Chester River Gets a High C+

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The Chester River got a C+ on its annual report card from the Chester River Association.

CRA Staff Proudly Display Rivers C+

CRA staff and musicians proudly display the river’s C+.  Kneeling – Paul Spies & Emily Harris Standing L-R – Tom Anthony, Isabel Junkin Hardesty, Tim Trumbauer, Anna Walgast, Tom McHugh

The CRA announced the grade – which watershed manager Tim Trumbaurer said was “a rounding error away from a B-“ – April 19 at its annual “State of the Chester” meeting, held this year in Washington College’s Hynson Lounge. The Washington College Center for the Environment and Society co-sponsored the meeting.

The evening began with wine, cheese and raw oysters from Scott Budden’s Orchard Point aquaculture operation near the mouth of the Chester River – a concrete example of the benefits of clean water.

Following the reception, CRA executive director Anna Wolgast, Chester Riverkeeper Isabel Junkin Hardesty, agricultural specialist Paul Spies, and Trumbaurer each delivered a portion of the report.

Wolgast opened the proceedings by recognizing all the volunteers and staff members whose work went into the report. Some 10,000 data points were compiled and analyzed for the report, which she characterized as “not subjective, but based on scientifically derived facts.” It is “the foundation for the best solution for cleaning up the Chester River,” she said.

“I can’t remember a more important time to fight for the environment,” said Wolgast. She thanked the CRA members present for their support of the group’s efforts to ensure the health of the river.

Trumbauer then took over, starting with a “year in pictures” slide show that might have been subtitled “The Good, the Bad and Bob,” the latter referring to CRA Vice President Bob Ingersoll, who is an energetic volunteer for the organization. The audience was encouraged to cheer for good images such as volunteers recycling, boo bad ones like sediment in a stream, and say “Ahoy Bob” when Ingersoll appeared.  The audience participated enthusiastically, cheering, booing, and “ahoying,” making it a fun introduction to the report itself.

Trumbauer then turned to the hard statistics on the river’s watershed, which comprises nearly 700 square miles, about two-thirds of which is in crop agriculture. That is the highest proportion of farmland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said,

Because of the large agricultural component, the impact of runoff from the agricultural lands is more significant than in more urban areas. The nitrogen and phosphorus contained in fertilizers can put the river water out of balance when rainstorms wash them into it.

To monitor the levels of those nutrients and of sediment, 50 volunteer Chester Testers measure the water in 27 sites all over the watershed twice a month, year round. The testers accumulate some 1,300 volunteer hours annually. Equipment and chemicals supplied by the LaMotte Company allow precise determinations of the quantities of pollutants present in the water.

According to these tests, the majority of the pollution in the river comes from within its own watershed, not from the Chesapeake Bay, Trumbauer said. That is evident from the fact that the levels increase with distance from the mouth of the river. The sites showing the greatest pollution are Centreville wharf, Morgan Creek and Duck Neck, he said.  The latter two are upriver from Chestertown

The overall trend, over the ten years the CRA has been testing, is toward improved clarity. (The river’s initial grade, in 2007, was a D+.) “People are snorkeling in the river,” Trumbauer said – something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And, except for the 24-hour period after a major rainfall, the river is safe to swim in. The CRA website (www.chesterriverassociation.org) gives updates on water safety, for those who want to be certain before plunging in, he said.

Trumbauer gave several suggestions on how property owners in the watershed can help improve the water quality. Reducing the area of turf grass lawns and the amount of fertilizer used can both help. So can planting native flowers and trees. Maintaining septic systems is also crucial. Residents should also let elected officials know their concern for the health of the environment. Call and write your local, state, and federal representatives. And, of course, joining and supporting organizations like the CRA goes a long way.

Hardesty gave a summary of the CRA’s programs that contribute to the health of the river. Among them are the wetlands restoration on Kent County High School land and Worton Park, a similar project at Gunston School, and the Natural Lands Project in collaboration with the Center for Environment and Society.

Spies gave an overview of the CRA’s work with the agricultural community, introducing new techniques to improve crop yield while minimizing fertilizer loss. For example, the GreenSeeker program allows a farmer to selectively apply fertilizer to the parts of a field that most need it. That reduces the amount that gets washed away in rains from fields where fertilizer is spread evenly across the whole field.

Similarly, Spies said, the use of cover crops and no-till agriculture saves soil that could otherwise wash away. Many farmers in Kent and Queen Anne’s are adopting these methods, and the river’s improved report card owes a good deal to them.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session. David Sobers, a member of the Chestertown Environmental Committee, asked if the CRA planned to hold any meetings in Centreville. He also asked if the CRA is making use of drones to monitor water clarity and to spot possible sources of pollution.

Trumbauer replied that the CRA will hold its State of the Chester meeting in Centreville next year.

Junkin said the CRA has partnered with the Chesapeake Conservance Geographic Information System laboratory to investigate the use of drones in its programs. She said a test program on Ingersoll’s farm had given useful results.

Another audience member asked what other factors contributed to the improved results in 2016.

Trumbauer said the absence of hurricanes or other extreme rainfall was a large factor. Also, a cool spring inhibited the growth of algae in the river.

At the end of the question period, artist and writer Marcie Dunn Ramsey said a good way to introduce friends to the CRA’s program was to bring them to the Summer Solstice Gala, June 24 in Chestertown’s Wilmer Park. There, in addition to cocktails, dinner, live music by the High and Wides, and an auction to benefit the CRA, they can meet staff and learn about the organization and its programs.

As an added treat, the evening concluded with a well-received set of songs on Chesapeake Bay themes by Tom McHugh and Tom Anthony. The selections ranged from lyrical ballads to “Slow Train,” a harmonica solo by McHugh incorporating the sounds of a chugging locomotive and train whistles. McHugh interspersed jokes and anecdotes of the waterman’s life between songs.

It was a fitting conclusion to an important progress report from the Chester River Association.

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Letters to Editor

  1. James Wood says:

    Dear Editor,

    Suggested caption correction, not a posting.

    Standing, to the right of Tom Anthony & left of Isabel Junkin Hardesty is Laura Wood, CRA.

    Respectfully,

    James Wood, proud father

  2. Marty Stetson says:

    This a perfect example of Peter Heck’s excellent coverage of an event here in the Kent County area, I was there and he covered the highlights of the meeting. There was both a lot of information, a lot of energy by the presenters and a lot of fun by those in attendance. Spy you did a good thing bringing him on board.

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