The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

Environmental Forum Archives

The Potomac Highlands Watershed School's Environmental Forum provides a setting for students and teachers to explore regionally important environmental issues in depth.  Students work both as a class and with other students across the internet to understand problems and to seek solutions that are broadly acceptable to their communities. 

Current eForum is here

All past eForums are archived here. CI's highlights from past eForums are here

The Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum on

Water Quality and Best Management Practices, April 10 - 28, 2006.


Important note: due to varying spring break schedules at participating schools, first round POV posting was delayed and the SCE Forum schedule was extended.  See below for details.


Welcome to the Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum (SCE Forum),


For three weeks beginning on April 10, you will join classmates and students from other schools in exploring one of the most complex environmental problems ever to confront the United States, saving the Chesapeake Bay from decades of pollution.  You will learn about:

  • The science that is used to understand the problems and monitor changes,

  • The “best management practices” that are used to reduce the flow of pollution from our lands to local streams, larger rivers and, eventually, the Bay,

  • The politics of seeking solutions acceptable to our diverse community, and

  • The challenge of fostering widespread public acceptance and implementation of the entirely voluntary land use changes needed to protect our local waters and the Bay. 

Your challenge as a class will be to propose a solution that really cleans your waters and that your community would find acceptable.


To enroll a class or youth group in the SCE Forum, or for more information, contact Frank Rodgers at or call us at 304-856-1385.

SCE Forum Participating Schools



Classes participating

Bill Moore

Hampshire High School, Romney, WV


Leigh Jenkins

Berkeley Springs High School, Berkeley Springs, WV


Sharon Harman

Petersburg High School, Petersburg, WV




The Forum will have four distinct stages:

  • Background reading and class discussions on non point source water quality science, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model, best management practices (BMPs), essays from specialists working on Chesapeake Bay issues, and links to other resources.

  • Form Stakeholder Groups of “farmers”, “land owners”, “environmentalist”, "Chesapeake Bay ecosystem", etc. in each class to draft position papers reflecting their group's point of view (POV) - POV Due Friday, April 14, 2006) - POV entry form is here.  Important note: due to varying spring break schedules at participating schools, first round POV posting was delayed and the SCE Forum schedule was extended.  POV posting will begin the evening of 4/19/06 and will continue on a daily basis from that time forward.  The "Thoughtful Questions" page, where students can ask questions of each other and the moderator, will also be available beginning 4/20/06.

  • Position Papers are posted to the web and participating students check out their peers’ work in other classes and other schools, ask questions across the web, learn more about the science and issues,  and refine positions - revised POVs accepted until May 3, 2006.

  • Final Consensus Plans that balance the needs of all stakeholder groups are negotiated in each classroom and posted to the web - Consensus reports accepted until May 12, 2006 Consensus reports are here.

What is a Stakeholder POV?

A stakeholder is a person or a group with an interest in the success of an organization, project, or government action.  Stakeholders in the Bay cleanup include homeowners, municipalities, fishermen, and farmers.  Each of these groups will be affected by the measures that will be taken to fix the Bay, and each wants a “seat at the table” when options are discussed or decisions are made.  Every stakeholder group has interests that are unique to them, and every stakeholder group wants to be heard.  Your first job will be to write a persuasive “Point of View” statement for your stakeholder group that describes why you are important, how the Bay’s problems (or related problems) affect you, how the possible solutions affect you personally and maybe affect your livelihood.  You will have two "bites at this apple."  During the second week each group should really try to build a strong case for their group's position - based on facts, not just belief.  Think about these questions:

  • Will the solutions “cost” you in any demonstrable way?  What do you have to give up?

  • Will the solutions benefit you directly?

  • What could be done that would make your group more willing to participate?

  • How could the solutions be structured so your group would prosper as a result?

  • What would happen if you were so harmed by the process that you disappeared?

There are a few ground rules for this Forum.  While you may debate it in your class, for the purposes of your decision making you must assume that there is, in fact, a big problem, that the problem is as large as the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) says it is, and that the CBP's estimates of sources are reasonable.  During the final week, you must work as a group to find a solution to the problem.  All serious entries will be posted as submitted (including typos and grammatical errors).  "Act of God" solutions will not be considered.  In other words, you may not assume that the problem will solve itself.  Just keep in mind that what you write will be available for the entire world to read.   No pressure.

Finally, there is a lot of information on this page and in associated links.  It is only a small part of what is out there on the web and in print on this topic.  While everything on this page is important, you can get a pretty good overview of each topic by reading this page carefully and then focusing on the links with abeside them.  



Why should we try to restore the Bay?  The Chesapeake Bay might seem to be a long, long way from your home.  You may never have seen it.  Heck, you might never have even taken a step out of your home state.  But you live in the Bay’s enormous watershed, a watershed that stretches from upstate New York to southern Virginia, and from Delaware to the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.  And you do have an impact on the Bay in the choices you and your neighbors make on how to use and manage our lands.  And the Bay has an impact on you, from the oysters many people love to eat in the fall, to providing an important engine for the region’s economy.  Simply put, the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure.  It’s the largest estuary in North America and one of the most productive in the world.  Home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, it also provides important economic, recreational, cultural, and educational resources to the more than 16 million people who live in the watershed, and to the region’s untold visitors.


Unfortunately, after many years of receiving pollution from its 64,000 square mile watershed, the Bay is in serious trouble.  All of the states in the Bay watershed have committed to reduce the flow of key pollutants - nutrients and sediment - to the Bay, which Bay scientists have determined are the key in restoring it to health.  Each of the Bay states has established Tributary Teams to develop strategies for reducing nutrients and sediment, and to implement their strategies.  This effort will impact every community in the region for many years to come.  To get an overview of what is involved, you can read a summary of West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy here.


To help you understand this very complex problem, the Potomac Highlands Watershed School has placed information in the PHWS library, and added links to information on other websites, in five key categories: water quality science, the Chesapeake Bay models, Best Management Practices (BMPs), the Tributary Strategy process, and understanding stakeholders.  We also have essays from professionals who work on Chesapeake Bay and related issues to provide their perspectives on the process and the problems.  Think of them as native guides and watch for links to their contributions.


Your first native guide is Al Todd (Watershed Program Leader, USDA Forest Service).   Al provides an overview of the restoration effort from the perspective of an insider in the Chesapeake Bay Program.


However, you can’t begin to understand this material without first learning some water quality terminology.  Click here to read a short Water Quality Primer


Now that you know some basic terminology, we can tell you that the SCE Forum will consider only non point source pollution.  Point source pollution is a big part of the problem in many parts of the Bay watershed, but solutions to the point source problem are mostly technological, financial, and regulatory.  On the other hand, solutions to the non point source pollution problem have much more to do with educating the general public and gaining acceptance of the need to change the way we manage our landscape.  In many ways, the non point source contributions to the Bay’s problems are the more difficult to solve.


If you haven’t already done it, this would be a good time to play Stream CleanerStream Cleaner is a game of strategy where you try to clean up a stream polluted by excess nutrients and sediment by selecting the best combination of land management practices before you run out of money.  You have $10,000.  Does that sound like a lot of money?  You can enter the Stream Cleaner game by clicking on the name on the High School blackboard.


While Stream Cleaner is still fresh in your mind, it would be a good time to take a look at the Stream Cleaner Slide Show.  It provides a slightly different perspective on the best management practices that are used in Stream Cleaner.  Just click on the projector screen mounted over the window in the PHWS High School classroom. 


Water Quality Science


Many perspectives on water quality are needed to understand the problems facing the Bay.  You can look at water quality in the Bay itself, in the large rivers like the Potomac and Susquehanna as they flow into the Bay, or in the innumerable headwater streams throughout the Bay watershed.  Cacapon Institute has been studying headwater streams in the Potomac Highlands since 1985, and this essay   from your second native guide (Neil Gillies, Cacapon Institute) provides perspective on the study of non point source pollutants, specifically nutrients, based on real data from CI's programs.   


The next step up is to look at water quality at the large river scale.  The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is taking a lead role in these studies.  You can read a short overview of their Bay related programs here.  Read about and see a map of their sampling sites on the major river basins that flow into the Bay here.  This link  provides a graphic overview of the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and load contributions from each major river basin.  You can read actual USGS publications on Chesapeake Bay water quality through the links found here.


If it hasn't happened already, your teacher should now present a Chesapeake Bay Program PowerPoint presentation that provides an excellent overview of the science as it relates to the Bay.  It describes how excess nutrients and sediment impact aquatic plants and dissolved oxygen levels, and how low dissolved oxygen kills animals. 


You can click your way through various sub watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay here looking at general information and water quality details as you go.  This CBP site is really pretty neat, but it might take a try or two for you to figure out how to use the clickable maps and drop down menus.


Additional links:

  • Chesapeake Bay Monitoring for Management Actions.  From Maryland's DNR.

  • West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy Chapter 4.  Sources of Nutrients and Sediment.

  • Welcome to Non Point Source Pollution, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • Even though we are trying to control nutrients and sediment, its really dissolved oxygen levels in the Bay we are trying to improve.  Without sufficient oxygen, the Bay is dead.  Learn more about dissolved oxygen from the Chesapeake Bay Program here.

  • "Oxygen-starved fish looking for ladies.  Male zebrafish outnumber females 3-1 in ocean 'dead zones'"  Wednesday, March 29, 2006; Posted: 1:14 p.m. EST (18:14 GMT).  WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists call the growing oxygen-starved patches of world waterways "dead zones." That also could describe the not-so-swinging mating scene for some of the fish that live there.  Click here.

  • Also from the Bay program, information on nutrients and sediment.


The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model


Scientists use mathematical models to understand large scale processes that can't be observed directly in their entirety.  The Chesapeake Bay Program uses various mathematical models to simulate processes in the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay drainage basin, which is much too large and complex to isolate for experiments in the real world.  Their models use the results of small scale scientific experiments on subjects like the effect of a specific land use change on water quality, and apply them to the whole Bay watershed.  These models allow Bay scientists to simulate changes in the Bay ecosystem due to changes in population, land use, or pollution management.  Your third  native guide is Michael Schwartz, Environmental Scientist at the Conservation Fund's Freshwater Institute.  Mr. Schwartz has been the West Virginia Tributary Team's point man on issues related to the Chesapeake Bay's models, and he shares his thoughts on watersheds and the use of models here.


This linkleads you to a quick look at graphs of nutrient and sediment load estimates from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model.  You'll need this information!


Click on the following links to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model:

  • Here's an overview of the CBP's models direct from the Bay Program.

  • West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy provides a clear discussion of the model, including a discussion of controversy, weaknesses and strengths, as well as nutrient and sediment load estimates that you will need to understand.  A must read.

  • Digital Data Used to Relate Nutrient Inputs to Water Quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Version 3.0.  "One statistical model available to resource managers is a collection of SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed (SPARROW) attributes, which uses a nonlinear regression approach to spatially relate nutrient sources and watershed characteristics to nutrient loads of streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed."  This site has great information and really wonderful maps of output from the SPARROW model. 

  • Models are not the same as reality, and this model seeks to understand an incredibly complex system of 64,ooo square miles.  A recent "white paper" by the CBP’s scientific and technical advisory committee indicates that, based on water quality monitoring results, the CBWM is likely to overestimate progress made by the states towards achieving their cap load reductions. This happens because the CBWM generally uses best management practice "efficiency" assumptions based on idealized research studies, rather than from field studies on these practices as they are actually installed.

  • After a thorough investigation, the non partisan Government Accounting Office criticized the Bay program, which is charged with coordinating and communicating the Bay cleanup, for overstating its progress, minimizing threats posed to the estuary, and for failing to address its problems.   A news article is here that includes a link to the full report.

Tributary Strategies

Cleaning up the Bay is about a lot more than just science and models.  It also involves the interplay of science and government policy.  The federal government's central role as the Chesapeake Bay Program (U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, etc.), state and local government, and local stakeholders all play essential roles in creating a workable plan and generating support from state and federal politicians, support that will be needed to generate the huge amounts of money to pay for the cleanup. 


The states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia - the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to clean up the Bay. They have determined that restoring the Bay’s health will require reducing the flow of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment transported from each of the Bay States into the Bay, and have set maximum loadings for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in each State’s waters.  


West Virginia took a uniquely open approach in the development of its Potomac Tributary Strategy by forming the West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy Stakeholder Group.  Members of the community were invited to work with the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection, WV Conservation Agency, and WV Dept. of Agriculture in a comprehensive planning process to produce a plan that would equitably reduce nutrient and sediment loads from West Virginia.  The stakeholders also sought to develop a plan that would minimize economic and social burdens on our community.


West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy document provides a wealth of information that is referenced below and elsewhere on this page:

To read the entire document, including specific strategies developed by WV stakeholders, (it's 50 pages long), click here, then click on West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy. 


To see what all the Bay state's Tributary Strategies look like, visit



Best Management Practices


Best Management Practices are methods for preventing or reducing the pollution resulting from some activity. The term originated from rules and regulation in Section 208 of the Clean Water Act.  This piece from provides a simple introduction to the concepts of Best Management Practices (BMPs) as things we can all do that lessen the impact of activities which might harm the environment.  Another nice introduction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is here.


The Chesapeake Bay Program is constantly working to improve their understanding of the watershed, including their understanding of how well existing BMPs work.  They also seek new BMPs to help solve the problems.  This paper from the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) (600 kb pdf document) is technical but very readable, and not in the least shy about identifying deficiencies in the current program.  The Summary, Introduction, and Background sections are well worth your time.   

  • West Virginia's Potomac Tributary Strategy provides a list of BMPs.

  • A West Virginia success story!   Using Best Management Practices and community support to clean up the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac .  

  • Giving Back to the Land They Work.  A story from Pennsylvania.   

  • Riparian Buffers: What they are and how they work.    This excellent discussion comes from the good folks at North Carolina State University.
  • West Virginia Potomac Tributary Strategy is conducting a Forested Riparian Buffer Demonstration Project that is assessing relative survival of trees using different planting methods.  To paraphrase a famous movie: "If you plant them, they may not grow."

  • Understanding the Science Behind Riparian Forest Buffers: Effects on Water Quality.  Author: Julia C. Klapproth, Faculty Assistant-Natural Resources, Maryland Cooperative Extension; James E. Johnson, Extension Forestry Specialist, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech.
  • Installing buffers to protect water supplies.  In order to protect New York City's water supply, the City, New York State and the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) are picking up all the costs necessary to implement a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds of the New York City drinking water supply system.  These watersheds furnish most of the 1.34 billion gallons of water used daily by the New York City system, which serves 9 million city and regional residents.  By installing buffers and protecting erodeable land throughout the Catskill/ Delaware watersheds, they hope to avoid construction of a water filtration plant costing an estimated $6 billion. The project will also provide valuable habitat for endangered Wildlife and native cold water fish.  Click here and here to learn more. 
  • CNMP Watch is the complete Web source for Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP) information.  Click here.

  • National Conservation Practice Standards.  This is where you go to learn about all of the BMPs that are currently accepted by the US Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Reaching the ambitious nutrient reduction goals needed to restore the Bay will not be easy.  With more than 16 million people living and working in the Bay watershed, our individual impact on water quality takes a toll on the quality of local waters.  Each Bay state's Tributary Strategy relies heavily on voluntary adoption of BMPs by the private sector, including farmers and homeowners, to achieve its goals.  In rural areas this effort tends to emphasize loadings from the agricultural sector, although the urban sector will be of increasing importance as many areas in the watershed are experiencing explosive population growth.  Ultimate success will require working with farmers and homeowners to encourage voluntary reductions of nutrients and sediment flowing from yards, cropland, pasture, and sources of concentrated animal manure such as cattle feedlots.  All state tributary strategies seek to reduce pollutant loads by implementing a comprehensive suite of voluntary BMPs. 

Regulatory changes are also needed, to require that all new construction projects, including housing developments, manufacturing facilities, and even new schools, be built in a way that minimizes their contributions of nutrients and sediment to local waterways and ultimately the Bay.

The WV Potomac Tributary Strategy's chapter on Challenges to Implementation provides a great deal on insight into the thinking of different stakeholder groups who actually participated in developing WV's strategy.  This is a must read!

Your fourth native guide is Matt Monroe (Environmental Coordinator for the WV Department of Agriculture).  Matt is a key player in West Virginia's tributary strategy process, and provides his unique point of view on the agricultural community's perspective.  

Your fifth  native guide is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a non profit organization with a mission to restore the Bay.  They work to build consensus between groups to restore the Bay, which is what you will be doing during the third week of the SCE Forum.  Read about their efforts here.

More links:

  • CBF Helping Farmers help the Bay.  Click here.
  • A West Virginia success story!   Using Best Management Practices and community support to clean up the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac .  

  • Giving Back to the Land They Work.  A story from Pennsylvania. 

Paying for it


Paying for the Bay cleanup will be incredibly expensive.  This document from the WV Potomac Tributary Strategy details the costs for West Virginia alone, and West Virginia is only a small part of the solution.   There are quite a few government programs that provide cost share money to farmers to help pay for environmental practices. 


There are other innovative ways to provide support for protection of our lands:

  • Potomac Conservancy conducts a comprehensive land protection program; develops and implements a variety of land and water restoration projects; provides counseling and other conservation support services for more than 70 other land trusts across four states and the District of Columbia; provides meaningful, hands-on volunteer and education programs for adults and young people to foster a stewardship ethic; and partners with other land trusts, conservation organizations, and local, state, and federal agencies to more efficiently and expeditiously achieve land protection and restoration goals. Click here.

  • Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust works throughout the Lost and Cacapon River watershed to assist landowners and communities in maintaining healthy rivers, protecting forests and farmland, and in preserving rural heritage for the enjoyment and well being of present and future generations.  Click here  to learn more. 

  • West Virginia Farmland Protection Website provides information about the West Virginia Voluntary Farmland Protection Act, counties participating through the formation of Farmland Protection Boards and the State Authority authorized under the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.  Click here.  

  • Farmland Protection Board Submits First Applications.  By Dick Hughes Special to Moorefield Examiner.  The Hardy County Farmland Protection Board has submitted its first applications in a federal and county program to protect prime agricultural land in perpetuity.  Click here for more.

  • American Farmland Trust: How to save farmland.  Click here.




General Links

Chesapeake Bay Program - a link to America's Premier Watershed Restoration Partnership


Chesapeake Bay Program - Tributary Tools The Tributary Strategy Tools Page serves as a resource to the Tributary Strategy coordinators and teams as they develop their Tributary Strategies. This page provides key information, presentations, data, and other tools to help each jurisdiction develop their Tributary Strategies. It is also a forum for sharing ideas and approaches for distilling down highly technical information into a form that stakeholders can understand and use in developing their Strategies.


The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


November 14, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) released the 2005 State of the Bay Report, the  annual report card on the health of the Bay.


The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is a regional nonprofit organization that builds and fosters partnerships to protect and to restore the Bay and its rivers.


  About WATERSHEDSS: A Decision Support System for Nonpoint Source Pollution Control To adequately control nonpoint source pollution of a water resource, water quality managers must focus on minimizing the impacts of individual nonpoint source pollutants. The strategic choice and placement of best management practices (BMPs) in the watershed can successfully reduce the input of individual pollutants and may improve water quality. WATERSHEDSS (WATER, Soil, and Hydro- Environmental Decision Support System) was designed to help watershed managers and land treatment personnel identify their water quality problems and select appropriate best management practices.




to be continued