Clean water advocates take the plunge to promote swimmable waterways

The South River Federation set its inaugural Swimmable Action Day to start at 11 a.m. Sunday with a dash into the water off Mayo Beach Park.

But the beach's soft-flowing waves beckoned enthusiasts all morning, and young and old answered the call by canoeing, kayaking and swimming — so much so that they had to emerge from the water to stage the group dash on cue.


Riverkeeper Diana Muller hopes it stays that way. She and others at the Edgewater-based federation held Swimmable Action Day to help Anne Arundel County residents and visitors appreciate the importance of the Chesapeake Bay and the need to keep it clean.

The day was part of nationwide efforts to celebrate clean waterways in concert with Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based advocacy group that works to protects rivers, streams and coastlines.


South River Federation officials said it was also an opportunity to show residents the legacy of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act, which Muller said set the stage for efforts to curb the discharge of pollutants into the nation's waters.

"We just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which gives Americans the right — which we should not take for granted — to have swimmable, fishable waters at all times," Muller said.

The event also came on the heels of efforts by several area jurisdictions — including Anne Arundel — to wrestle with rate structures for new stormwater management fees. The fees, mandated by state legislation last year and decried by critics as a "rain tax," are required of Maryland's nine largest counties and Baltimore City to pay for measures to help keep pollutants carried by stormwater runoff out of the Chesapeake Bay.

"We have such failing infrastructure in Anne Arundel County, and everything here is septic, stormwater and sewer polluting the county waterways," Muller said. "We've got about a billion dollars of infrastructure that need to be fixed. So these funds will be pipelined into fixing these.

"And if we fixed those ... we can reduce the stormwater going into our waterways, and that will really, really help," she said. "I'm middle-income and nobody wants more taxes, but knowing this is a dedicated fund that won't be whittled away by paper-pushers will work."

Sunday's event was designed as a break from conversations about the dire issues facing the Chesapeake Bay — and more about celebrating what is working well.

"We wanted to bring awareness and attention to swimmable waters and get [people] to their local waterways, wherever that might be," Muller said.

Annapolis Community Boating, a nonprofit group that provides free or subsidized boating education, furnished canoes and kayaks for the event. Executive director Lorie Stout said the organization spreads awareness by making boating accessible to all county residents.


Many of those who attended were young children. Adults said getting children to understand the importance of clean, swimmable waters is vital to the preservation of the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's amazing how connected the kids are," said Kevin Green of Hillsmere Shores, who volunteers for the federation. "I think that's probably because it's part of their curriculum in school.

"Any event we can have that can connect the whole family — parents and the kids — helps them to appreciate the resources we have here, and helps them better understand the need to protect and restore the resources.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but we've done quite a bit," Green said. "It's all about stormwater management — about stopping that water and letting the pollutants settle out of it before it gets into the river."