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Report Says South River Is in Bad Shape
Development Found To Cloud the Water, Devastating Grasses

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007; Page AA01

The health of the South River rates a 39 on a scale of 100, largely because of pollution from yards and storm sewers that makes the water cloudy and limits the quantity of grasses and oysters, according to a "scorecard" on the river issued by an environmental group.

Officials at the South River Federation were scheduled to present the findings of their South River Scorecard at a meeting Tuesday night.

Pollution was found to have reduced the South River's underwater grasses to one-tenth of their level in the 1950s.

According to an advance copy, the report shows a river seriously damaged by development in its watershed. Even into the 1970s, its grasses grew so thick underwater that they fouled boat propellers. But now, the scorecard shows, the water is cloudy, the bottom is largely bare of grass and the river swims in a surfeit of bacteria and other pollution.

"More and more people recognize that things are pretty bleak, that the way we live on the land has really had pretty dramatic impacts on the water," said Drew Koslow, the federation's "South Riverkeeper" and an environmental advocate who is a member of the national Waterkeeper Alliance. Koslow is employed by the federation to monitor the river's health and advocate for its improvement.

But despite the grim outlook, environmentalists said they see room for hope, if county authorities and homeowners take steps to protect the river.

"It took awhile to get this way, and it's going to take awhile for us to turn it around," said Kincey Potter, president of the federation. "But it is doable."

The South River starts near Route 50 and empties into the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis. Many county residents may get their best view of it from the Solomons Island Road bridge. Its watershed, about 66 square miles, is about 50 percent forested, and 15 percent is covered with hard man-made surfaces such as concrete.

The scorecard judged the South River on 10 measures of health, looking at all of the river's watershed, from the impervious surfaces -- such as concrete and rooftops -- to the oysters living on the bottom of the riverbed. Each measure got a score of up to 10, and the scores were added to produce the river's overall mark.

"We wanted to do it in a way that is not too complicated," Potter said, "but at the same time has got a good science background."

The analysis found that, on the subject of water clarity, the South River scored a 2. That was measured using what seems like a low-tech method: A black-and-white disk is lowered into the water, and scientists record the depth at which they lose sight of its pattern.

In 86 percent of the surveys on the river and its tributaries last year, the scorecard said, that vanishing point was less than the recommended one meter.

This low score was blamed for another: The river was given a 1 on underwater grasses. The group said that, when the water is clouded by dirt and algae -- both the result of pollution -- not enough sunlight reaches the grasses on the bottom.

The scorecard said that the grasses are one-tenth as abundant as they were in the 1950s. That can cause serious problems for fish and crabs, which use the grasses to hide from predators.

Homeowners can help improve the situation, environmentalists said, by fertilizing their lawns only infrequently -- or better yet, not at all. The chemicals in fertilizer can feed unhealthy algae blooms in the river and the bay. Also, they said, residents should pick up their pets' waste, because this can wash downstream and contribute to high bacteria counts in the water.

The group also called for more vigorous enforcement of laws restricting construction and development near the river, believing that unregulated building was contributing large amounts of dirt and pollutants to the river.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold (R) said this week that the county had begun cracking down on such violations, including lifting a hiring freeze on inspectors.

"This administration will deal swiftly and sternly with violators of environmental law," Leopold said.
 

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Ok now does this really surprise anyone? AA county let building run out of control on that river. and so did the state. This is just one exp. of what is wrong with the whole bay.
 

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Reds,
Thanks for the post.

These types of articles always provide food for thought, and raise more questions than they answer.

The two issues reported on specifically dealt with water clarity and underwater grasses, which are generally positively correlated. That is, the better the water clarity, the more underwater grasses are present. There is a bit of the chicken and the egg relationship here, but we can probably agree from a quality standpoint, that we are better off with clearer water and more grasses (unless you suffer from fouled boat props).


The article indicates that the problems are related to water quality problems in the form of pollution (nutrients), sediment, and increased algae (related to nutrients).

If we take the article at face value, we see that 50% of the watershed is forested and another 15% is impervious. I’m not sure what the rest of the breakdown on land use might be.

Both forested areas and impervious areas are generally very small contributors to sediment, so the sediment problems are likely related to the 35% of the remaining areas. I will grant that particulate matter on impervious surfaces easily reach streams through storm sewer systems, but lacking any hard data, the total amount probably pales in comparison to the amount coming from the areas noted below. Because lawns and golf courses generally produce little sediment, the biggest problems are likely to be sediment from construction sites lacking adequate sediment controls (could the hiring freeze on inspectors be related?) or agricultural areas which are controlled only by “best practice”. How much agriculture is in the South River basin? This is not a rhetorical question.

As far as nutrients go, once again the forested and impervious areas are probably not the cause of the problem. Now our golf courses, lawns, and farms become likely suspects, along with any point sources (once again that pesky hiring freeze). This issue is probably more widely distributed across the 35% problem area than the sediment issue.

The algae is probably directly related to the nutrients, so the problem areas that need to be addressed are basically the same as those for the nutrients.

So, on this small watershed, which contributes only a miniscule amount of the overall contamination to the Bay (in terms of sediment and nutrients), but creates all of its own problems (OK, I neglected atmospheric deposition), we probably really need to concentrate on several activities in 23 square miles plus point sources to address cleanup. Being efficient with lawn care products and cleaning up your dog cr*p can help, but the bigger payoff will probably come from other areas.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I remember some problems either in the summer of 2005 or 2004 with lesions on catfish and high metal content.
 

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It'll never happen til they outlaw fertilizers,pesticides & herbicides.People have proven their pretty ,weedless,green lawns are more important than a healthy Bay.Somebodys got to do something...as long as it isn't me.
 

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It'll never happen til they outlaw fertilizers,pesticides & herbicides.People have proven their pretty ,weedless,green lawns are more important than a healthy Bay.Somebodys got to do something...as long as it isn't me.
That green lawn or that large yield of corn per acre is a lot closer to home than a Bay that you might not even be able to see. I'm not big on outlawing stuff, but I will grant you that it is hard to control.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Fertilizers,pesticides & herbicides do harm to the bay and are hard to control, but somebody has to explain to me why MDE lets the dried solids from a sewage treatment plant near Washington DC be spread on farm fields in the winter time. Then the fields are tilled to mix the existing soil with the new addition. The fields sit exposed all winter. Rain or snow falls, the runoff is emptied into the bay.
 

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That green lawn or that large yield of corn per acre is a lot closer to home than a Bay that you might not even be able to see. I'm not big on outlawing stuff, but I will grant you that it is hard to control.
Most people never saw a bald eagle but they managed to get rid of DDT, and he eagles have bounced back.
 

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Most people never saw a bald eagle but they managed to get rid of DDT, and he eagles have bounced back.
Since every school child has seen our national bird, and we can't escape its imagery on money, in advertising campaigns, and the "Colbert Report", I don't agree with your premise. I guess you will just have to begin your campaign to have the Chesapeake designated "the national bird", but I think it will be a tough sell. :goodluck2:
 

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I have been trying to convince the Severn River Association to send a letter to every waterfront homeowner and every waterfront community association asking them to voluntarily stop fertilizing lawns, at least until Fall. So far, despite receiving a grant from Chesapeake Bay Trust for such mailings and other community outreach, the answer from SRA has been "we have not and do not plan to send out such a letter." Why not, you ask? So did I. The response was simply to reiterate that SRA has no plans at this time to do that. I'm still working on them.

I also plan to ask AA County to do the same thing countywide and the State to do the same thing statewide -- or perhaps put out a commercial. But with money tight, we'll see. As anyone can quickly deduce, however, this type of education is far cheaper and can be far more effective than exotic, high-tech stabs at improving water quality, especially in systems such as the Severn and South.
 

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Goose 70-Are you getting any help from CCA or CBF? This is a good project for them to get involved in. The Maryland Watermans Association might be interested and it would be common ground for recreation and charterboat Captains to work on side by side. I think Reds and George might be wiling to pitch in on something like this with you. I think the CBF has money for postage and all you need is some volunteers to do the mailing or if you could get CBF to pay the printing cost maybe the local Boy Scout troops could deliver them to the waterfront properties. This could develope into a state wideproject in cooperation with the Scouts. I'm going to be very busy if the flats ever gets warm and clear but after that season is over I'm willing to help you if you need me.

I went to a presentation at the DNR awhile back that was all about Pharmaceutical drugs cataminating water as water treatment plants don't filter them out. The guy that gave the talk mentioned golf courses are a major contributor of nonpoint source runoff. I get upset everytime I see a Chemlawn truck going down the road.

Call me if you wish at 410 679 8790

Norm
 
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