Groups attempt to improve water quality by planting trees

By Katie Demeria

Many at the local, state and national levels are making an extra effort to save the Chesapeake Bay — by planting roots.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently promised to give up to $5 million to partnerships within states along the Chesapeake Bay watershed in order to encourage them to plant trees near their waterways.

But many within the Shenandoah Valley have been participating in tree-planting efforts for some time now in order to improve the water quality of the local river and streams.

John Lehnen, an area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, said planting trees along waterways is one of the best ways to repair water quality in an area.

“Their massive root systems help to hold soil in place even during high water,” Lehnen said. “They also provide shade, which increases the amount of oxygen that’s available to the aquatic creatures.”

Creating good quality water in the Shenandoah River, he said, will send good quality water to the bay, reversing a lot of the damage that has been done to that body of water.

Recently, Gov. Terry McAuliffe pledged to back the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, a plan launched by the Chesapeake Bay Program that aims to “protect, restore and enhance finfish, shellfish and other living resources, their habitats and ecological relationships to sustain all fisheries and provide for a balanced ecosystem in the watershed and Bay,” according to the agreement.

Lehnen and Mike Linskey of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Strasburg said planting trees along the Shenandoah River and its streams will ultimately help repair the Chesapeake Bay in a number of ways.

“Trees, and buffers in general, are sort of a last line of defense,” Lehnen said. “They attract sediment that may wash into the stream otherwise and take up excess nutrients that are left on crop or pasture fields so they don’t go into the stream,” he said.

Buffers include most things growing along banks, such as grass, Lehnen said. But trees are especially beneficial because they help moderate the water temperature, and the debris falling from trees usually benefit aquatic insects.

Lehnen is a member of the Woodstock Tree Board. He said that while the town does not have much riverfront access, what the board does still benefits water quality.

“The town has been doing tree planting to try to increase the urban tree canopy so that we’re reducing the speed and the amount of water that we put into the storm drains and subsequently into the river,” Lehnen said.

“Usually water that comes off of urban areas has its own set of pollutants, such as oil from cars and particulates that might have come from emissions from vehicles and that sort of thing,” he continued.

The USDA hopes to encourage all landowners to plant trees and help repair the bay’s water quality by providing incentives to those participating in the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

To learn more about those incentives, visit

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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