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Kathy Somoza-Garcia

Engaging Diverse Groups in Environmental Stewardship is Essential

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In 2015, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, working through their Chispa Maryland (Chispa) program, received an award through the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program to engage members of Prince George’s County Latino community in educational experiences designed to improve local water quality and the health of the community. Through this project, Chispa Maryland also sought to establish strong, longstanding leadership within the community to carry the efforts of this project forward.

Chispa Maryland was launched by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund in 2014. This group works with Latino families, community groups, faith-based organizations, and elected officials to identify and address environmental issues. Chispa seeks to empower the Latino community to take action to protect natural resources and build healthy neighborhoods.

This project focused on working with Latino community members predominantly from the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) designated area of Langley Park. The TNI is a county effort that aims at uplifting neighborhoods with significant needs. Chispa began by consulting with several Latino community leaders, Prince George’s County agencies, and other Latino-serving organizations to develop a curriculum and delivery plan that best served the needs of the community. The resulting curriculum comprised of both in-class and hands-on learning experiences. The in-class learning consisted of an introduction to the water cycle, the impact of stormwater runoff on the environment, and the actions that can be taken to manage stormwater runoff. The classroom session stressed the interconnectedness of individual actions and the cumulative impact these actions have on natural resources. Chispa also illuminated the relation between local water quality and the health and quality of life of the community.

The outdoor active learning sessions were designed to allow participants to experience firsthand and put into practice some of the concepts covered during the in-class session. A partnership with Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) brought Latino families and individuals out onto the Anacostia River through boat trips. AWS lead conversations on the biodiversity and water quality of the Anacostia River, as well as the impact of stormwater runoff on the Anacostia and surrounding streams and rivers. The boat trip sessions concluded with participants identifying the various ways their actions impacted natural resources, to change behaviors with negative impacts. Participants also had the chance to implement low impact development projects at the Langley Park Community Center. Participants created a 1,000 sq. ft. native plants garden and installed six rain barrels throughout the community center.

After the completion of both the in-class and hands-on activities, Chispa conducted leadership training with a group of participants that demonstrated a commitment to improving their natural resources and build resilient communities. Six instructional sessions were held and a total of 13 participants completed the training and were graduated as promotores (trained individuals who take on an educational role). The training of promotores enhances the sustainability of this project, as these leaders are empowered to lead and coordinate projects in their communities that promote environmental education and increase community participation in environmental activities.

Congratulations to Chispa Maryland on a successful and engaging project!

Working with Faith-Based Organizations to Implement Stormwater Solutions

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In 2015, Anacostia Riverkeeper received an award through the Prince George’s Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program to carry out their High-Volume Community Cistern project. This project had four primary objectives, which were to: 1) demonstrate the effectiveness of high-capacity cisterns, 2) reduce stormwater runoff, 3) engage and form relationships with faith-based organizations, and 4) encourage members of faith-based organizations to participate in Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program.

The objectives for this project aligned with the goals of the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship program, which strives to improve neighborhoods, improve water quality in the County’s waterways, and engage County residents in stormwater issues. Since 2014, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment has partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to fund impactful projects that strive to accomplish these goals. The Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program is a second program funded by the County that incentivizes environmental stewardship by offering reimbursement to homeowners, businesses, and others for installing practices that will improve stormwater runoff quality, reduce runoff quantity, and improve local streams and rivers. This program operates on a rolling deadline and is currently accepting applications.

Anacostia Riverkeeper worked with First Baptist Church of Glenarden, St. Ambrose Catholic Church, and St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church. To connect with and engage members of each faith-based organization, Anacostia Riverkeeper conducted stormwater outreach events at each of the three locations where they planned to install a high-volume cistern. Five outreach events were conducted with the help of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. These outreach events were offered in English and Spanish, which increased accessibility and helped to draw in over 170 participants. The events covered stormwater runoff and offered potential solutions and actions that participants could take. Anacostia Riverkeeper also informed participants about the existing opportunity to apply to the Prince George’s Rain Check Rebate Program to install stormwater management practices at their own homes.

Educational signage placed at each cistern installation.

To directly address stormwater management needs, high-volume cisterns were installed on each of the faith-based organizations’ properties. Each cistern captures between 17,500 to 39,000 gallons of stormwater per year, which reduces the amount of stormwater runoff and pollution that flows into local streams and rivers, and allows the stormwater to be used for other purposes.

Congratulations to Anacostia Riverkeeper on a successful project that engaged community members and directly addressed stormwater management!

 

Welcoming the New Prince George’s Rain Check Rebate Program Team

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The Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program is a partnership between Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (Trust). This program offers incentives to homeowners, businesses, and others to install practices that will reduce stormwater runoff, reduce pollution, and improve the water quality of local streams and rivers.

At the beginning of this year, the Trust welcomed Nguyen Le as the new Rain Check Rebate Coordinator! Below is Nguyen’s background and experience thus far.

Can you tell us about yourself?

Nguyen Le, Rain Check Rebate Coordinator

I was born and raised in Maryland and my family is from Vietnam. For my undergraduate studies, I  attended the University of Maryland, College Park and earned a B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy with a minor in Sustainability Studies. After graduating, I served as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member and worked at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin conducting environmental and watershed education for students and teachers. I joined the Chesapeake Bay Trust in 2018 and now manage the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program and co-manage the Outreach and Restoration Grant Program. More recently, I graduated from Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program where I earned a Master of Natural Resources and Graduate Certificate in Global Sustainability.

What are your professional/environmental goals and how does managing the Rain Check Rebate Program align with those goals?

A major goal regarding the work I currently do and want to continue to do revolves around water. Water is a precious resource and necessity for life. Globally, billions of people in the world lack safe water, sanitation, and handwashing facilities. Additionally, ever-growing demands for and inefficient use and management of freshwater resources have resulted in severe water stress and increased pollution of our waterways. Water quality is one of the major challenges we face today.

Initiatives and programs like the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program help address local and regional water quality issues. This program engages residents to take action for clean water. Participants in this program are helping to keep our rivers clean and reduce pollution for increased environmental and public health. Through this program, I can educate residents about water quality issues, what actions they can take, and how this program helps support clean water efforts in their community and the County as a whole.

What have you most enjoyed so far about your new role as the Rain Check Rebate Coordinator?

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Rain Check Rebate Program is being able to connect with the community and see residents take pride in their projects. It is wonderful to see residents excited about their project and express the impact that the project has had on their lives. Some appreciate the presence of new trees that will provide shade and privacy in their yards, some enjoy the butterflies that now frequent the native plants in their rain garden, and some are thankful that the standing and pooling water they experienced is a thing of the past.

What is your hope for the Rain Check Rebate Program moving forward?

My hope for this program is for all Prince George’s County residents to know that the Rain Check Rebate Program and other County resources are available for them to use and here to support them and their communities. I want every community member to know that they can make a difference in their communities and the environment.

What advice would you give to young people seeking careers in the environmental field?

Do not limit yourself and be open to learning and experiencing new things. The environmental field encompasses such a wide range of topics and there are so many different paths you can take. Be cognizant of your interests and the type of work you enjoy doing and find an organization or company whose mission and values align with yours.

Anything else you want to share?

Managing the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program has been a rewarding experience. I am proud to support and work with the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment on their program to help advance their goal of improving the quality of life for its communities by promoting green solutions to stormwater runoff.

Meet the Rain Check Rebate Intern:

The Trust recently also welcomed Emma Cwalinski (pictured left), the summer programmatic intern who will be working as part of the Rain Check Rebate team. Emma is currently majoring in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), where she is entering into her junior year. Beyond her position as an intern for the Trust, Emma utilizes her passion for the environment as her sorority’s Sustainability Chair and as a Sustainable Transportation Assistant for UMD’s Department of Transportation. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career working directly with environmental policy. Emma is excited to learn more about the different programs the Trust offers during her time as an intern. Welcome to the team, Emma!

Thank you to both Nguyen and Emma for their hard work in managing and supporting the Rain Check Rebate Program! Prince George’s County residents are encouraged to learn more and apply to the program by visiting the program page here.

Parkdale Schools the Community on Stormwater Management

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Schools play a huge role not only in educating their students but also in acting as a center for resources and a vehicle for change and improvement in their communities. The Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Program is a partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Prince George’s County Department of the Environment that recognizes the potential these institutions, amongst others, have to engage the community and implement projects that improve the water quality of local streams and rivers.

Parkdale High School, located in Riverdale, received a grant in 2015 to carry out impactful learning opportunities and hands-on engagement in environmental stewardship and stormwater management. Parkdale worked with several partners on this project, including the Clean Water Partnership, Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) and the William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center. A professional development workshop was held for teachers and staff to equip them with knowledge on successfully implementing environmental literacy programs. The school was also able to host and mentor 13 student interns from the Prince George’s County Summer Youth Enrichment Program. The students were able to partake in a variety of educational activities, such as maintaining an edible food forest in front of the school’s campus and visiting several facilities working to protect our natural resources, including the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, where they learned of the County’s actions to better manage and protect the environment. The students also visited Bladensburg Waterfront Park to participate in a boat tour led by the AWS, where the students learned about initiatives to clean the river and restore native wildlife populations and habitats.

Educational signage placed at the site of the installed stormwater management practice. Click to view larger!

Parkdale was also able to address the stormwater management needs of their campus. The school installed a series of permeable surfaces that allow water to infiltrate into the ground while filtering out pollutants. Excess water overflows from the permeable surfaces to three different types of infiltration areas installed next to the permeable surfaces, that help to further filter out pollutants and let the water slowly absorb into the ground. Educational signage was also installed at the project site to educate the Parkdale community on how the project functions to treat stormwater runoff.

 

Parkdale successfully installed a functional and educational stormwater management practice, while also engaging their community in stewardship. Congratulations to Parkdale High School on an exemplary project!

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!

Spotlight on an Environmental Champion

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Environmental leaders are all around us, even within our local communities. Tiaa Rutherford of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment (DoE) is one such leader. Tiaa has worked tirelessly to beautify and protect the natural resources of the Prince George’s County communities. Recently, Tiaa was publicly honored for her environmental efforts.

Tiaa was recognized as a Regional Environmental Champion at the 2020 bi-annual Taking Nature Black conference hosted by the Audubon Naturalist Society for her work to reduce the amount of litter in the Anacostia River and the streams throughout the County. Her work also helps the County meet the goals of their stormwater discharge permit under the Clean Water Act. As the DoE’s Litter Reduction Program Manager, Tiaa engages individuals, non-profits, and municipalities on a variety of litter-reduction initiatives. Tiaa, along with other DoE colleagues, were recognized in 2017 for their work in creating the litter-monitoring apps LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK. PGCLitterTRAK allows communities and individuals to document litter data around Prince George’s County.

Tiaa posing with the Anacostia River trash trap signage.

As a partner of Prince George’s County, the Chesapeake Bay Trust has had the chance to work with Tiaa on projects funded by the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program. In 2016, Anacostia Riverkeeper was approved for an award that funded the construction and installation of a “trash-trap” in the Arundel Canal of the Anacostia River. Tiaa was involved throughout the trash-trap installation process and provided outreach support to educate and engage County residents on the new installation. Currently, the Trust is working with Tiaa on a behavior-change litter reduction initiative.

Congratulations Tiaa, we look forward to continuing to work with you!

 

 

Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Awardees

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The Chesapeake Bay Trust, in partnership with Prince George’s County, is proud to announce the sixth year of Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program awards! The program supports projects that benefit neighborhoods while treating and controlling stormwater. The goal is to improve neighborhoods, improve water quality in the County’s local streams and rivers, and engage County residents in stormwater issues.

This year, a total of 14 projects were awarded a total of $979,056 to support stormwater projects that will engage 5,000 residents, treat over 11 acres of impervious surface, and plant over 1,900 trees and 11,000 native plants that will provide shade, cleaner air, and improve water quality. The awardees and their project descriptions are as follows:

Alice Ferguson Foundation: will install two stormwater retrofit practices within the barnyard area of the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. $140,000.
Anacostia Watershed Society:  will hold a Watershed Stewards Academy and Maryland Master Naturalist program that trains 60 watershed residents. $11,510.
Anacostia Watershed Society: will improve habitat and water quality along the Anacostia River using mussels, floating wetlands, and trees. $23,453.
Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Development Corporation, Inc.: will plant 300 trees in the Greater Riverdale and Bladensburg neighborhoods. $134,031.
City of Hyattsville: will promote the importance and benefits of trees by implementing a Tree Canopy study and providing resources to residents to plant trees. $60,762.
City of Mount Rainier: will develop 11 green infrastructure practices to reduce stormwater runoff impacts and support making the City of Mount Rainier a model “green city.” $196,000.
EcoLatinos, Inc.: will carry out an outreach campaign to increase awareness of stormwater runoff and its impact on water quality among Spanish-speaking residents. $18,993.
EcoLatinos, Inc.: will lead the “Festival del Rio Anacostia 2020,” where more than 800 attendees can participate in environmental related activities. $23,694.
End Time Harvest Ministries: will engage residents in a clean water initiative educating surrounding neighborhoods on stormwater problems and possible solutions. $31,163.
Global Health and Education Projects, Inc.: will plant 200 trees through the Family Tree Adoption Program in high-priority areas of Prince George’s County that have low tree canopy. $115,969.
GreenTrust Alliance, Inc.: will add 5.5 acres of forested and warm season grass/ pollinator-focused headwater buffer to an existing stream and wetland restoration project at the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. $50,000.
Town of Cheverly: will design and implement a rain garden in the Cheverly Town Park. $54,954.
Town of Edmonston: will implement the fourth industrial “green street” located in the district of Lafayette Place. $68,527.
University of Maryland College Park: will develop a water quality action framework and outreach campaign for homeowner/community association boards, property managers, and residents. $50,000.

Congratulations to all the awardees, we look forward to working with you!

Wellness Ambassadors of End Time Harvest Ministries Take Action

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End Time Harvest Ministries Reverend and CEO, Gail Addison, touches on the successes of this tree planting and environmental literacy project, which was funded by the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program.

Empowering residents to take action is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to the protection and restoration of our natural resources. The Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program, in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust, awards grants to organizations that engage County residents in the restoration and protection of local rivers, which ultimately boosts the health of their neighborhoods.

End Time Harvest Ministries (ETHM), located in Bladensburg, Maryland is a faith-based organization with a mission that includes empowering youth to become leaders in their neighborhoods. One way that ETHM meets this goal is through their Wellness Ambassadors program, offering youth a variety of activities that promote health and wellness.

ETHM was awarded a grant in 2017 to conduct a Wellness Ambassadors Environmental Health Summer Employment Program. This program aimed to boost environmental literacy by connecting local stormwater management to the health and wellness of students and their families in the Port Towns, Kenilworth, and Riverdale neighborhoods. The Ambassadors participated in tree planting activities that were led by the Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Development Corporation (CKAR CDC) and supported by the University of Maryland (UMD) and the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS). A total of 15 native trees were planted at an Edmonston Road site, an area selected by CKAR CDC for revitalization.  Students and their families also participated in a workshop held by AWS on the importance and benefits of trees in managing stormwater runoff.

Do you want to build a healthy neighborhood, too? Plant a tree! Trees help manage stormwater runoff by taking up greater amounts of stormwater through their roots (compared to a grass-only lawn), which filters out pollutants and reduces the amount of pollution that reaches our local waterways. Trees also filter polluted air and have the added benefit of making communities quieter by absorbing sound. Picking native trees to plant is especially important because they provide food and habitat for native wildlife and they require less maintenance.

This tree planting project boosted environmental literacy and gave students and families the opportunity to take part in hands-on learning experiences that positively contributed to their environment and overall health. Congratulations to End Time Harvest Ministries on a successful and engaging project!

Chesapeake Conservation Corps Profile: Aubryn Walters & the Patuxent Research Refuge

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Aubryn Walters stands with her poster at the annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum.

Participating in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a unique experience. We’re showcasing the individual Conservation Corps members in the 2019-2020 cohort along with information on their host site and descriptions of the incredible work they are doing. 

One of the biggest challenges in the mission to responsibly manage and protect our environment is engaging people and equipping them with the right tools and knowledge. Oftentimes, there is a shortage of people who have had the chance to study and understand the issues at hand, and develop the skills necessary to implement solutions.

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps (Corps) strives to close the gap by connecting young adults to nonprofit or government agencies for one-year terms of service in the Chesapeake Bay region. The 2019-2020 Cohort consists of 35 young adults working with 29 different organizations.

One of these Corps members, Aubryn Walters, is currently placed with the Patuxent Research Refuge in Prince George’s County. Below is Aubryn’s reflection on her experience thus far.

Aubryn Walters, Chesapeake Conservation Corps member, pictured here with Mr. Hoots from Rodney’s Raptors, at the Patuxent Research Refuge.

How are you enjoying your first few months in the program?

I’ve really enjoyed working with the Patuxent Research Refuge. The staff is committed to educating the public, putting in the extra hours, and creating engaging programs for everyone who visits. I have learned so much, from how refuges function, to how to create an effective program.

What is your favorite part about working with the Patuxent Research Refuge?

My favorite part about working with the refuge is interacting with and educating the public to help them create a better environment for themselves and the wildlife living in their community.

What are you excited to work on this year at the Refuge?

I am most excited about working with Montpelier Elementary School. They are putting on a yearlong watershed project, with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. They are creating a rain garden and a bio-retention pond to treat runoff from their school. I am supplementing the learning that goes along with that, by working with the fifth grade to teach them about watersheds. We have been working together for five weeks, learning about what watersheds are, how to map their watershed, how land use affects water, and how to measure water quality. The fifth graders then had the chance to come to Patuxent, where they conducted water quality tests and went on a tram tour themed around the water system we have in place. They are enthusiastic and wonderful students, and I am excited to see them learn and grow throughout the year.

Thank you, Aubryn, for helping to educate the next generation of environmental stewards in Prince George’s County!