Volunteers ready to go walking to survey Winter's Run watershed


On Saturday, May 22, volunteers from Maryland Save Our Streams will conduct a streamside survey of the entire Winter's Run watershed.

They'll be looking for exposed sections of sewer line, sewage overflow points, fish migration barriers, outfall pipes, unusual or unnatural conditions, channelized sections of stream, in-stream construction activity, unshaded stream sections, trash and areas erosion.

"We'll be conducting the survey from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and our volunteers will all be wearing green and white T-shirts so they're easily identified," said Mary Chance, community resources coordinator for Harford County, which is cooperating along with Baltimore Gas & Electric Company to conduct the survey.

During the next few weeks, Chance will train volunteers who cover hundreds of square miles of watershed area.

This small army of volunteers will be armed with clipboards containing forms they'll use to evaluate each segment of Winter's Run and its tributaries.

Chance said letters explaining the project were mailed to individuals with streamside property. Not everyone, however, was happy with the aspect of having someone walk along his portion of the stream.

One woman claimed she owned dogs and didn't wish to bear responsibility for their actions. Apparently, she is unaware of Harford County's leash law, which requires dogs to be leashed when outdoors.

A farmer said he didn't want surveyors trespassing on his land.

It wasn't too many years ago that the walls of a sludge pond situated in northern Harford County ruptured, allowing thousands of gallons of cow manure to flow into Deer Creek.

The sewage virtually destroyed several miles of one of the state's more popular trout streams, killing all aquatic life in an area longer than five miles.

It wasn't too many years ago that Winter's Run also was listed among Maryland's Designated Trout Streams.

During the mid-1950s, the stream's waters were crystal clear and relatively cool throughout most of the year and was an ideal habitat for most cold-water species of fish.

During that era, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources stocked the stream with thousands of catchable-sized rainbow, brook and brown trout every spring.

Unfortunately, by the end of the decade, most of Winter's Run was closed to all public access. At this point, the DNR decided to discontinue the stream's trout-stocking program and place the emphasis on more accessible waters such as Deer Creek and the Big Gunpowder River.

Although fair numbers of trout remained in the confines of Winter's Run until the early 1960s, it was obvious, even then, that the stream's environmental health was being threatened by various sources.

One of the major problems facing every stream in Maryland is siltation, an enigma caused mainly by poor agriculture practices, development of watershed areas, clear-cut logging, off-road vehicles and trail bikes.

What most folks fail to realize, however, is siltation in itself produces more siltation, but in ways you would least expect.

Maryland DNR director of Freshwater Fisheries Dr. Robert Bachman probably explained this phenomena best when he described the destructive process of siltation.

"When silt enters a stream, it not only chokes fish by covering their gills with fine particles of mud, but when the heavier particles eventually settle, it displaces the water, raising the stream well above its normal level, eroding the shoreline.

"Eventually, the entire stream becomes a wide, slow-moving, shallow body of water, with little or no aquatic habitat. The same results could be achieved if you put a large bulldozer in the stream and removed all of its natural curves and pools, making it the same depth and width throughout its entire length. The stream would then become nothing more than a ditch."

Bob McLewee, owner of Fork Paint & Repair, has lots of first-hand knowledge when it comes to stream siltation. McLewee's auto body shop is situated on the shores of Wild Cat Branch, a tiny, spring-fed tributary of the Little Gunpowder River. The stream's headwaters are nothing more than a tiny spring, situated a quarter-mile upstream of his shop, near Fallston Mall.

During the early 1970s, while the mall was still under construction, a strong line of thundershowers produced several inches of rainfall in less than an hour.

Run-off from the denuded landscape washed tons of silt and debris into the tiny stream, blocking outflow pipes and causing water levels to rapidly rise.

Within minutes, the lower level of McLewee's shop was under several feet of muddy water.

The next day, when the water receded, much of the shop's lower level was buried under tons of silt.

Since then, larger drain pipes have been installed under the roads, allowing storm run-off to flow downstream unimpeded.

Flooding no longer takes place in Wild Cat Branch, but the level of the Little Gunpowder rises dramatically when it rains.

What's the solution to this age-old problem of siltation and pollution of our streams? Simple -- get involved.

Organizations such as SOS, Izaak Walton League, Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association, Trout Unlimited, Stripers Unlimited and other dedicated conservation groups strive to improve water quality of our streams, rivers, lakes and bays.

If you're interested in volunteering for the SOS survey, contact Dyan McGrath at (410) 234-6421 (days) or Carroll Barnes at (410) 877-7351 (evenings).

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