Sassafras River Association

Board Meeting and Training
Saturday January 10th at 9:00AM  

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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.

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.

Now, in 2014, 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 Update

The Sassafras Update 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 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
PDF 2013-12 End of the Year Reflections
PDF 2013-11 Matching Gift Campaign
PDF 2013-10 Maryland Lawn Fertilizer Law
PDF 2013-09 The Chesapeake Conservation Corps Experience
PDF 2013-08 2013 Report Card
PDF 2013-07 Sassafest River Jam
PDF 2013-06 Summer Scavenger Hunt
PDF 2013-04 Cecilton Elementary School Rain Garden
PDF 2013-03 Stewardship Assistant Position Available
PDF 2013-02 Mark Your Calendar- SRA Spring and Summer Events
PDF 2013-01 SRA Welcomes New Board President, Board Members
PDF 2012-12 Membership Meeting January 19
PDF 2012-11 Making Progress on the WIP
PDF 2012-10 Chesapeake Conservation Corps Capstone Project
PDF 2012-09 Breaking Ground on the Crawford Treatment Wetland
PDF 2012-01 SRA Welcomes Pam Duke as Acting Executive Director
PDF 2012-02 SRA Implementing 2nd Treatment Wetland
PDF 2012-03 Subsurfer in Action
PDF 2012-04 Riverkeeper Bids Farewell to SRA
PDF 2012-05 Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Visits the Sassafras
PDF 2012-06 Exploring a New Way of Increasing Nutrient Efficiency
PDF 2012-07 To Swim or Not to Swim
PDF 2012-08 New Riverkeeper

                        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

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



    General Membership Meeting

    November 5th, 7PM, Kitty Knight House

    "Eagles of the Sassafras River and a Look at Nesting Season"

    Our fall membership meeting, featuring a presentation and book signing by Craig Koppie and Teena Gorrow, authors of the award-winning book, Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest.

    Free and open to the public!

    More information on the book and authors

    Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest is the winner of the 2014 Green Earth Book Award for Young Adult Non-Fiction. Read more here.



    Fall Colors Paddle

    October 18th, 10 AM-1 PM

    Our annual Fall Colors Paddle explored Mill Creek and Georgetown by canoe and kayak. There's no better way to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage that our area has to offer than by boat!

    Click here for some photos



    Birthday Bash on the Sassafras

    September 6th, 6:30 PM

    Join SRA as we celebrate 10 years of water quality protection for the Sassafras River! We will be hosted by Duck Hollow, a beautiful estate overlooking the Sassafras River. Raw bar, music, Chesapeake "Tapas", local beer and wine sampling, open bar, live auction, and of course a cake!

    Sponsorships available.

    Please call the SRA office at (410) 275-1400 for more information.



    Farmers and the Sassafras River:

    Panel Discussion on Innovative Farming Practices in the Watershed

    August 21, 2014 @ 6:30 PM -Shrewsbury Parish Hall

    Join SRA and learn about what local farmers are doing to help the local environment and Sassafras River. Panelists include Trey Hill of Harborview Farms, Sean Jones of the Jones Family Farm (Massey, MD), a representative of Colchester Farm, and others. Dr. Raymond Forney, Global Stewardship Coordinator for AI Dupont Crop Protection, will moderate the panel.



    Water Chestnut Removal

    Monday, June 16th @ 9 AM

    Tuesday June 17th @ 9 AM

    Join SRA to remove this invasive species from our watershed! Come one or both of the days. Monday meet at the intersection of Rt. 213 & Rt. 444. Tuesday meet us at Turners Creek Landing.

    Call the SRA office, 410-275-1400 or contact Sophie Foscue at to let us know you will be helping.




    Budds Landing Ravine Restoration Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

    Wednesday, May 14th @10 AM

    Join SRA for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the Budds Landing Ravine Restoration Project!

    Come tour the project and learn about how it will help keep sediment and phosphorus out of the Sassafras River. Join SRA for lunch and discussion at the home of Ken and Sue Shumaker after the tour.

    Please RSVP to

    Directions from Cecilton, MD

    Follow 282 East (Cecilton Warwick Road) out of Cecilton and take a right onto Wards Hill Road. Take a right onto Budds Landing Road, then the first right onto Megan Road. Megan Road dead ends into Scott Road, turn left and follow Scott Road until it dead ends at the cul-de-sac. The project site is on the right. 




    Project Clean Stream | Heron paddle and cookout |

    Membership Meeting


    General Membership Meeting

    Thursday, April 24th @ 7 PM -The Granary Resturant

    Join SRA for our annual Report Card presentation! Jeffrey Cornwell from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will give a presentation addressing the question, "Are Sassafras River and Conowingo Dam sediments important sources of nitrogen and phosphorus?" The Riverkeeper and Science Commitee will present the 2013 tidal and non-tidal sampling data and trends. Come early and purchase dinner at the Granary!



    Heron Rookery Paddle 'N Picnic

    April 12th at 9:00 AM

    Click here for the trip report and pictures

    Join the Sassafras River Association on April 12th at 9AM as we paddle on the Sassafras River and Dyer Creek to one of the Heron Rookeries to see dozens of heron nests, plenty of adult herons, and maybe some chicks!  There is also a bald eagle nest in the vicinity.  We may also paddle up Hall Creek alongside the DuPont Estate for those of you who interested.  The Starkey's have graciously offered to let us launch from their farm and offered a cookout upon our return.  There will also be a porta-pottie available.  Bring your kayak or canoe, paddles, a life jacket for all paddlers, a hat, suncsreen, and binoculars.  If you don't have a canoe or kayak we may be able to provide a limited number of boats or find room in someone else's boat but we'll need to know a week in advance of the trip.  We'll be close to high tide so we'll have plenty of water.

    We are limited to 30 people.

    RSVP Required. See the flyer below.

    Click here for:
    1) Heron Rookery Paddle 'N Picnic Flyer
    2) Waiver form
    3) What to bring


    Project Clean Stream

    Saturday, April 5th

    PCS 2013

    Sassafras River Association is once again coordinating sites for Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's annual trash cleanup, Project Clean Stream!

    This event is a great opportunity to spend time outdoors helping to beautify our communities and clean up our waterways!

    SRA is coordinating five sites in the Sassafras Watershed-3 in Kent County and 2 in Cecil County. Please see this flyer for more information.

    SRA is also coordinating sites north of the Sassafras throughout Cecil County. If you are interested in joining one of those sites, please contact Sophie Foscue at or go online to the PCS website to sign up. You can also start your own cleanup if you have a site in mind that you would like to see cleaned up.

    If you are unable to participate on April 5th, there is a cleanup happening on April 6th at Mt Harmon.

    Please contact or (410) 275-1400 with any questions.



    Winter SRA Membership Meeting

    Saturday, March 1st @ 9:30 AM Zion United Methodist Church 168 W. Main Street Cecilton, MD 21913

    Project Clean Stream/Bohemia River Watershed Group Interest Meeting

    Come out and learn about Project Clean Stream and how you can participate at a site in the Sassafras or the Bohemia watershed. Also, come hear about SRA's current projects and upcoming events for our 10th anniversary year. SRA Riverkeeper Emmett Duke will also be discussing the new effort to create more watershed groups in Cecil County, including on the Bohemia River. Be sure to tell all your friends in the Bohemia watershed so that they can attend! 


    Thursday, March 6th @ 7:30 PM Elkton Central Branch Library, Elkton, MD 21913

    Project Clean Stream/Cecil CountyWatersheds Group Interest Meeting

    Come out and learn about Project Clean Stream and how you can participate at a site in the Sassafras or the Bohemia watershed. Also, come hear about SRA's current projects and upcoming events for our 10th anniversary year. SRA Riverkeeper Emmett Duke will also be discussing the new effort to create more watershed groups in Cecil County, including on the Bohemia River. Be sure to tell all your friends in the Bohemia watershed so that they can attend! 




    Past Events from 2013

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