The national conservation group American Rivers has named Maryland's Pocomoke River the third most-endangered river in the United States for 1998, noting the river's outbreaks of Pfiesteria and blaming its problems on an overload of nutrients from poultry wastes.
It was the first time in at least 10 years that an Eastern Shore river was named to the Washington-based environmental group's annual list of endangered rivers. The Potomac River, which has been included several times, was ranked No. 12 this year.
"The situation on the Pocomoke highlights in very dramatic fashion the fact that a polluted river can endanger health and can also endanger a region's economy," said Tom Cassidy, general counsel of the 25-year-old organization.
One Pocomoke waterman said he thinks the group is right to sound the alarm.
"I think we're in trouble," said Jack Howard, who has fished in the area for 25 years and became sick after last summer's Pfiesteria outbreak on the Pocomoke. "I don't know too much about the other rivers in the country, but over the last few years that river's gone bad fast."
Like state officials, scientists, environmentalists and ordinary folks, Howard said he expects to see Pfiesteria outbreaks on the Pocomoke and nearby waters this summer, for the third straight year. So far, he said, he has seen "a few fish, but very, very few" with Pfiesteria's characteristic lesions.
Howard said American Rivers is also right to praise the Pocomoke's wildness and beauty. He said young leaves are beginning to appear on the tall cypress trees that line the river, in swamps "so thick that they've not really ever been penetrated."
"It is beautiful," Howard said. "Lots of eagles and deer and ospreys and you name it, it's there."
American Rivers' list usually draws nationwide attention. It has a forthright political purpose: to publicize environmental issues that the 20,000-member group considers threats to wild, unpolluted waterways. The organization hopes the publicity will increase pressure on politicians and government agencies to protect the rivers, Cassidy said.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said American Rivers' list of troubled waters "is widely viewed as credible and important."
"I think this kind of attention may add to the momentum that's been building to try to address this problem and get it corrected," Baker said.
American Rivers is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the runoff from large poultry farms. Last month, the EPA unveiled proposed regulations that would cover most of the Delmarva Peninsula's 6,083 poultry houses, as well as other animal-raising operations nationwide. The livestock industry wants to change details in the final regulations, which have yet to be written and would not take effect until at least 2002.
American Rivers also opposes a series of developments slated for the Potomac's shores, including the proposed Chapman's Landing planned community in Charles County and the National Harbor recreational and shopping complex in Prince George's County.
The Hanford Reach of Washington state's Columbia River was named the country's most-endangered river. Since 1943, the 51-mile-long stretch of river has been off-limits to protect the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where plutonium was once made and radioactive wastes are stored. The region became a de facto wildlife refuge. The Energy Department wants to sell much of the land for farming.
American Rivers' most- endangered rivers for 1998, listing in parentheses what the organization believes to be the chief threat to each waterway:
1. Hanford Reach of the Columbia, Washington state (development, nuclear waste)
2. Missouri, seven Midwestern states (dams, channelization)
3. Pocomoke, Maryland (poultry waste)
4. Kern, California (hydropower dams)
5. Blackfoot, Montana (mining)
6. Colorado River Delta, Mexico (overuse by U.S. cities, farms)
7. Chattahoochee, Georgia (urban pollution)
8. Lower Snake, Washington state (dams)
9. Apple, Wisconsin and Illinois (hog manure)
10. Pinto Creek, Arizona (mining)
11. Wolf, Wisconsin (mining)
dTC 12. Potomac, four states, the District of Columbia (poultry waste, development)
13. Rogue, Oregon (dams, mining)
14. Taku, British Columbia and Alaska (mining)
15. Crooked Creek, Arkansas (mining)
16. Passaic, New Jersey (contaminated sediments)
17. Mattaponi, Virginia (proposed dam and reservoir)
18. Walla Walla, Oregon and Washington (agricultural diversions, farm runoff)
19. Uinta, Utah (proposed dam)
20. Kansas, Kansas (farm and urban pollution)
Pub Date: 4/06/98