GRASONVILLE — Rivers on the Eastern Shore achieved a decidedly average grade of C+ on water quality in the first ever combined score from ShoreRivers, which presented the State of Chester and Wye Rivers and Eastern Bay along with the 2018 River Report Card on Thursday evening, May 16, at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville.
The State of the Rivers composite score comes from reports on the Sassafras, Chester, Wye, Miles and Choptank rivers. The regional approach is intended to help ShoreRivers identify trends and increase effectiveness, said Jeff Horstman, executive director.
However, the bulk of the presentation centered on more detailed reports about water quality in and near Queen Anne’s County with Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Elle Bassett and Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer taking the lead.
Overall, the Eastern Bay Complex, which includes the Wye and Miles rivers, received at C+, as did the Chester River — its fourth C+ in a row.
ShoreRivers uses Mid-Atlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition protocols in collecting and evaluating water quality data. The components measured are oxygen, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, chlorophyll and clarity. Those are used to create an overall letter grade corresponding to a water quality index scale. A grade of C ranges from 40 percent to 60 percent on the Bay Health Scale, which has a 20-point range for each letter. Volunteers and staff members monitor water at almost 200 sites.
“Pollution is damaging our rivers,” Trumbauer said, and most of the pollution is coming from right here within our watershed. “We know that restoration works. Our data show that.”
The theme for 2018 was rain, they said. The area received more than 70 inches of rain in 2018, double the average annual rainfall. That rain took its toll in increased sediment and other pollutants flowing into rivers and bays, along with record amounts of fresh water.
“Runoff was a significant issue for us last year,” Trumbauer said.
Citing increased development as one of the challenges to improving water quality, Trumbauer mentioned the Maryland Department of Environment violation at the Four Seasons development on Kent Island, when heavy rains resulted in a sediment plume polluting Macum Creek.
He said drone photos of environmental violations are helpful in prosecuting polluters. He showed a slide of a silt fence on the Four Seasons construction site that had construction taking place on either side of it so that it wasn’t containing anything.
“As we’ve said before, we’re not anti-development; we’re pro-river,” he said.
“Climate change is becoming a real issue for us (on the Shore),” Bassett said, adding with the record rainfall, salinity in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is down and so is water clarity.
Oysters, which filter and clean the water, need salinity to reproduce, Trumbauer said, and with the rain continuing in 2019, the salinity has not rebounded.
Water temperatures were up in 2018, Trumbauer added, with the highest water temperature ever for this area recorded last summer off volunteer Frank DiGialleonardo’s dock on the Corsica River near Centreville — 93 degrees.
Other issues faced in 2018 included algae blooms and the ongoing battle with invasive species, like water hyacinths. On a positive note, Bassett reported ShoreRivers’ pump-out boat, which provides its service for free, pumped out a record amount of waste.
Citing the historic rainfall, Bassett said both the Miles and Wye rivers decreased an entire letter grade.
“Wye East was the worst performing river in the watershed,” she said.
The report shows both Wye East and Wye Narrows received a D+, their lowest scores with all measurements except dissolved oxygen earning less than 40 percent.
Overall, the Wye River earned a C-, and the Miles a C+.
Scores for Eastern Bay were slightly improved, Bassett said. Overall, it achieved a B. And several of its tributaries also saw improvements — Prospect Bay, B-; Crab Alley Bay, B+; and Cox Creek, B.
Crab Alley Bay’s score was the highest since 2010 when the monitoring program began; in fact, it achieved the best score of any tributary in the watershed, Bassett said. The report noted Crab Alley Bay’s smaller land to water ratio may have helped lessen the impact of the record rainfall.
While the Chester River’s overall grade remained steady at a C+, Trumbauer said he wants to see it improve. The watershed includes 50 monitoring stations in the Upper, Middle and Lower Chester and the Corsica River; each area received its own grade. The Lower Chester received the highest grade with a B-.
“The farther upriver we travel in the Chester or any of the major tributaries, the more pollution we typically find — this was true in 2018 for all Chester locations except for the Corsica River,” he wrote in the report.
Improved water quality was reported, especially around the Centreville Wharf, raising the Corsica’s grade to a C.
Trumbauer said they believe the improvement is the result of dark false mussels, which have been found at the wharf. They are a filter feeder that thrives when salinity is low, he said. While the mussels improve water quality, they are poisonous to dogs, so keep your pets away from them, he warned.
The Chester also saw an increase in submerged aquatic grasses, the report said.
The 2018 River Report Card also includes a Swim Guide highlighting bacteria monitoring results.
“We want to make sure where we’re swimming is healthy and safe,” Bassett said.
To lower the risk of waterborne illness, Bassett told the audience they should avoid swimming in open water for 24 to 48 hours after a major rain event, not swim with open cuts, not swim if the water looks or smells odd and always shower after swimming.
To get the latest bacteria monitoring results, go to www.swimguide.org or download the Swim Guide app, she said. One can also search #SwimmableShoreRivers on Facebook and Instagram.
The results will be updated weekly, she said.
ShoreRivers’ stated mission is to protect Eastern Shore waterways through advocacy, research and education. The riverkeepers talked briefly about each of those and described volunteer opportunities.