The Bay Cleanup's Model Citizens
Cleaning Up Stormwater Pollution One Town at a Time
Citizen stewards of local water quality help the Bay
A streambed meanders through tangled woods. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham
A streambed meanders through tangled woods behind St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Annapolis. Citizen stewards have taken on the challenges of restoring this stream's pollution- filtering function using a variety of "green" solutions that soak up and clean polluted stormwater before it reaches Back Creek behind the church and the Chesapeake Bay beyond. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham

IN 2013, BETSY LOVE AND ALICE HALL — two parishioners at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Eastport, Annapolis — got an idea. In back of the church was an overgrown wooded area so tangled with invasive vines that tree trunks and boughs were deformed and twisted from struggling to reach for a taste of sunlight.

Love and Hall wanted to cut a nature trail through the 2.5-acre parcel. "So we marched into the woods to blaze a trail and it was an amazing mass of jungle," Love says. "You could not even chop through it with a machete."

But Love, already an active member of the Severn River Association, soon had a much more ambitious rescue plan for the Eastport jungle. Her church should transform the property into a showcase of green stormwater management. It was an idea whose time had come. In 2014, the federal-state Bay Agreement that guides the ongoing Chesapeake Bay cleanup included for the first time this explicit goal: to "increase the number of trained and equipped citizen leaders."

St. Luke's was in the right place to help clean up the Bay: Back Creek, behind the church, feeds the Severn, and the Severn empties into the Bay.

A retired non-profit manager, Love did not feel equipped to pull off a major watershed restoration at St. Luke's. Fortunately, her Crownsville home lies in Anne Arundel County, birthplace of a training program called the Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA). Love joined the program, which offered her a chance to gain essential technical knowledge and contacts with stormwater management professionals and potential funders.

The restoration project at St. Luke's, now budgeted at $1.2 million, is the largest ever led by a WSA graduate. Slated for completion in 2017, the project will remove pollutants from local stormwater that could otherwise reach the Bay. It's the kind of grass-roots project that could, if repeated in enough communities, keep the Bay healthy in decades to come.

"I think everyone is going to be very pleased by what this is going to be," Love says, "[in] this little piece of paradise."

Watershed Restoration 101

The Watershed Stewards Academy that first trained Love sprouted in 2008 at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, Maryland. "There weren't any resources in county government to provide technical assistance and leadership needed to move ideas from intention to action," says Suzanne Etgen, one of the founders of the academy and presently its executive director.

The Anne Arundel WSA accepted its first 32 trainees in spring 2009. For more than a year, WSA participants attend a weekly comprehensive boot camp on watershed restoration. Their classes and field trips culminate with community-based capstone projects.

The program has also provided the model for academies in other counties. Amanda Rockler, a Maryland Sea Grant Extension watershed restoration specialist, helped make that happen. Rockler works with local governments, community groups, and citizens in Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery Counties to help improve water quality locally and ultimately in Chesapeake Bay.

Working with Etgen, she helped develop resources and guidelines enabling the new academies to follow Anne Arundel's core curriculum while customizing their training to local watershed issues. Some of the trainees attended that inaugural Anne Arundel's academy with the goal of spreading the gospel of watershed protection in and around the District of Columbia. Today, WSAs are thriving in the National Capital Region, covering Washington as well as Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland. There are also WSA's in Cecil, Howard, and St. Mary's Counties.

A Citizen Steps Up
Master Watershed Steward Betsy Love. Photograph, Daniel Pendick
Master Watershed Steward Betsy Love has led an effort to install sustainable stormwater management features on five acres of land behind St. Luke's Episcopal Church. The improvements will help to clean stormwater that flows onto the church's property from 28 acres of the surrounding, densely developed Annapolis neighborhood of Eastport. Photograph, Daniel Pendick

Betsy Love graduated in 2014 from Anne Arundel's WSA, but the germ of the restoration at St. Luke's came to her a year earlier as she walked around the property. Behind the church woods she discovered a 42-inch-wide municipal stormwater pipe draining into Back Creek, and something in the lay of the land stood out to her. "There was a sort of valley running down the slope of the property leading to the outfall," Love recalls. "The topography seemed to show an old stream bed."

She was right: a 1944 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map confirmed that a stream had once meandered from St. Luke's backyard to Back Creek. A municipal stormwater pipe beneath the south edge of the St. Luke's property had essentially replaced that stream.

Love thought the stream should be restored using a technology called a regenerative stormwater conveyance. A restored stream would remove nutrients and sediments through a series of pools that trap sediment and allow natural processes to break down nutrients.

The 1,000-foot-long restored stream Betsy dreamed of would flow through St. Luke's property, cascading into a small wetland on the St. Luke's property and onward to a restored tidal marsh and 270 feet of living shoreline at the former outfall of the stormwater pipe.

Anne Arundel's growing cadre of master watershed stewards have also contributed to the greening of St. Luke's. Besides Love, four other parishioners have graduated from the WSA. The stewards targeted approximately 23,000 square feet on the church property and planted a conservation landscape to soak up stormwater. They also removed invasive plants that had strangled many trees and put in more than 300 native plants. Love says all of these measures will also collectively treat the stormwater runoff from 28 acres of a densely developed Annapolis neighborhood surrounding St. Luke's five-acre property.

None of this could have happened without getting the church behind the project. Years ago St. Luke's considered developing the land. But now, says Love, "Church leaders and the congregation agreed we should give back to Creation."

The project would take money, and lots of it. Eventually, thanks to Love's leadership, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offered to fund most of the restoration, although it required matching funds from numerous other donors and additional fundraising and community volunteer support (see list below).

Finally, St. Luke's would need to obtain permits from the city, the state, and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Not even Love's WSA training fully prepared her for how much energy it would take to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth. "It's not for the faint of heart," she says.

Love says the Watershed Stewards Academy made it all possible. "I really don't think I could have done this without that course," she says. "They helped me connect all the dots."

WSAs and the Chesapeake

Building a corps of citizen stewards is now an integral part of the ongoing effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Many graduates of that first academy class continue to lead community watershed restoration projects. In all, more than 300 master watershed stewards have been trained in Maryland.

Love's project may seem like a drop in the bucket in the Chesapeake's watershed of more than 40 million acres. But Suzanne Etgen emphasizes that master watershed stewards play a critical role as educators and leaders.

Many of them work directly with owners of businesses and private lands. "It's going to take everyone making sure stormwater doesn't leave their property," Love says. "The problem is so big it's going to take everybody getting involved."

Note: Primary funders of the St. Luke's restoration project included: the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund and RiverWise Congregations (a consortium that includes the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Interfaith Partners of the Chesapeake, and the Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy). Watergate Pointe, a neighboring property, provided a conservation easement for the creation of a living shoreline. Additional funders included: Annapolis Subaru, Back Creek Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Eastport Civic Association, the national Episcopal Church, Maryland Environmental Trust, St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Severn River Association, Unity Gardens, and numerous other private donors.

Find out more about the Watershed Stewards Academies by visiting:

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