After two years of sampling streams, cataloging aquatic life, and monitoring runoff from farms and homes throughout the Deer Creek watershed in Harford County, researchers who conducted a federally funded study have deemed the area healthy and proposed a plan to keep it that way as the county develops.
Harford officials unveiled the plan this week, a nearly 100-page document that calls for effective farm management practices, buffer plantings along streams, land preservation and public education as key tools in the effort to protect the 171-square-mile watershed.
The quality, diversity and in some cases, rarity of the watershed's aquatic life are major criteria for determining stream health and need for protective measures.
In a survey by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Deer Creek placed third in the state as far as vitality and types of its fish. It ranks behind first-place Zekiah Swamp in Charles County and the Casselman River watershed in Garrett County. Harford's Broad Creek area ranks 12th.
Harford County initiated the study of the Deer Creek watershed, supplementing a $40,000 federal grant with $9,000 in local funds. The study identified areas along the creek, which flows to the Susquehanna River, that are most vulnerable to development pressure.
The watershed covers 38 percent of Harford's land area, and parts of Baltimore County and southern Pennsylvania.
The goals of the recommendations are protecting water quality, conserving fish and wildlife habitats, and restoring environmentally impaired areas, officials said.
"The strategy sets up where the important natural resources are and where we should focus our efforts," said Pat Pudelkewicz, Harford's environmental planner and its project manager. "It also gets us started on putting protections in place."
Because most of the watershed lies in Harford, the county will take the lead in implementing the plan, officials said.
Public education and cooperation with York County, Pa., are critical to the plan's success, said John Sauers, a resident of the small Harford town of Berkley who attended the presentation at Harford Community College.
Likened to park
"This watershed is like our grand Central Park," Sauers said.
"When the public realizes that, they will know it needs to be protected. We have to lay the groundwork and work with Pennsylvania counties to make our zoning laws compatible," he said.
Others in the audience at the sparsely attended session expressed concerned about pollution from farm runoff, lawn fertilizer and faulty septic systems. Officials sought to allay such worries.
"There are not a bunch of pipes polluting this stream," said Matthew M. Lapinsky, director of public works for Aberdeen. "It is every one of us. This is everybody's issue."