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Chesapeake Conservancy gets $1.1 million to bolster mapping data aimed at stormwater cleanup

rpacella@capgaznews.com

Using $1.1 million in federal money, the Chesapeake Conservancy hopes to expand its data-driven maps of land and water to help others more precisely target opportunities for environmental restoration.

“It’s really creating a unique world where everybody has access to the same data and everybody’s data is really, really good quality,” said Jeffrey Allenby, director of conservation technology.

The Annapolis-based conservancy announced last week that it was awarded $1.1 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to bolster its land cover project, which uses aerial images and computer programming to identify precisely what’s on the ground across the watershed — impervious surfaces like a strip mall and interstates that rain can’t soak into, or natural surfaces like fields and forests that offer slow filtration.

Allenby said the money will enable the nonprofit environmental group to update its map with new data, so staff can see how development shapes the watershed over time. They’re using 2013 and 2014 images right now, he said.

The grant money will also allow them to expand a pilot program that maps how water moves across the land.

They use existing U.S. Geological Survey Lidar data, collected by bouncing a laser off the ground from an airplane.

And by combining that information with the land cover map, Allenby said they will be able to precisely target spots where restoration will be the most efficient.

The conservancy has also been able to take existing data and pull finer resolution from it. While the land cover data they’re working with has a horizontal resolution of 30 feet, their program brings that resolution down to about 3 to 5 feet.

That means they’re mapping driveways, trees, docks and others features that might have been lost in a coarser analysis.

“When you’re trying to look at putting in a 35-foot stream-side buffer, being off by 30 feet is a big difference,” Allenby said.

They plan on sharing the information with groups from the Chesapeake Bay Program down to local waterkeepers who serve rivers and watersheds across the state, he said.

“So they can work where it’s needed most,” he said.

The quality of data a county might use to make a decision won’t come down to how much money a county might have, Allenby said. It will be an equal playing field, he said, and EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio agreed.

“This project will give states, counties and local jurisdictions critical information on how the landscape is changing over time and how these changes impact progress toward achieving restoration of local waters and the Chesapeake Bay,” Servidio said in a statement.

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