Environmentalists, county officials take up-close look at Jabez Branch

The Capital
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2007

Paul W. Gillespie. From left, Lina Viavianos, Carl Johnson, Charlotte Lubbert and Chris Victoria, an environmental scientist with the county, double check their map during a tour of the Jabez Branch.

They waded through ankle-deep water, navigated slippery slopes covered in leaves and even skirted a decomposing deer carcass. A handful of environmental advocates followed the lead of two county employees, who led the way yesterday around the twisty Jabez Branch, a small stream in Millersville that ultimately empties into the Severn River.

They were there - in the rain, no less - to get a look at how cool, clean groundwater feeds the stream.

Lina Vlavianos scurried up a streambank and excitedly pointed out her find: a steady trickle of water emerging from the mossy hill.

"It just weeps right out of there," said Janis Markusic, a program manager for watershed projects at the county's Department of Public Works.

The group gathered around and marveled at the sight, some snapping photos.

The trickle of water is called a seep, and that's one way that the Jabez gets its pristine water. The water that seeps into the stream is so cool and clear that it supports a population of brook trout.

Trout streams represent the highest quality of streams, and the Jabez is the only one in Anne Arundel County.

"If it were not for this kind of stuff, we would not have the trout stream," said Ms. Vlavianos, who is chairman of the Severn River Commission.

The commission is a panel of volunteers who advise the government about Severn River issues.

Protecting the Jabez Branch has been high on the commission's priority list. The brook trout in the Jabez were once wiped out after highway development damaged the stream.

To keep that from happening again, the Severn River Commission has been working for a year on a half on a proposal to put a special zoning area around the Jabez.

The zoning area would restrict activities that would harm the stream. It will have to be approved by the County Council.

"It gives you the ability to guide development in appropriate areas," said Christopher Victoria, an environmental scientist for the county Department of Public Works.

But before the bill can be written, the commission and county staffers have to figure out which parts of the stream's watershed need to be protected, and which activities are the most harmful.

"We didn't have a good sense of what the brook trout needed," Mr. Victoria said.

This summer, county workers surveyed the stream, trying to find the seeps and groundwater springs that feed the waterway.

Yesterday's Jabez walk allowed county officials to point out some of their finds to Jabez supporters.

In general, trout need cool, clear water. Increases in paved surfaces and stormwater runoff can harm the streams. Also, anything that upsets the groundwater flows and seeps can harm the stream.

Following the summer surveys, county officials are working with state and federal experts to map out the areas that need to be protected most. After that, more details of the bill can be written.

"There are still questions," Ms. Markusic said.

(Revised Oct 2007)