MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll close out today's show with "On the Coast." Bryan Russo's series from the eastern shore of Maryland and coastal Delaware. All year long, Bryan has been covering the Chesapeake Bay and the often rocky relationship between environmentalists and farmers when it comes to protecting the 200 mile long estuary. This week, Bryan follows up on the issue by bringing us a story about woodchips, as in the stuff you put in your yard as mulch. So how do these chips tie in to the Chesapeake Bay?
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Well, environmentalists say these chips can suck up a lot of the pollution that would otherwise trickle in. And now, those environmentalists are working to install woodchip bioreactors on several eastern shore farms. Bryan Russo spoke with Drew Koslow, the Choptank Riverkeeper, who's been working on the project with local farmers, to learn how these bioreactors work.
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
So, tell me a little bit about where we are. We're in Centreville, Maryland. We are in a huge farm. This is the Mason Heritage Farm. Tell me a little bit about this place and what this woodchip bioreactor is.
MR. DREW KOSLOW
OK, well a lot of farms on the eastern shore have drain tile networks or drainage ditch networks to remove excess water and allow them to get onto their fields in the springtime. This farm is no exception, as is the other farm where we installed one of these bioreactors. And what we're doing is taking advantage of the water collection system, whether it's the ditch or in these cases, the drain tile network. And we're running that water through a natural filter.
That's the woodchips.
That's the woodchips. So, the woodchips provide an environment for bacteria that eat the nitrate, which is the mobile form of nitrogen, out of the water. And they convert it to nitrogen gas, which is 70 percent of the air we breathe. And the beauty of it is that it's a natural process. It occurs in first order streams, like this one we see right in front of us. The contact the water has with woody vegetation, with plant material and the flood plain, that's where you get your nutrient processing.
So what we're doing is putting that into a confined area, the woodchip pit, and running our water through and trying to keep as long a retention time of the water in the woodchips as we can. And each site is gonna be a little site specific, but in Iowa, where these things were developed, they found to be very effective at removing nitrate, relatively inexpensive to put in the ground, edge of field technology, so you don't take land out of production. And very low-maintenance over their life span, which is between 15 and 30 years.
In looking at this farm, this is a huge space, and what we're looking at here, this particular site, where we're, you know, you guys are installing this reactor, is seemingly a drop in the bucket of land space comparatively speaking. Tell me about what impact, and I guess what sort of success rates you're seeing, on a project like this on a farm of this scale.
This project is gonna treat about 60 acres of land that drains through this drain tile network. The cost to install it is about 19,000 dollars, including our design. We gotta thank the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for providing the money for us to do this. Our group, Midshore Riverkeepers, sees our role as trying to help farmers, you know, as being part of the same community. And I know each water keeper group has a different approach. Ours is, at the moment, is to try to be collaborative. We feel like, as difficult as it is, as hard, as uncomfortable as the relationship is between the environmental groups and farmers, it's in each of our best interests to try to work together.
Try to develop practices that are gonna work so that we have tools. So that we give farmers tools to help them meet our goals.
If this sort of technology becomes mainstream here on the shore, you know, let's say in the next decade, more and more farmers are utilizing this, how much impact do you think that that is going to make on the larger issue of keeping clean waterways in the Chesapeake Bay and improving that relationship between environmentalists and farmers?
The potential difference that this kind of project can make is really large. And the beauty of it is it's a onetime installation, and you let the project do its job. And, you know, I've been saying this for, I've been in the business for 20 years, and I've always said, if you wanna see what a polluter looks like, look in the mirror. In my mind, we're all in this together and the more collaboration, particularly between groups that are typically adversarial, you know, the more collaboration you get, the better.
That was Drew Koslow, the Choptank Riverkeeper at the Midshore Riverkeepers Conservancy, talking with coastal reporter, Bryan Russo.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Jonathan Wilson, Bryan Russo and Lauren Landau. WAMU's Managing Editor of News is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" Managing Producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our Editorial Assistant. Lauren Landau and John Heniz produce "Door to Door."
Thank you, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website. Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts," and our "Door to Door" theme, "No Girl," are from the album "Title Tracks," by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can find all the music we use each week on metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.
And if you missed part of the show today, you can stream the whole thing on our website by clicking the "This Week On Metro Connection" link. You can also subscribe to our podcast there, or find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and the NPR News app. We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you our annual "Hall of Fame" show, featuring some of our favorite stories from 2013. We'll shadow a rookie cop on the overnight shift. We'll go mining for gold in Maryland, and we'll meet a filmmaker trying to document the culture in D.C.'s Chinatown, before that culture disappears.
Business is booming here and it's great for developers. However, for Chinese immigrants who want to live here, it becomes more difficult.
I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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