County official interested in natural stream repair

May 13, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The county's chief environmental officer yesterday said he wants to use natural materials in a $225,000 effort to shore up the eroded banks of county streams this fall.

Using natural materials would cut stream repair costs by half, said Tom Andrews, land-use and environmental officer. He said he would like to start soliciting contractors for the repairs next month, if the County Council puts money for the effort in the budget.

The approach using natural materials -- stones, uprooted tree trunks and vegetation -- has worked elsewhere to repair local streams. Cowhide Branch, a tributary of Weems Creek in Annapolis, was severely eroded, even before a dam collapsed in it last March, said Robert Sheesley, co-owner of Brightwater Inc., which did the repair work. The company rebuilt a 1,500-foot section of Cowhide Branch.

The same type of work could help several county streams, said Mr. Andrews.

"One or two creeks a year is what I'd really like to do," he said.

His office hopes to repair another Weems Creek tributary in Annapolis, Dividing Creek in Arnold, and parts of Sawmill Creek in Glen Burnie.

Currently, the county is monitoring the changes at Cowhide Branch and may have another 100 feet of the narrow creek rebuilt.

As development continues in the county and housing lots replace fields, creeks become conduits for storm water and construction silt runoff. The speed and volume of water during heavy storms gouges the banks, widens the stream bed, sends dirt downstream and uproots trees.

That's what had happened to Cowhide Branch. Further damage occurred when a wall of dirt and debris from the storm water pond behind the Annapolis Mall cascaded into it. The creek was rebuilt to channel water coming from that pond -- though at least three other runoff ponds drain into it as well.

Though many support using natural materials, many on yesterday's tour of Cowhide Branch remained skeptical. On the tour, one of many led by Brightwater and the county, people wondered if preventing a stream from becoming overloaded with rushing water and sediment, and allowing it to repair itself might work just as well.

"There's no definitive answer," said Steve Carr of the Severn River Association. "If we could have been assured that there would have been no more sediment coming into Cowhide Branch, would nature have taken care of it?"

Mr. Sheesley said it would have taken years for the creek to develop the necessary capacity. The rivulets that were developing were inefficient for carrying storm water.

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