Data monitoring aids stability in Chester’s health
CHESTERTOWN — Improved farming practices, conservation efforts and continued education have all contributed to keeping the Chester River’s health stable over the past year.
The Chester River Association held its second annual State of the Chester meeting April 19 in the Hynson Lounge at Washington College.
The river’s health has been on a steady rise since it was first tested in 2007 with this year’s grade on the higher end of a C+.
“The results of this report are not subjective and they are not speculative. They are based on scientifically derived fact and that’s really important. Facts matter and scientifically derived facts are what will be the foundation for finding the best solution for cleaning up the Chester,” CRA Executive Director Anna Wolgast said.
Throughout the year, the CRA, with help from its Chester Testers, monitored more than 60 sites in the Chester River watershed. Chester Testers are volunteers who test for pH, water temperature, nitrogen levels and more twice a month, year round. The data is used by the CRA to find out how to best improve the health of the river.
“From this data, we have a few conclusions. Pollution is damaging. Most pollution comes from within our watershed and restoration works,” Watershed Manager Tim Trumbauer said.
Restoration has led to some improvements in the watershed. Following restoration efforts around Rileys Mill Creek, its score was raised from a C+ to a B-.
Riverkeeper Isabel Hardesty said the CRA has three ongoing restoration projects in Worton Park, at Gunston School and the Natural Lands Project, which will create 170 acres of grass buffers.
Having the public keeping tabs on the river helps protect it and helps the CRA, Hardesty said. She said that, in the last year, a citizen report of an illegally installed hardened shoreline has lead to an ongoing investigation by the CRA. A permit must be acquired before adding a hardened shoreline as it increases runoff and removes natural buffers.
“If people don’t tell us, and report the issues to us and we don’t the act ... a lot of the time these things will be overlooked and nothing would happen,” Hardesty said.
Reducing turf grass area, reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizer, planting native plants, increasing waterfront buffers and supporting the CRA were all listed as ways for the public to improve the health of the river.
Agricultural Specialist Paul Spies spoke on efforts by the CRA and farmers to reduce pollution.
“We are 65 percent agriculture, so ... if we are a watershed that is going to live our mission of having a cleaner Chester River, we have to connect with our largest land use,” Spies said.
In an effort to reduce nitrogen levels in the Chester, the CRA has introduced a project called GreenSeeker.
“Instead of applying uniform nitrogen, the GreenSeeker predicts what each crop will need and distributes as necessary,” Spies said.
Spies said the benefits of using GreenSeeker are twofold as farmers also will not have to spend as much money on nitrogen.
“A properly managed farm protects our rural landscapes and it is a good thing for the river,” Spies said. “And we truly believe most of our farms want to do the right thing. With a little education and a partnership forming, they educate us and we educate them. We work as a team.”
Additionally, the CRA is introducing a new Comprehensive Approach to Nutrient Management program, which will combine the use of cover crops, delayed nitrogen application and the GreenSeeker program.
“We want to take all these practices that we are talking about and pulling them into one program. No looking at just cover crops by themselves and just nitrogen application by itself and just GreenSeeker by itself, but putting it together in a package for farmers,” Spies said.
The program will begin this year and will include 500 acres in the Chester River’s watershed and will partner five farmers with a doctoral student from the University of Maryland to monitor the results.
As far as swimming in the river, Trumbauer said it is safe to do so as long as it has been at least 24 hours since a rain event, swimmers do not have open wounds and shower afterwards.
“All these numbers are important because ... all of these activities and these efforts float though our advocacy and our enforcement, and outreach will hopefully lead to a cleaner more vibrant Chester,” Hardesty said.
Watershed Manager Tim Trumbauer presents information on the health of the Chester River at the second annual State of the Chester April 19 in the Hynson Lounge at Washington College.