Sassafras River Association

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What We Do

The Sassafras River Association is engaged in a wide range of activities: advocacy, education, watershed assessment and monitoring -- all focused on one principal goal, to remove the Sassafras River from Maryland's list of polluted waterways.

Watershed Plan

The Sassafras Watershed Action Plan (SWAP) is a community based watershed plan which was developed over the course of one year (2009). SWAP was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency in January 2010. The Plan includes 30 restoration strategies, cost estimates, responsible parties, implementation timeline and funding opportunities that will have clear and demonstrable effect on improving the water quality in the Sassafras River.

Goal: A healthy clean river that is safe for swimming, fishing, crabbing, and meets the TMDL for all impairments.

Sassafras River Report Card

Sassafras River Association produces an annual Report Card, detailing ecosystem health within the Sassafras River Watershed. The report grades the water quality of the estuary (tidal) and creeks (non-tidal) based on water monitoring data collected throughout the calendar year.


2015 Sassafras River Report Card

2015 Report Card


2014 Sassafras River Report Card

2014 RC

2013 Sassafras River Report Card

2013 Report Card

Comparison of Grades in the 2013+ Report Cards to those in the 2011 and 2012 Report Cards

The grades assigned to Tidal sites in 2013 are directly comparable to those assigned in 2011 and 2012 because the Tidal protocol* (used for the evaluation (including sampling specifications, quality indicators and grading scales) was established by the Mid-Atlantic Assessment Coalition (MTAC) in 2011 and remained unchanged in 2012 and 2013.   In 2013, both the upper and lower estuary grades are lower as driven by less subaquatic vegetation (SAV) and higher phosphorus concentrations.  Lower amounts of SAV are being observed Bay-wide.  Scientists suspect multiple factors for the decline in SAV: warmer temperatures, worsening water quality and lingering effects from Tropical Storm Lee.

The grades assigned to Creek (Non-tidal) sites in 2013 are not directly comparable to those assigned in 2012.  In general, each site has similar overall grade in the 2013 but our Creek (Non-tidal) grade for turbidity is decidedly worse in the 2013 report card while our grade for phosphorus is decidedly better.  These changes do not necessarily reflect changes in the creeks but rather changes in the evaluation methods.

For the 2013 Sassafras River report card, the evaluation of turbidity and nutrients (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P)) used the MTAC Non-tidal protocol which was finalized in May 2013. 

·        - For the 2013 report card, turbidity was measured with the same technique as for 2012; however, the quality thresholds were updated by using government standard values recommended by the US EPA and MD DNR. These turbidity thresholds are more stringent as the experts continue to recognize water clarity has a big impact on our water quality. 

·         - For the 2013 report card, the nutrient measurements and thresholds were updated. Nitrogen and phosphorus were measured as Total N and Total P while previously nitrogen was measured as N contained in ammonium ions and, separately, N contained in nitrate ions and phosphorus was measured as P contained in phosphate ions.  For the 2013 report card, the measured Total N and Total P concentrations were evaluated against updated quality thresholds determined from analysis of Chesapeake Bay Non-Tidal Benthic Database dataset based on macroinvertebrate health.  Setting the thresholds based on macroinvertebrate health focuses on the health of the Non-tidal tributary with the assumption that a healthy tributary supports a healthy river.

2012 Sassafras River Report Card

2012 Report Card

2011 Sassafras River Report Card


Grading Methods:

The 2011 and 2012 Report Cards evaluates six tidal indicators and six non-tidal indicators. "Sampling and data analysis protocols for Mid-Atlantic tidal tributary indicators" were used to calculate grades for the tidal portion of the River. These protocols were developed by the Mid-Altlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition (MTAC) in 2010, to establish common methods for sampling regime, data collection, and data analysis in the Chesapeake Bay region. Non-tidal grades were calculated on a pass/fail basis, using specific thresholds for for each indicator measured (shown in tabel below).


The first annual Sassafras River Report Card , published August 2010.

SRA would like to thank the Chesapeake Bay Trust for funding this report card as well as the following persons and organizations for their past and continued support in making the publication possible: Rauch Foundation, Campbell Foundtion, Town Creek Foundation, EcoCheck, and LaMotte.

Sassafras Samplers

For more than 5 years, SRA has sponsored a water quality monitoring program, the Sassafras Samplers. It's a great way for our dedicated volunteers to learn the science of the River while making an essential contribution to our knowledge of River conditions.

From 2005-2008 The Samplers tested 20 sites on the tidal portion of the River 3 times a year, in the spring, summer, and fall. The samplers tested for a number of parameters that indicate the overall health of the River.

In 2009-2010, the samplers conducted monthly testing in the tidal portion of the River as well as the non-tidal creeks and streams that flow into the River.

Since 2010, Sassafras Samplers test 16 non-tidal sites in the watershed, while the Riverkeeper tests 7 sites on the mainstem of the river.

This is a big effort and we can always use more volunteers to carry out our plans. Click on the link to Volunteer Today or email/call the RIVERKEEPER® for more information.

Season Review Presentations & Results

Sassafras Sampler Resources

The following documents are required of each Sassafras Sampler to review and keep for their records for quality assurance while participating in the Sassafras River Association's Water Quality Monitoring Program.

Agricultural Outreach

The SRA Agriculture Outreach program focuses on building relationships with Sassafras River watershed farmers, identifying opportunities for and implementing conservation projects, and promoting best management practices on agricultural operations throughout the watershed. The three main goals of the program include:

  • Developing relationships with the Sassafras River watershed agricultural community, including but not limited to farmers, NRCS, USDA and County SCD employees, DNR employees, Farm Bureau, University of Delaware and University of MD extension and research staff.

  • Identifying priority areas as well as specific sites for agricultural BMPs, conservation planning, and restoration projects.

  • Coordinating funding, technical assistance, and efforts of NRCS, SCD, DNR, Ducks Unlimited, and other sources to maximize assistance and simplify application and implementation processes for individual landowners in priority areas.

The agricultural outreach coordinator also stays closely involved with upcoming agricultural issues that impact the environment, including nutrient trading, CAFO regulations, nutrient management, and agronomic research.

Residential/Homeowner Outreach

The SRA Residential Outreach program is focused on working closely with homeowners and residents of the Sassafras River watershed to develop an awareness of the common pollutants that affect the River’s health as well as behavior changes that can positively impact water quality. SRA works in conjunction with its partners, including but not limited to University of Maryland Master Gardeners, University of Delaware Soil Testing Lab, Kent and Cecil County Departments of Environmental Health, and private denitrifying septic system manufacturers, to hold information workshops and training opportunities focused on changing behaviors and offering solutions to common issues. To date, SRA has focused its efforts on soil testing for lawn and gardens, rain barrel construction and use, denitrifying septic systems, and use of native landscaping at home. We offer workshops in the community for both soil testing and to build rain barrels. Here is a video from one of our recent Rain Barrel workshops:

The SRA Residential Outreach program has also provided funding to homeowners interested in taking steps to reduce their impact on the Sassafras River, through free septic tests. Workshops and training opportunities are scheduled throughout the summer and fall. Check Watershed Events for details.

Responsible Recreation Outreach

The Sassafras RIVERKEEPER monitors and patrols the River weekly from April through October. The RIVERKEEPER promotes responsible use of the River (paddling, canoeing, bird watching, etc.) as well as disseminates information on Clean Boating practices and the Department of Natural Resources Clean Marina program. The RIVERKEEPER speaks at a host of public forums (yacht clubs, homeowner’s associations, schools, events, etc.) to educate stakeholders and promote SRA’s mission of restoring the Sassafras.

Youth Outreach

The Sassafras RIVERKEEPER has an annual goal to reach every 4th grader in the watershed, with the goal of developing the next generation of stewards through education and awareness. The RIVERKEEPER participates in Kent County’s outdoor education program as well as Boy Scout, Girl Scout and other youth based activities in both Cecil and Kent Counties. Children participate in simple water quality sampling (tidal waters) and macroinvertebrate investigation (non-tidal waters). Children learn about sources of pollution and steps they can take to improve water quality.

Outdoor Education Day at Eastern Neck Island

Educational Forums

In the beginning SRA hosted educational forums to educate stakeholders about our watershed. You can find summaries of our forums in our Monthly Newsletters. With the implementation of SWAP, SRA now hosts workshops on restoration strategies and occasional meetings on relevant topics. For a schedule of upcoming workshops and activities please check Watershed Events.

Monthly Newsletter—Sassafras Shorelines

The Sassafras Shorelines has the latest SRA news. You can get a topical index of our past newsletters and read them here.

The following table can be sorted by date or subject by clicking on the header. 

PDF Date Topic
PDF 2016-01 Welcome Laura Wood
PDF 2015-11 Congratulations Trey Hill
PDF 2015-10 Farm Forum
PDF 2015-09 Sassafras River Bridge Closing
PDF 2015-08 Sassabash
PDF 2015-07 Our Youngest Member
PDF 2015-06 FOB Rainbarrel Workshop
PDF 2015-05 Heron Rookery Paddle
PDF 2015-04 Welcome the Watershed Outreach Coordinator
PDF 2015-03 River Outreach Coordinator Farewell
PDF 2015-02 Swantown Creek Restoration
PDF 2015-01 Stream Waders Volunteers Needed
PDF 2014-12 Happy Holidays from SRA
PDF 2014-11 Local Efforts Solve Local Problems
PDF 2014-10 November Membership Meeting
PDF 2014-09 Birthday Bash a Great Success!
PDF 2014-08 Salfner Farm Stream Restoration
PDF 2014-07 Exploratory Meetings for Friends of the Bohemia
PDF 2014-06 Birthday Bash on the Sassafras
PDF 2014-05 Budds Landing Ribbon-Cutting
PDF 2014-03 SRA Seeks Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer
PDF 2014-02 Upcoming Meetings
PDF 2014-01 Message from the President

                        Previous Newsletters


An important part of our mission is to work with Federal, State and local governments on issues that effect the Sassafras River watershed. You can find a description of the issues we're currently tracking here. If there's an issue you think we should be following—a new residential development, a change in zoning laws, or other proposed legislation—send us an email.


Cecil County Tier Map

On 2/19/13 SRA staff, board members, members, and friends represented the Sassafras River at the Cecil County Council public hearing on the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, or SB 236Sassafras Riverkeeper® Emmett Duke, SRA Board President Ken Shumaker, and the Honorable Wayne Gilchrest gave statements at the hearing. SRA Agricultural Outreach Coordinator Josh Thompson also gave a rebuttal to a statement made earlier in the evening regarding septic systems. Two of the transcripts can be read here:

Emmett Duke, Sassafras Riverkeeper®

Ken Shumaker, SRA Board President

To comply with SB 236, Cecil County submitted a "tier map" to the state in December 2012. The Maryland Department of Planning responded with comments explaining how the map does not comply with the law or Cecil County's Comprehensive Plan. You can view the comments here.

In the Sassafras watershed, the map designates Priority Preservation Areas, Rural Legacy Areas, and areas zoned for resource protection as Tier III, which would allow major subdivisions on septic systems for the entire area.This is a threat to  the health of the Sassafras River because it would lead to increased development on septics and more nitrogen pollution to the tributaries and river. 

At the hearing, we explained that if the current map is not withdrawn and replaced by one that conforms to the Comprehensive Plan and existing protected lands, the map would result in an increase in nutrient pollution to the Sassafras, and ultimately add to pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank you to everyone who attended the hearing, spoke at the hearing, and/or submitted comments to the Council letting them know you support a revised map that will protect open space and agriculture along the Sassafras and the water quality of the tributaries and river itself!

We will continue to update you on this issue as it progresses- check back soon for updates!


Galena Waste Water Treatment Plant Expansion and Sewer Line Extension to Georgetown

At the Comissioners' meeting on October 31, 2012, the Kent County Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of:

  • amending the comprehensive plan to include the Galena wastewater treatment plant extension
  • not taking the recommendation of the Planning commission not to expand the system
  • notifying the town of Galena that the county intends to join them in the expansion of their plant

Both SRA Riverkeeper Emmett Duke and Former SRA President John Burke spoke in favor of the expansion at the public hearing at the Commissioners' meeting on October 23, 2012.

Thank you to everyone who submitted letters of support, attended the Commissioners' meetings, or showed support for this project. Your support was crucial in getting the project approved and we couldn't have done it without you! The expansion of the Galena wastewater treatment plant and sewer line extension to Georgetown will positively affect the quality of water discharged into the Sassafras River and increase the overall quality of the river.

Kent Recycling and Land Reclamation, LLC
(Rubble Dump)

Washington College Student Environmental Alliance Joins Demonstration to Preserve the Sassafras

At the meeting of the Kent County Commissioners on October 4, 2011, Commission president Ron Fithian announced that the Commissioners “were unanimous” in their opposition to the rubble fill proposal. “We needed to do our due diligence, and take into account both sides” said Fithian. An audience of more than 80 citizens gathered to demonstrate before the Commissioners' meeting and applauded Commissioner Fithian's announcement. Although the Commissioners have announced their opposition to the rubble dump proposal, they have not yet taken an official vote on the matter. Instead the Commissioners have indicated that they will produce a written resolution stating their decision, which is expected to be released in the next few weeks. SRA is closely monitoring this issue to ensure the rubble dump project does not move forward, and to protect the River from any future threats.

The Kent Commissioners’ declaration of opposition came after more than two months of grassroots organizing and campaigning against the project by the SRA, the Kent Farmland Preservation Coalition, and concerned citizens throughout Kent and Cecil Counties. In those two months, nearly three hundred citizens participated in protests, 499 citizens signed a petition to stop the rubble fill, and a flood of correspondence came into the commissioner’s office voicing opposition to the project.

YOUR help in raising awareness, writing the commissioners, and supporting SRA's opposition to the rubble dump was critical in this key success! But SRA still needs your support to ensure the rubble dump is permanently stopped. Contact the Kent County Commissioners to voice your opinion on this project. Tell your friends and neighbors that this project is bad for the Sassafras River. "No Rubble Dump" signs are available FREE at the SRA office to post in your yard. Join SRA today in advocating for the protection of our precious River.

What is the Rubble Dump?

The rubble dump is a construction and debris dump, proposed in the northern portion of Kent county, which would receive trash from cities like Wilmington, Philadelphia, and portions of New Jersey and New York. A facility of this magnitude would present severe threats to the environmental health of the surrounding area, as well as to the quality of life for the surrounding communities. The site is located at the head of Jacob’s Creek, a highly sensitive headwaters stream of the impaired Sassafras River (as listed by EPA 303d list). The proposed site is not suited for an industrial operation of this nature and lacks an adequate riparian buffer and safe distance from the shallow groundwater aquifer.

The proposed rubble dump site lies between Rt. 301 and Rt. 299 in Massey, Maryland – directly adjacent to Jacobs Creek, a tributary of the Sassafras River. Contact the Kent County Commissioners to voice your opinion on this project, and join SRA in advocating for the protection of the Sassafras River Watershed.

County Commissioner Contact Information:
President Ronald Fithian,
Commissioner William Pickrum,
Commissioner Alexander Rasin,
Commissioners' Office,
(Direct your emails to all four of these addresses)

Mailing Address:
Kent County Commissioners
400 High Street
Chestertown, MD 21620

More information on this project can be found below, in the provided documents and links.

SRA Comments on Rubble Dump, Submitted to County Commissioners, August 16th 2011

Letter from Kent Planning Commission to Kent County Commissioners, regarding DRRA consistency with Kent County Comprehensive Plan

SRA Comments on Rubble Dump, Submitted to County Commissioners, July 31 2011

Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA)- July 30 2011 This agreement lays out the conditions and expectations between the County and developer, regarding the Kent Recycling and Land Reclamation Facility.

Board of Appeals Report, for Kent Sand and Gravel, LLC. Report States that final land use of site would be returned to agriculture, in the form of aquaculture.

"Commissioners hire lawyer to look for land", Kent County News Article, April 16th, 2009

"More Time for Landfill Comments", Kent County News Article, August 18th, 2011

SRA Full Page Advertisement, Printed August 25th, 2011

  • Chestertown Spy News Article, August 17th, 2011
  • SAY NO to the rubble dump! Join SRA's email list to follow this issue and get involved.

    You Tube video of a protest at the commissioner's meeting

    Draft Resolution Stating Kent COunty Commissioner's Decision Against Rubble Fill DRRA.pdf

    Rubble Dump (2009 Proposal)

    SRA advocated against a similar proposal in 2009 to create a rubble dump located at the same site proposed for Kent Recycling and Land Reclamation LLC. You can follow the links below to the relevant documents:

    Legal Action

    The Sassafras Riverkeeper has joined the Waterkeepers Chesapeake in filing a petition to EPA to revoke Maryland Department of the Environement's authority to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act.

    Indian Acres

    The Cecil County Commissioners voted and approved the Letter of Intent (LOI) surrounding full time residency at Indian Acres Campground in Earlville, MD. SRA has advocated for improved waste infrastructure at Indian Acres to the State and County authorities and will continue to follow this issue to ensure the proper regulations are followed.

    Letters of Support

    Watershed Events


    Farm Panel Discussion:

    Can Food Production and

    a Clean Chesapeake Bay Coexist?

    February 25th 6:30PM

    Decker Theater, Gibson Center for the Arts, Washington College
    300 Washington Ave.
    Chestertown, MD

    Poster for the Farm Panel Discussion

    Click here for the news release and flier

    Can Food Production and a Clean Chesapeake Bay Coexist?
    A panel discussion between farmers, environmentalists, and the public
    6:30 pm | February 25 | @ Washington College

    We all want clean water and vibrant rivers. We all need food to survive, but farming practices are often blamed for the deterioration of the Chesapeake Bay. Can we have both?

    Join us at 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 25 for a panel discussion by farmers, environmentalists, and local residents about challenges and successes in the effort to achieve a healthier Chesapeake Bay while continuing to produce food. The event is free and open to the public. The discussion will be driven by questions from the audience.

    The agricultural perspective will be represented by Sean Jones, a dairy farmer in Massey, Md., Trey Hill, a row crop farmer in Rock Hall, Md., and Mike Twining, a representative with Willard Agri-Service.  The environmental perspective will be provided by Kim Coble, a Vice President of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Jeff Horstman, Miles-Wye Riverkeeper in Easton, Md. Mark Nardi, a geographer with the US Geological Survey, will explain the findings of recent scientific studies of nutrient movement through our groundwater. The lively discussion, driven by audience questions, will be moderated by former US Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.

    This event is co-hosted by the Sassafras River Association and the Chester River Association in coordination with the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. The College is hosting the event and a light reception afterward in Decker Theater in the Gibson Center for the Arts.

    Kim Coble – VP Environmental Protection and Restoration, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis, Md.
    Mark Nardi – Geographer, US Geological Survey, Dover, Del.
    Trey Hill – Harborview Farms, Rock Hall, Md.
    Jeff Horstman – Miles-Wye RIVERKEEPER®, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Easton, Md.
    Sean Jones – Jones Family Farm, Massey, Md.
    Mike Twining – VP Sales and Marketing, Willard Agri-Service, Dover, Del.

    Hon. Wayne Gilchrest – Education Programs Director, Sassafras Environmental Education Center

    February 25, 2016
    6:30-8:30 pm Panel discussion
    8:30-9:30 pm Reception
    Decker Theater, Gibson Center for the Arts, Washington College
    300 Washington Ave.
    Chestertown, MD
    Free and open to the public


    2015 Events

    December | November | October |
    September | August | July
    | June | May | April | March


    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday December 18th from 6-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.





    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday November 20th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.





    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday October 16th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.



    Fall Paddle

    October 17th was overcast, but it didn't keep the 13 paddlers from going on a big adventure up to the 301 bridge!

    fall color paddle

    Here's a trip report and pictures



    Friends of the Sassafras
    Appreciation Dinner

    October 11th the volunteers helping out got together at the pavillion at Turner's Creek State Park for a wonderful dinner and to catch up with one another. For some volunteers, this is the first chance they get to meet some of the other volunteers!

    Brad, Kim, Ken and other volunteers

    Here's a little photo album of the event




    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday September 18th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.



    Happy Hour | Sassabash


    Sassabash flier


    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday August 21st from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.




    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday July 17th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.




    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday June 19th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.



    Dogwood Festival | Paddle | Happy Hour


    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday May 15th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.



    Heron Rookery Paddle

    heron nesting

    A perfect paddling day! Sky was overcast, but the temperature was around 80. We went from Georgetown Yacht Basin beach to Hen Island, where there is a Great Blue Heron rookery.  Special thanks to SRA President, Ken and Sue Shumaker, and Dianne Duke for providing, setting up, and cleaning up a wonderful lunch on the banks of the beautiful and scenic Sassafras River. 

    Here is a write up of the event and some pictures


    Dogwood Festival

    Friday May 2nd

    Look for the RiverKeeper boat in the Dogwood Festival Parade. We'll also have a booth at the festival.





    2015 Report Card Unveiling 

    Thursday, April 23 7 PM @The Granary

    Join us for the unveiling of the 2015 Report Card and the Annual State of the River Address presented by our Riverkeeper. Also, Galena Councilman Bud Felty and McCrone engineer Ryan Rangel will speak about the upcoming upgrades to the Galena Waste Water Treatment Plant and how it will affect water quality in the Sassafras.

    There is no charge for the event. SRA members, guests, and members of the general public are encouraged to attend.


    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday April 17th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All profits to benefit the Sassafras River Association.



    Happy Hour at the Kitty Knight House

    Friday March 27th from 5-8 pm

    Join us at the Kitty Knight House for Happy Hour. All proceeds to benefit the Sassafras River Association.






    Past Events from 2014

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