The once expansive grass beds that formerly blanketed the bottom of the West and Rhode Rivers have been nonexistent for a number of years now. Poor water clarity has prevented any robust grass species from growing. These robust grass beds are important for a number of reasons. To start, grasses provide food for a number of species of waterfowl. The grasses also provide crucial habitat for young fish, crabs and other small organisms that call the Bay their home. In addition to being excellent for wildlife, grasses also work to improve a number of other water quality issues. They remove nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from the water which helps to reduce the frequency and severity of algae blooms. They also improve clarity by holding bottom sediments with their roots and dampening wave action which can cause shore erosion. This year there was a glimmer of hope for returning these important submerged grasses to the rivers.
A dry spring contributed to surprisingly clear water, and this allowed a species of grass known as Horned Pondweed to grow very well in many areas and persist for a longer period of time than in past years. Unfortunately, Horned Pondweed cannot tolerate the warm waters that exist in our rivers during our hot summers. The glimmer of hope provided by this great spring inspired us to take some action to get more robust grasses growing in our rivers. Maryland Department of Natural Resources has had a system for growing submerged grasses in classrooms throughout the state. Using this method we started growing 10 tanks of Redhead grass on the bottom floor of our Discovery Village office building. These grasses will grow throughout the winter and will be planted in the West River next Spring. Our hope is that if we plant this hardier species of grass alongside the areas with Horned Pondweed, then they will grow throughout the summer and last for a number of years. With a little luck these grasses may even spread throughout the rivers and start to bring back the flourishing grass beds of the past.
Oysters are arguably one of the most important natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay, and one that is only at about 1% of historic levels. This rapid loss of natural oysters prompted the state to start the Marylanders Grow Oyster (MGO) program. This is a wonderful program that not only allows the state to expand their restoration capacity, but also gets those that have access to the water a way to take steps to improve the water quality in their own river. With all these great benefits that come out of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program we decided this year to apply to the program. We were recently accepted and now we will be giving out oyster growing cages and spat (baby oysters attached to shell) to a little over a dozen volunteers in the Rhode River. We’ll also be teaming up with the South River Federation and hosting an oyster husbandry work shop where those interested can come and learn everything and anything about oysters from Chris Judy. Chris works for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and is the head of the MGO program. We’re really excited to be starting this program in our river and hope that it will continue to grow for years to come.
YMCA Camp Letts restoration
Great news about our major restoration project at YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater. This stormwater wetland project will treat the runoff from the equestrian area at the camp, which currently flows directly into Selman Creek on the Rhode River. Working with our partner the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT), the construction phase of the project finally went out to bid. This project is supported by a grant from CBT, as well as state funds from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Pending the approval of the bid from the state Board of Public Works, we hope the construction will begin in November.
New potential project in Harwood
We have some more good news! We’ve received a $10,000 challenge grant from Constellation Energy in which they give us half of the grant award now and will give us the other half as match once we secure other funding. We are submitting a grant application to the Chesapeake Bay Trust for the remaining funds to design a stream stabilization/meadow restoration at the powerline right-of-way in Harwood. We’re really excited about this project, which will reduce sediment and nutrient pollution going into the Rhode River.