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May 2020

Wild Rice & The Changing Landscape of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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Did you know that wild rice is more than just a side dish found at dinner time? Native to the Chesapeake Bay region, wild rice is an annual grass found in freshwater marshes and has been declining in reproduction due to the increase of non-migratory waterfowl, invasive plants, and water pollution.

In 2015, Prince George’s County Public Schools Department of Curriculum and Instruction began collaborating with the William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center to engage seventh-graders from 15 different schools in restoring the wild rice growing along the Patuxent River. Educators saw an opportunity to develop a meaningful watershed educational experience (MWEE) for understanding watershed water quality issues and the decline of native species.

The MWEE model of education focuses on investigations into local environmental issues that lead to action and civic engagement. One major goal of the MWEE model is to increase student’s academic achievement, engagement, 21st Century skills (learning, digital literacy, and life skills), and stewardship. Teachers play an important role in presenting unbiased information and assisting students with their research and exploration and all lessons meet Environmental Literacy standards (ELS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). MWEE essential elements include an issue definition, outdoor field experiences, action projects, and sharing student-developed synthesis and conclusions in coordination with the school and the local community.

With funding provided through the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Environmental Education Grant Program, students used their schoolyard to gather data related to habitat use and degradation within their watershed. Data was collected in the form of a habitat report card developed by curriculum writers and Schmidt Center staff. The report card was used by students to develop a plan for restoring habitat on school grounds and in the community as it relates to migratory birds.

Students propagated wild rice in the classroom using grow stands and/or wet beds outside on their schoolyard throughout the winter. They maintained an optimum growing environment for the plants and collected data, such as germination rates, blade length, and plant density. Students took part in investigating the environmental impact and relationship between humans and the earth’s resources while researching the characteristics of wild rice and the role it plays in benefiting wetlands and reducing pollution. During early spring, students planted their wild rice at Patuxent River Park and Accokeek Foundation and worked to develop habitat restoration awareness signage used off-site or on their school grounds.

Through this program, students were a part of an on-going restoration project of wild rice in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They also learned about other related issues, including invasive and non-invasive species, water quality, and the Bay ecosystem. A one-day professional development session on wild rice was provided by the Schmidt Center staff to the participating schools/teachers.

These partnerships increased opportunities for students to engage in environmental action projects, moved PGCPS towards a distinguished level in establishing state partners, supported grade level thematic approaches that enhanced the implementation of Environmental Literacy standards, and integrated social studies and science content areas. As the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup states, “The well-being of the Chesapeake Bay watershed will one day rest in the hands of its youngest citizens.”

Celebrating an Environmental Champion: Walkiria Pool

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Walkiria Pool, President of the non-profit organization Centro de Apoyo Familiar (CAF) located in Riverdale, was recently named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record! The Maryland’s Top 100 Women award recognizes high-achieving women who live or work in Maryland and are actively making a difference in their surrounding neighborhoods and networks. All winners are chosen by a panel of past Top 100 Women business leaders. Walkiria’s dedication to community service and her demonstration of strong leadership skills were no doubt a determining factor in her earning this high recognition!

Walkiria founded CAF in 2006, with the vision of transforming underserved communities through direct involvement and strong partnerships with faith-based organizations. CAF connects communities to a broad range of services, from affordable housing to environmental health. As President of CAF, Walkiria has been passionate about involving Latino communities in the efforts to protect our natural resources and become better stewards of our environment. In 2016 and 2017, CAF was awarded projects through the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program to support and implement their Aguas Sana-Familias Sanas/Healthy Waters: Healthy Families program. This program used a train-the-trainer model to train and equip Latina promotoras (community health educators) as stormwater educators, who then held educational workshops at local faith-based organizations. Over 300 Prince George’s County families were collectively reached through both of the awards to CAF. The families that participated were able to learn about the connections between human and environmental health and were provided resources to improve their natural resources and build healthier communities.

Congratulations on this recognition, Walkiria! We appreciate all you do and look forward to continuing to work with you!

A Brighter Future for the Anacostia River

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The Anacostia Watershed Society recently released the 2020 State of the Anacostia River Report, which tells the story of the health of the Anacostia River from previously-collected 2019 data. This report measures the overall health of the river by assigning a score and letter grade that takes into account several different water quality and remediation indicators. These indicators include dissolved oxygen, fecal bacteria, water clarity, chlorophyll a (measure of algae biomass), underwater grasses, stormwater runoff volume, amount of toxins, and trash.

Click on the 2020 report card to view the full image.

This year the Anacostia River earned a score of 63 (D), which is the highest passing score it has ever achieved! This high score comes after the record rainfall levels we saw in 2018, which increased the flow of stormwater runoff into our waterways. The fact that the measure of the Anacostia River’s health has come back stronger than ever speaks to the great resilience of our natural environment. For the Anacostia in particular, the resurgence of underwater grasses known as Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) combined with the environmental actions taken by local governments were major factors in the progress of its health. SAV provides essential habitat for a host of aquatic life, filters polluted runoff, and provides food for waterfowl. The Anacostia River had 92.6 acres of SAV in 2019, well surpassing the goal of 20 acres!

Monitoring the health of our streams and rivers over an extended period is important for several reasons. It allows us to determine what restoration efforts are working and pinpoint the areas where greater effort or different restoration tactics are needed. The data that is collected and analyzed reflects the environmental actions taken by local governments, organizations, communities, and individuals.

Everyone can play a part in reducing the amount of litter and pollutants that reach our streams and rivers! There are several programs that are designed to support individual initiatives to become better stewards of our environment. The Chesapeake Bay Trust is proud to partner with Prince George’s County Department of the Environment to offer Prince George’s County residents the Rain Check Rebate Program. This program allows eligible applicants to be reimbursed for installing one or more of seven approved stormwater management practices.

Below are several other Maryland programs that offer reimbursements for installing stormwater management practices:

*Please note: while site visits cannot be conducted in person at this time, many of the programs listed above are conducting virtual site visits. Follow the individual page links to learn more.

While we are practicing safe social distancing, we can do our part to better our environment!

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