Lo­cal wa­ter­sheds mak­ing the grade

MRC re­port shows im­prove­ment in most Mid-Shore Ch­e­sa­peake ar­eas

Dorchester Star - - Front Page - By CHRIS POLK cpolk@star­dem.com

ST. MICHAELS — It’s good news on top of good news for Mid-Shore Ch­e­sa­peake wa­ter­sheds, ac­cord­ing to data gath­ered by the Midshore River­keeper Con­ser­vancy and pre­sented Fri­day evening, April 29, dur­ing its an­nual State of the Rivers Party & Re­port Card Re­lease at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum.

Most rivers, creeks and bays are hold­ing their own with good grades on the Mid-Shore side of the Ch­e­sa­peake.

Five ar­eas have made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments and only one area de­clined — Crab Al­ley Bay of Kent Is­land.

For six years, the MRC’s army of more than 50 vol­un­teer creek watch­ers have sam­pled and tested Bay wa­ters from 120 strate­gic sites to record the qual­ity of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s wa­ters from May through Oc­to­ber.

The vol­un­teers’ work is sup­ple­mented by MRC’s staff and river­keep­ers who pa­trol the rivers at least weekly col­lect­ing data, mak­ing note of po­ten­tially harm­ful trends and sniff­ing out sources of pol­lu­tion.

The River Re­port Card party is the an­nual gath­er­ing of creek watch­ers, who get treated with re­fresh­ments, a key­note speaker and a chance to see the fruits of their labors.

The sci­en­tists said one of the high­lights of sum­mer 2015 was that wa­ter clar­ity in the mid­dle por­tions of Mid-Shore rivers was the best it had been in many years.

They said it was pri­mar­ily be­cause 2014 and 2015 had rel­a­tively low rain­fall, mean­ing there were less nu­tri­ents flow­ing off land sat­u­rated by rain.

They said all that dry weather meant higher saline

con­cen­tra­tions and saltier wa­ter pushed up from the lower Bay.

“Less di­luted, saltier in­flows from the lower Bay and ocean can also lead to bet­ter wa­ter qual­ity since they carry fewer nu­tri­ents,” Matt Pluta said in his re­port. Pluta is the MRC staff river­keeper for the Chop­tank River and trib­u­taries. He said there was also a wel­come pro­fu­sion of un­der­wa­ter grasses in those ar­eas.

Pluta said at Har­ris Creek, the site where a large oys­ter restora­tion had been com­pleted, there was a 20 per­cent in­crease in over­all clar­ity from 2014 to 2015.

On the down side, he said, dis­solved oxy­gen scores did not im­prove, ex­cept in LaTrappe Creek and Is­land Creek.

Look­ing at nu­tri­ent lev­els, he said, there was lit­tle change in ni­tro­gen lev­els from 2014 to 2015 in the Chop­tank, and phos­pho­rus wors­ened at all test ar­eas.

The Tuck­a­hoe River con­tin­ues to score the lowest on the Mid-Shore, even though phos­pho­rus has de­creased 28 per­cent, rep­re­sent­ing the largest de­crease of any trib­u­tary, he said.

Pluta said af­ter an­a­lyz­ing five years of data, it shows the mouths of rivers tend to be cleaner than the up­stream reaches and changes in wa­ter qual­ity seem to co­in­cide with wet and dry years.

That sup­ports the the­ory that the wa­ter­shed’s land is the source of pol­lu­tion, Pluta said.

“If we re­duce pol­lu­tion in­puts to mimic those in a dry year, then we will see rapid im­prove­ment in wa­ter qual­ity,” he said.

Jeff Horstman, MRC Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor and staff river­keeper for the Miles River, the Wye River and East­ern Bay, said the data in­di­cated some strong wa­ter qual­ity im­prove­ments in his wa­ter­sheds.

“On my trips to East­ern Bay last sum­mer, I could fre­quently see the bot­tom in 8 to 10 feet of clear wa­ter,” he wrote in his re­port. “Some­thing we have not ex­pe­ri­enced in many years.”

Horstman said he knew many felt the wa­ter im­prove­ments were from lack of sum­mer rains, but he hoped it was the be­gin­ning of a larger trend.

He said on a per­cent­age ba­sis, he and his team saw real im­prove­ment in the Miles and Wye rivers, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 14.5 per­cent and 9.5 per­cent in­creases, re­spec­tively, in over­all wa­ter qual­ity, mainly be­cause of wa­ter clar­ity.

Even so, both rivers scored poorly with too much phos­pho­rus, he said. Bac­te­ria sam­pling was some­times too high, he said, and in some cases in­di­cated swim­ming should be re­stricted.

He also said im­proper dis­charge from boaters in the Miles River is a main source of bac­te­ria and he hoped the MRC’s new Pump Out Boat that be­gins op­er­a­tion this spring would help.

Six­teen main sites, from Kent Is­land to up­per Dorch­ester County, were sam­pled.

Those grades that stayed the same were Prospect Bay with a B plus; Green­wood Creek, East­ern Bay, Har­ris Creek and Broad Creek with the score of B; the Tred Avon River and Chop­tank River with the score of B mi­nus; and the Wye River, Wye Nar­rows and Tuck­a­hoe River with the score of C.

Those ar­eas that im­proved were Cox Creek and Ship­ping Creek, both of which went from a B to a B plus; LaTrappe and Is­land Creek went from a B mi­nus to a B; the Miles River went from a C to a B mi­nus; and the Wye East River went from a C mi­nus to a C.

The only area to de­cline was Crab Al­ley Bay, which went from a B plus to a B. For the first time in sev­eral years, no ar­eas were rated C mi­nus.

Each year, MRC gives a vol­un­teer of the year award, and it was an­nounced on Fri­day evening that the award would be named for Andy Coombs, a vol­un­teer for MRC who helped found the or­ga­ni­za­tion and was in­stru­men­tal in its oys­ter restora­tion ef­forts.

Coombs died on April 15. His fam­ily was present to see the first awards given in his name.

Vol­un­teers Joe Jelich and Mike Bilek were the first to re­ceive the Andy Coombs Vol­un­teer Award.

“They’ve been ded­i­cated creek watch­ers from the be­gin­ning,” Horstman said. “They go out to­gether. They take their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously while they have fun with it.”

He said it they had an ice­breaker, they would con­tinue take sam­ples all year long, and they sup­port all of MRC’s fundrais­ers and events.

Also hon­ored was Linda Scog­gins, for­mer Anne Arun­del County school­teacher who has been help­ing with MRC’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

Kate Livie, ed­u­ca­tion direc­tor at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum, gave the key­note speech about her new book, “Ch­e­sa­peake Oys­ters.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Midshore River­keeper Con­ser­vancy’s work, vol­un­teer­ing, pro­grams and out­reach, visit its web­site at www.mid­shoreriver­keeper.org or call 443-385-0511.

PHOTO BY CHRIS POLK

Midshore River­keeper Con­ser­vancy vol­un­teers Mike Bilek, right, and Joe Jelich were hon­ored with the Andy Coombs Vol­un­teer Award on Fri­day.

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