The call of a great blue heron drowned out the gentle lapping of thewaves at the sides of The Annie A.
Bent over the side of the county-owned 18-foot whaler to gather a water sample from the lower headwaters of Rock Creek, Larry Parsons paused.
"The herons are all over the place up here," said the field manager for the environmental section of the county Office of Planning andZoning as he glanced toward a small stand of trees along the heavilydeveloped creek.
For three years, Parsons and Meo Curtis, a county environmental planner, have taken The Annie A out to Rock Creek to determine the extent of its pollution. Rock is one of four county creeks -- the others are Marley, Weems and Church -- in the Office of Planning and Zoning's Estuarine Monitoring Program.
"All of our waterways are polluted, whether because of land uses, water runoff or (polluted) water flowing in from the bay," Curtis said. "What we're concerned about is the extent of the pollutants and what we can do to control them."
Although the county has hundreds of small waterways, its efforts have been focused on the four in the Estuarine Monitoring Program because of the severity of their problems. Marley and Rock creeks, both in North County, have suffered recurring algae blooms, rotten egg odors and fish kills. Church and Weems creeks in Annapolis have been hit hard by sediment running off highway and other construction sites.
So far, they have seen little change, for better or worse, in the four streams, Curtis said.
The one exception is a portion of Rock Creek, just below Fort Smallwood Road, where the county installed aerators in 1988. County officials had hoped the experimental aerators, which inject bubbles of air into the oxygen-poor water, will help the creek sustain healthy aquatic life and eliminate the rotten-egg, hydrogen sulfide odor caused by decaying algae and pollutants at the creek's bottom.
Curtis said the aerators have been successful, but their effectiveness is limited to 30 acres near the headwaters where they were installed. Her point was illustrated by the severe odor over the July 4 weekend above the Fort Smallwood bridge, she said.
The aerators are also expensive, costing $315,000 to install and $1,000 a month in electricity. A spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, which operates the bubbler system, said yesterday the aerators may be shut off during the winter in reaction to the county's and state's financial crisis.
The $1.3 million dredging and removal of polluted sediments from the Rock Creek's lower headwaters and Wall Cove, which began Tuesday, will go ahead, spokeswoman AnneSeiling said. The county also plans new controls on storm-water runoff from older neighborhoods along the creek's banks.
As the state continues to cut back on aid to the county, Curtis said her monitoring program may be scaled back. The program pays the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Calvert County about $80,000 a year in testing fees.
Although the county Health Department has banned swimming
in portions of Rock Creek, including the lower headwaters, and Marley Creek for more than a decade, Parsons said he has seen bald eagles and a variety of heron on the two creeks.
"Marley Creek is actually one of the most scenic creeks in the area," Curtis said. "You would never know it had such a severe water quality problem. That's an important point -- it can look nice on the surface,but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a problem."