MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — “I have personal experience on how West Virginia is leading with the Chesapeake Bay because we are doing it voluntarily,” said Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia commissioner of agriculture, at the annual Eastern Panhandle Watershed Group Meeting on May 23. “We are not going out with a heavy hand to force people to do things. We want to educate people to what we need to do and why it is important. We educate before we regulate and there is far less cheating because people are doing things because they want to do it not because we use a heavy hand.”

The meeting was held at the Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and brought together 17 non-profit watershed and governmental organizations to share their knowledge and experiences of what they are doing in their communities.

“This meeting is very important,” Leonhardt said. “We seek partnerships like this with the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and Rivers coalitions. Having meetings like this helps you all teach each other. We want to make sure everyone is learning from each other so we don’t repeat the same mistakes and improve our water quality and soils in the state of West Virginia.”

The Eastern Panhandle Watershed Group Meeting is an annual event that brings together local non-profit watershed groups, agencies and other organizations involved in improving water quality.

“We are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed so a lot of our efforts focus on cleaning up the Bay itself but a lot of our efforts also help clean up our own communities and our water quality, so we are all connected,” said Kristen Bisom, conservation specialist with the West Virginia Conservation Agency.

Each organization gave a presentation of their activities, and as all the groups are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, their efforts focused both locally and regionally. Many of the groups, including Richard Kidwell of the Blue Heron Environmental Network, expressed a need for new younger active members. The South Branch Science Consortium offered teacher training on watershed systems, while the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board has 54 conservation easements totaling 5,185 acres with 32 current applicants. The Sleepy Creek Watershed Association is actively doing riparian buffer plantings and stream bank restorations. The Interstate Commission of the Potomac River Basin was offering free waterproof maps.

“I am one of those people who love farms,” said Nancy Lutz, chairman of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District. “It is not the farmers who are causing the problems. We need to educate ‘Harry Homeowner’ and get the pollutions coming from the homeowner’s pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides out of our water system and soils to make West Virginia better.”

Alana Hartman of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection presented updates on the Watershed Implementation Plan.

“This is for the eight-county region that is in the Chesapeake Watershed,” she said. “We went with the phase two goals for phosphorus and nitrogen reductions which are greater than what was required. We did this in case there were more stringent rules later on. The key Best Management Practices are livestock exclusion, forest buffers and moving manure out of the target watershed, and storm water BMP requirements on new land.”

There have also been conservation efforts for forest and agricultural land.

“Goals are good but unless you have some data to back that up how do you know you are getting there,” said Doug Chambers, U.S. Geological Survey VA-WV Water Science Center. “The non-tidal monitoring program is a coordinated effort of 115 sites across the Chesapeake Bay watershed to monitor ecological health, habitats and fisheries. The big causes are excess concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. We can monitor water quality conditions and note long term trends in the data which will measure progress toward the stated goals.”

Bill Howard, of the Downstream Project and Chesapeake Commons, presented online monitoring tools Field Doc and Water Reporter to monitor watershed activities.

“Foundations and governments are using Field Doc to track their impact of their restoration investments as many of the grants in Maryland are required to use it,” Howard said. “The grantees will enter the information about their best management practice and describe the location. A library of BMPs is available and the software is using the Maryland state standard for the algorithms to calculate the nutrient reductions.”

“Water Reporter has an imbedded map, a data collection side, and an anecdotal side,” Howard continued. “You can use a phone to take a picture, upload it and those become geo-coded posts embedded in your map. This is actively involved in documenting your information.” The two apps are available for both Android and Apple phones.

Workshops finished up the meeting to assist the non-profits in alternate funding sources as well as grant writing.

“The hardest part in grant writing is determining how to target whether you are eligible for the grant and then to make sure you align with the grant,” said David Lillard of the Downstream Project. “Unlock your imagination to align with what the foundations are looking for. Focus on outcomes that can be measured. Sometimes it is harder to quantify water quality or other issues but it needs to be quantified.”

Lillard suggested using the Shepherd University Library as a resource to help find sources of funding that your organization might be eligible for.

“Cooperation between government and private agencies is such a good thing,” said Leonhardt. “We are going to continue to promote agriculture, food safety and food security with the environment in mind. We all survive on that 6 inches of top soil with clean water mixed in.”

Rick Hemphill is a freelance writer covering western Maryland and northern Virginia.

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