Local Waterkeeper 2018 Report Cards Show the Impact of Record Rains

Our Waterkeepers are experts on their local waterways. They monitor water quality in several different ways. Some are indirect by reviewing pollution reports required under Clean Water Act permits or analyzing government sponsored data collection. Waterkeepers also monitor water quality directly by conducting robust water sampling and then analyze and report their results in annual report card reports, interactive maps and mobile apps. These water quality monitoring programs “ground truth” what is really happening with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals on the local level.

Some of the Report Cards on 2018 water quality have been released. Check back to our website as more are released soon. The overwhelming theme of 2018 was rain. Our region averaged more than 70 inches of rain, which is about double the rain of a typical year. What is the impact of all that rain on our rivers? The short answer – it isn’t good. But the good news is that without the restoration and pollution reduction efforts of our Waterkeepers, many other groups, and government agencies, it could have been much worse.

ShoreRivers: For the first time, ShoreRivers presented a combined State of Rivers Report Card for five rivers – the Sassafras, Chester, Miles & Wye, and Choptank, with data collected by four Riverkeepers and nearly 100 citizen scientist volunteers. The overall grade for the rivers is a C plus. Maryland’s Eastern Shore waterways are being choked with nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff and seasonal flares of bacterial contamination pose risks to human health. Water quality monitoring for these and other pollutants is a signature component of ShoreRivers’ operations and the only comprehensive testing of their local rivers currently being conducted. More rain equaled more runoff and generally more pollutants in the rivers. Accordingly, ShoreRiver marked an overall decline in water quality and increase in pollution in 2018, particularly evident with increased nutrient pollution in the Miles, Wye, and Choptank Rivers.

Blue Water Baltimore: In 2019, Blue Water Baltimore, home of the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, released Baltimore Water Watch, an exciting new platform created in conjunction with Chesapeake Commons to visualize their water quality data in an innovative way. Check out their report and the Baltimore Water Watch website. The Baltimore region experienced the wettest year on record in 2018, with over 71 inches of rain (29 inches more than average). Blue Water Baltimore’s data show this had complex impacts on water quality. Stormwater runoff carrying increased sediment loads spiked turbidity in streams, and at the same time, the increased rain flushed algae downstream and led to the lowest Chlorophyll levels ever seen. Blue Water Baltimore’s tidal data was accepted into the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative at the highest level of rigor, and their program is a model for other nonprofit groups throughout the Chesapeake. The data they
collect is the driving force behind their enforcement, advocacy, and restoration work.

Other reports, maps and mobile apps:

In 2019, James Riverkeeper released with the Center for Progressive Reform Toxic Floodwaters: The Threat of Climate-Driven Chemical Disaster in Virginia’s James River Watershed, that focuses on how the James River is vulnerable to climate change and floods, coupled with the concentration of various industrial sites throughout the region.

The Arundel Rivers Federation rolled out an interactive data map in 2018 that shows when the South River is swimmable and fishable. In addition to Report Cards, several of our Waterkeepers collect water quality data and post it on the Swim Guide app. New this year, Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Anacostia Riverkeeper are part of a collaborative program with DC Department of the Environment to use volunteers to sample several locations on the Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek and post results on the Swim Guide app and the Water Reporter app. They are working toward a goal of a swimmable Potomac and Anacostia. Check out the Swim Guide before you head out to your favorite beach or waterway.