Harford plotting action to aid the Bush River

Response: Concerned about shallowness, sediment and water quality, residents see watershed study as a first step.

February 09, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

Over the years, Jack Clark has seen some troubling changes in the Bush River -- changes marked by a muddy trail.

"The boats are constantly kicking out mud because the river is so shallow," said Clark, a member of the Bush River Yacht Club in Abingdon. "There is definitely an issue with the river getting shallower."

Since the mid-1980s, he has noticed a loss of several feet in depth as watershed runoff carries sediment into the river, depositing it on the riverbed.

Now, Harford County has new evidence of the river's troubles.

Early results of a Bush River watershed study show nutrient and sediment problems and a lot of habitat damage, Michele Dobson, a biologist for the Harford County Department of Public Works, reported at a meeting about the watershed last week in Aberdeen.

"As a whole, people are concerned about the development," Dobson said.

Representatives from the Center for Watershed Protection and the Bush River Study Partnership discussed the preliminary results of the watershed study and of the chemical and biological monitoring of the river.

Paul Sturm, a water quality specialist for the Center for Watershed Protection, said the center focused on the land first to see where pollutants were coming from.

The center developed eight measures of watershed protection: watershed planning, land conservation, aquatic buffers, site design, sediment control, storm water management, management of sewage and other discharges, and watershed stewardship programs.

Many participants at the meeting were apprehensive about sediment, population growth, water depth and a lack of stewardship.

Ruth Ann Young of Aberdeen was concerned about the water quality in her community. As a resident for 34 years, she said, she had seen the changes in the Bush River watershed, which she attributed to increases in development, traffic and pollution. Young said the meeting provided her with information she can share with others in her town.

"We need to re-evaluate the direction we are going," Young said. "I think everyone has a role to play, even if they are not part of the watershed."

Those concerned about the watershed say they have seen deterioration of the river.

As a result of the meeting, Clark said, he sees an awareness that wasn't there before. He knows the Bush River study is a long-term plan, but he feels it is a step in the right direction.

Clark said the county is experiencing enormous growth and development. "I don't think it is wrong to build, but the county needs to be smarter about it," he said, by adhering to the eight measures outlined by the Center for Watershed Protection. Clark also favors stricter enforcement of environmental laws.

Residents, County Council members, local watershed groups and state employees attended the two-hour session at the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center.

"I was pleased with the turnout and the diversity of the background of people that were there," Dobson said. "We wanted to get input from the public and people who lived in the watershed."

Last year, the Department of Public Works received a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an environmental assessment and preparation of a restoration strategy for the watershed.

A partnership was formed with the Harford County government and other state and federal agencies called the Bush River Study Partnership. The purpose of the study was to gather information to determine the past and present condition of the watershed and develop steps toward protecting and enhancing the water quality, aquatic habitats and the overall quality of the watershed. The county hired the Center for Watershed Protection, a nonprofit organization, to create a management plan.

Dobson said the county plans to continue to monitor water-quality issues and pursue low-impact development. "It is a long-term process, regardless," Dobson said.

The Department of Public Works plans to complete the terms of the EPA grant in the spring.

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