'Pollution ... starts with us'

Severn River group calls for individual action to improve water quality

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capitol, Published 06/18/10

As the Severn River Association enters its 100th year, the group is focused on getting more people to take actions to improve water quality.

From picking up trash to helping restore oysters, association President Bob Whitcomb said individual actions can make a difference.

"We are the opportunity to solve the problem," Whitcomb said at the group's annual meeting Tuesday night.

Whitcomb, who was elected to a second term as president, said he was inspired by the guest speaker at last year's meeting to focus on getting more people to do their part to protect the river and the Chesapeake Bay.

Last year, Steve Barry of the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, which is located on the river, charged river association members to find ways to reduce their contribution to the problem, especially when it comes to the difficult problem of stormwater pollution.

When it rains, the stormwater carries nutrients, sediment and harmful chemicals as it rushes toward streams and rivers.

Whitcomb said Tuesday that he realized that people who care about the river and the bay can't rely on the government to do all the cleanup work.

"The pollution in our river, in our bay, starts with us," he said.

With that in mind, Whitcomb highlighted several projects the river association conducted over the last year:

Continuing to participate in Project Clean Stream, a massive spring cleanup.

Recruiting hundreds of waterfront residents to raise oysters through the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program.

Inviting speakers to monthly association meetings to share information on topics such as bay-friendly boating and rain gardens.

Establishing a Severn River Stormwater Action Fund, to help neighborhood groups pay to design pollution-reduction projects, such as community rain gardens.

Whitcomb said the programs have appealed to a wider group of volunteers.

"I think the organization is on the cusp of exploding," he said.

Two steadfast volunteers were also honored at Tuesday's meeting, held at the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church.

Matt McGherin, a volunteer with Project Clean Stream, was given the annual Green Heron Award. And the annual Blue Heron Award was given to Mel Wilkins, who is active in restoring Back Creek and Spa Creek in Annapolis. Both creeks feed into the Severn River.

Severn River Association members also heard from Chuck Fox, who is a special assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, focused on Chesapeake Bay issues.

Fox, who lives in the riverfront Epping Forest neighborhood north of Annapolis, said restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay is not going to be easy, especially when it comes to passing stricter laws and regulations.

He also said that the federal government is "absolutely committed" to doing a better job enforcing environmental laws that already are on the books.

Fox said EPA is "bringing the cop back on the beat."

The Severn River Association was founded on April 29, 1911, which members believe makes it the oldest river advocacy group in the nation.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary next year, the association is working on "a grand evening of celebration" including a retrospective video, Whitcomb said.

(Revised June 2010)