Rainwater washed across the parking lot at Sawmill Creek Park, down a storm drain to a drainage pipe, where it had wedged a discarded cola bottle and a cardboard cup.
About 30 yards away, shivering beneath the park pavilion, a small band of environmentalists, state officials and students from South County High School had gathered recently to kick off Maryland Save Our Stream's new Sawmill Creek Adoption Project.
"This is absolutely perfect weather for us to make a demonstration," said Barbara Taylor, Save Our Streams' executive director. "If there was any question of what we're doing, this should answer it."
Like many urban streams, Sawmill Creek suffers when it rains. Storms wash pollutants, including motor oil, pesticides and fertilizer, intothe water, erode the stream banks and deposit channel-clogging sediments. Unaccustomed to the degraded water, aquatic insects, plants andfish die.
State officials and environmentalists chose the 14-milecreek two years ago as one of four Maryland streams in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Targeted Watersheds Project. Since then, federal, state, county and private environmental groups have worked cooperatively in evaluating and restoring the creek.
The adoption project is an attempt to make residents and businesses in Sawmill Creek's 5,000-acre watershed aware of the impact they have on the stream, said SOS coordinator Elizabeth Gotjen. The watershed, approximately the size of 5,000 football fields, includes about 6,500 homes, industrial parksand a quarter of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"People need to realize that if they live in the watershed, they are impacting the stream below," said Stuart Lehman, state administrator of the Targeted Watersheds Project. "They don't understand how the road they drive on or the shopping center around the corner affect the stream -- how they can speed up the water running off the parking lot, eating out the banks of the stream."
Gotjen says the key to the education program is a series of workshops, planned in Glen Burnie between November and April, explaining storm-water management, construction site monitoring and stream cleanup. The first workshop on storm-water management will be at 10 a.m., Nov. 2, in the Glen Burnie United Methodist Church.
"We'll encourage people to go back home, planta tree in their yard or organize a Boy Scout troop to do a stream cleanup," Gotjen said.
That involvement is particularly important along Muddy Bridge Branch, a 2-mile tributary. That branch, which begins at BWI and flows through the heart of Glen Burnie, is more heavily urbanized and polluted than the rest of Sawmill Creek.
Gotjen saidthe program's organizers hope to change some of the destructive habits that led to the creek's demise. "If people can change their habits, letting the grass grow a little longer or start recycling, that (benefit) will go on and on and on."
State and county officials have already begun efforts to reduce the impact of nearby road construction, including the expansions of Route 100 and Interstate 97, and chemical runoff at BWI, Lehman said.
But, he added, they are fighting an uphill battle. The county is currently reviewing building permit requests in another 17 percent of the watershed.