For five years, only a few hardy eels survived the pollution and destruction in the upper part of a small tributary of Sawmill Creek -- a sorry remnant of about a dozen fish species that once lived there.
Yesterday, state biologists and volunteers dumped about 400 fish into an 1,100-foot stretch of the restored tributary in an effort to re-create the underwater community.
The Sawmill Savers from Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School in Glen Burnie and Department of Natural Resources biologists counted and released the fish caught elsewhere in the watershed.
"I thought it was neat to learn about the environment -- and to help," said eighth-grader Jason Toraldo of Severn after he sent several fish into the water.
As recently as a year ago, this segment of stream at the Glen Burnie-Ferndale border was a jumble of trash, collapsing stream banks with naked roots hanging down and sandy pools 12 feet deep a few feet downstream from water barely a few inches deep.
The State Highway Administration rebuilt it for $135,000 to compensate for environmental destruction caused by the construction of Interstate 97 and Route 100.
Blockages from new roads make it impossible for fish to move freely and repopulate barren reaches like this one, said Larry Lubbers, chief of the DNR's targeted watershed program.
DNR biologists had suspected that it would be two years before the tributary's water quality improved, the stream stabilized and the insect population grew enough for them to add fish. But a peek into the shallow stream revealed algae and bacterial growth on stones, insects attached to pebbles and tufts of underwater grasses.
"This stream never had that before -- the bottom of the food chain. This is what is so important," Mr. Lubbers said.
Sawmill is one of four ailing watersheds in the state targeted for resuscitation. For nearly five years, various agencies have pitched in.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport, for example, has spent more than $12 million on such things as recapturing de-icing fluid instead of letting it trickle into the water. The State Highway Administration is expecting to spend an additional $1.3 million or so. The DNR provides mostly expertise and manpower.
Community groups such as the Sawmill Creek Watershed Association provide labor for testing water quality and community education.
For Rick MacDonald, the association's president, the scene yesterday was gratifying, proof that all of the Saturday morning cleanups and community meetings made a difference.