Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta became the Riverkeeper in 2015. The Choptank 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.
Matt transplanted to the Eastern Shore from the Great Lakes region, bringing with him his passion for clean water, outdoor recreation, and promoting the things he loves.
As Choptank Riverkeeper and Director of Riverkeeper Programs, Matt is dedicated to safeguarding the long-term health of the river, guarding against illegal and harmful pollution, and building a stronger voice for the protection of the river’s natural resources. Matt has a degree in biology and environmental studies from Penn State University and has an advanced degree in environmental policy. His professional experience includes water quality monitoring, environmental policy, community organizing, and advocacy.
River Patrols, Enforcement, and Water Quality Monitoring
The Riverkeeper patrols the river by water and air looking for illegal pollution. He also utilizes water quality monitoring volunteers as eyes throughout the watersheds. When pollution problems are detected they take action to resolve them. The Creekwatchers water quality monitoring program tests nine rivers, approximately 110 sites, monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly depending on nutrient concentrations. They measure for salinity, temperature, water quality, and dissolved oxygen, and test for nitrogen, phosphorus, and chlorophyll A concentrations. Beginning in 2013, in partnership with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, they included an isotope marking technology that can distinguish between pollution sources such as bird manure, mammal waste, and fertilizer-based nutrients. They use the results in a variety of contexts: to identify and remediate hot spots on the river; to influence local and state action; in education and outreach; and in keeping communities informed and engaged in river protection.
Legislative and Legal Advocacy
ShoreRivers is constantly looking for ways to significantly improve water quality through legal and legislative advocacy. They brought an appeal against the state of Delaware arguing that the proposed concentrated animal feeding operation regulations [CAFO regulations] were insufficient to adequately control chicken waste pollution of the upper Choptank. The case was favorably settled. With several partners, they sued Queen Anne’s County over re-zonings from agricultural to commercial use in sensitive areas of our watersheds, zoning changes that contradicted the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and were successful in a precedent setting ruling.
ShoreRivers is active in Annapolis each legislative session advocating for laws that protect waterways in meaningful ways, such as the lawn fertilizer reform law, and the ban on arsenic in chicken feed. They work with state and local governments to facilitate the enactment of effective measures to further the laudable goals of the new Bay pollution diet that each jurisdiction must now employ. They comment and testify on key regulatory changes such as the recent reduction of menhaden catch limits and the strengthening of nutrient management regulations for agricultural operations.
ShoreRivers conducts watershed assessments of its various tributaries, analyzing water quality, identifying major sources of pollution, developing measures to reduce or eliminate those sources, and identifying funding sources to implement those measures. They have conducted such assessments of the upper Choptank, the Tanyard Branch, which runs through Easton and into the Tred Avon River, and recently received funding to complete a comprehensive assessment of the Wye River.
Agricultural Outreach and Remediation
ShoreRivers seeks to collaborate with agricultural landowners to develop, find funding for, and implement effective pollution remediation projects on key farms that have enriched runoff or groundwater. ShoreRivers has installed Maryland’s first woodchip bioreactors, a new conservation practice that mimics natural processes to reduce nitrogen coming off farm fields’ drainage systems. The first two installations have been completed on farms located in Ruthsburg (Queen Anne’s County) and Ridgely (Caroline County). A project was completed in 2012 in Caroline County where we installed a series of Agri Drains along a major drainage conduit.
Lawn Fertilizer Curtailment
Lawn fertilizer is much like farm fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, which is a major source of pollution. There are over 1,000,000 lawns in the state of Maryland compared approximately to 1,400,000 acres of planted cropland. In 2011 the state passed its first law regulating the use of lawn fertilizer, which went into effect in October 2013. MRC actively engages in outreach on this key issue, urging community members to re-think, curtail or refrain from lawn fertilizer use.
ShoreRivers supports native oyster restoration. Native oysters filter and clean our waters and their resurgence is an essential component of river health. Through this program waterfront property owners are recruited to accept oyster cages filled with oyster stock. Program participants grow those oysters, which are eventually relocated to sanctuaries. Through the State of Maryland Aquaculture Oyster Float Program, Marylanders can purchase oyster floats and spat, grow native oysters, and receive a state tax credit. The State of Maryland currently offers an Aquaculture Oyster Float Credit of up to $500 to any citizen for the purchase of oyster spat floats.
Education and Outreach
ShoreRivers staff engage in educating the community about our rivers and the issues they face. We work with elementary and high school students with our environmental film festival, river cleanups, and through a pilot 10-day program, teaching students to care for our waterways and their importance. We publish three newsletters annually as well as River Report Cards. We write and speak out on river issues regularly. In 2012 we produced a 24-minute film, Let Our Rivers Flow, that aired on public television and was made a selection of the 2013 Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. Each November ShoreRivers hosts an Environmental Film Festival at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, screening informational and motivational films.