County's rivers flunk health test

UM report card gives F to rivers, C- to bay

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital 04/03/09

Joshua McKerrow — The Capital Brent Walls, water-quality specialist with the Chester River Association, shows reporters caddis flies and mayflies he found during a demonstration of stream sampling in the Patuxent River.

BOWIE - Anne Arundel County's rivers - the Magothy, Severn, South, West and Rhode - have the poorest health of all the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The rivers, grouped together as the Lower Western Shore, flunked an annual bay health report card issued yesterday by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

"To get an F, you've got to do badly across the board. It's pretty lackluster," said William Dennison, a university marine science professor who led the report card effort.

The rivers along the county's boundaries didn't fare too well, either. The Patuxent River and the Patapsco / Back river system both earned a D-.

Overall, the Chesapeake Bay earned a subpar C-, the same as last year.

The bay and its rivers continue to suffer from a lack of oxygen that suffocates marine life, sediment that clouds the water, and not enough vital underwater grasses.

The scores are based on water-quality data that measure dissolved oxygen, water clarity, underwater grasses, algae and the benthic community, the tiny worms and snails that live on the floor of the bay.

The data, which were collected by government agencies and academic institutions, represent bay health conditions for 2008.

The Lower Western Shore saw increased problems in all areas, including harmful algae blooms,

Dennison said. One result of the algae blooms was a series of high-profile fish kills last summer, in which fish deprived of oxygen died and floated to the surface.

While the rivers in this area earned abysmal grades, there were some bright spots in the report card. The Upper Western Shore, which includes rivers in Baltimore and Harford counties, earned the best score, a B-. And the James River in Virginia earned a C.

Bay Health Report Card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science issued its annual report card on the Chesapeake Bay's health. The bay rated a C- and Anne Arundel County's rivers collectively earned an F.

In those areas, said Dennison, water quality is improving, which is a promising sign. He said it's possible to turn around the water quality of low-performing rivers.

It's going to take a more concerted effort on several fronts to improve the health of the bay and its rivers, experts said. That means upgrading sewage plants and septic systems, planting more winter cover crops on farms, reducing sprawl and pavement, fixing stormwater controls, using less fertilizer, and the like.

Dennison said that, despite the poor scores for Anne Arundel's rivers, there's a lot of action and volunteerism on the rivers, which is a positive sign.

"If we intervene with our management actions, we can get these feedbacks in the right direction," he said.

Allen Hance, director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Trust, which helped pay for the report card, said these reports are crucial to informing Marylanders about the bay's health and getting them involved.

He said his group's studies show that, despite the bay's problems, most Marylanders said they think water quality can be improved.

"There's a tremendous reservoir of optimism," he said.

For the first time, the University of Maryland report card also included a section on the quality of streams that feed into the rivers and the bay. To emphasize the need to help streams, university officials chose to unveil the scorecard on the banks of the Patuxent, which was sullied with sediment following recent rains.

The University of Maryland report card, now in its third year, is just the latest measure of the bay's failing health.

Several individual river reports, many done in cooperation with the university, have been issued this spring. The last of the river reports, for the West and Rhode rivers, is scheduled to be released at noon tomorrow in Galesville.

Earlier this year, the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program issued a report that rated the bay's health at 38 out of a possible 100 points. And restoration efforts, such as restoring wetlands and planting trees, were only about 61 percent of where they should be.

The nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation will weigh in with its State of the Bay report on April 15.


Bay Report Cards
Various reports issued this spring have graded the ailing health of the Chesapeake Bay, including:

• Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Bay Program: Bay Health — 38 out of 100, Bay Restoration — 61 out of 100.
• Chesapeake Bay, University of Maryland: C-.
• Magothy River, Magothy River Association: 30 out of 100.
• Severn River, Severn Riverkeeper and University of Maryland: C-.
• South River, South River Federation: 33 out of 100.
• Patuxent River, Patuxent Riverkeeper and University of Maryland: D-.
• Lower Western Shore, Magothy, Severn, South, West, Rhode rivers, University of Maryland: F.
• West/Rhode rivers, West/Rhode Riverkeeper: To be issued tomorrow in Galesville.
• Chester River, Chester River Association and University of Maryland: D.



(Revised April 2009)