In November, Transource Energy and partners planted 300 trees in Franklin County.
By Abby Foster
Photos By Sean Simmers
Armed with shovels and seedlings, federal and state workers have joined non-profits, businesses and the local community to work toward a shared goal: restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
In November, these partners worked shoulder-to-shoulder planting more than 300 seedlings to install a riparian buffer along the West Branch Conococheague Creek in Franklin County.
“Water quality and conservation are important to this community, and we share that priority,” said Todd Burns, director at Transource Energy, which funded the planting. “The trees we’re planting today are important because they will protect the stream from pollutants and runoff.”
Protecting the bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world. Estuaries are formed when fresh water meets salt water, creating a protected and safe habitat for nesting and breeding. The Chesapeake Bay is a critical life source for more than 3,600 species of plant and animal life, from bald eagles and blue crabs to striped bass and red fox.
This critical ecosystem and the tidal portion of its tributaries are listed as impaired waters under the Clean Water Act.
In Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River provides approximately 50 percent of the water that reaches the bay. The state’s 86,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks account for 35 percent of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
So when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the six Bay partner states and the District of Columbia, established a cleanup plan to reduce pollution and restore clean water to the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed by 2025, Pennsylvania faced a daunting task — one that requires support and collaboration from a diverse group of stakeholders.
In November, Dana Aunkst, director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office, donned boots and gloves to shovel alongside volunteers.
“This is one of those opportunities where the EPA gets to participate in the field for an activity that will have a lasting and real benefit to the local watershed,” Aunkst said. “This isn’t just about the bay. Clean water is important to all of us.”
Aunkst noted that:
• More than 50,000 Pennsylvania farms that are within the watershed need access to clean water to maintain healthy herds and soil, and supply irrigation systems.
• Water is an important part of many manufacturing processes.
• Much of the water consumed by the public is sourced from surface water.
• Tourism is a significant economic driver for Pennsylvania and trout fishing, kayaking and activities that involve wildlife all rely on waterways.
“In 2017, 42 percent of the bay and its tidal tributaries were meeting water quality standards. That’s the highest it’s been since we started measuring 30 years prior,” Aunkst said. “We have a ways to go, but we’re on the right track putting in place practices to reduce pollution like the riparian buffers we’re installing here today.”
Solutions in action
Riparian buffers are composed of trees, shrubs and perennial plants that reduce runoff by preventing pollution from entering waterways.
Tree roots stabilize stream banks and filter sediment from stormwater runoff, slowing the movement and allowing the sediment to settle, effectively preventing erosion. The trees provide shade to maintain cool water — ideal for the health of ecosystems, including the bugs that help filter the water.
They are a cost-effective solution and continue to top the list of best management practices.
“They’re not just a best management practice; they’re my favorite management practice,” said Marlin Graham, riparian forest buffer technician with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
The Pennsylvania DCNR has a goal of planting 95,000 acres of forest buffers within the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2025, often making Graham’s office streamside.
High-priority sites where plantings will have the most impact on reducing runoff are identified through the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office, PA DCNR and groups such as the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Trout Unlimited and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“We can absolutely help you get funding to install a riparian buffer on streamside properties in the watershed,” said Ryan Davis, Chesapeake forests program manager for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “And groups like ours will help facilitate and even show up with volunteers to plant them.”
Davis noted that, while the majority of his work involves reforestation, the Alliance also works with farmers to improve conservation practices on their properties.
“Riparian buffers are one solution for agriculture. We also help with manure storage and management, fencing and pasture management,” Davis said. “We’ve been able to help a lot of farmers in the last couple of years to do what they already want and need to do but maybe didn’t have enough resources.”
A unique partnership
“We had thousands of volunteers over 2019,” Davis said. “Lately, we’re really getting a lot done – partly because there are a lot of really great partners around that want to help and work with us.”
Aunkst lauded the value of these unique partnerships. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office has been working with a diverse group to develop the most effective solutions and identify funding to see them through.
“The partnership is unique because it’s not just government or nonprofits. There is absolutely a seat at the table for everyone, including the business community,” Aunkst said.
Businesses throughout the region are working alongside the community to meet conservation goals.
• In 2018, Transource Energy donated $25,000 to support local watershed conservation efforts and committed to supporting initiatives as those funds are applied through volunteerism. Since then, Transource has planted 900 trees in south-central Pennsylvania in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, York County Parks and Recreation and local Trout Unlimited organizations.
• Turkey Hill recently announced its Clean Water Partnership, an effort coordinated through the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. This program will provide incentives for local dairy farmers to implement conservation plans on their properties.
• PPL Electric Utilities began a Community Roots program in 2017 and has since given away 39,900 trees to environmentally focused nonprofits, municipalities and schools.
All of Pennsylvania relies on clean water, so it is fitting that government agencies, nonprofits, private businesses and local communities are working together, growing Pennsylvania’s #TeamTrees to restore and protect our watershed for years to come.
As Graham put it: “What’s the old Chinese proverb? Twenty years ago is the best day to plant a tree, and the second-best day is today.”
Visit www.TransourceTeamTrees.com to view a video of this story.
To learn more about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and how to get involved with local conservation efforts, visit:
• Chesapeake Bay Program: www.chesapeakebay.net
• Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay: www.allianceforthebay.org
• Keystone 10 Million Trees: www.tenmilliontrees.org