More than 250 residents of Back River Neck and Bowley's Quarters packed a school cafeteria last night to show their concern over the deterioration of the environmentally fragile Middle River and its tributaries.
The gathering at Chesapeake High School in eastern Baltimore County were told by an environmental consultant that unchecked storm water runoff, atmospheric pollutants and congested boat traffic have harmed the Middle River watershed almost to the point of no return.
Much of the Middle River area has little or no storm drains or sediment ponds that can filter out pollutants from rainwater runoff.
Over a period of years, this run-off has washed pollutants into the Middle River watershed, said consultant Richard D. Klein, killing most of the aquatic grasses that, until 10 or 15 years ago, thrived in the waters of the Middle River area.
The aquatic grasses provide food and hiding places for peeler crabs, bass, perch and waterfowl. And when the grass went so did much of the fish and waterfowl.
With no grasses to anchor the bottoms of the waterways, increased boat traffic, especially in the more shallow creeks, keeps the clay bottom silt churned up. This leaves the water murky, said Mr. Klein, and prevents sunlight from penetrating the water and providing the oxygen needed for plants and fish.
Mr. Klein recommended that more storm drains and modern sediment ponds be built. He also said that development on the remaining 1,800 acres of undeveloped land in the watershed should be limited.
Restrictions should be imposed, he suggested, on the number of marinas and the amount of boat activity in the watershed area.
Although everyone at the meeting agreed that efforts should be made to save the river and its tributaries, there was some difference of opinion on whether boaters should bear the brunt of these efforts.
"I agree that there are a lot of boats using Middle River, but I wouldn't want to see us go crazy on restricting boating on the river," said Mike Marsiglia, 39, an eight-year resident of Norman Creek and a boat owner.
Mr. Marsiglia said he moved his family to the area so that they could enjoy the water and boating.
"The water definitely needs to be cleaned up" he said, "but there has to be some compromise between that need and the needs of boaters."
Ken Johnson, a 54-year resident of Sue Creek, said the creek, the most endangered of Middle River tributaries, used to be a wonderful place to fish and swim. Not any more, he added.
"I rarely take my boat out anymore because there are too many boats out there," Mr. Johnson said.