Demise of county rivers blamed on development


Residents concerned with the demise of Anne Arundel County's rivers should look no further than themselves for solutions, state officials said last night.

The rivers -- Magothy, Severn, South, Rhode, West and Herring Bay -- are severely "stressed" by the effects of clearing forests and land development, said Nick Carter of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Before the forests were cleared, trees and other vegetation would absorb the nutrients. But now, the nutrients wash off hard and paved surfaces into those waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, he said.

Mr. Carter and other officials explained the harmful effects that those excess nutrients have on the rivers and the bay at a "town meeting" attended by about 100 community and environmental activists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.

Only after everyone understands the cause and effect of the nutrient pollution can the state move forward with solutions, said Thomas W. Burke Jr., director of the governor's Chesapeake Bay Communication Office.

Nutrient pollution is considered one of the single largest factors in the demise of the bay. A coalition of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia officials set a goal in 1987 to reduce nutrient levels in the bay by 40 percent by the year 2000.

Maryland officials and environmental groups are now working to develop strategies to reach that goal in each of the state's 10 major watersheds. Last night's meeting was one of several planned to discuss the distinct problems of each watershed.

One of the watersheds, the Lower Western Shore, extends from the Baltimore Beltway in a narrow band along the bay to the mouth of the Patuxent River. It includes parts of Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.

"In this watershed, much more than the upper Potomac and on the Eastern Shore, it's us [residents] that we have to point to," Mr. Burke said. "We can't point to anybody else."

Half of the region's forest has been cleared, officials said. And, while about 16 percent of the land is being farmed, more than twice that has been developed and paved into suburban neighborhoods, shopping centers and roads, they said.

The nutrients, principally phosphorus and nitrogen, spur the growth of unnatural amounts of algae, setting off a harmful chain reaction. The large blooms choke off the sunlight needed by submerged aquatic grasses, which provide habitat and generate oxygen in the water. Also, when the algae die, the process of decay uses up so much oxygen other aquatic life suffocates.

Already the state and county are moving to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the water by installing specialized equipment at the Broadneck, Broadwater and Annapolis sewage treatment plants.

Other possible solutions are to be discussed at a second town meeting at 7 p.m., June 29 at the Smithsonian Center in Edgewater.

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