Officials seek to protect Deer Creek

County wants to preserve more land in watershed

May 20, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

A new study showing the Deer Creek watershed to be a vital natural resource, but one that is vulnerable to development pressures, will boost Harford County's efforts to secure state land preservation money, county officials say.

About 40,000 acres, slightly less than half of the 86,000 acres in the watershed, are eligible for preservation funding through the state's Rural Legacy program. Most of that acreage is in the eastern area, near Churchville and Darlington. Because the competition for developable land closer to Bel Air is intense, the county wants additional funds if it is to acquire land for preservation, county officials say.

Officials in Harford, which received $2 million last year in Rural Legacy funds, want the state to expand the amount of watershed land eligible for state preservation money, extending the boundary north to the Pennsylvania line and placing the entire Harford area of the watershed in the program.

"The goals of our watershed action strategy fall right in line with those of the state," said Pat Pudelkewicz, Harford planner and project manager for the study. He believes the state will be supportive of the application.

The 171-square-mile watershed, which stretches from York County, Pa., to northeastern Baltimore County, covers 38 percent of Harford. More than half the land is dedicated to farming, with another 31 percent forested.

Deer Creek is the source of drinking water for Aberdeen.

The Rural Legacy Program, enacted in 1997 to counter suburban sprawl and protect natural resources, provides local jurisdictions with funds to purchase easements from landowners in exchange for assurances that the land will not be sold for development.

Harford began the watershed study nearly two years ago and delivered the findings at two public meetings last week. Researchers walked about 73 miles of Deer Creek, cataloging aquatic life and noting problems such as erosion and trash dumping.

"The biggest problem was pollution from agriculture and septic systems," Pudelkewicz said.

Aided by volunteers, researchers tested water at more than 75 sites along the waterway.

"Deer Creek is an amazing stream that is still in very good shape, even compared to those that are heavily protected by forests in Western Maryland," said Jay Kilian, a biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who helped complete an aquatic survey for the watershed study. "But it is increasingly coming under stress as the population grows."

Population in the watershed is projected to be about 30,000 by 2015, which would represent an increase of nearly 10,000 since 1995. Much of that growth has occurred in southern Pennsylvania. Covering land with asphalt and concrete can increase runoff into waterways and degrade water quality, Kilian said.

"We are covering land with impervious surfaces and killing streams throughout Central Maryland," Kilian said. "Every new house, driveway and road damages our streams."

Time is a factor, officials said, as Aberdeen Proving Ground prepares to add nearly 10,000 jobs as part of the nationwide military base realignment. The accompanying population growth will create demand for more houses, schools and infrastructure.

"We have to preserve as much land as possible now," Pudelkewicz said.

In addition to increased land preservation, the study recommends planting more buffers along the stream, instituting more effective farm management practices to decrease runoff, and bolstering public education programs.

"We want people to understand the value of the watershed and what they can do to protect it," Pudelkewicz said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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