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Earlier this month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) asked members to send in bottles of water from their local creeks and rivers as part of a campaign to show the Chesapeake Executive Council that residents of the Bay watershed are demanding "Clean Water for a Change." Residents from across the watershed sent in hundreds of bottles and stories about their local waterways.
During that time, CBF Senior Naturalist and author John Page Williams was on his way back to Annapolis from a meeting in Union County, Pa. He decided to collect water samples for the campaign along the way. As he drove, the following story about the connection between the Bay and its tributaries, and the tributaries and the people who live and work on them, began to emerge.
Water in streams, creeks, and rivers is by its very nature interconnected. Recently, I received a great lesson in this interconnectedness while gathering bottles of such water for the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting from a number of Chesapeake tributaries in central Pennsylvania. The occasion was the trip home from the annual meeting of the Merrill W. Linn Conservancy and its associated Buffalo Creek Watershed Alliance in Mifflinburg, Union County. As I drove the rolling hills south over tributary creeks and along the Susquehanna toward home near Annapolis, a story began to unfold.
Buffalo Creek flows through Mifflinburg and under a lovely old covered bridge. The members of the Watershed Alliance had talked enthusiastically the evening before about their monthly water quality monitoring project, and about an upcoming plan to install a lime-feed system in the headwaters to neutralize the nasty effects of acid rain on the creek and its creatures. They also reminisced about happy days paddling the creek together in canoes and kayaks. Intelligent, dedicated local stewardship like this is one of the factors that keep me believing we CAN save the Bay, and its streams, creeks, and rivers.
The next stop was Penns Creek, just to the south. The upper reaches of this large Susquehanna tributary form one of the Commonwealth's finest wild trout streams, though its lower reaches warm up enough to shift the balance to smallmouth bass and sunfish. Penns has its own dedicated watershed association, sharing many members with the Linn Conservancy and the Buffalo Creek Alliance. Pat Arduini, a staunch Linn Conservancy member and an outdoor educator for the Union county schools, had been part of a monitoring crew sampling Penns Creek the day before.
As I stopped to collect water, I met Bill Lynch, owner of Penns Creek Pottery and another Linn Conservancy member, who has lived by the creek and operated his pottery in an old mill for the past thirty years. Yes, he lives there because of the creek, and he is another dedicated local steward.
Several miles to the south, the road (Route 104) crossed Middle Creek at Middleburg. I stopped at a creekside café for a sandwich and found several anglers looking for stocked trout.
Middle Creek was showing the runoff effects of heavy rain in Pennsylvania's lower tier counties. Stocked trout don't seem to mind it, but the creek is too muddy and warm for wild trout. One angler remarked that the semi-tame stocked rainbows' preferred bait is kernels of canned corn. He also proudly told a story of bringing his son there to catch his first trout. I hope these anglers begin to realize that they have an important stake in Middle Creek's future.
The next stop was Mahantango Creek. The only people around were a road repair crew, who seemed to be paying close attention to preventing soil erosion from their project, because the creek was running clear just downstream. I recalled that Mahantango is one of the favorite canoe field trip sites for CBF's Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Watershed Education Program.
Below the Mahantango, Route 104 blended into Routes 11/15, which parallel the Susquehanna. I stopped at the Sweigart's Island Wildlife Management Area boat landing to fill a bottle with clear river water and recalled that the students and staff on CBF's summer, 2006 Expedition Susquehanna had camped on the island in heavy rain, just before the river rose to flood stage, forcing all of them back to land for nearly a week. On this day, though, the river was placid and lovely.
A few miles to the south, I stopped in Duncannon at John Cunningham's Riverside Campground, a great gathering place for river rats and smallmouth anglers. The campground sits right at the mouth of the Juniata River, a major Susquehanna tributary whose output of fresh water is about the equivalent of Virginia's Rappahannock. Here the effects of rain in the lower tier counties showed clearly, especially because the storms had come just after farmers had tilled their land. Clearly there is plenty of restoration work yet to do in this big river's watershed.
John Cunningham said that the Juniata was clearing, but that most of his anglers were (understandably) fishing the main Susquehanna above the confluence.
In Wormleysburg, across from Harrisburg, I stopped at a landing to dip a bottle in the Susquehanna again. Here the river was carrying water from all of its tributaries to the north, and it especially showed the effects of the Juniata's flow in its now-muddy color. "Yes, we all live downstream," I reflected aloud.
Arriving home in Maryland near sunset, I walked down to the Severn River in front of my house to dip the last bottle. The river here is about four miles upstream of Annapolis. It is tidal and brackish, but the salinity right now is only 7.5 parts per thousand, or about 25 percent that of sea water, and conversely, about 75 percent fresh. A small portion of its fresh water has come from its own small watershed, but most has come down the Chesapeake from the Susquehanna and in through its mouth on the tides. As I looked at the sun setting over the river, I realized that I was probably looking at water that had come from each of the tributaries I had sampled earlier in the day.
Yes, these waterways are all interconnected, and so are all the stories they told me on this day. That is a complicated message, but it's the kind that the Chesapeake usually gives us, mixing hope and encouragement with deep concern for the many ways we hinder the Bay ecosystem, even as we seek to restore it. It is simply too complex to give us easy answers. There is hope, however, in facing the challenges clearly, combining the efforts of local people with the promising ones of state and federal government. We CAN heal the Chesapeake, if we care enough.
John Page Williams, CBF Senior Naturalist
Follow John Page Williams' odyssey on our "Clean Water for a Change" map.
Karl Willey, CBF Oyster Restoration Vessel Operations Coordinator, took this photo from the second floor of our office the other day and e-mailed it around. It's a shot of Tiffany Granberg, Manager of Meredith Creek, and her group of students moving canoes from Blackwalnut Creek to the beach for a day out on the Bay. Now that CBF runs education programs out of the Merrill Center we see students like this every day. It's very cool!
CBF volunteer Eileen Catte has heard from plenty of people who are convinced that there's no way to revive the Chesapeake Bay. But she has proof there is. Check out the story in today's Annapolis Capital about how Catte's honors project at Anne Arundel Community College is making a difference.
The original title of this post was "Miles to Go Before I Sleep." That's virtual miles, via Google Maps, but it's still exhausting. I've been mapping the Chesapeake Bay watershed for hours, and I'm still not finished.
We asked members to send us bottles of water from their local river or stream and tell us about the quality of their waterways. We'll be taking the bottles with us to the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting tomorrow, May 12, to show our region's leaders that we all deserve "Clean Water for a Change." Check our website for more info.
I'm mapping out the locations of the hundreds of bottles and comments we've received.
We've heard from folks all over the watershed, from as far west as Monterey, VA, up to Stephen Foster Lake in northern PA and down to the mouth of the Bay at Norfolk, VA. Here are a few excerpts. Check out the rest on our map. And follow us on Twitter (#ecmeeting) as we follow the Executive Council meeting from Mount Vernon Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I live on the Patapsco River in Anne Arundel County between Rock and Bodkin Points. Slag, coal and coke from Sparrows Point routinely wash up on our shores, as does trash from upstream. And that's just the pollutants we CAN see!
I live on the Chesapeake and every day, I walk on the beach. I see the debris along the tide line...everything from construction materials to landscaping fabric...devastating to our ecosystem and something must be done to control this human carelessness!
The Piankatank River is free from industrial pollution but there are many irresponsible boaters. Gas spills, harmful cleaners, and not following "no wake" regulations has taken a toll on the health of this river.
When I first moved here, 16 years ago, there were native Brook trout in Beaver Creek. Now the developers are here & the Trout, along with the farms, are gone. Beaver Creek makes its now-degraded contribution the the Chesapeake.
We live in Glebe Heights between Mayo and Edgewater in Anne Arundel Co. We love to swim in the South River but we are afraid most of the time due to the fact that every time our dog has gotten in the water he has ended up at the Vet w/ a severe skin condition.
The Shamokin Creek is polluted with acid mine drainage. There are over 60 discharges throughout the watershed, with each discharge having unique properties. Iron, manganese, aluminum, sulphur and low pH are found in unacceptable levels.
Share your waterway story and I'll add it to the map.