Rivers, creeks that feed bay are unhealthy, group says

Tests show poor water clarity, lack of vegetation

January 15, 2002|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

ST. MICHAELS -- The rivers and streams that feed the heart of the Chesapeake Bay are in poor health, a Talbot County volunteer group reported yesterday.

Two years after launching an intensive water-quality sampling program, the group of 50 volunteers, known as Creekwatchers, said it has documented a litany of problems in the Miles, Wye and Tred Avon rivers and four nearby creeks -- including an almost total lack of the underwater vegetation that provides a vital habitat for young crabs and fish.

The testing has shown that water clarity -- the amount of sunlight that penetrates the water so fish-nurturing grasses can grow -- was unsatisfactory in all rivers, a problem that was much worse at the headwaters of rivers and creeks that drain into the bay.

More than 10 percent of the acidity readings in two creeks were at a level considered unhealthy for plant and animal life, numbers that were worse in the Wye River, where 27 percent of samples were in the unhealthy range.

"We're seeing data that shows waterways that are experiencing stress," said Kimberly Coble, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's senior scientist in Maryland. "What we're building here with this program is a baseline of data. We're interested in how the environment changes over time and this program is giving us a detailed look at the heart of the Chesapeake Bay watershed."

Sponsored by the bay foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the Creekwatchers group is being called a prototype for what conservationists hope will evolve into an army of monitors throughout the bay's network of creeks and rivers.

"I've never seen a volunteer group used as effectively," said J. Court Stevenson, a researcher at the University of Maryland's Horn Point laboratory near Cambridge. "Most people seem to think that the Mid-Shore doesn't have these kinds of problems. Their data show that the bay cleanup in Talbot County has lagged behind other rivers on the Western Shore."

With help from the bay foundation and a variety of state agencies, Creekwatcher volunteers mapped 76 sites and check them twice a month. Once a month, volunteers take water samples that are forwarded to Horn Point for analysis of nitrogen and phosphorus, two materials found in farm fertilizers.

"I've been watching the Tred Avon River for almost 60 years," said Bernard Burns, a 72-year-old Creekwatcher. "I've seen a lot of change, and most of it has not been good. Now, we have a way to measure what's happening to water quality."

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