Calvert’s watershed quality improving, but progress still needed

[18th, Apr 2014] Calvert County’s watershed water quality in 2013 was better than expected. Walter Boynton, a professor at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, presented the good news to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday. The previous year, 2012, was a drought year, so the numbers were especially good. This is because less water is running off into streams that hold harmful substances. In 2013, there was no drought, but the numbers were still good, Boynton said…

“Compared to last year, they were surprisingly good,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Each year, researchers visit 10 locations in Solomons Harbor every two weeks between May and September in addition to monitoring 11 tidal creeks between June and August.

At the meeting Tuesday, Boynton presented the data on three indicators: oxygen levels, algae and algae blooms, which show the healthiness of the water.

Algae blooms, characterized by chlorophyll levels higher than 20 units, aren’t good for the harbor and creeks, he said. In 2012, there were five blooms in the harbor. In 2012, there were nine. Blooms in Hungerford and Plum Point creeks reached chlorophyll levels of 170 in 2013, which Boynton called “monster chlorophyll levels.”

In comparison, Parkers Creek, which is new to the study in 2013, serves as a benchmark for the other creeks. Its chlorophyll levels peaked at 12 in 2013, Boynton said.

Although the conditions are showing some signs of improvement, there’s still a long way to go.

“Water conditions would use improvement and we have seen signs of improvement,” Boynton said Wednesday.

One of the significant indicators of good water quality is a healthy population of sea grasses. Right now, Solomons Harbor does not have a significant population of grasses.

Boynton said this is because the water in the harbor is not clear enough for sufficient light to reach the plants for growth, and the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen are encouraging the growth of epiphyte algae, which can cover the leaves of the grasses.

The county as a whole is doing better at reducing the runoff of these chemicals into the creeks, but there is still a need for progress. Consistently, the creeks’ headwaters have been less healthy than the water at the mouths, showing water health is something to be dealt with on a local basis by regulating things such as fertilizer use, Boynton said Tuesday.

The Department of Community Planning and Building allocated $27,850 in its 2014 budget to pay for this year’s study, resulting in a shortfall of $2,411 due to a 10 percent increase in the study’s costs. Boynton said he is seeking alternate funding options for the shortfall.

The board unanimously approved the contract with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory for the 2014 study and Boynton’s recommendations for water quality in 2014, which mimic those of previous years, including sewer upgrades, installation of nutrient removal septic systems and encouraging boaters to use pump-out facilities.

“We have to continue to try to educate and get people to think in terms of what effect their individual actions are having on that system when they’re living right on it,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said.

SARAH FLEISCHMAN, SodMd News

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