Every year in early June, your Sassafras RIVERKEEPER™ scouts the creeks that feed the Sassafras River for invasive water chestnuts. These are not the crunchy delicacies found in oriental food, but a noxious weed that grows in shallow water in the tributaries of the Sassafras.
When the water warms around the time of the summer solstice, after a dormancy of from one to twelve years, each spiny seed sends a thin shoot to the surface. Air-filled pods develop, enabling the small rosettes to float on the water. Then the plants really spring to life, spreading like a mat on the water’s surface with flat leaves that resemble the leaves of a strawberry plant. In a few weeks, each plant has sent out more and more rosettes, which in turn send out still more. The leaf mat gets so thick that the water surface becomes completely covered, and sunlight is thoroughly prevented from reaching the creek bed.
This situation presents serious problems for submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), which are so necessary for a healthy river system. SAV, or the “grasses” as they are commonly called, provide essential habitat for small fish and shedding crabs, and in the process of respiration create oxygen for all the critters in the water and in the muddy creek bottom. The underwater grasses need sunlight to exist, and they cannot thrive in areas of invasive water chestnuts.
The chestnuts are removed from the tributaries of the Sassafras each June and July by your RIVERKEEPER™ and a crew of volunteers, including some from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. On Saturday, June 25, Jeff Russell, Mike Kline, and John Cleary went “down and dirty” to pull the weeds from the muddy bottom of Dyer Creek near Georgetown. There will be a follow-up excursion to the same creek on Thursday, July 21st to finish the job for this year. In the meantime, some chestnuts were spotted in Turners Creek on a scouting trip with my grandson, Drew Kuechler. I’ll arrange for a crew of volunteers to go after them soon. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as always, I hope to see you on the river!
Capt. Emmett Duke,