Local Waters

The State of Our Rivers and Streams

By Tom Damm

A recent EPA survey shows that more than half of the nation’s rivers and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life.

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

Cover of Draft National Rivers and Streams Assessment 2008-2009 Report

The survey – the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment –indicates that among other concerns, our waterways don’t have enough vegetation along stream banks and have too much nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and mercury.

That’s a concern for many reasons.  Our rivers and streams serve as sources of drinking water, provide recreational opportunities, support fish and wildlife, and play a critical role in our economy.

There’s a way to find out if your local waters are impaired by pollutants.

EPA’s new How’s My Waterway? app can show the condition of your local stream, creek or river – whether you’re standing on the water’s edge with a mobile device or sitting at home with a computer.  I tried it this week and found that my local creek is impacted by arsenic, E coli, lead, phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels.

The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, including stream miles that only flow seasonally or after rain.

These streams feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat.

Want to do something to help improve water quality conditions?  You can control polluted runoff from your property, adopt your watershed, do volunteer water monitoring, and more.  For information, click here.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cabin Branch: Let the Healing Begin

By Nick DiPasquale

Most of us who live in an urban or suburban setting really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like.  In some cases we can’t even see streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind.

Cabin Branch pre cleanup

In 2005 a major volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

The remnants of streams we can see have been filled with sediment and other pollution and the ecology of the stream has been altered significantly.  The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat having been destroyed.  This didn’t happen overnight.  The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”

I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis.  The project is being undertaken by the Severn Riverkeeper, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources .  The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources . The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which carries the polluted runoff into the Bay.  Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem causing the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project first hand – one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly over many decades of development.  Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions.  The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment.  (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions. The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and use of green infrastructure which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature.   It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.

About the Author: Nick DiPasquale is Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors.  He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

You can also see this post and much more Chesapeake Bay content on the Chesapeake Bay Program Blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Bay Rings Out 2012 with Wave of Good News

By Tom Damm

I didn’t hear Ryan Seacrest mention the Chesapeake Bay as the ball dropped in Times Square Monday night.  But he seemed to be the only one who didn’t have something to say about the Bay as 2012 wound to a close.

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia. At its opening, it will reduce total nitrogen loading by 90,000 pounds per year and total phosphorus by 93,000 pounds per year to the Chesapeake Bay and local waters.

In December alone, there were Bay-friendly announcements from the District of Columbia and Lancaster and Scranton in Pennsylvania, along with news from West Virginia about a treatment plant that will account for a big chunk of the state’s pollution-cutting pledge.

And it isn’t just the Bay that will benefit from these cork-popping developments.  Local rivers and streams in these communities will also run cleaner as a result.

In Scranton, the U.S. and Pennsylvania announced a settlement with the Scranton Sewer Authority on a long-term solution that will reduce millions of gallons of contaminated stormwater overflows into the Lackawanna River and local streams, all part of the Bay watershed.

In Lancaster, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and EPA announced more than $1.8 million in grants for projects to reduce water pollution and improve habitats.

In the nation’s capital, EPA, the District and DC Water signed a major partnership agreement to include green infrastructure techniques in the city’s steps to control stormwater pollution.

And in West Virginia, it was reported that when the new $40 million Moorefield Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant opens later in 2013, it will gobble up huge amounts of pollutants that are now impacting local water quality and the Bay.

Check out our Chesapeake Bay TMDL web site for more announcements about actions by partners to make the new year a good one for the network of Chesapeake Bay waterways.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.