Water Quality Monitoring

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Tools to track progress towards improving water quality in the Severn River!

The Severn River gets pounded year round by a polluted mix of stormwater runoff that floods the river with nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment contaminants that combine to create algae blooms which then decompose and dilute the river of oxygen.

This is what creates the permanent dead zone – water with  little to no oxygen content – in the Severn River’s Round Bay.

Add to this mix, fecal bacteria from pets, septic systems and wildlife, mud floods of sediment from uncontrolled construction sites, rapid development, loss of vegetation and tree cover and severe weather events that flood our waters with enormous levels of sediment and nutrient pollution.

As rural areas turned suburban and then urban, the Severn lost its ability to bound back from these challenges.

Instead, the river suffers from algae blooms, bacterial infestations, sediment and nutrient overloading during every rain event.

The picture at left is of silt plume in Luce Creek just after a heavy rain the night before. Culprit: A dirt-bike recreational area that lacks any best management practices to control stormwater runoff.

These factors that have created permanent, oxygen-depleted conditions in our river. Without oxygen, the fishery dies. Fish and crabs swim and sidle away and leave our river. Oysters can’t swim away, so without oxygen, they suffocate in these conditions.

Result: The Environmental Protection Agency declared the Severn River an “impaired” waterway and imposed a “pollution diet” to reduce the flood of pollutants, primarily nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment.

It’s up to Maryland and in particular, Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis, to develop regulations, policies, zoning rules, enforcement and compliance strategies to reduce this pollutant overload in the Severn River.

How do we track progress?


Real data of actual conditions in the Severn are needed to gauge whether solutions are working.

Computer modeling can only get to a best-guess of what conditions are like in a waterway.

The only way to really know whether we’re making any progress towards improving water quality – especially reducing the scale of the dead zones – is to collect water quality monitoring data from the river itself.

This is why the Severn River Association collects weekly data readings to paint a portrait of the water column at 21 locations along the 14-mile Severn River and it’s 39 creeks and coves.

The program was first created under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Muller in 2018.

Dr. Muller, an Associate Professor of Oceanography at the U. S. Naval Academy, provided the initial training to a small team of citizen scientist volunteers to help the Severn River Association create a water quality monitoring program to collect data on dissolved oxygen levels, salinity, pH, temperature and clarity.

Here’s one of our volunteers, Steve from Annapolis, using a Seechi disk to measure clarity in Lake Ogleton, which has been hit hard by mud floods created by stormwater discharges from construction at the Key School athletic field in Annapolis Neck area.

In 2019, SRA is partnering with the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative to provide technical expertise, ensure quality assurance and control procedures for our water quality program and to provide a vehicle for sharing the data collected to the scientific community.


Severn River Association, Operation Clearwater, Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative and volunteer boat captains and water quality crew from our member communities.


Program Goal

Collect water quality monitoring data that tracks actual conditions in the Severn River water column

Program Outcomes

  • Collect high-quality data that reveals actual conditions in the Severn River water column
  • Raise public awareness about the condition of water quality in the river
  • Use data to support regulatory, policy and legal decisions designed to reduce pollution levels in the river and improve water quality
  • Support enforcement actions based on collection of top-quality water quality data
  • Create long-term record of water conditions
  • Produce annual report cards on the State Of The Severn River as a means of educating the public about progress towards restoring the river to fishable and swimmable goals of the Clean Water Act.

It’s easy to get involved with the water quality monitoring project. Volunteers are needed from May through October for weekly tours of the river.

For more information, email: