Survey Shows Watershed Groups Halt Substantial Local & Bay Pollution

Learn how to identify and correct watershed pollution at the November 19th CEDS workshop

Learn how to identify and correct pollution sources in your watershed at the November 19th CEDS workshop

An amazing 82% of watershed groups have engaged in at least one activity to halt pollution affecting their waterway and the Bay.  More than half the time they succeeded in reducing pollution inputs.

These are two of the principle findings from a survey conducted by Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) to determine the extent to which nonprofit watershed advocacy groups are seeking to identify and correct the leading causes of pollution within the Chesapeake Bay basin.  We also wanted to know of  factors that impede the efforts of these groups and that seem to keep many others from engaging in this critical activity.

An e-mail was sent to nearly 2,000 organizations and individuals who may be active in watershed restoration activities in the Chesapeake watershed.  They were asked to complete a brief, seven-question online survey.  The survey focused on how often the groups participated in the following most common activities to reduce pollution from the greatest sources threatening the Bay.

  1. Evaluating construction sites for compliance with erosion and sediment control requirements?
  2. Review of plans for proposed development to ensure that full use would be made of highly effective aquatic resource protection measures?
  3. Evaluating stormwater ponds and other runoff Best Management Practices (BMPs) for maintenance needs?
  4. Assessing wastewater treatment plants or other point pollution sources for compliance with discharge permit requirements?
  5. Surveying cropfields for conservation practices such as winter cover crops, minimum tillage, contouring, etc.?
  6. Evaluating pastures for overgrazing, buffer adequacy or livestock access to waterways?
  7. Sampling waters above and below other potential pollution sources, such as CAFOs, mining, landfills, etc., to determine if aquatic resource degradation has occurred?

The evaluation of construction sites, stormwater BMPs, point-sources, cropfields and pastures is done from adjoining roads and other public areas, without entering onto private property.

A total of 52 responses were received, 40 of which were from the target population: citizen-based, advocacy-oriented, nonprofit groups.  While the following results are by no means representative of all groups it does give an indication of the tremendous reduction in Bay pollution some groups are achieving.  The results also show what these and many other groups need to accomplish much, much more.

  • 88% of the respondents felt that curbing pollution through the activities was very important to achieving the mission of their group;
  • 82% of the groups participated in at least one of the activities;
  • Three groups (all RiverKeepers) pursued all activities;
  • Evaluating ponds and other stormwater BMPs for maintenance needs was the most common activity, followed by construction site sediment pollution evaluation, then water quality sampling to detect pollution sources;
  • The least common activities were evaluating pastures and cropfields for indicators of excessive pollution, but then a number of groups indicated neither land use was present in their watershed;
  • Problems were found on about half the activity sites evaluated by the groups;
  • The fewest problems were found on pastures and cropfields while problems were most frequently found at point-source discharges, followed by construction sites, proposed development projects, then stormwater BMPs;
  • The groups pursued corrective action for most of these problems;
  • While a mere 17% of the problems were fully corrected, nearly half were partially resolved, which represents a large quantity of pollution kept out of local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay;
  • The impediments to identifying and/or correcting these pollution sources were (from most frequent to least):
    • Lack the training needed to investigate a specific pollution source;
    • Lack of volunteers-staff willing to do this field work;
    • Lack of time to investigate this pollution source;
    • Don’t know how to pursue corrective action;
    • Cannot obtain funding to pursue this source;
    • Concerned about alienating watershed property owners;
    • Don’t know how to determine if activity is present;
    • Assumed trespass onto private property required (which usually isn’t);
    • Concerned about alienating government officials; and
    • Concerned about alienating foundations-other funders.
  • The 40 respondents spend a median of 20% of their groups’ resources (funds and hours) on the identification and correction of pollution sources.

It would be a mistake to assume that the pollution stopped by these groups would have been halted anyway.  There are just far too many examples of problems that have persisted for years when no one notified an enforcement agency.  If we are to succeed in restoring the Bay and her thousands of miles of degraded tributaries, then we need many more trained eyes out there.   Anecdotal evidence indicates that the 40 groups are a small minority with most watershed groups seldom engaging in the seven activities essential to reducing Bay pollution.

With regard to training, a number of guidance documents can be downloaded free from the CEDS Watershed Audits webpage.  Additionally, CEDS will conduct a half-day (9:30 – Noon) workshop near Annapolis, MD on Tuesday, November 19th.  A fee of $35 will be charged.  To register click Curbing Watershed Pollution Workshop.  To discuss scheduling a workshop in your area contact Richard Klein at 410-654-3021 or

For the complete survey results go to the CEDS Watershed Audits webpage then click on Watershed Group Survey in the upper left column.

About Richard Klein

President of Community & Environmental Defense Services (
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