Heal­ing waters

Huge project aims to re­duce runoff to Sas­safras



— Deep in the woods be­hind the U.S. Route 301 weigh sta­tion, a group of ded­i­cated en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have been work­ing to save the Sas­safras River.

That may seem strange — as the Sas­safras as many likely know it be-


tween Ge­orge­town and Fred­er­ick­town is sev­eral miles away — but the wa­ter­way be­gins in places like this. Two un­named streams, fed by runoff from high­ways and farm fields, and a stormwa­ter man­age­ment pond next to the weigh sta­tion, snake their way down­stream un­til they feed into the mouth of the Sas­safras River.

For the Sas­safras River

As­so­ci­a­tion, a non­profit wa­ter qual­ity ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion that works to mon­i­tor and im­prove the Sas­safras River, the U.S. 301 streams were ground zero for im­prove­ments.

“This was the No. 1 project in our Watershed Ac­tion Plan,” said Josh Thomp­son, nu­tri­ent man­age­ment con­sul­tant and Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion restora­tion project man­ager. “This is the project we’ve been work­ing toward for more than five or six years.”

The $880,000 two-phase project aims to cap­ture and re­duce runoff from U.S. 301 while also re­con­fig­ur­ing the path of the stream in order to re­duce the dras­tic ero­sion oc­cur­ring there. The Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion had to put in years of re­search to de­sign the so­lu­tion to the wa­ter­way’s prob­lems, even mea­sur­ing ve­loc­ity and out­put dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy in 2012.

Al­bert McCul­lough, project de­signer and prin­ci­pal eco­log­i­cal en­gi­neer from Sus­tain­able Science LLC, ex­plained that the Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion first con­ducted an as­sess­ment of the an­gles and tra­jec­to­ries of the nat­u­ral stream. What of­fi­cials found was that hair­pin turns were re­sult­ing in dras­tic ero­sion, es­pe­cially dur­ing storm events, and by re­ori­ent­ing the wa­ter they could re­lax the dam­age.

“We es­sen­tially did some chi­ro­prac­tic work on those ar­eas of the stream,” he said. “We also put in some stone veins and stone cross veins in order to kind of train the wa­ter to stay in the chan­nel rather than hit­ting the bank.”

The orig­i­nal con­struc­tion of a rock bed be­yond the out­flow of the weigh sta­tion’s stormwa­ter pipe lacked the tiered sys­tem that slows and cleans the wa­ter, of­fi­cials ex­plained The re­sult was dra­matic ero­sion of the sur­round­ing earthen stream chan­nel walls, in some places as high as 8 feet. The drop from the high­way to the Van Funk, Ce­cil County Pub­lic Works Sed­i­ment & Stormwa­ter Branch pro­gram man­ager, looks down Mon­day at the rock bed built to re­store a stream near the U.S. Route 301 weigh sta­tion that feeds into the Sas­safras River.

stream is now as high as 30 feet in some places.

“We’ve in­stalled some best prac­tices to cap­ture, store and in­fil­trate the wa­ter,” Thomp­son said. “Fur­ther down­stream, we’re try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate the stream and re­store the habi­tat.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing the work on the south­ern stream this week, crews will be­gin the less in­ten­sive work on the north­ern stream, which is largely fed by farm runoff rather than the high­way.

In to­tal, about 1,600 feet of stream, which han­dles drainage from about 454 acres, will be re­ha­bil­i­tated and re­stored. The project is es­ti­mated to an­nu­ally pre­vent 100 tons of sed­i­ment, 35 pounds of nitro­gen and 465 pounds of phos­pho­rus from en­ter­ing the Sas­safras River.

“As the dirt is scoured away from the stream banks, it’s car­ried down stream and de­posited in the river it­self, which chokes out sub­merged aquatic veg­e­ta­tion and re­duces macro-in­ver­te­brate habi­tat,” Thomp­son ex­plained. “The fur­ther we get down toward the river, these ver­ti­cal cliffs sub­side and you get a broader flood­plain, which helps to nat­u­rally cleanse the wa­ter and add nu­tri­ents.”

Into the fu­ture, the Sassa-

fras River As­so­ci­a­tion will be mon­i­tor­ing the nu­tri­ent lev­els in the streams to en­sure that their so­lu­tions are work­ing.

Per­haps most im­por­tant is that the en­tire project funded through grants from the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources’ Ch­e­sa­peake and At­lantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund and the Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Trans­porta­tion En­hance­ment Fund. Ce­cil County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works aided in se­cur­ing the grant fund­ing for the Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion and is mon­i­tor­ing the project’s progress and con­struc­tion.

Van Funk, Ce­cil County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works Sed­i­ment and

Stormwa­ter Branch pro­gram man­ager, noted that this project, which will help the county work toward its Watershed Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan to re­duce pol­lu­tion in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, fixes an iden­ti­fied is­sue.

“This is solv­ing a prob­lem for our lo­cal watershed, so it’s good for our lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and wa­ter­ways,” he added.

The U.S. 301 project isn’t the Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion’s only project in the county, how­ever, as it is aid­ing the up­start non­profit Friends of the Bo­hemia in a project that will look to re­ha­bil­i­tate a large farm pond near the Bo­hemia River.

“We’re part­ner­ing with the Friends of the Bo­hemia to kind of get their feet wet and get them in the door with the trust fund so them can get some projects in the ground,” Thomp­son said.

As the most es­tab­lished wa­ter qual­ity ad­vo­cacy group nearby, Sas­safras River As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Kim Righi said they wel­come work­ing with new groups like the Friends of the Bo­hemia and Elk & North East Rivers Watershed As­so­ci­a­tion.


Al­bert McCul­lough, project de­signer, right, dis­cusses how the stream restora­tion project has slowed and aimed the tra­jec­tory of the wa­ter’s move­ment be­hind the U.S. Route 301 weigh sta­tion in War­wick.


Al­bert McCul­lough, project de­signer, left, and Josh Thomp­son, project man­ager, ex­am­ine one of the newly con­structed turns in the stream restora­tion project.


Runoff from U.S. Route 301 runs down this bank into the stream that feeds into the Sas­safras River.


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