By Zach Sparks
Even when a batter has two strikes in baseball, he always has the chance — however unlikely — of battling back, and that’s the same way Magothy River Association (MRA) President Paul Spadaro sees the watershed.
It’s not dead. It’s not forgotten. It’s not beyond saving.
When Dr. Sally Hornor shares the annual State of the Magothy presentation at Anne Arundel Community College on March 15, she will echo that sentiment. This year’s Magothy River Index, a water quality assessment compiled by the MRA, grades the Magothy at 30. That mark is higher than last year’s 22 and the previous year’s 28.
Both Spadaro and Hornor attributed some of the improvement to an explosion of dark false mussels, which filter pollutants and sediment out of the Magothy, giving underwater grasses enough sunlight to grow.
“The mussels helped keep algal growth in check and that helped the grasses grow,” Hornor said. “We not only had more grasses but a greater diversity of grasses this year.”
She named wild celery and redhead as two grasses that were more common this year. Wild celery is a native grass, and redhead is good for habitat and waterfowl, Hornor noted.
Grasses provide dissolved oxygen and food for fish and crabs to thrive. Yet the acreage of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) is just one component that factors into the river’s overall grade. MRA volunteers also consider the clarity of the water and the dissolved oxygen level.
MRA compares its data with county findings and with SAV measurements that the Virginia Institute of Marine Science produces with aerial photography.
Even though the MRA is optimistic about the river’s health, members see room for improvement. It’s been more than a decade since the Magothy River Index exceeded a 40-grade C rating. Contrary to public perception, most of the pollution is coming not from the Chesapeake Bay but from the creeks and coves.
“Our opening to the [Chesapeake] Bay is only about a mile wide,” Spadaro said. “A lot of the pollution, depending on the tide, bypasses the Magothy. And this isn’t an industrial area, so most of the pollution we have is residential. Most of the issues we have relate to stormwater.”
During the State of the Magothy, Chris Victoria, a water quality compliance specialist with the Anne Arundel County Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, will talk about research on non-tidal streams that feed into the Magothy.
Berrywood resident Bob Royer will highlight a stream restoration and living shoreline project in his neighborhood. That Cattail Creek area and the North Cypress Branch portion of Cypress Creek are the two spots with the poorest water quality on the Magothy, Hornor said.
“North Cypress Branch serves as drainage for all the shopping centers, so it’s the most impacted area in the watershed,” Hornor said. “We can’t expect one project to offset the many acres of impervious surface we see in that shopping district.”
Asked if the Magothy can expect the mussels to keep improving the Magothy’s health, Spadaro said, “It’s hard to predict seasonal variations, and the mussels are a seasonal variation.”
That won’t deter the MRA. Yellow perch are producing at a low rate. Grasses are growing. Community efforts are making an impact.
“The greatest way people can help is to manage the stormwater — reducing impervious surface, planting native trees and shrubs, and using raingardens,” Hornor said. “These are small things, but all of these have a big impact when put together.”
State of the Magothy will be held in Room 100 of the CALT building at Anne Arundel Community College on March 15. Doors open at 6:30pm and the presentation will begin at 7:00pm.
“Nature has a tendency to come back,” Spadaro said. “If you give it an opportunity to come back, things will start swinging the other way.”
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