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Frogs return to Gravely impaired stream in Davidsonville after restoration project

Gravely resident Lara Mulvaney and Arundel Rivers Federation Executive Director Denise Swol walk through a nearly-complete stream restoration project on King's Branch in Davidsonville, in the Gravely neighborhood.
Gravely resident Lara Mulvaney and Arundel Rivers Federation Executive Director Denise Swol walk through a nearly-complete stream restoration project on King's Branch in Davidsonville, in the Gravely neighborhood.

In the new pools of water along King’s Branch in Davidsonville, scores of tadpoles swim and one day soon they’ll outgrow their watery nurseries, sprout legs and take to the land as frogs.

Lara Mulvaney had never heard or seen the amphibians on her property in the Gravely neighborhood until a stream restoration project behind her home was constructed. Instead of a fast-moving stream, there are step pools, some deep, which keeps the water cooler.

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"Right away, because we were backing the water up into the landscape, we had ponds,” Mulvaney said. “We heard frogs right away, within two weeks. It was a huge difference.”

King’s Branch feeds into Flat Creek, which flows into the South River. A year ago its stream bed was as much as 20 feet below the surrounding land, incised into the Earth by runoff from roads and residences in the area, Arundel Rivers Federation outreach coordinator Nancy Merrill said.

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The federation hopes to reduce the amount of pollution coming from King’s Branch through a two-thirds of a mile long mile stream restoration, which will be complete this fall once 1,600 trees and 800 shrubs, among other species, are planted on the banks.

Mulvaney brought the impaired stream to the attention of what was then the South River Federation, now Arundel Rivers Federation, who were able to secure $2.5 million in funding to design and construct the project from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and National Fish and Wildlife Federation.

Anne Arundel County-owned land adjoining Gravely’s property, and its support and involvement allowed the project to double in size, federation Executive Director Denise Swol said.

Mulvaney moved to Gravely in 2008, and a year or so later she began training to become a watershed steward. Through the county Watershed Steward’s Academy citizens learn about sources of pollution and how to take action in their own neighborhoods.

Mulvaney has installed four rain barrels on her property to catch water running off the roof, and two rain gardens with water-absorbing plants to capture even more stormwater on her property. She’s worked with neighbors on efforts like reducing the size of lawns.

By bringing the incised stream behind the neighborhood to the federation’s attention, and by getting the community on board, Mulvaney set the stage for the restoration project.

Stormwater runoff from the Gravely development, constructed in the 1970s, enters King’s Branch at two points, unencumbered by stormwater retention ponds, Mulvaney said. Using a series of step pools, along with clay, rock and sand to slow down water and push it out into the flood plain and stream bank, the Arundel Rivers project is meant to prevent sediment and other pollutants from reaching the South River.

“It’s using a lot more of the landscape to allow the water to infiltrate,” Mulvaney said.

Nutrients and phosphorus can instead help the many native plants along King’s Branch grow, rather than feeding algae blooms downstream. The project is expected to reduce nitrogen pollution by 2,446 pounds a year, phosphorus pollution by 697 pounds a year and sediment pollution by 40.5 tons per year. It will treat water coming from a 208-acre watershed.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load aims to have no more than 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 3.23 million tons of sediment go into the bay each year, across its 41 million-acre watershed.

Mulvaney said there are mainly residences in that area and a farm. About 17 acres of the watershed have impervious materials that cover the surface, such as a building or road.

Lara Mulvaney greets a leopard frog outside her home in Gravely Sept. 18. The amphibians have returned to the area after the restoration of a stream that feeds the South River.
Lara Mulvaney greets a leopard frog outside her home in Gravely Sept. 18. The amphibians have returned to the area after the restoration of a stream that feeds the South River. (Capital Gazette)

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