Choose Clean Water Coalition Conference 2014

This picture of the Shenandoah River was the conference logo.

This picture of the Shenandoah River was the conference logo.

Wow! That’s what I have to say about the 2014 Choose Clean Water Coalition Conference held at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton, Virginia last week. Nearly two-hundred leaders from every non-profit organization with a mission for cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed were in attendance including the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the Campbell Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Legal Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center and many local groups like our own Friends of Middle River, and the Valley Conservation Council.

Logo of the Coalition

Logo of the Coalition

I have never attended a more upbeat, engaging and educational conference in my life. Topics included: Clarifying “jurisdictional waters of the U.S.”, Fracking, Extreme Weather, Reaching out to Farmers, the Shenandoah Valley, agri-tourism and of course the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Field trips included a walking tour of Bells Lane Farm, bicycling in the George Washington National Forest and a walking tour of Mossy Creek – a restored trout stream.

Here are some notes and quotes I wrote down from some of the speakers:

  • There are 35,000 new frack wells every year in the U.S.
  • Each time a well is fracked they use 5.5 million gallons of water. Half of this water can never be used for human use again…ever.
  • The U.S. is the world’s leader in natural gas production and we export it.
  • The industrial pads and roads needed for frack wells in Pennsylvania have claimed over 9,000 acres of state forest.
  • Delaware has the lowest mean elevation of any state in the country. High tide during a full moon floods their hurricane evacuation routes on a regular basis. 
  • Science told us what would happen to New Orleans during a category three hurricane but nobody listened.
  • The current goal for riparian forest buffer installation in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is 1,200 miles per year. Our current pace is 244 miles per year.
  • Food production is the number one industry in the Shenandoah Valley, in Virginia and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   Conserving farmland is crucial for our economies and for a restored Bay.

Seems gloomy doesn’t it? But I came away uplifted because of all the positive energy from the people doing

Ivor Van Heerden, former Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, addresses the conferees.  Photo by Carolyn Millard.

Ivor Van Heerden, former Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, addresses the conferees. Photo by Carolyn Millard.

something about it. The NGO groups were all over these topics with science and strategies to solve the problems.  Featured speakers included State Senator Emmett Hanger, EPA Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner, former Director for the Study of Publich Health Impacts of Hurricanes Ivan Van Heerden,

Dr. Jim Nations from the Center for Human Ecology and Secretary of Natural Resources for Virginia Molly Ward.

Concerned about our water? Join the coalition or one of the organizations in the Choose Clean Water Coalition today and volunteer or donate resources!

Several people asked me to put my “Seven Principles” of getting more conservation on the ground in a blog post.  Here they are:

These principles have helped me get more conservation on the ground.

These principles have helped me get more conservation on the ground.


  1. Bobby thank you for your role in making it such a great conference. And, of course, participants from away were enamored with lovely Staunton and Augusta County. Kate Wofford

  2. Sandy Greene says:

    I read that we export 45% of the natural gas we are fracking already, and that Dominion already has contracts with Japan to sell natural gas through the proposed pipeline and Coles Point export facility.

    The emergency priority on my mind is reinstating the “Frack Pack” of 5 laws that the Oil and Gas industries don’t have to deal with: the Safe Water Drinking Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Up Your Act Act (not sure what the name of this one is, and Test before you Drill Act.

    How could we?

    Thanks for your blog, Bobby!

  3. George Ohrstrom says:

    Nicely said, as always. I’m pleased you came away upbeat; I’m sorry that Bill Howard and I of the Downstream Project were unable to be there; but he was at his son’s college graduation and I was in Boston with Randy Newman and Kris Kristofferson. I probably should have blown off meeting them and gone to Network at the conference, but I didn’t.
    I really agree with Sandy Greene, though. Whenever anyone tells me that the American Petroleum Association says that fracking is safe; and the all the horror stories one hears are only anecdotal, I have only one question in response.
    If it is such a safe, benign technology why did Dick Cheney exempt the industry from both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act in the 2005 Energy bill he pushed through Congress?
    Again thanks for all you do for conservation ….George

  4. Jim Snyder says:

    I wish I shared you optimism Bobby. I’ve attended numerous uplifting meetings over the years but see very little action on the ground to make a real difference these days. You are certainly the exception but we need thousands more like you. Everything I have done throughout my career in this part of the world is being undone currently. I spent the last 2 years of my career here with NRCS facilitating more habitat destruction than I ever helped put on the ground in over 30 years. I am talking about the removal of small woodlots, wetlands, fence rows and other marginal lands put into row crop production through the FSA AD-1026 processes. I had nearly 3000 of them on my desk the day I retired. CRP and CREP participation is down 80% here while some farmers go door to door to outbid the rental rates to tear up more habitat for row crops. The Dust Bowl is back. I hate to think we need to go through another 1980’s farm economy crash to turn this around again.

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Wow, Jim. Things in the Midwest really are going down, downstream that is. I wonder why the states along the Mississippi are suing the EPA over us trying to clean up our Chesapeake Bay? We know the answer don’t we?

      • Buff Showalter says:

        Jim, you are spot on about the prospect of another dust bowl and the reversal of acres in CRP and CREP. Don’t blame farmers for what is happening out there, they are only responding to market signals one of which is something called the renewable fuels standard which has been largely responsible for the run up in commodity prices. This is just another example of the law of unintended consequences that the progressive socialists in Washington have ignored. As one old timer put it “the chickens are coming home to roost”!

  5. Anne Nielsen says:

    Bravo to you, and to members of the conference. I hope the morale boost also put some steel in their spines. I attended a FOR meeting this morning. Our speakers were three women from Kenya who are here for the Peace building Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. Their discussion of climate change and its role in the increasing unrest in that area was most interesting. Seasonality of rains lost, too much some times (eroding the soil) and too little at critical times, leading to more irrigation and depletion of aquifers that should be reserved for drinking water.

    Access to clean water is among the most critical issues facing the global economy, and ultimately Virginia as well. An industry that uses as much clean water and then creates as much foul, unusable water as Fracking is utterly unacceptable.

  6. Jim Snyder says:

    I am sure you’ve heard about the algae bloom overtaking parts of Lake Erie again Bobby. It is worse now than at anytime since 1970. I mentioned the 1026 (HEL/Wetland determinations)issue here. With so many of them in this state, our resource specialists at NRCS have had their time diverted to service them and all the hundreds of appeals. It leaves much less time to sell conservation programs and much less to get conservation on the ground. As a result, I am seeing more erosion in this area now than at anytime during my lifetime. A perfect storm is brewing both economically and environmentally. NRCS staff here have been cut to where there are barely enough staff to keep doors open while the expense to do so far exceeds the 14 million to implement conservation programs. I think the Feds would be better off giving conservation funds to non-profits and state agencies to administer similar to what we did in Virginia for the BMP program for the Bay. When I left 6 weeks ago, only 3 of 30 EQIP applications were being approved.

    • Buff Showalter says:

      Jim, you are so right about giving conservation funds to non-profits to administer locally. These folks often have the time and forsight to build trust and working relationships with farmers and are able to tailor practices to fit local needs and get away from the cumbersome “one size fits all” box that is the holy grail of government programs. There are a lot of good people working on the local level at nrcs etc, but they are being swallowed up by a worthless bureaucracy that is more concerned about perpetuating itself than conservation. I am passionate about conserving our soil, water and farmland for future generations but am totally discusted with the current mindset in the conservation community that simply throwing more taxpayer dollars at the bay will solve all of our water quality problems. I would love to know how many federal and state dollars earmarked for conservation actually end up putting conservation on the ground. My guess is the answer would be appalling to anyone who understands simple business principles. My 2 cents as a farmer who has to deal with this stuff every day!

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