Po­tomac scores a hard-earned B-

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Some­times progress comes in­cre­men­tally.

That’s the case with the Po­tomac River, the wa­ter­way steeped in his­tory that marks most of our state’s western bound­ary. Five years ago, the river was judged to be quite sick, given a grade of D by the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy, a watch­dog agency. In 2013, the group’s grade im­proved to a C. And in its most re­cent State of the Na­tion’s River Re­port re­leased last week, the Po­tomac has ral­lied to a B-.

Not bad, but there’s ob­vi­ously still room for im­prove­ment.

Hedrick Belin, the pres­i­dent of the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy, said the progress made on the river is “tremen­dous,” and the group’s stated goal of mak­ing it a swimmable, fish­able river again by 2025 can be at­tained.

The group’s re­port high­lighted that the top three pol­lu­tants in the river — ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and sed­i­ment — have been on a steady de­cline. Some key indigenous species of fish are on the rise, in­clud­ing white perch. The re­bound of shad in the Po­tomac has been par­tic­u­larly en­cour­ag­ing to the group, ral­ly­ing well past federal restora­tion goals. But he also warns, “the Po­tomac is not in the clear yet.”

Jim Long, the pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed So­ci­ety, said while the grade is a big pos­i­tive for the Po­tomac, there is still much to be ac­counted for – like the dip in the large­mouth bass pop­u­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly off Charles County. The Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy’s study did not ad­dress that, but Long praised the group’s over­all ef­fort, say­ing, “This re­port card says … if you ap­ply your­self and you try, you can have an ef­fect and im­prove things. That’s one of the big take-home mes­sages.”

The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the Po­tomac of to­day and the clean, wildlife-laden river the English set­tlers sailed up in 1634 is that there are so many more peo­ple on both sides, di­rectly and in­di­rectly seep­ing their lives’ left­overs into it. Ur­ban runoff re­mains a grow­ing source of pol­lu­tion in both the Po­tomac and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay water­shed as a whole, the re­port said. In­va­sive blue cat­fish and snake­head fish are also still liv­ing in the wa­ters and putting other fish at risk while un­der­wa­ter habi­tats are try­ing to re­cover.

Robert T. Brown, the pres­i­dent of the Mary­land Wa­ter­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion, agreed last week that the Po­tomac is on the up­swing.

“The pop­u­la­tion in the lower part of the river has picked up. We’re not see­ing the type of grasses we’d like to have, but hope­fully they come back,” Brown said, not­ing that the health of un­der­wa­ter grasses and wa­ter clar­ity are in­di­ca­tors of am­ple oxy­gen con­tent.

The hard truth is that the river, once so loaded with crabs, oys­ters and fish, will likely never re­turn to what it once was be­cause of all the devel­op­ment around it. But we can do our part by re­duc­ing pol­lu­tion when­ever we can. The state has al­ready banned lawn fer­til­iz­ers with phos­pho­rus, for ex­am­ple. More can and should be done to keep the grade im­prov­ing. Who knows? Maybe the Po­tomac can even inch up to a solid B next time.

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