With the Long Branch flowing gently behind them, various members of a far-reaching public-private partnership came to Arlington on Tuesday to celebrate a laundry list of projects that they hope will have permanent, positive effects on the Chesapeake Bay.
"We simply cannot do enough to restore the Chesapeake Bay," Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada said to a small crowd.
Tejada's remarks followed the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation naming the recipients of 41 grants totaling about $9.2 million designed to help improve watersheds and reduce or eliminate the flow of certain pollutants into the bay and its tributaries — from Long Branch to Four Mile Run to the Potomac River and beyond.
Federal, regional and local officials announced the grants — which, combined with various local matching dollars, equal about $23 million in conservation investment — at the Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Road.
The 41 projects will engage 9,000 volunteers in restoration work, restore 176 miles of streamside forests, restore 158 acres of wetlands and establish 170,000 square feet of green roofs and rain gardens across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
"The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure," said David O'Neill with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. "We know the Chesapeake is suffering. But we're on a good course. The tide is changing."
About 17 million people live in the watershed, which includes Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the area is urban, which is why Arlington County made an ideal backdrop for Tuesday's announcement, O'Neill said.
"Arlington is leading efforts in urban areas to clean up streams," he said.
Tejada listed a few of the green projects Arlington County has completed or will soon begin as he spoke about the economic and environmental importance of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
"We are thought to be a densely populated area — and we are," Tejada said. "But right in the middle of it…" He paused, gesturing to the nearby stream, and continued, "We have jewels like this."
County officials have made it a point to make new development contribute to conservation.
"We are asking (the developers) to do their part," Tejada said. "The mentality is changing. They are more likely to consider the options, like green roofs and rain barrels."
Arlington County received one of the 41 grants announced Tuesday — an $80,000 award to expand a program that provides incentives to private property owners to reduce polluted runoff.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership that includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several state and local governments.
Its goal is to leverage public-private dollars and drive them to conservation projects that have the biggest impact on the bay, O'Neill said. Private contributors to the fund include Walmart, Altria and FedEx.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, the ranking member on the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said he would push to maintain federal funding for such programs.
The Chesapeake Bay Program and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have awarded about $75 million in grants since 1999.