West and Rhode Riverkeeper

We work with our community to enforce environmental law, to
promote restoration, and to advocate for better environmental policy.
Contact us: 443-758-7797  ♦  PO Box 172, Shady Side, MD 20764

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West and Rhode Riverkeeper Blog

Description of my blog
May 31

Riverkeeper Report - Summer 2012

Posted by Chris in Waterkeeper Alliance , River Rally , Portland , Conference


In early May, over 700 people gathered in Portland, Oregon for what may have been the largest meeting of river advocates in history. I was one of them.

For the first time, the annual Waterkeeper Alliance conference was combined with the River Network’s River Rally. Passionate advocates from across the globe convened to share their stories and learn from each other. This year’s conference included not only the 200 Waterkeepers that are like family now, but also a whole suite of other hard-working groups fighting for clean water and restored waterways. According to the organizers, there were attendees from more than 40 U.S. states as well as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, India, Iraq, Mexico, Peru, Senegal and the United Kingdom.

At the conference, we heard from a number of distinguished speakers, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr (president of Waterkeeper Alliance), Alexandra Cousteau, and EPA Director Lisa Jackson. My favorite speaker of the conference, however, was Gerald Lewis, a Yakama Nation Tribal Councilman and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chairman. Mr. Lewis gave a Tribal Invocation that opened the conference on the first night. He spoke of the humble beginnings of each waterway as a small trickle, and then described its path to the sea, combining

Gerald Lewiswith other streams, getting bigger and more powerful. “Along the way it gathers all these thoughts,” he said, “all these powers through the wind, through the sun, through the rain. It gathers this power. And this is what gives us the strength to continue on within our walk of life today.” He then sung an ancestral chant in his native tongue, and rung an ancient bell in an incredibly moving ceremonial invocation.

Part of the challenge that faces small groups like West/Rhode Riverkeeper is maintaining the drive and enthusiasm to affect positive change day after day with limited resources. Convening with other “water warriors” helps keep us inspired and motivated to work with our community to improve the health of our rivers. At the conference, we all share in the victories when we hear about a polluter being sued on the Hudson, or a dam being removed on a salmon river in the Pacific Northwest. And other groups appreciate our research and insight into what makes an effective Report Card.

The Waterkeeper model of local based advocacy to protect our waterways is a proven one. What makes us special is that we concentrate on specific rivers (or creeks, or lakes, or coastlines) to do everything we can to stop pollution from contaminating the natural resources that we depend on. Many other groups at the conference besides Waterkeepers are working to the same end. Convening with 700 people from across the globe that are all doing the same thing and practicing the same philosophy gave me a great optimism that working together, we can make a big difference.

However, even combining the efforts of these 700 river advocates is not enough to clean up the rivers, creeks, and streams alone. We need you. Our members, supporters and volunteers are the reason we are able to exist, and you help us do the critical work in our watershed to reduce pollution. Whether conducting our volunteer water quality monitoring, helping to plant a rain garden, or responding to an action alert by contacting our elected officials, YOU are the engine of West/Rhode Riverkeeper.

As much as I was inspired by the conference in Portland, I am inspired every day by the passion and efforts of our supporters right here in South County. Let’s keep up the good work!

May 30

Three Cheers (and Three Bills) for Clean Water

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

By all accounts, the 2012 General Assembly was a tumultuous one. The beginning of the session was dominated by redistricting and the debate on same sex marriage, and the end of the session arrived without a consensus on the budget. However, what did emerge (on the final day) was a package of very important bills that will help clean up our waterways and position Maryland to be able to meet its pollution reduction goals.

The three bills addressed three major sources of nutrient pollution: stormwater, wastewater (sewage), and septic systems. The stormwater bill requires Maryland’s ten largest jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel County, to establish a dedicated fee on impervious surfaces (such as rooftops, parking lots, and driveways) to fund in-the-ground projects to capture stormwater runoff from existing development. Each of these counties already has an obligation to reduce stormwater pollution from impervious surface according to their general permits under the Clean Water Act, but only Montgomery County had actually established a fee. This legislation levels the playing field and ensures that counties will have the funds necessary to plan, design, and build these important projects.

The second bill increases the so called “flush fee” from $2.50 per month to $5.00 per month. This revenue is used to complete the upgrades of major wastewater treatment plants, such as the one in Mayo which discharges into the Rhode River. The upgrades will update the plants to modern technology which can dramatically reduce the level of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution being discharged. There are three plants in Anne Arundel County that were dependent on this increased funding in order to be upgraded.

The third bill sets guidelines and limits on growth and development allowed to be built on septic systems. The law sets up four tiers for inclusion in local comprehensive plans, with various levels of controls. It will help local communities direct growth to where there is infrastructure to accommodate it, and help them preserve rural areas. Development on septic systems contributes much more pollution to our waterways than development on modern sewer systems.

As is so often the case with the legislative process, all three of these bills were somewhat weakened from their original forms. Some concessions were made, and some compromises were brokered out of necessity. But considering that so many other environmental bills were completely gutted or defeated, this package of bills is a giant step forward for clean water.

These victories were not easily won. A strong coalition of environmental and community groups, called the Clean Water, Healthy Families campaign, worked tirelessly to champion these measures. The coalition consisted of large state-wide groups, watershed organizations – including West/Rhode Riverkeeper, and grass-roots community organizations. Working together, we were able to underscore the value of protecting and restoring our waterways, and our elected officials got the message loud and clear.

[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4Pf0md0lY4 560x315]

The momentum is now with clean water. With these legislative victories, we are in a position to put policies in place to achieve the “pollution diet” and meet our obligations to reduce pollution. To be successful, we need to keep fighting and keep working. Our rivers, creeks, and streams, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay depend on it.


Mar 19

Perch eggs, A hidden sign of spring

Posted by Joe in Untagged 

Here's a great photo slide show about yellow perch eggs.
Source: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post
  Yellow Perch, are considered to be semi-anadromous fish.  This means that they spend their adult lives living in the saltier waters of the Bay and travel up into the fresher headwaters of rivers and streams to lay their eggs.  They do this every year from late February thru March.
  Our beloved Striped Bass, aka Rockfish, are fully anadromous fish.  This means that they spend much of their adult life in the salty waters of the ocean and travel up into the fresher waters of the Chesapeake to spawn.  Rockfish are heading up the Bay now, in late March, to reach their spawning grounds in freshwater rivers by April.
 Shad and Herring are also anadromous fish that come up the Chesapeake Bay to spawn.
Mar 16

Spring Time Above the Bay: The Osprey Return

Posted by Joe in Untagged 

  I think we all have noticed that it seems as though this incredibly mild winter has turned into spring!  Well, now our summertime friend the Osprey agrees and has come back to the West and Rhode Rivers from its winter home down south.  Within the past week we’ve enjoyed scattered spottings of Osprey around the Riverkeeper office down here in Shady Side.

  Ospreys are one of the more recognized birds of prey on the Bay due to their ability to tolerate humans relatively well.  However,  don’t get too close to their nests or they will start circling over you in a very menacing way… trust me I speak from experience.  They also tend to hold a monopoly on waterfront real estate due to their abilities to gang up on the substantially larger Bald Eagle.  If you don’t spend too much time on the water in the winter months you’d almost think that no Eagles live in the area.  That is certainly not true; we’ve seen plenty of Eagles flying around near the West River this winter, including a juvenile that doesn’t even have a white head or tail. Eagles simply get banished to the forests when Osprey come to town.

  Osprey leave the Chesapeake Bay area every winter to make their way to the Caribbean, Gulf Coast or South America to spend their winters.  Once the weather up here warms back up, they return to their northern nesting grounds to start rebuilding their nests.  I’ve had the pleasure of watching an Osprey carry rather large sticks to its nest on top of a cell phone tower while I drive to work.  Osprey will build a nest 10-60ft off the ground, preferably around water, and return to the same spot year after year.  Osprey are one of the many births that mate for life, so if you see two Osprey on a nest one year, more than likely it will be the same two birds there the next year.

  By late April the female will lay 2 to 4 eggs. The eggs are generally a little bigger than chicken eggs and are white with brown splotches on them.  These eggs hatch in 4 to 5 weeks. The mother stays on the nest for a majority of the time, unless she needs to hunt, in which case the male will take over nesting duties.  By late July or August the young will be fully fledged (meaning they grow their adult feathers) and be able to fly around the nest, and start learning to hunt.

  A huge majority of an Osprey’s diet (about 99%) consists of fish, which is why they prefer to nest around water.  Due to the way that Osprey hover over the water and look for fish, their hunting can sometimes be harmed by poor water clarity because they can’t see the fish that they need to eat.  Watching them hover in the air when they spot a fish is by far my favorite part of watching Osprey.Osprey_page_image

(Photo Credit Alan Vernon/Flickr)

  After the summer up here on the West and Rhode Rivers the Osprey will start to migrate back down south in September.  So enjoy them while they are here!

Dec 14

Eagle Scout Project Completed

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

On December 11, local Eagle Scout Jimmy Gordon celebrated his successful Eagle project in a Court of Honor at Discovery Village in Shady Side. Jimmy's project involved constructing wooden racks to store 18 kayaks for West/Rhode Riverkeeper. The kayaks are used during warm weather months during the Riverkeeper's Community Kayaking events, which allow the public to take a kayak out on the West River for free.

See below for a video about the project. Thanks Jimmy!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lp_pPQi9gw 360x240]

Sep 09

Natural Disasters

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

2011 is shaping up to be quite a year for extreme weather and natural disasters. We started with a very wet and cool spring which quickly transformed into an unbearably hot summer with temperatures in the triple digits. The August 23 earthquake caused little damage, but captivated the news cycle and the water cooler chatter for days. Hurricane Irene and her strong rain and winds felled trees and left many of us without power, but it will take some time to assess her impact on water quality.

Each of these events had an effect on our environment in some way – great or small. For those of us who study the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, we know that weather contributes to the health of our waterways. A rainy year will likely bring more pollution to our waters, in the form of stormwater runoff. It can also affect the populations of aquatic life such as oysters, which need a certain level of salinity in the water in order to reproduce. The combination of heavy rains and high heat  caused the fourth largest ‘dead zone’ on record this summer – just when we thought the dead zone was retreating. A particularly hot year can also damage beds of underwater grasses, and sustain persistent algae blooms which thrive in warmer water. Perhaps most alarming were reports this summer of people contracting a deadly bacteria called Vibrio that can develop under certain conditions.

But regardless of the annual fluctuations of weather patterns and extreme events, the underlying threats to healthy waterways remain constant. As our population continues to grow, and we add new pollution loads to our sewer system and wastewater treatment plants, more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is discharged into our rivers and streams. Modern technology allows us to greatly reduce the amount of pollution, but our sewer plants must be upgraded and we lack the funding to complete these important upgrades.

Each and every time it rains, stormwater runoff delivers pollution to our waterways. Rainwater flows from our rooftops, driveways, roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces into the nearest drain or ditch, carrying contaminates from oil and sediment, trash, and animal waste  into local waters. Our newer communities utilize modern stormwater management techniques, which allow the rainwater to soak into the ground rather than become runoff. But most of our older communities were built long before this was the norm, and need to be “retrofitted” through restoration projects to achieve a much higher degree of pollution control.

Another significant contributor of pollution in our area comes from septic systems. Even though many of our communities are on public sewer service, large pockets still remain on septic. A household on a properly functioning septic system can contribute 10 times more nutrient pollution to our waters than the same household on public sewer. Failing systems are even worse, and may contribute harmful bacteria as well. There are currently no pollution standards, inspection or maintenance requirements regarding septic systems in our county.

To address the pollution from the Three S’s (Sewer, Stormwater, and Septic), the environmental community is organizing a grass-roots effort to promote our Clean Water, Healthy Families campaign. Last year was a huge disappointment for the environment in the Maryland General Assembly. We are organizing now to make it clear to our State Elected Officials that we expect them to act to protect our waterways and our communities. We are asking for legislation to increase funding for the Bay Restoration Fund (the so-called “flush fee” which funds wastewater treatment plant upgrades and septic-to-sewer conversions); to establish a dedicated funding source for critical stormwater management projects; to require a treatment standard for all wastewater treatment systems (including septic systems); and to discourage sprawling growth in inappropriate areas. You can find more information about this campaign at www.cleanwaterhealthyfamilies.org.

Clean Water Healthy Families

While earthquakes and hurricanes consume most of our attention, pollution continues to enter our waters every day from slow, yet consistent, sources. Hurricanes and earthquakes are often measured in terms of the millions (or billions) of dollars of damage they caused. The Chesapeake Bay has recently been estimated to have a nearly $1 trillion economic value. What is the cost to us all of allowing its health to decline? We are always on guard against “natural disasters,” but let us remember that another true disaster would be failing to act now to preserve our greatest resource. Please help us by joining the Clean Water, Healthy Families campaign. Go to the website and sign our petition!

Apr 25

Legislators miss the boat for the bay

Posted by Chris in Untagged 

Our Bay: Legislators miss the boat for the bay

This Week's Take


Published 04/23/11 in The Capital

At the beginning of the 2011 Maryland General Assembly session, many of us in the environmental community believed we were poised to make significant progress in the epic struggle to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. After last year's legislative session, in which we were frequently told to "wait until after the elections," we watched as candidates from both major parties fought over who could position themselves to be more "green" in the 2010 elections.

So, despite the difficult economy, we felt this year's legislative session presented a perfect opportunity to show Maryland's commitment to getting serious about the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay.

Several other factors contributed to the feeling that now was the time for change.

In December, the Maryland Department of the Environment submitted a Watershed Implementation Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laying out an ambitious plan for how Maryland would achieve Chesapeake Bay clean-up within Gov. Martin O'Malley's accelerated 2020 timeframe.

In early 2011, the EPA handed down its new "pollution diet," a series of Total Maximum Daily Loads for pollution into our waterways, establishing enforceable limits for sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus. These two initiatives represent the roadmap that will allow the bay to recover.

Surely, given their professed support for the Chesapeake and its waterways, the fact that the elections were over and the increasingly costly obligation to meet clean-up benchmarks, our legislators would take tangible steps to clean up the bay in 2011, right?


Nearly every major environmental policy initiative that was put forward in the 2011 legislative session died. Like a school of menhaden trapped in a dead zone, these initiatives were bottled up in committee and unable to survive.

Attempts to keep wastewater treatment plant upgrades on schedule and solvent, as well as requiring local governments to begin getting serious about their multi-billion dollar stormwater backlogs were shelved before they even saw the light of day.

And, even though it had the vigorous support of Gov. O'Malley, a plan to require new major subdivisions to use the best available technology to treat wastewater faltered mid-session, the victim of a concerted push by the development industry.

Even an effort to place a 5-cent per bag fee on single-use bags, a proven model that has been successful in Washington, D.C., was killed in committee in both the House and Senate, thanks in part to a late push by lobbyists for the American Chemistry Council.

In D.C., this policy has resulted in an 80 percent reduction in bags purchased by retailers and 66 percent fewer bags found in river clean-ups of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. The Maryland bill, in addition to demonstrably reducing trash in our waterways, would have reduced expenses for retailers and consumers by uncloaking a hidden cost we all pay. After all, "free" bags aren't actually free.

Protections against the impacts of drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale, reducing arsenic in chicken feed and several renewable energy initiatives also went down in flames. And, as if adding insult to injury, a bill that significantly weakens the state's renewable energy portfolio standard by adding in garbage incineration passed.

The only significant legislation to pass with potential to improve water quality was a bill which reduces pollutants in lawn fertilizer.

The environmental community doesn't live in a vacuum. We are aware of the incredible economic hardship facing our state. Legislators, rightly so, were consumed with dealing with a budget in which there just wasn't enough money to go around, and thankfully, attempts at permanent cuts to Program Open Space and the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund were defeated.

In 2011, the legislators may have found a way to once again balance the budget, but they also once again put off taking action to give Marylanders what they consistently demand: A clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.

Inaction never pays. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to restore the bay, and the more it will cost.

Well, there's always next year.


Feb 08

Stormwater Restoration Video

Posted by Chris in Stormwater , Restoration , Magothy River

Our friends over at Being In Place have put together a nice video detailing a stormwater restoration project in the Magothy River watershed. Check it out!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2f9f7Cfk1c 640x390]

Nov 29

W/RR submits comments on Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP)

Posted by Chris in WIP , TMDL , pollution

On November 8, West/Rhode Riverkeeper submitted comments on Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP. The WIP details how Maryland intends to meet its pollution reduction goals as outlined in the federal TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load).

We believe that the TMDL/WIP process presents the best opportunity in a generation to bring about significant positive change in the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. However, this is true only if state and local governments will be held accountable for meeting their pollution reduction goals. Over the last three decades, there have been numerous Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreements, goals, plans, and initiatives. As 2010 comes to end, one thing is clear: our Bay is still polluted. What will make this newest initiative any different from the others that did not achieve success?

You can see our comments here.

Oct 15

Stormwater runoff captured on video

Posted by Chris in video , Stormwater , sediment , runoff

On September 30, 2010 our area was soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole. Some areas received as much as 10 inches of rain from this storm. I spent the morning video-documenting various areas in our watershed and how the rain was impacting our waterways.

Galesville Rain Garden:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqdxXt2G-PE 640x385]
This project was recently completed, and seems to be functioning well. Water is captured from the street and parking lots, and is allowed to soak in rather than go straight into the river. The native plants help soak up the water, and also provide a pleasant landscape.


Triton Woods (new development on Mayo Peninsula):

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHlrEM6pFMw 640x385]
This sediment basin fills during large storms and muddy runoff flows under Mayo Road and then into a ditch which carries it to Cadle Creek.

In order to restore the health of our waterways, we must be able to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. It's time to get serious about stormwater pollution. For more video of stormwater runoff, see http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=WestRhode#g/u