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Attorney General audits Carroll County rivers

ELDERSBURG - On a typical afternoon at the Liberty Reservoir dock, a handful of people feed the geese around the river and fish around the area.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Doug Gansler and a handful of representatives from Annapolis asked questions for their river audit, which is an annual assessment of how different waterway paths that lead into the Chesapeake Bay are operating.

Robert Bertazon, with the Maryland Construction Network, and Silas Phillips, a Baltimore City Environmental Police officer, discussed challenges at the Liberty Reservoir, which leads into the Patapsco River. Despite sharing a border with Carroll and Baltimore counties, the reservoir is owned by Baltimore. In 2007, a police officer was stationed to patrol the reservoir and watershed, Phillips said.

Phillips, who works alone as a Baltimore police officer, said pollution and littering are consistent problems in the area.

Recently, a resident poured 5.5 tons of roofing supplies and shingles into the reservoir, Phillips said. While Phillips has been working as the environmental officer for the reservoir for the last four years, he said this is his first case of that magnitude.

Others will bring alcohol onto their boats, which is also illegal, and then try to sink it when they see Phillips, he said. In that case, they get a littering charge and a charge for drinking alcohol.

While residents can harm the reservoirs, the surrounding environment can be just as harmful, Bertazon said.

In recent years zebra mussels have been harmful, because they stick to anything, he said. They can attach themselves to the water intake pipes and clog up the reservoir. They also can damage ecosystems by crowding out native fish and mussels in the area if they spread, according to a document from the Department of Natural Resources. The document calls zebra mussels a form of biological pollution, because they hitchhike on boats and spread quickly.

To fish in the Liberty Reservoir, residents must use live bait from zebra mussel-free sources, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Bait shops can confirm that bait is from a zebra mussel-free source, and fishers sign an affidavit stating their boats will only be used in select reservoirs. Phillips pointed out a blue sticker attached to the back of a boat which shows the resident is complying with the affidavit.

There can be threats from plants, people and animals, Bertazon said.

To give an example of how each plays into each other, Bertazon explained a situation at Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County, where hunting was prohibited, he said.

"The deer became so populated they basically ate all the low vegetation which hurts the health of the forest, which endangers the quality of the water," he said. "There are just a myriad of different problems they face at the reservoirs."

Bertazon, who said he spends from 60 to 90 days every year at the Baltimore watersheds, said learning about the watershed is his recreation.

"It's peaceful, it's quiet, it really is a source of solace in this loud, crazy, fast world," he said.

Gansler said the focus of the audit was to learn more about the different areas and how they affect the Chesapeake Bay. After learning about different concerns, the Office of the Attorney General attempts to change what is harmful to the bay.

In last year's audit, Gansler heard common concerns about pollution originating from outside the state and became involved in litigation and other measures related to the issue, according to the 2012 audit.

The office was also able to identify common problems among various areas, which last year focused on the Coastal Bays, Deep Creek Lake, and the Youghiogheny, Wye, Savage and Potomac rivers.

Alan Brody, the deputy communications director for the Office of the Attorney General said since 2009, there have been 21 trips to audit different rivers and water sources. There isn't a rhyme or reason for choosing each particular water source at that time, he said.

This year the Office of the Attorney General plans to visit the Wicomico River in Salisbury, Little Antietam Creek in Hagerstown, and the office will choose an additional one, Brody said. Wednesday, they also visited the Prettyboy Reservoir in Hoffmansville.

"We're really trying to get to around to every single county in the state," Brody said.

The 2013 audit will be released on Earth Day in 2014, he said. While the audit can find a common problem like out-of-state pollution, it's not the intent, he said.

"Just because the nature of our state, from the mountains in the west to the shores in the east, and even within county to county, there's going to be such unique characteristics," Brody said.

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