March 3, 2010
Five-year Report: Wicomico Remains Polluted from Sewage, Fertilizer, Stormwater
Citizen volunteers take over leadership of river monitoring
(SALISBURY, MD.)—A first-ever report summarizing five years of monitoring data indicates the Wicomico River fails to meet water quality standards within the watershed. The information contained in Wicomico Creekwatchers: Five-year water-quality monitoring results (2005-2009) shows how much work local and state officials could face to clean up the Wicomico as state and federal governments develop a mandatory Bay-wide clean-up plan.
The release of the report marks a milestone in the seven-year program in which citizen volunteers regularly take water samples up and down the Wicomico River. Those volunteers now will take over leadership of the project, which was started by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Salisbury University. The importance of the project remains critical as the only source of data about the health of the entire Wicomico.
"It is time to reassess the goals and mission for our volunteer organization in light of the scientific data obtained over the last seven years and recent changes in the regulatory approaches to cleaning the Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are encouraging signs that federal financial support could be available for community-based volunteer groups like Wicomico Creekwatchers," said Peter Bosick, the new President of Wicomico Creekwatchers.
Data collected from 25 sites along the Wicomico and its feeder streams between 2005 and 2009 indicate the system is continuously overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, the leading contributors to poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The information also shows water quality is worse upstream within the ponds and small tributaries that feed the broader river. This suggests human land use—increased building and development in those areas, effluent from wastewater treatment, stormwater run-off, and fertilizer—are culprits. The lower portions of the river are less developed. Also, it's likely that the Bay itself dilutes the pollution closer to the mouth of the Wicomico.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Bay and its tributaries. The pollution diet will spell out exactly how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment can be discharged into Bay tributaries. Maryland and other Bay states must, in turn, fund and implement clean-up plans to meet those standards, or face various consequences. That accountability could begin as early as November. If so, officials in Wicomico County could come under increasing pressure from the state to reduce pollution, particularly nutrients and sediment from flowing into the Wicomico River.
"We can no longer ignore the plight of the Wicomico River, or the many other rivers around the Bay that are impaired by pollution," said Alan Girard, Manager of CBF’s Heart of the Chesapeake office in Salisbury. "For seven years local, dedicated volunteers have kept us aware of the Wicomico's sad state. Now local and state officials must act, or be held accountable."
Download the report (PDF)