The plan was to get some volunteers to spend a few hours Saturday mapping out environmental hazards along the Severn River and its tributaries.
It turned into an all-out offensive, as nearly 200 citizensmarched through swamps, over fallen trees and in many cases, right down the middle of the hundreds of streams that make up the watershed.
The volunteers spread out over all 242 miles of rivers and creeks, from the mouth of the Severn to BWI Airport. The data collected will help the state and county identify hazards and help get the areas cleaned.
"Almost every problem you see today can be solved by you and me," said Deborah Ward, deputy director of Save Our Streams, the Glen Burnie-based environmental group sponsoring the survey. "It will give us valuable information that we've never had on our waterways."
But getting that information was not all that easy. The volunteerswere spread out all over the area -- some surveying the Severn Riverby canoe and others walking the many streams and creeks feeding it.
Lori Failla's group was assigned to survey part of the Severn Run going through Millersville, just behind Oakdale Circle near Route 3. It didn't take the biology teacher from St. Mary's High School and her five students long to find their first potential hazard.
Right off the 800 block of Oakdale Circle, just behind a home, were two drainage pipes emptying runoff from the road into the creek. Beside the pipes was scattered litter -- everything from old tires to bricks to small sheets of plastic.
The students had to measure the pipe to make sure it wasn't bigger than county law requires and then smell the water emptying into the stream to see if any sewage was mixed in. "Ifit smells anything, it smells musty," said Sarah Fridrich, 17, a junior.
All along the stream, the students -- members of the school environmental club -- found hazards. There were 12-foot cliffs that were eroding into the water, creating small, sediment-filled ponds thatremained stagnant and devoid of life.
Litter from nearby homes gathered along the shore -- including old vacuum cleaner hoses, pieces of ceramic tile and compost heaps piled 4 feet high.
While walkingalong and through the stream, they had to fill out a questionnaire each time they identified a hazard. They had to count the number of drainage pipes, keep an eye out for barriers that could prevent fish from swimming and note any construction that could cause dangerous runoff.
Not only did the exercise help pinpoint some problems along with river, it highlighted some general problems along the watershed --like that so much of the Severn's frontage is private property.
That was evident to Failla's group, which many times was forced to walk close to people's homes to follow the stream. In those cases, Ward said, it is hard for county inspectors to enforce sediment control and trash laws.
Many people had raked huge compost heaps made up of fallen leaves and twigs right up to the water's edge, causing runoff and erosion problems.
"It is very upsetting that there is so much sediment around," said Terry Lehr, the community organizer for Save Our Streams. "We are going to have a generation of children growing upwho are going to think this sediment is part of the environment. They aren't going to think it comes from all the construction."
The students from St. Mary's didn't find many construction sites, except for where one homeowner appeared to be logging a small area along the stream. In that location, a dirt path led up to a farm on top of a hill, from which dirt had an unobstructed ride into the water.
"Fromthis cornfield, you can clearly see the runoff into the stream," Failla said. "It is so obvious."