Last week's rain brings mess from rivers to Annapolis
By Colin Campbell
The Baltimore Sun|
Jul 31, 2018 | 5:00 AM
The scrape of shovels and a foul odor filled the air Monday at City Dock in Annapolis, where a crew from the Harbormaster’s Office spent the day removing truckloads of logs, trash and other debris that had floated into Ego Alley after the recent deluge of rain.
Downtown Annapolis got a close-up view of what boaters had been seeing in the Chesapeake Bay all weekend: murky water, awash with flotsam and jetsam from the Susquehanna and Patapsco rivers and other bay tributaries.
“I’ve never seen a debris field like this,” said Deputy Harbormaster Tyler Northfield. “It’s pretty nasty.”
The rain that pounded much of the Northeast last week washed car tires, telephone poles, full trees and all manner of other junk into the bay, prompting Natural Resources Police to ask people to stay off the water for part of the weekend out of caution.
“It’s the stuff that punches a hole in the hull of your boat,” said Candy Thomson, Natural Resources Police spokeswoman. “And if you hit it hard enough, someone could be ejected from your boat.”
Even more insidious is the sediment itself. The Susquehanna, the source of half of the fresh water in the Chesapeake, carries pollution and farm runoff from Pennsylvania and part of upstate New York.
The river crested at nearly 400,000 cubic feet of water per second at its peak at the Conowingo Dam on Thursday, according to Exelon, which operates the dam.
The company raised 20 of the dam’s crest gates to keep the rainwater from overwhelming it — which also released detritus from the river’s 27,500-square-mile watershed.
“It is physically impossible to control or remove all of the debris and trash coming down the river, especially during high-flow events,” Exelon spokeswoman Deena O’Brien said in a statement.
Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles acknowledged that planning for the type of downpours the region has experienced in recent months is difficult. But more frequent dredging of the reservoir would help, he said.
“By removing the sediment behind the dam, there would be more freeboard behind the dam and less risk of pollution,” Grumbles said.
Exelon has removed more than 600 tons of debris from behind the dam this year, O’Brien said.
“We understand and share the concerns of the public and our key stakeholders regarding the debris flowing downriver and its potential impact on property, safety and the health of the river and the Chesapeake Bay,” O’Brien said.
All beaches in Anne Arundel County undergo a 48-hour no-swimming advisory after any rainfall of a half-inch or more, “due to predicted elevated bacteria levels from rainwater runoff and increased health risks,” according to the health department.