The environment is an ongoing issue of importance.
The Elizabeth River Project is a group working to protect Mother Nature.
Although the group mainly works to protect the Elizabeth River, specifically the Lafayette Branch, their project is something society can model. While the river is located in the Norfolk area, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Elizabeth River Project and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will host Riverfest 2011 on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Riverfest was developed to restore the Lafayette River. The goal is to make the river water safe by 2014, which will allow people to swim in it and eat its oysters.
The dangers of the river water are not because of industrial pollution, despite the river’s proximity to Norfolk’s shipyards. The issues are caused by the high level of toxins in storm water, which runs into the river when it rains.
Kate Duckett, the communications and marketing specialist for the Elizabeth River Project, said the pollution in these waters is from a high level of fertilizer chemicals, as well as pet waste. At too high a level, the chemicals found in fertilizer lead to fish deaths and devastate the environment’s ecological balance.
Animal waste is found naturally in water. When owners do not pick up pet waste, even in their own yard, it eventually finds its way to the river water via storm water. This results in an imbalance of the river, making the shellfish unsafe to eat.
Oysters and shellfish filter the river water. However, when a great number of oysters die off, there are not enough left to filter out the existing toxins.
Riverfest, which is free to the public, will be a fun and educational event that all can enjoy. Guests can arrive via boat, bike or foot, but there will also be small parking lots available for vehicles. At the event, there will be live musical entertainment, as well as activities that include a scoop-the-poop relay, canoe and fishing races, green gardening stations and boat tours.
According to Duckett, Riverfest is a fun, informative event with several activities for kids and families.
“We hope to engage them, not just preach to them,” Duckett said.
The event will also kick off the organization’s Lafayette Restoration Plan, which details how the group will make the river safe by 2014. Reaching the goal will require a lot of effort.
“It’s going to take a lot of people changing,” Duckett said. “Inspiring behavior change can take a while. We have to get a lot of people on board and spread the word first.”
The group is also launching a new program called River Star Homes, which is their first citizen involvement program. Citizens can be members of this program if they agree to do a certain set of activities, the biggest of which are to reduce or eliminate their use of fertilizer and to always pick up after their pets. Other criteria include not dumping medication down the drain and not feeding the migrant geese.
According to Duckett, geese waste continues to have a harmful affect on the river.
“Their waste is also really bad, and they are overpopulated,” Duckett said. “We are encouraging people to encourage the geese to migrate and not stick around.”
Members are also asked to protect their storm drains and not put anything but water down the them because water treatment facilities are not equipped to deal with waste disposal.
This year’s Riverfest has been in production for at least a year and a half and is a big undertaking for the team.
Although Riverfest has been held in the past, this year’s event will be completely different. This is the first year the event is free and open to the public.
“It’s not a fundraiser but more of an education based event,” Duckett said. “We are really trying to educate the public on the problems and how integral they are to solving the problem.”