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2/5/2016 Oil Spill Update by Sarah Giordano, a one year Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer.

As many of you know, oil spilled into a tributary of Crab Creek last week due to a leak in Annapolis Middle School’s boiler room (see below). The source of the spill has been fixed and the Maryland Department of Environment deployed white, absorbent oil rolls, called booms, to soak up the oil. However, South Riverkeeper, Jesse Iliff, is concerned that oil may have already reached the tidal portion of the Crab Creek. 

oil glob

On Wednesday, Jesse asked me to take water and soil samples from where the impacted stream connects with the tidal portion of Crab Creek. With these samples, the Federation hopes to be able to assess the severity of the spill and predict its impact.  The results of these water and soil tests will determine how the Federation proceeds, as there are different sets of regulations designed to protect freshwater streams and tidal and/or navigable waters.  

 On my way out to collect the sample, I was pleased to see that booms were still in place to capture oil, especially since the heavy rain that day was likely to wash more oil out from the channel. The creek was no longer red with heating oil (or green with die used indicate that the oil had been completely flushed out of the sump pump) as it had been last Friday. When I reached the sample site, however, I was dismayed to see that large globs of oil were making their way into the tidal portion of Crab Creek.  Here are just a few of the photos taken from the outing.

Even before the oil spill, the Federation’s monitoring program had identified Crab Creek as the third most impaired creek in the South River, after Church and Broad Creeks. Just this past summer, bacterial counts for this Crab Creek site were incredibly high. I am hopeful that as the Federation implements restoration projects on Crab Creek, the overall health of this stream ecosystem will take a turn for the better. 

Stay tuned for more updates!

 

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Timeline of Events by Jesse Iliff, South Riverkeeper

On Thursday, Jan. 28th at approximately 5 p.m:

The Federation learned from a concerned citizen of an oil spill into a stream that flows from under Spa Road into Crab Creek on the South River. I immediately visited the scene and spotted Maryland Department of Environment's (MDE) Emergency Response Team at the site. I spoke with a representative of MDE who told me that there was a leak in the Annapolis Middle School's boiler room that traveled from a sump pump where it was collected into a storm drain and then into the stream. I walked across the road and upon exiting my car could clearly smell the oil, but because it was getting dark I was not able to see very well in the steep and snowy stream bed.

OilSpill1On Friday, Jan 29th at approximately 9 a.m:
Upon returning the next morning at about 9:00 a.m., it was clear that although not on the level of the Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez spills, that significant quantities of oil had escaped into the stream, and traveled a long way towards tidal water. Personnel from ACE Environmental Services had begun cleanup efforts in the stream by deploying absorbent oil booms and pads for approximately 2/3 mi. of stream channel. I photographed many of the collected pockets of oil and foam along that distance and the Federation quickly published those pictures to Facebook and Twitter.

On Friday, the 29th at approximately 11 a.m:
I contacted a representative of Anne Arundel County Public Schools who stated that neither the County nor MDE had determined the amount of oil that should have been in the tank and compared it to the amount left after the leak was repaired to determine the amount of oil released into the stream. As of this writing, that analysis still has not been performed, but MDE has estimated that less than 250 gallons was spilled.

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On Friday, the 29th at approximately 2 p.m:
Returned to the site with Sarah Giordano from our office to walk the entire length of the stream from the culvert passing under Spa Road to the tidal reach of Crab Creek to obtain water and soil samples and take additional photographs. During this visit we observed small flecks of oil flowing into the tidal waters, although it appeared that the vast majority of the oil was contained by the intercepting measures installed by MDE and its contractor ACE Environmental.

Update: I am trying to determine the amount of oil released into the stream to estimate what effect the spill will have on water quality or wildlife and habitat. At this point, neither the County nor the State has elected to subtract the amount of oil remaining in the tank from the amount their records would show was in it prior to the spill. I am in the process of filing a request under the Public Information Act for this information.

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The Federation has monitored this site for several years now and will continue to do so with special attention to the effects of the spill on the stream and Crab Creek. In addition, the Federation intends to monitor all cleanup efforts and enforcement actions taken or proposed in response to the spill, and will keep our members apprised of these efforts as they unfold. . Prior to the spill, the Federation ranked Crab Creek as the 3rd most impaired waterway on the South River behind Church Creek and Broad Creek.
As always, we are grateful to the vigilant citizens who help us keep an eye on the River and its watershed, and encourage anyone witnessing or suspecting harmful environmental practices to contact us immediately and voice their concerns so that we may take speedy action to preserve and protect the South River.

 

Crab Creek final pic for newsletter

The chain pickerel you see below is a member of a venerable old Chesapeake Bay family, but one

that has not been seen in the South River creeks for many years. A number of locals remember

catching chain pickerel... until one day there weren't any more. The grasses that provided their

feeding grounds had succumbed to water pollution in the early 1970s.

 

Due to supportive donors, the Federation has been able to conduct intensive chemical and

biological monitoring programs around the South River Watershed. In 2015, the Federation

discovered some spectacular findings! Chief among them was the identification of both juvenile

and mature chain pickerel (in photo) at our Wilelinor restoration site, our oldest project in Church

Creek. The reappearance of these fish is a Clear Sign of habitat recovery in creeks of the South

River. Due to our supporters, we are able to reconstruct stable ecological systems in our creeks

and river, bringing back this distinguished family of fish.

 

About Chain Pickerel

Pikes and pickerels evolved from herrings almost 100 million years ago, with North American

species like the chain pickerel appearing in our landscape by about 25 million years ago. The wild

habitats of the Annapolis area had many beaver swamps and bogs that supported chain pickerel.

 

By the mid-1700s, when most of the forests had been cut down and the beaver had been

exterminated by fur trappers, the bogs and swamps vanished. But our local creeks and their thick

grass beds still provided habitats for apex predators like the gigantic chain pickerel until the grasses

also disappeared. These fish, as 'apex predators', are at the top of the food chain and depend on a

healthy ecological structure. When the organisms at the bottom of the food chain disappear, the

apex predators wind up with nothing to eat.

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Juvenile Chain Pickerel

 

 

During the winter, the South River Federation takes water quality measurements from 21 non-tidal (mostly streams) locations around the watershed every two weeks. 

1/21/16 Field Notes from Sarah Giordano, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer

As winter makes itself known on the East coast, South River Federation perseveres! On Thursday (with a whopping 0.10 inches of snow!), we bravely carried on our monitoring at various sites along the South River watershed.  Not surprisingly, many of the streams we visited were frozen over. However, I found it interesting that some streams, which are usually barely flowing at all, were moving faster than other more consistently flowing streams.  This may be the result of melting snow and the tendency of the stream to move water quickly through its channel.

While monitoring, I also noticed a large number of robins moving about (particularly near Preserve at Broad Creek). This bird is often thought to be a symbol of spring, as many robins migrate south in the winter and back north for the summer, but some robins do stay year round. Although it is a little early in the year to be seeing so many robins, it is reasonable with the uncharacteristically warm season that they have found Maryland’s early winter habitat to be acceptable.

In typical Maryland winter weather, there would be no need for concern over these birds, as they are fairly adaptable: should they not find adequate food or habitat, many move on to more suitable areas. Be that as it may, this past weekend’s blizzard was unkind to our avian friends, forcing them to take shelter in birdhouses, thick brush, and other small protective areas. We hope this storm has left the robins and everyone else safe and well!

With so much of our time, our effort, and let's be honest - our love - going into our restoration projects throughout the year, winter will bring significant changes to our completed projects. Our carefully selected native plantings installed this year, over 5,000 plants, in fact, will enter dormancy. Their role in reducing nitrogen from urban and lawn runoff will diminish greatly until spring. Some will still play a major role as food source or habitat structure through the winter (did you know that the American Woodcock only performs its mating call from Alder shrubs?). Others have expended their seeds for 2015 and we look forward to all their offspring germinating next spring. Now that we are finished with our fall plantings and seeding, as well as our invasive weed control efforts, we say goodnight to our beloved native plants.

Luckily, microbes and invertebrates will still be at work on our sites, filtering runoff, processing nitrogen, and playing their part in the food chain. The leaves will fall, creating a crucial source of carbon for these organisms. In streams where we have constructed good habitat, the leaves will not wash into the tidal creeks as they do in urban ditches and farm gullies. But mostly this winter, at our restored sites, we will be watching and waiting for a new round of plant and wildlife growth.

Bird life is changing, too. The goldfinches are gone, replaced, we hope by warblers we'll see eating Atlantic White Cedar cones throughout the winter. The Federation began conducting bird monitoring on some proposed and completed restoration sites in 2015, and will continue that effort this winter, as our winter residents (and passers-through) arrive. We assisted in a 2014 bird survey of living shoreline projects, and we hope to continue that work this winter as well. Our winter birds are important to us, and indeed are the likely sources of three new small colonies of native submerged grasses in the Church Creek watershed: Sago Pondweed (P. pectinatus), Largeleaf Pondweed (P. amplifolius), and Small Pondweed (P. pusillus). Thanks to last year's winter ducks for the plentiful crop!

This winter will be busy. During 2015, we had 20 projects actively under construction. Many are still in progress, even as we start on our 2016 slate of projects in the cold. Interestingly enough, working on frozen mud is easier than working on liquid mud. Thanks to all of you who have helped us grow into the capacity to construct "20 in 2015", and feel free to bring us some coffee if you see us working in the cold!