Chester RIVERKEEPER® Annie Richards became the Riverkeeper in 2021. The Chester RIVERKEEPER® is part of ShoreRivers that employs four Riverkeepers: Choptank, Miles-Wye, Chester and Sassafras Riverkeepers, who regularly patrol their rivers and tributaries, are ready to combat illegal pollution, and serve as guardians for these living resources. ShoreRivers is a merger of these Riverkeeper programs that occured in 2018 and also employs other scientists, outreach coordinators, and legal staff, all of whom strive to work at every level to improve and protect our rivers.
Annie spent her childhood along the Chester River, and has since held a lifelong love for the landscape, culture and community of the Chester and the greater Eastern Shore. Annie has a USCG 100-ton Merchant Mariners license and has spent a decade as a Captain working for various nonprofit sail training programs and outdoor education centers along the East Coast and abroad. Most notable is her work with Echo Hill Outdoor School located in Worton, MD, where she helped manage their fleet of Historic Chesapeake Bay Workboats and provide students of all ages with outdoor education centered on Chesapeake ecology and the unique resources found along the Chester River. She also has years of experience working in nonprofit development, campaign management, and grant writing. Annie has a BA in English Literature with a minor in Anthropology from Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. She lives just outside Chestertown with her husband, son, and irish setter. The four can be seen cruising around the river in their launch, Old Ferro.
The Chester River represents the nexus of productive land and water. A brackish tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Chester’s landscape historically has been dominated by agricultural land and punctuated with small towns and villages. The Chester’s 368 square mile watershed is home to oysters, catfish, striped bass, diamondback terrapin, blue heron, perch, and the famed Chesapeake blue crab.
While beautiful on the surface, a closer looks reveals that the Chester River is at risk from pollution. Algal blooms fueled by nutrient pollution create de-oxygenated dead zones and associated fish kills. Sediment pollution smothers oysters and clouds the water blocking sunlight to habitat-creating submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Sources of pollution include poorly managed farms, failing septic systems, and untreated stormwater. Unchecked development and suburbanization increasingly are threats to our river and our way of life.
But there is reason for hope. ShoreRivers and the Chester Riverkeeper are working tirelessly to protect and restore the Chester River. They are documenting small but steady improvements in water quality. Nutrient and sediment pollution are decreasing in many areas, and SAV has taken root providing critical habitat. Together, we can achieve our vision of a healthy Chester River.
Advocacy and Enforcement
ShoreRivers advocates for waterways in a number of ways—developing and influencing state and local policy, lobbying for beneficial state legislation and regulatory change, testifying at bill hearings in Annapolis, working with our county commissioners to effect positive change, and reaching out to our members to call and write to their elected officials. We work on the local, state, and federal level to ensure that laws and regulations reflect what is best for the health of Eastern Shore waterways. Riverkeepers also regularly patrol our waterways – monitoring river health, identifying pollution hot spots that need to be addressed, and looking for illegal pollution sources. When necessary we take legal action to curtail illegal polluters.
Recent efforts include:
- Helping develop and support legislation to protect our oyster sanctuaries
- Testifying in support of the Phosphorous Management Tool and Poultry Litter Management Act
- Applying for a No Discharge Zone in the Chester River
- Opposing in court a major development project in Kent Island’s critical area
ShoreRivers is recognized as a leader in working collaboratively with farmers to solve problems of nutrient and sediment loss to waterways from agriculture. They are an incubator for new ideas and technologies for best farming practices that benefit farmers and our Eastern Shore waterways.
Recent accomplishments include:
- Decreasing fertilizer loss from farm fields by piloting on-farm application of new technology on 24,000 acres to variably apply fertilizer only where, and in the amounts, it is needed
- Increasing buffers on farms by advancing markets for an alternative crop of native grass for marginally productive areas of fields
- Installing multiple bioreactors and other innovative practices to clean agricultural runoff
- Convening 200 farmers annually to exchange best practice ideas and information
- Convening an annual community event, attended by more than 350 citizens, for farmers and non-farmers to voice concern about pollution from agriculture and discuss potential solutions
ShoreRivers is a leader in designing, funding, and managing major restoration projects on agricultural lands, on public county-owned properties, in urban areas, at schools, colleges, and churches, and with private landowners to reduce the sediment and nutrients that pollute our waterways. They have in-house technical expertise and work with engineers, contractors, local governments, and landowners to implement strategic restoration projects throughout our watershed. ShoreRivers is certified by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as a Technical Service Provider.
They have brought dozens of innovative, strategic, pollution reduction projects to our communities, including:
- installing Maryland’s first nutrient removing bioreactors on agricultural land
- planting over 10,000 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers
- growing 200,000 oysters for sanctuaries on the Wye River, in Langford Bay on the Chester, and near Love Point
- installing living shorelines
- installing 27 acres of wetlands and 350 acres of native riverine buffer as part of the Natural Lands Project
- retrofitting much of the stormwater infrastructure at Chesapeake College and Gunston School
- initiating a multi-faceted conservation drainage program for the Eastern Shore
ShoreRivers supports native oyster restoration. Each native oysters filters about 50 gallons of river water per day, so their resurgence is an essential component of river health. Growing oysters gives citizen volunteers an opportunity to learn about our river and to be a part of the effort to restore it. The Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program is a collaboration between ShoreRivers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Lab, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, and Washington College.
Science and Monitoring
From Cecilton to Cambridge and everywhere in between, ShoreRivers staff and an army of volunteer citizen scientists monitor water quality at nearly 200 stations throughout the Chester, Choptank, Miles-Wye, and Sassafras River watersheds. They evaluate the water for common indicators, including dissolved oxygen, nutrient pollution, algae, pH, and clarity. In addition, they publish bacteria results in the SwimGuide and just kick-started an Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) monitoring program. They post monitoring data for public use on a Digital Atlas (coming soon). They use the monitoring data to develop annual Report Cards, to track the trends in water quality in our rivers, to identify and mitigate pollution sources, and to strategically prioritize restoration efforts. Their data is relied on by state and federal agencies and is used to support our policy advocacy efforts region-wide.