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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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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!

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

 

 

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