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Walter Boynton of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory delivered a bit of good news to county commissioners Tuesday that the county’s watershed water quality improved in 2012.

Boynton, of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science CBL in Solomons, presented to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners the 2012 Tidal Creeks Water Quality Study, which showed an overall trend that the water quality of the Mill Creek watershed has improved. The Mill Creek watershed is located in the Solomons Harbor area and consists of The Narrows, Back Creek, St. John Creek and Upper and Lower Mill creeks.

“The general theme here is that conditions were quite good; in fact, better than expected,” Boynton said.

UMCES has assessed water quality conditions within the watershed for the past 25 years, Boynton said. The study was expanded in 2009 to include Hellen, St. Leonard, Island and Hungerford creeks in the Lower Patuxent River estuary and, in 2010, to include Battle, Hunting and Hall creeks in the Upper Patuxent River estuary.

Boynton said there are three “really important” things that are measured in the watershed during the study — dissolved oxygen, algae and the frequency at which the algae bloom.

The spring and summer of 2012 were dry, Boynton said, and typically, dry years lead to better water quality conditions because less nitrogen, phosphorous and dirt are draining from the land to the estuary. The oxygen condition in the Solomons Harbor area “was the best on record,” Boynton said. Also, the algae and algae bloom in the harbor area was “nowhere near” conditions in previous years, also because the conditions were drier in 2012.

“The bloom condition also was quite good,” he said. “It was the seventh best in the 24 years that we have been making these measurements.”

Beginning in 1991, the algae amounts in the harbor area “relentlessly increased” because there were several years of drought, Boynton said. An enriching trend can be seen through 2007, he said, but now, that trend has reversed.

“The exciting and interesting thing is that the trend has changed directions,” he said. “It’s starting to go down, which is good. The interpretation of this is, is that whatever’s happening in the basin … it appears to be leaking less nitrogen and phosphorous to the system. That’s what this ecosystem is telling us. It’s not as enriched as it was, and that is really good news.”

Several reasons for this improvement, Boynton said, include the use of nitrogen-removing septic systems, homeowners “being more careful” with lawn fertilizers and people complying with the Clean Air Act.

Also included in the report was data from a six-year study of fecal coliform from four stations in the harbor area, which was not collected by the lab but by the state, Boynton said. In all areas, the measurement of fecal coliform decreased, he said.

In the Lower Patuxent River stations, Boynton said there was “substantial” algal growth, which is cause for concern, and was likely caused by “excessive nutrient addition.” The good news, Boynton said, was that “we did not see any alarmingly low oxygen conditions.”

In the Upper Patuxent River, the algal blooming in Battle Creek was low, which Boynton said was “excellent,” but it was elevated in Hall and Hunting creeks. Low oxygen conditions were not observed in any of the three creeks, he said.

On the “western shore,” or the Chesapeake Bay side of Calvert County, Boynton said although data is just starting to be accumulated for that area, elevated algal blooming was observed in the Plum Point Creek and “low values” of dissolved oxygen were observed in Flag Harbor and Fishing Creek.

“My sense is on those creeks [is that] any efforts directed to limiting the amount of runoff, whether it’s during storms or from groundwater, would help the condition of those creeks rather remarkably,” he said.

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said she has heard complaints from residents, specifically those who live near the Calvert Marine Museum, that “live-a-boards” on boats have been not been using pump-out facilities and have been dumping waste overboard. She said she thinks the county needs to be “more proactive in our communications to the public” about the importance of using the pump-out stations.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) asked whether the report data could help alleviate some of the requirements of the county as far as implementing the federally mandated Watershed Implementation Plan.

“I guess what I’m asking is, can we use these numbers to refute some of the [claims] … that we’re doing wrong or need to spend tons and tons of money? ‘Cause we’re improving doing what we’re doing now, and they want us to spend … millions of dollars to do all this other stuff,” Clark said.

Boynton said he thinks the board “should use this data in whatever form” it wants, and believes the data suggests “that whatever you’re doing in the Solomons Harbor complex has had some positive results.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) requested that Parkers Creek be included in next year’s report. He said all of the creeks in the report have “human interaction” in common, as does Parkers Creek, yet Parkers Creek is “about as pristine as it can be, in terms of human interaction.” He said if the board had measurements from that creek, it would be a helpful reference for “comparing how we’re doing.”

Boynton’s recommendations based on the report, which “pretty much follow those in previous years,” included installing nitrogen-removing septic systems when appropriate; establishing, maintaining and/or expanding riparian buffer zones; encouraging the use of the pump-out facilities by boaters; and supporting environmental education outreach. The recommendations were unanimously approved by the board.

The commissioners then unanimously approved a contract with the Department of Community Planning and Building and the CBL for the 2013 water quality study, with the inclusion of Parkers Creek data, with a budget of $27,427.