help the EPA reach the 2025 goal of having 100% of the pollution reducing practices in place.

Grant recipients were announced at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and School in Essex last Thursday where a 2017 Stewardship Fund grant to the GVC supported installation of stormwater and green infrastructure improvements.

Charlie Conklin, Vice President of Operations at GVC, said he was happy to have the grants announced on church grounds.

“We have been working to partner with more churches and faith based communities. We are trying to paint a bigger picture as to what it means to protect Mother Earth,” Conklin said.

A organization that is helping GVC accomplish that goal of reaching more church groups is Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, which also benefits from the $33.5 million grant.

Jodi Rose, Executive Director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, said people who have strong relationships with their faith and church are often times big supporters of environmental protection and conservancy.

“Faith and environmental conservancy are a perfect intersection for people who are thoughtful, loving and caring,” Rose said.

“What we are finding is that people need the information and awareness raising that the organizations like GVC bring them to connect all these dots. What we bring is that spiritual foundation to take action on a calling.”

Rose said she is thankful for the grants that were given but said the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake need more money to support congregations that want to implement stormwater management practices like Our Lady of Mount Carmel has done with its rain gardens.

“I have about 40 other churches who want to get involved. They usually need grants to support their projects which is why the NFWF grants are so helpful,” Rose said.

“We can see, though, that in the coming years, if we are doing our job right, there will be more willing congregations than there is grant funding. We are currently thinking about ways to innovate how to help congregations use their properties for greater water quality improvements in their communities.”

Despite the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake not having quite enough funding, GVC did receive a hefty $200,000 grant to help with the costs associated with installing 125 rain barrels, 30 rain gardens, 12 micro-bioretention practices, eight Bayscpes, 24 Bay-Wise certifies yards and 30 stream cleanup event. This all results in the the protection and improvement of 24 acres of land.

Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at the event that allowing local conservation groups like GVC to decide how to go about protecting the Bay is exactly what he wants.

“The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund enables local governments to design and implement projects that will work best for their communities.,” Cardin said.

“To keep the health of the Chesapeake Bay on a positive trajectory requires all of us working together through cost-effective projects that protect shorelines and wetlands, control pollution and restore or sustain local fish, wildlife, plants and their habitat.”

Jake Reilly, Program Director for the Chesapeake Bay sector of the NFWF, agreed that it takes many different organizations and people working together to protect the Bay. One group in particular Reilly praised for their conservation efforts were Maryland farmers.

“Maryland farmers are tremendous,” he said. “Maryland farmers are leaders nationally. There is a whole business around bringing farmers from across the country and into Maryland, over to the Eastern Shore to learn about the innovative practices and approaches that our farmers are doing.”

Maryland farmers will be able to expand their conservation efforts even more with the $996,565 grant they received from the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.

This grant will allow the Maryland Department of Agriculture to engage 150 producers through outreach, education and technical assistance in order for them to implement improved conservation tillage, expanded cover crop practices, application of precision nutrient management and increased prescribed grazing practices. The project will also expand Maryland’s Healthy Soils Program.

Joseph Bartenfelder, Maryland State Secretary of Agriculture, said the efforts made by Maryland Farmers are the reasons why they are leaders in the push to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“I never thought there would be a day where I would travel all over the country, sometimes even internationally, to conferences and talk about Maryland being looked at as a model. Maryland farmers are truly at the forefront of what needs to be done nationally,” Bartenfelder said.

Maryland farmers have helped avoid 2.1 million pounds of nitrogen, 4.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 800 million pounds of sediment from entering the Bay. They also helped 790,979 acres of land be placed under BMP’s (best management practices) for nutrient and sediment reduction.

Another group of people that are key players in ensuring a healthy future for the Chesapeake Bay are young students.

Members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Environmental Club attended the grant announcement and said they are grateful for the large grant but said more needs to be done to protect the bay.

“It’s good that more people are paying attention to [the Chesapeake Bay] but more people need to take action instead of just talk about how to save the environment,” Marya Barnava, a student at OLMC said.

“We do projects like planting gardens around the campus and we planted trees behind the school,” Ceanna McGirt, an OLMC student said.

“There’s just so much garbage and pollution around here and it’s just not great for the Earth.”

McGirt is right when she said there is a lot of pollution in the area. According to the U.S. EPA website, “as forests and wetlands have been replaced by farms, cities, and suburbs to accommodate a growing population, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to the Chesapeake Bay has greatly increased.”

The large amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay has caused algae blooms which decrease the amount of oxygen and sunlight available for aquatic life in the water.

However, due to the efforts made by local environmental conservation groups, the NFWF and the EPA to reduce pollution, certain populations of aquatic life are rebounding.

One of the species benefiting and rebounding in numbers is Blue Crabs.

According to the Department of Natural Resources winter dredge survey, the female Blue Crab population has increased from 147 million in 2018 to 191 million in 2019. The goal is to get the female population up to 215 million.

The increase in the blue crab population is just one of many benefits that may arise if the EPA manages to meet the 2025 pollution prevention goal. Until then, people and organizations in Eastern Baltimore County will be putting in the work to do what they can to protect the national treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay.

”The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” Cardin said. ”What we are doing here is showing the nation, showing the world what we can do with a complicated body of water. Our success is because of our partnerships. Keep up the good work and let’s show the world what we can do.”

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