'SevernStat' shows dead zone in river
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

Taking a cue from the governor's "BayStat" program to track the health of the Chesapeake, the Severn Riverkeeper Program is unveiling "SevernStat."

According to the report, much of the Severn River is deprived of oxygen in the summer months, threatening aquatic life such as fish, crabs and oysters.

Severn Riverkeeper Fred Kelly said he hopes the report will spur action from the county and state government.

"If you don't put money and resources into the Severn River, it's going to die," he said.

Throughout the summer of 2006, volunteers and workers with the riverkeeper program regularly sampled water from 18 locations on the river, which begins in Millersville, flows southeast and spills out into the Chesapeake Bay near the Naval Academy and downtown Annapolis.

The monitoring showed severe oxygen depravation at the bottom of the river, though oxygen levels usually were acceptable near the surface.

The lack of oxygen - a phenomenon known as the "dead zone" - is well researched in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay, but less so in the bay's tributaries.

"Everyone knew there were dead zones in the Chesapeake. No one knew the same thing was happening in the tributaries," said Allison Albert, an intern who did much of the monitoring for the riverkeeper program.

Dead zones are caused when too much nutrient pollution flowing into the water fuels the growth of algae blooms. When the algae dies, it sucks the life-sustaining oxygen in the water.

Mr. Kelly said the only way to reverse the pollution and dead zones is to invest money in fixing what has gone wrong in the watershed that drains into the river.

Mr. Kelly is a champion of a proposal to add a fee of roughly $60 a year to county property owners to pay for new stormwater controls. The idea has failed to gain much political traction, however, and has never been introduced before the County Council.

In the SevernStat report, Mr. Kelly calls for the state to match any money raised if the county adopts a stormwater fee. And the report also asks the state to cut down its approval of riprap and bulkhead shoreline projects, and instead adopt a policy to require natural, "living" shorelines instead.

"The Severn Riverkeeper's position is the Severn River is dying and we need $500 million to $750 million to retrofit the whole community," he said.

Mr. Kelly delivered his report to Gov. Martin O'Malley's office on Thursday.

Published March 11, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.


(Revised March 2007)