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Environmental Heads Tour South River Federation Projects

On October, 14th, 2015, three major decision makers with vast influence over environmental budgets and policy toured several of the South River Federation’s restoration projects this week. Secretary Mark Belton of MD Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Secretary Ben Grumbles of MD Department of the Environment (MDE), and Director Tommy Wells of the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DDOE) visited several of the Federation’s recent restoration projects by boat on a beautiful fall day.

From the Federation, Kate Fritz, Executive Director and Kirk Mantay, Director of Restoration, guided the environmental leaders through three restoration sites, two on Church Creek, the most impaired waterway on the South River and one on Broad Creek, the second most degraded creek on the river. Both DNR and MDE are crucial partners in any restoration initiative for the South River, playing critical roles in the design, permitting, funding and monitoring of the projects. The District has only started to install large scale in-stream restoration projects in the last few years. “They joined the tour because they wanted to learn about the challenges and opportunities associated withPreserve10.15 a program like their own, a decade after starting,” said Mantay. 

In Annapolis, last year, on the Durmont Branch of Broad Creek in the neighborhood called “Preserve at Broad Creek, the Federation constructed 27 sand and gravel step pools and two large "top of watershed" bioretention practices to fix a failed storm water pond and its resulting washout to Broad Creek. The project (see picture on right) transformed a 1,200 foot long eroding gully filled with downed trees, ticks and spiders into a stable stream that offers 1.5 acres of valuable aquatic and wetland habitat. It is only one of several projects to holistically address the poor water quality of Broad Creek.

 “I was encouraged to see thatWilelinorplume through our partnership with the South River Federation private and public funds were leveraged to improve water quality, which will provide high quality habitat for the state’s fish and wildlife,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “The South River Federation achieves impressive results by applying rigorous science and a holistic approach to improve the health of our rivers and streams, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.”

 On Church Creek, Fritz showed a year and a half old project in the neighborhood of Poplar Point in Annapolis, MD near Solomons Island Road. The Federation turned a 20-foot deep eroding gully that contributed significant amounts of bacterial and sediment pollution to Church Creek into 1.9 acres of coastal stream, cascading wetland pools, and an uphill bioretention facility. This project successfully handled all major storm flows since its early 2014 construction, which included a 500 year storm, a 75 year storm, two 10 year storms, and eleven urban flash floods.

 Finally, the Secretaries checked out the Wilelinor Valley Restoration Project that was installed over ten years ago on Church Creek. By slowing the flow of the water and trapping sediment, this project is able to enhance water quality, aquatic habitat, and ecological function.  Two in-stream aquatic beds were created to capture sediment using sand seepage stream and wetland restoration techniques. Shortly after the project was completed, the Federation took the below aerial photo during a large storm. As you can see in the picture on the left, clear water is flowing out of the stream restoration project into the muddy waters of Church Creek. To view more pictures, click here.

By Nancy Merrill


Jesse Iliff named Riverkeeper® for the South River


jesse headshot


The South River Federation is excited to announce Jesse Iliff will start Oct. 1, 2015 as the new RIVERKEEPER ® for the South River.

The South RIVERKEEPER® serves as the eyes, ears, and voice for the South River and is a constant presence on the river.  In conjunction with the Board of Directors and the Executive Director, the South RIVERKEEPER® engages in legal, legislative, and policy advocacy at the state and local levels and provides ongoing robust education and outreach to our communities. In addition, the Riverkeeper manages tidal and non-tidal water quality monitoring, and coordinates with Chesapeake Bay scientists to provide scientific assessment of the River’s health.           

The South River Federation was founded in 1999, and is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an umbrella non-profit that sponsors over 200 organizations worldwide.  Specifically, the South RIVERKEEPER is a member of the Waterkeepers Chesapeake chapter. Mr. Iliff, a consumer protection attorney, has been assisting clients on a pro-bono basis through the Chesapeake Legal Alliance. Some such efforts include securing a permit for a living shoreline project on the Severn River from the Maryland Department of Environment. He also provided counsel for the Magothy River Association on fostering stakeholder consensus with respect to proposed development activity along the Magothy's largest tributary, Cattail Creek.

A graduate of Towson University, Mr. Iliff obtained his Juris Doctor with a certificate of concentration in environmental law from the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law in 2010. While in law school, Mr. Iliff earned a Public Service Award for designing a pro-bono project for environmental law students. The students assisted in litigation regarding unsound wastewater treatment practices by surface mining companies in West Virginia. He also served as co-executive of the Maryland Environmental Law Society. In addition, as a law student Mr. Iliff interned with the Office of the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Unit.

Mr. Iliff is a South River watershed resident in Hillsmere Shores and enjoys softball, boating, hiking and cross country skiing with his wife Abbey and their son Baxter. Mr. Iliff will be the Federation’s 3rd Riverkeeper.

“I'm thrilled to be a part of such an effective, transformative organization and am eager to get started, said Mr. Iliff and “I look forward to building a bridge between the magnificent South River and each and every member of its watershed. In addition, he “welcomes input from anyone with concerns for the river and interest in helping us at the Federation improve the river’s health.” 

“Jesse brings valuable advocacy skills to the table that we will need to create the community-wide partnerships so necessary if we are to make the South River swimmable again within a generation, said Kate Fritz, Executive Director of South River Federation. “His extensive knowledge about the Chesapeake Bay allows us to continue to build on our strengths in estuary science and water quality monitoring, she added.

Contact: Kate Fritz, Executive Director, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 410-224-3802

             Jesse Iliff, Riverkeeper, can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South River Federation is a 501 (c)(3) whose mission is to protect, preserve, restore and celebrate the South River, a ten-mile long tributary of the Chesapeake Bay just south of Annapolis, Maryland with a watershed population of approximately 66,000 residents.  The Federation employs seven full-time staff members, several seasonal technicians, and numerous contractors.  

(You Can't Predict Everything - How Restoration Sites Recover)


By Kirk Mantay, July 29th, 2015

There I stood, with a group of scientists standing on a Church Creek shoreline, looking at a diminutive, brownish plant in the water in front of us. It's alive, its leaves waving in the current, but what is it? Its shape, habitat, and location in Church Creek tell the scientists that it can be only one of two related species - a treasured native plant (endemic to the watershed, but lost in recent decades) or a dreaded European cousin. But it appears to be neither, casting this biological orphan into categories of other native relatives - from "undocumented," to "rare" to the basic "uncommon." We will have to wait a few weeks until the plant flowers, allowing us to know its identity for sure.mystery SAV

What is interesting is that this Church Creek habitat was built for the local native plant, Redhead Grass. Redhead Grass is a treasured Chesapeake Bay native, once found throughout the South River watershed but now extremely rare. Scientists, including those at the Federation, don't know what the implications are of a native but rarer cousin of Redhead Grass literally taking root at the site. It's wonderful news - but we don't know what it means, except that ducks likely deposited the seeds last winter while feeding on aquatic invertebrates on the restoration site, and that growing conditions are favorable for underwater grasses. Luckily, both of those are great news in and of themselves!

Nearby, Federation project sites are host to other unintended but welcomed native guests like Square-Stemmed Monkey Flower, Barnyard Millet, Water Horehound, and the wonderful looking but awful-sounding Devil's Beggarticks (a wildflower). It's all true - short term and long term plant responses to our restoration projects are wild, native, and.....many times surprising.

This summer, Federation interns are conducting unprecedented field surveys to determine how fish and summer-breeding frogs survive in degraded urban sites and how - and why - those species thrive after the restoration of site hydrology has occurred. It may sound like common sense, but the restoration process involves construction after all, and our native fish and wildlife are sensitive to disturbance. The findings, still preliminary, provide more surprises - that some tadpoles who aren't supposed to survive the winter, sometimes do. That frogs have an easier time colonizing restoration sites than fish do. That in the absence of fish, gray tree frog tadpoles rule.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

These hundreds of hours of scientific field study, conducted at 19 sites across the South, Severn, and Rhode River are providing the very beginning of our collective understanding of what urban watershed recovery truly "looks like," and which species of fish and wildlife seem to benefit. Some results could have been predicted. Others are very big surprises. We can't wait to tell you about the next surprises we find.

devils beggarticks wiki commons

   Devil's Beggarticks



Over the summer, a reporter visited South River Federation to learn about our Water Quality Monitoring Program. This article was published in the Chemical and Engineering News Journal. Click here to read the full article!

C and E News cover

Edgewater, MD

April 1, 2015


Yesterday marks the 13th sighting of the newest invasive species to call the South River its new home: the Jedi of the Sea, the narwhal.

These unicorns of the ocean are toothed whales with a large “tusk” that normally live in the Arctic waters around Greenland, Russia, and Canada. The frigid Maryland winter and frozen South River created the ideal narwhal habitat and could be the reason for the migration. Narwhals primarily consume squid, fish, and shrimp, but narwhals are gobbling up the cancerous catfish found in the headwaters of the South River. These inventors of the shish kabob travel in pods ranging in size from 10-100 individuals and communicate with one another using squeals and clicks. Several narwhals have been spotted in hot pursuit of boats, possibly mistaking the engine noises for other narwhal friends.

The Federation worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create this educational video about the negative impacts from the invasion of narwhals. Scientists are rushing to develop an approach to control the alien invaders and are hoping to employ new research about the common genetic link between all invasive species. Kate Fritz, Executive Director of the South River Federation, remarked, “We urge anyone who spots a narwhal to report the sighting to our office. Although we are pleased to see we have reached a point at which we can sustain large mammals, we don’t know the impacts on the South River ecosystem.”

                Despite the fact that there are fears of this invasive species out-competing native fish, crabs, oysters, and waterfowl as well as changing natural food webs and decreasing biodiversity, narwhals could have a positive impact on the South River. Joe Smith, an Edgewater Beach resident, saw a narwhal using its horn to spear trash. “The sea rhino filled up his horn with trash from the river and then deposited it on the shoreline. I’ve filled up three bags worth of trash just today!”

Only one question remains: will the invasive narwhal actually help restore the South River? Only time will tell.



Happy April Fool’s Day!