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 email@example.com.
And as always, I hope to see you on the river!
Capt. Emmett Duke,
At the SRA’s now famous “2016 Report Card” unveiling, waterman Sam Joiner and waterman/painter Marc Castelli put on a fascinating program about the life of a Commercial Pound Netter. The audience and I were impressed at how much work and expense goes into just one of the nets, which can be recognized in the river by a long line of stakes with a large circle of stakes on the channel end of the construction.
They then presented us with pictures of the overwhelming variety of fish they have caught in their nets. There were over twenty species of fish represented in their demonstration - from the expected varieties like rockfish, white and yellow perch, and catfish, to many types that we didn’t expect. Sam and Marc have caught pickerel, pike, lamprey eels, sturgeon, gold fish (yes, 12”-14” bright orange goldfish!), and many other species in their Sassafras River nets.
Preceding the presentation by the watermen, your SassafrasRIVERKEEPER™ introduced the 2016 Report Card. The news was good, as the average grade for the watershed rose from a “C” to a “C+”.
We use the Mid-Atlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition protocols and procedures, as do most organizations around the Bay. Our sampling, both on the river and at our non-tidal sites around the watershed, is analyzed immediately for temperature, conductivity, salinity (amount of salt), pH (level of acidity), dissolved oxygen, and turbidity (clarity). Nitrogen, phosphorus, and chlorophyll-a are stabilized and later analyzed at the University of Delaware.
The tidal grades, averaged over the 7 sites on the river increased slightly for the first time since 2010. Even better news resulted from our non-tidal sites, which are sampled in small streams that run into the creeks that feed into the river. The grades at those sites have been dropping steadily for many years, but during the year 2014, and again in 2015, there was a higher score at thirteen of the sixteen sites.
What are the reasons for the incrementally better water quality? It’s evident that you and I are making a difference. We, the homeowner, the farmer, the boater, the marina owner, the gardener, the fisherman, the retiree and the student, are changing our ways and activities a little at a time as we continue to learn about how we affect our water by our daily living. More and more, we realize that the health of our water directly affects the health of our families and neighbors.
In addition, the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that have been implemented by local farmers have made a real difference in the amount of sediment and nutrients going into the river during rain storms. Installing grass waterways and vegetative buffers, no-till cultivating, planting cover crops, following nutrient management plans, and using GPS for accurate fertilizer application are some of the ways farmers have helped to clean the Sassafras.
The rain barrels, soil test workshops, rain gardens, treatment wetlands, stream and gully restorations, shoreline restorations, and education programs by your Sassafras River Association are all making incremental improvements in our watershed. Our science-based water quality monitoring program is an integral part of our dedication to accurate, dependable results.
We are also fortunate to be blessed by the interest and assistance of local residents and visitors to our river. Compared to many rivers, we have a small population from which to draw support, but our supporters are true believers that we can bring about a cleaner, healthier river. And as we see from our 2016 Report Card, together we are making a difference.
Thank you sincerely for your support, and I’ll see you on the river.
Capt. Emmett Duke
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
"Is it so nice as all that?" asked the Mole, shyly... "Nice? It's the only thing," said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leaned forward for his stroke. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." …from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
Springtime brings certain annual delights to a river lover. The return of the ospreys, the mating ritual of the bald eagles, a river surface that is no longer frozen or even ice cold, green grass and flower buds on trees, and clear warm days.
There are always unexpected sights and sounds when one quietly paddles along a riverbank. I rounded a bend in Dyer Creek one day and found myself between eleven herons at rivers edge on both sides of the creek, only yards away from me. They flew away one by one, until there was only myself and the one I called Braveheart, because he stayed until I could almost touch him. I don’t expect to ever see that again, but there are surely equally fascinating discoveries to make on future paddles.
Every spring, I look forward to gathering fifteen or twenty river lovers and paddling together up one of the many tributaries of the SassafrasRiver. We can expect to view many great blue herons building nests to house their chicks which will be arriving soon. Ospreys are in the construction phase of their family summer retreats on constructed platforms or channel markers. Bald eagles are everywhere around the river this time of year, and the yellow perch, white perch, and rock fish are spawning.
These thoughts are simply my way of announcing the next SRA spring paddle, on Saturday, April 30. We usually call the spring paddle our heron rookery paddle, and this one will surely fit that description. We plan to leave from the mouth of Swantown Creek, paddle up the creek to view two of SRA’s current river restoration projects, and then paddle across the Sassafras to Hen Island and see the large heron rookery there.
SRA was lucky to have Mr. Eric Ayers on a couple of our paddles, and he produced a video of each. I’d like to share them with you now so you can take a few minutes to get the feeling of paddling on the beautiful Sassafras River. They will appear back to back, beginning with this one: http://youtu.be/sjhwAaUxlu0
If you are interested in joining us on the 30th, please see the official notice elsewhere in this edition of Shorelines.
I’ll see you on the river,
Capt. Emmett Duke
Trash is not the worst problem that faces the Chesapeake Bay, but it is one of the easiest to eliminate. Each year in April, Sassafras River Association participates in Project Clean Stream in coordination with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Project Clean Stream is a Chesapeake Bay Watershed effort to pick up trash and other debris from the banks of the streams, creeks, and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
On Saturday, April 2nd, SRA will be leading cleanup projects in the Sassafras Watershed in Kent and Cecil Counties. We are seeking individuals and groups to volunteer at four locations in Kent – Foxhole Landing, Turners Creek, Lloyd’s Creek, and Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area. In Cecil County, we will be conducting a roadside cleanup project on Ward’s Hill Road.
Our Site Captains will supply and assist volunteers from 9 AM until noon at the above locations. Trash bags, protective gloves, day-glo vests, advice and oversight will be provided. Interested persons are encouraged to contact a Site Captain in order to register and receive instructions for meeting with their group.
Last year, 54 volunteers joined us as we removed 4,100 pounds of glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic containers, cigarette lighters, foam blocks, automobile tires, and other debris (including an old canoe) from the banks of the Sassafras.
So, come on and do a good thing for the Sassafras and the Chesapeake as we get outside on a fresh spring morning and rid our riverbanks and roads of unsightly and polluting trash.
For more information, or to register, our Site Captains may be reached by email:
Sue Shumaker (Ward’s Hill Road) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Janet Ruhl (Foxhole Landing) – email@example.com
Ellyn Vail (Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area) -firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Droge (Turners Creek Pavilion) – email@example.com
If you have a boat that can be used to haul trash in bags and launched at Turners Creek boat ramp, contact Site Captain Bobby McLennon at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, you may reach our Riverkeeper, Emmett Duke, at 410-275-1400, or email@example.com
“Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” …From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
As the residents of Flint, Michigan have sadly discovered, unhealthy river water can be a serious hazard to public health. Even with extensive treatment, their drinking water is unsafe for several reasons – the most notable being lead contamination. The source of the lead is from the old pipes that have been in place for many decades, and the catalyst for the lead leaching into the water is the high acidity of the water itself.
The lead is dominating the news, but there are other problems with the drinking water in Flint. Even though it is filtered to remove contaminants, the amount of chlorine necessary to kill the high level of bacteria in the river water has caused an increase in other chemical compounds that are dangerous to the public health.
The situation has become a local tragedy and a national news story primarily as a result of the poor condition of the Flint River. The contamination didn’t happen overnight. The solution to pollution never was dilution, but that’s what many people believed for too long. The current danger to the citizens of Flint is the result of that kind of thinking.
We can be thankful that so much more is being done for the waters around the Chesapeake Bay.
At the Sassafras River Association, we are vigilant, energetic, and determined in our efforts to restore and protect the Sassafras. Since you receive our newsletter, you know about our many programs of education, outreach, and in-ground projects, but there are many opportunities for us to advocate for clean water in other ways.
For instance, tidal and non-tidal water quality sampling is one of our Riverkeeper’s primary activities. Using the data collected by him and 30 volunteers, he produces our annual SRA Report Card. It is mailed to nearly 3,000 residences in our watershed, and made available at 3 restaurants and a marine store for those who don’t receive it in the mail. It is a great way for interested residents and visitors to visually assess the health and vitality of the Sassafras.
A few years ago, SRA led the opposition against a rubble fill application in the sand and gravel operation near Massey. Our Riverkeeper maintains monthly communications with the Kent County Zoning Appeals Board, in order to be apprised of any similar application if one should arise.
SRA Riverkeeper is continuing to maintain a monthly communication regarding the current effort by Cecil County, in coordination with Indian Acres personnel, to restore the campground to the wonderful vacation community it was before permanent residences were allowed. With SRA persistence and the determination of County officials, the issue has been addressed, and the resolution is nearing an end. Your Riverkeeper will be in District Court three times in March to witness the last of the court decisions.
SRA advocated for, and our Riverkeeper continues to support and monitor the construction of, the Enhanced Nutrient Removal waste water treatment plant (WWTP) upgrades in Betterton and Galena. He spoke in favor of the Galena WWTP upgrade and also in favor of - and applauds the Kent Co. Commissioners for approving - the extension of the collection system down to the Sassafras River. That work in Galena is scheduled to begin this summer, and when all agreements are signed the Betterton plant will be out for bids very soon.
Your Riverkeeper also participated in “Hill Day”, and traveled to the U.S. Capitol to speak to our elected representatives in Washington. Along with other clean water advocates, he spoke to Senator Ben Cardin and representatives of Sen. Mikulski and Rep. Harris about issues related to Chesapeake Bay restoration funding.
The rivers of the Upper Eastern Shore are being given increased consideration and attention by our elected officials, and some of that is due to the constant efforts of the SRA and other Watershed Stewards. The Sassafras and Chester Riverkeepers are currently working together to solicit the Kent County Commissioners’ support for more watershed cleanups in 2016.
In closing, you can be assured that the SRA is always working to ensure that the type of public attention now being focused on Flint, Michigan will never come to our beautiful Sassafras River.
We sincerely appreciate your continued support for our efforts.
Capt. Emmett Duke,
I’m going to resist the strong urge to list all the things we did at the Sassafras River Association in 2015, because I’ve written about them throughout the year, and I don’t want to simply repeat myself at year’s end. Instead, I hope you will bear with me as I focus my mind and this column on the why of what we do.
Some of us remember growing up around the river, or splashing around on hot summer days during vacations that were always too short. Those of us who didn’t grow up or vacation here have simply fallen in love with the Sassafras, and just want to help in her restoration.
Twelve years ago, SRA began when a small group of individuals banded together and decided to do something about the annual algae blooms. It seemed to them that the blooms must be an indication that something was wrong with the river, and they were certainly right. Too much sediment clouded the water, and too many nutrients produced the overabundance of algae.
Some of our founders could remember the clear, clean, river of their childhood, with a deep channel that could accommodate large boats of trade. Now the water was cloudy, most of the underwater vegetation had vanished, and there were no more opportunities to wade through the grass scooping up soft crabs and doublers with a long handled net. And so they founded the Sassafras River Association.
Thankfully, our membership has grown since then. In the past twelve years, our founders and those of us who followed have been working steadily to bring a healthier condition to the waters, streams, and shorelines of the Sassafras.
But why do we care so much about restoring and protecting this river? I think the simple answer is that this small, wounded river cannot do it alone. If the causes of the degradation were to go away, the river would, over time, cleanse and restore itself to the time of the Tochwoghs. Nature has its own way of doing that.
But we all know that is not going to happen, and since we are the primary problem with our septic systems, lawns and gardens, farms, residential areas, waste water treatment systems, and other negative impacts to the fragile ecosystem that is our watershed, we all must become involved in the restoration of the Sassafras. Our members and volunteers understand that, and thankfully help us do our work.
We may not be able to restore the Sassafras to the best condition it ever was, but those of us who work for the benefit of the river understand what Teddy Roosevelt meant when he said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I hope you will do what you can as we continue to do the same.
We at SRA believe that for many generations to come, not only our children and their children, but also the scores of fragile critters who live in and around the water, will benefit from our efforts to restore this beautiful river.
And that sincere belief is the why of all that we do at the Sassafras River Association. To our members, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for all the things you do to help us. If you are not already a member, I hope you will consider joining us in our efforts.
Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016.
I’ll see you on the river,
Capt. Emmett Duke
Sassafras RIVERKEEPER ™