Severn River still facing challenges

Change must begin at homes and in communities

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, 06/17/09

Members of the Severn River Association had plenty to celebrate last night - new officers, award-winning volunteers - but they also were reminded of the challenges they face in improving the health of their beloved waterway.

"The Severn River watershed, for all of our good intentions, is not thriving, prospering and getting better," outgoing President Kurt Riegel of Arnold told association members at their 98th annual meeting in St. Margarets.

Riegel said river advocates must find creative new ways to help the river and the Chesapeake Bay, and overcome a lack of political will on the County Council to pass environmental protection laws, such as a tax to raise money for restoring degraded streams and fixing ineffective stormwater runoff controls.

"We are very frustrated when we go before the Anne Arundel County Council and get outvoted. The majority of the County Council does not feel our pain," he said.

The evening's keynote speaker, educator Steve Barry, also stressed the severity of the river's problems and the need for action.

The Severn River runs from Millersville to Annapolis, draining a land area of 81 square miles. It is designated as one of the state's scenic rivers.

Barry, who heads outdoor education for the county school system, explained how humans have changed the landscape for the worse, sending polluted stormwater running off into the water. Stormwater ponds, pipes and concrete ditches are like a "fire hose" blasting polluted stormwater into streams and eroding the streambanks, he said.

Barry said that, in most cases, the government and businesses aren't doing their part to improve the environment, so it's up to individuals to make changes at their homes and in their communities.

He quoted from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ("If not me, who? If not now, when?") and Indian leader Gandhi ("An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching") to inspire his audience to act.

"We need to dream and act boldly," Barry said. "This is the choir here, but it's something we need to do and something we need to say."

Bob Whitcomb is taking up that charge as he takes over the presidency of the association, the oldest environmental group in the county.

In an interview, Whitcomb said he'll use his experience as the organizer of massive springtime stream cleanups to get more volunteers involved in restoring the river.

Whitcomb expects the river association to announce new volunteer opportunities in the coming months.

"It's all about engagement," said Whitcomb, who lives in the Saefern community north of Annapolis.

At last night's annual meeting, the river association also bestowed awards on three people who have been dedicated to the river:

Pat Lynch, a member of the board of directors, who reviewed the group's finances and constitution and coordinated an effort for residents to comment on the county government's new growth plan.

Betsy Love, who has helped the river association with her marketing skills, planning the annual meeting and writing for the newsletter.

Suzanne Etgen, a teacher at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on the river, who helped lead an environmental training program called the Master Watershed Stewards Academy.

(Revised June 2009)