- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The news for our local waterways hasn’t been good of late.
Last month, American Rivers, an advocacy group, listed the Potomac River as the country’s most endangered river. The environmental advocacy group Potomac Riverkeeper noted that the Potomac received a “D” grade from a University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science report. The study found that the river’s water clarity, which had been showing some improvement in recent years, declined between 2009 and 2010.
A news release in May from the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County notes that the Mattawoman Creek is showing a loss of stream spawning sites and that fish habitat has declined. The report is called “The Case for Protection of the Watershed Resources of Mattawoman Creek: Recommendations and Management Initiatives to Protect the Mattawoman Ecosystems.” A few years back, American Rivers named the Mattawoman the fourth most endangered river in the nation in its annual listing of threatened rivers. It was once thought to be the best place to fish for bass on the East Coast.
Last Sunday, while former senator Bernie Fowler was taking part in his annual wade-in in the Patuxent River, he had some bad news to share. The Patuxent has been given an “F” for its bay health index. That grade, too, came from the university’s environmental science center. Fowler has been conducting his “sneaker index” for 25 years. Basically, he puts on his white tennis shoes and wades into the water until he can no longer see his shoes. Each year, he doesn’t have to go farther than the last before he loses sight of his feet. Not very scientific, but one gets the point.
Shortly before Memorial Day, the Calvert County Health Department issued a press release reminding folks who use local waterways that vibrio bacteria are naturally found in brackish coastal waters such as the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Summer climates plus nutrient pollution annually create a warm broth perfect for breeding vibrio, bacteria that cause skin and blood infections and intestinal illnesses. The warning: Steer clear of the water if you have any open wounds and avoid raw shellfish from those waters.
News for the Chesapeake Bay doesn’t seem to get any better either. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put the bay on a pollution diet. For decades, cleanup plans have fallen short. New goals have been set to limit the nutrients and sediment that make their way in the estuary. That has entailed controlling sewage and farm runoff and better managing stormwater. The goals call for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and a 20 percent reduction in sediments flowing into the bay by 2025.
Like Fowler said on Sunday, the water is pretty to look at, “but it’s what’s down below the surface that you can’t see that’s causing the problems.”
Over the years, it was determined that nitrogen and phosphorus in discharge from sewer plants were creating unnatural algae blooms that were decaying and robbing the water of oxygen. Now those nutrients are being removed from treated sewer water. Runoff from farms was once thought to be a major culprit. Farmers now follow industry standards and lots of environmental regulations. Sediment and other pollutants run into the bay from millions of other sources, not just farms but from lawns, construction sites, parking lots and other paved surfaces.
The state of our local waterways is not good; that is something we all should be able to agree on. Most everyone is for cleaning up our rivers, streams and the bay, but no one seems to want to change how things get done, and that certainly won’t bring about the improvements everyone wants to see.
The point here is that anyone who lives in the Chesapeake Bay watershed contributes to the problem, and we all should try to weigh in on the solutions. Time seems to be running out as the health of the waterways deteriorates. The news is not very encouraging most of the time.