A call to act on streams, bay

May 02, 2008|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

The theme of the first major HoCoH2O event was connection.

Speaker Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, used slides and words to show how waterways are connected, and pollution in a small stream can trickle down to the Chesapeake Bay.

The theme of connection also applied to the coalition of organizations that joined together to form HoCoH20, an alliance that shares a common goal of protecting waterways.

More than 200 people attended a "Call to Action" meeting Tuesday night at the Jim Rouse Theater in Wilde Lake High School. Lisa Mikkelsen, one of the coalition's founders and an event organizer, said the goal was to get people to think about working together to improve water quality.

Mikkelsen, who comes from an advertising and marketing background, said she's become interested in the environment in the past few years. She was spurred to action by environmental report cards that gave the Patuxent River a D-minus and the Patapsco River a D.

A county that's one of the wealthiest in the nation ought to be able to do something about it, she said.

"My feeling is, if anyone's going to do something right and can afford to do it, it's Howard County," she said.

More than 30 organizations were listed as sponsors of Tuesday's "Call to Action," including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Friends of Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, the Howard County Conservancy and the county's public school system and Department of Recreation and Parks.

Speakers included Terry Cummings of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who sits on the House Environmental Matters Committee; Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network; and Tutman, the riverkeeper.

"We need to work together," said Cathy Hudson, another event organizer. "I've been in the environmental community for decades now. I think we are at a point where people are beginning to wake up. If we don't start to do things differently in our world, we're going to be in trouble."

During the meeting, contact information was collected from attendees. Now, Mikkelsen said, the challenge is figuring out "the next step that would really have the most substance." Her goal, she said, is to achieve "measurable results" in water quality improvement.

HoCoH2O had a small event in October -- a bus tour of various storm water sites in the county -- but the Call to Action was the alliance's first major event, she said.

"The answers to it are all of us chipping in together at a level I don't think we've ever dreamed of," Mikkelsen said. "I think that's the challenge. How can we get all the stakeholders, including myself, my neighbor, the state the county, the Columbia Association" and others to act.

During the meeting, Tutman showed slides of turtles, marshes, lily pads, kayakers and other idyllic watery scenes, while discussing the interconnectedness of the waterway.

"The stakes are pretty darn high," he said. "We're talking about the future of the planet."

He added: "I think Howard County is obviously a lovely place to live, but it is not exempt from the kinds of problems facing other communities."

The answer, he said, is "to get more civically engaged. To do nothing is unconscionable, to be sure."

He spoke of reducing waste and consumer demand and of buying products that are not harmful to the environment. "Last but not least, we have to speak up," he said. "This kind of grass-roots work is exactly how we're going to start to make strides."

Marianne Alexander of the Howard County Conservancy ended the 90-minute gathering by urging everybody to get involved. "Every day we see evidence that our individual actions affect everyone in the bay watershed," she said.

"The whole point of this," she added, "is that we all want to stay connected as a community that cares about our lakes, rivers and bay."

ksnitkin@comcast.net

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