We at SRA, and most of the other watershed organizations on the Eastern Shore, have talked a lot about our rivers not meeting clean water standards.
One thing we don’t mention often enough is the impact of an unhealthy river on the health of the people who swim, fish, and recreate in and around the river. I was struck by some of the findings in a paper titled “Growing Green: How Green Infrastructure Can Improve Community Livability and Public Health” written by Stacey Detwiler and published by American Rivers - one of the leading organizations working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams.
The report focuses on “green infrastructure” practices, such as rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavement in urban environments. In a rural environment like ours, the three practices mentioned can be augmented in many ways, including the creation of wetlands, shoreline vegetative buffers, rain barrels, soil testing for nutrients prior to fertilization of lawns and gardens, grass waterways, cover crops, and ravine and shoreline restorations.
The purpose of green infrastructure is to slow or stop the sheet flow of rainwater from storms, so that it may infiltrate into the ground instead of running into a stream or river. We have created so many impediments to the absorption of rain water that many times the only place for it to go is in runoff from roofs, parking lots, and roads. On its way to our creeks and rivers, runoff picks up chemicals, sediment, nutrients, bacteria, and other contaminants.
Ms. Detwiler quotes the EPA, saying, “Polluted runoff is the leading source of pollution for 40 percent of waters that fail to meet water quality standards.” Rain, which is fundamentally important for a healthy environment, is also the source of many dangers to human health.
Green infrastructure, by slowing water flow and allowing it to penetrate the ground, helps to prevent flooding. Flooding is always dangerous for public health. Oil, gas, and other petrochemicals are mixed with flood waters. Sewers and wastewater treatment plants overflow, and other bacteria-laden manures from farm fields, woods, and urban areas are carried by flood waters.
“By reducing the pollutants that enter our rivers, lakes, and streams through runoff or sewer overflows, green infrastructure can not only protect clean water but also protect public health. Ensuring that our waters are clean and safe enough to support fishing, swimming, and boating can reduce illness from contact with waters contaminated by polluted runoff and sewage.” Ms. Detwiler writes, and goes on to say that, “In fact, every year up to 3.5 million people become sick from contact with water contaminated by sewage.”
By supplying over 200 rain barrels in our watershed, conducting soil test workshops, creating rain gardens and a wetland at two elementary schools, educating adults and children about the functions and values of wetlands, gathering volunteers to clean up shorelines and roads, and creating many types of restoration projects around our watershed, your Sassafras River Association is working passionately to bring clean water quality to the Sassafras River watershed. By doing so, we firmly believe that we are creating a healthier future for all the residents and visitors to our beautiful part of the world. We urge you to do all you can to help us.
I’ll see you on the river,
Capt. Emmett Duke