Mattawoman Creek at "turning point"

Report warns planned Charles County growth could ruin one of Chesapeake's healthiest tributaries

  • State-led task force warns that Mattawoman Creek, one of Chesapeake Bay's healthiest tributaries, is losing ground and is "at a turning point" from development.
State-led task force warns that Mattawoman Creek, one of Chesapeake… (Doug Kapustin, 2009 )
May 29, 2012|Tim Wheeler

The fate of the Chesapeake Bay may be found in its tributaries. Mattawoman Creek, one of the bay's healthiest, is losing ground to development and now stands "at a turning point" as Charles County plans for future growth in its watershed, a state-led task force warns.

The combined state-federal task force, led by the Department of Natural Resources, says that the Mattawoman is losing the "near to the ideal" condition that characterized its waters nearly two decades ago.

Although its watershed is still largely forested, and the stream itself retains one of the state's most diverse populations of fish, "possible signs of stress associated with human development have appeared." Dissolved oxygen in the water, thought still good, has declined of late, and some fish spawning sites have been lost, the report says.

The signs of stress have appeared as the percentage of the watershed covered by asphalt or buildings has grown, according to the task force.  Fish populations have declined markedly since around 2000, it notes, and warns that at the county's current projected levels of development for the watershed, fish spawning may disappear altogether.

The report comes not long after state and federal regulators denied the county's bid to build an east-west highway that would have cut across part of the watershed.  The task force urges Charles County officials to dramatically downscale planned development in the Mattawoman watershed as they update the county's long-range "comprehensive plan" for growth.

The report produced with staff from state planning, environment and highways, along with federal environmental agencies, was published in March.  Environmental activists, in a release issued late last week, say the county's response to date has been discouraging, as the planning commission last month opted to stick with provisions in the county's 2006 growth plan that they contend will continue development in the Mattawoman watershed, which could seal its fate.

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