Arundel councilman's water fountains get mixed reviews

For months now, about a dozen gurgling water fountains have helped move the water around Marley and Furnace Creeks in Glen Burnie, and some residents say, restored the health of the long-polluted waterways — evidenced, in their view, by a newfound abundance of fish and other creatures.

Anne Arundel County Councilman John J. Grasso, who came up with the idea to install the fountains in stagnant waterways around his district as a quick fix to decades of pollution, says the fountains have been a huge success. He plans to begin producing them himself as part of a soon-to-be formed nonprofit called "Clean the Creeks of District 2," and hopes to see them installed on the water all around the county.

Grasso has won praise for his efforts, though some experts question whether the fountains have a significant effect when used on open waterways.

For years, Grasso and other residents say, the creeks' stagnant water has resulted in massive fish kills. The fountains help, they say, by introducing oxygen into the water. Residents have spotted fish and turtles gathering around the fountains, evidence they say, that the water fountains are serving a life-saving purpose.

"I'm just so thrilled that this actually works," said Grasso, a Republican. "It looks great and it's producing oxygen. Now the aquatic life has a place to go so they don't die and stink up the creek."

Grasso, who represents some of the most urban areas of Anne Arundel that border Baltimore City, has branded himself as an environmentalist on the council. In addition to the fountains, Grasso has plans to distribute rain barrels to prevent runoff and says he's working on legislation that would require more homes on septic systems to connect to the county water and sewer system.

William Dennison, the vice president of Science Applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said it's possible that the fountains have helped increase oxygen levels in creek water, typically five to six feet deep. But he said the fountains likely haven't prevented algae blooms and fish kills, which are affected by many other factors, including last summer and this fall's rainy weather.

"One summer of no fish kills doesn't give me much cause for jubilation," said Dennison. "I'd like to see the data. He's probably drawing inferences that are anecdotal, which is a good start. But you'd probably want to have some oxygen sensors."

But he added, "You got to give the guy credit for doing something. We need more people experimenting and doing more things. There's really room for innovation on eco system restoration. But we do need the scientific rigor to follow up these innovations to see which are really effective and see which we should emulate."

There is no scientific evidence that the fountains have any effect on the wildlife in the waterways, said Matt Diehl, a spokesman for the county's Department of Public Works.

"The jury's out on how effective the fountains are," said Diehl. "They are low cost and help get people motivated to clean up the waterways. We'll support any effort."

Fellow Councilman Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat, is a river keeper and former scientist at the Maryland Department of the Environment. He said he didn't know enough about the fountains to comment directly but added that there are no "data-driven studies" that point to the effectiveness of water fountains on open waterways.

Grasso, a landlord, went on a profanity-laced tirade when asked about critics of his methods. Grasso readily admits he has no scientific training, and credits his know-how to middle school science class and common sense.

"I don't need to go to a scientist's opinion," said Grasso, who was elected to the council last year. "If they knew how to fix the problem, then it would be fixed. They know nothing. No dead crabs on Marley Creek and for the first time in 30 years the creek didn't stink. [Expletive] the scientists. I don't give a [expletive] what they say."

Grasso's neighbors, many of whom were convinced by the councilman to fork over $600 each for the fountains, admit to initially wondering how effective they would be. After his nonprofit is created, he plans to begin accepting donations for more fountains.

"We were skeptical," said Bill Wloczewski who has lived a few houses down from Grasso with his girlfriend, Ann Davis, for the past three years.

But, he added, "we've had it running since August, and what I've seen are some positive results."

Wloczewski said the crab trap he puts out at the end of his pier every summer has produced hauls of fish he's never captured before on the creek: rockfish, croaker and white perch.

"We're going to continue on next year for sure," he said.

Candy Dayton, a master watershed steward who lives across Marley Creek from Grasso in another council member's district, bought a fountain and said the water's never been better in the six years she's lived there.

"By moving the water and oxygenating it, you don't have the same level of algae and therefore you don't have the algae blooms and fish kills," said Dayton. "Typically in the summer, you would just smell the creek. The water was stagnant. I would walk to my pier and just see dead fish on my shoreline."

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