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  • Although the Magothy River’s water quality is slowly improving from its all-time low in 2012, it has not exceeded a C-grade level according to MRA standards in more than 10 years.
    Although the Magothy River’s water quality is slowly improving from its all-time low in 2012, it has not exceeded a C-grade level according to MRA standards in more than 10 years.
  • As MRA observed this year, the open water areas of the Magothy River are in excellent health, but the creeks and coves are suffering.
    Graphic by Will Nauman
    As MRA observed this year, the open water areas of the Magothy River are in excellent health, but the creeks and coves are suffering.

State Of The Magothy To Address The River’s Ailing Health

Dylan Roche
View Bio
February 20, 2018

Any boater will tell you that when you spring a leak, it’s not enough to start bailing water out – you need to patch the hole and stop the water from coming in. Such is the comparison that Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association (MRA), makes about restoring the health of the watershed, and such will be the emphasis of this year’s State of the Magothy presentation, which will be held on Friday, February 23, at 7:00pm at Anne Arundel Community College in the CALT Building, Room 100.

“At State of the Magothy, we want to focus on the things that are really hurting the river,” Spadaro said, emphasizing that restoration is not enough – people need to stop the damage that they are causing. “What can we do to protect our quality of life?”

For the last decade, the Magothy River has been in D-grade health, according to the Magothy River Index, a water quality assessment designed by the MRA. The year’s rating of 22 reflects a dip following last year’s rating of 28 and marks the 11th year in a row the Magothy River has not exceeded a C-grade rating of 40.

Spadaro and MRA’s vice president, Dr. Sally Hornor, who will lead the presentation, pointed out that the findings from this year’s monitoring are a mix of good and bad. “We have some good news that open water is in great shape, a good part of the north shore is also, and there’s good reason to believe restoration is working,” Hornor said.

The bad news? Despite the good quality of the open water areas, the poor health of problem areas like creeks and coves bring down the average. “It would be disingenuous to say that the river is in great health,” Spadaro said.

Throughout 2017, MRA volunteers looked at the clarity of the water (how much light can penetrate the water based on Secchi disk depth of at least 1 meter), the dissolved oxygen level (at least 5 milligrams per liter in the deepest water at each station), and the acreage of submerged aquatic vegetation (at least 544 acres per the goal of the Chesapeake Bay Program).

Each of these three criteria is closely linked to the other two. Submerged aquatic vegetation, also known as SAV, requires water clarity for growth and provides dissolved oxygen, as well as key food and habitat for fish and crabs, while reducing the impact of wave action on the shore.

But when sediment and pollutants diminish the water clarity – thus preventing the vegetation from flourishing – and bacteria and fungi use up more of the dissolved oxygen, the river becomes out of balance. This year, volunteers found a total of 24.3 acres of SAV coverage, up 44 percent over last year, but still only 4.5 percent of the desired goal. Both water clarity and dissolved oxygen decreased from the previous year.

No environmental anomalies seem to be the cause of this year’s poor results. “We didn’t have an unusual rainfall year … and we didn’t have an increase in temperature,” Hornor said.

Instead, Spadaro looks to the increased development across the county as the cause of the river’s declining health despite restoration efforts by both the county and volunteer groups like MRA. “No matter how much restoration we do, we can’t expect to see improvement as long as they’re cutting down trees,” Spadaro said. “We’re not giving the restoration a chance.”

To give insight into some of the county’s restoration projects, Erik Michelsen of the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program will give an overview of recent and upcoming endeavors that he and his team have undertaken. “In the public mind, there’s been this idea that pollution from the bay has been polluting local waterways, but Anne Arundel County is a source of pollution to the bay rather than vice versa,” he said. “The pollutants are coming off the watershed – whether it’s septic discharge or stormwater runoff – and coming into these creeks that are poorly flushed by the open water. The work we’re doing is aimed at improving those creek watersheds.”

Michelsen disagreed with Spadaro’s belief that development is to blame for restoration’s slow progress, saying, “Stormwater controls are as strict as they’ve ever been.” He encourages any residents looking to take a proactive approach to restoration to check out www.aarivers.org for a list of ideas for what residents can do on their own property, such as installing a rain garden or de-icing their walkway responsibly.

The hope shared by the Magothy River Association and the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program is that preserving the beloved waterway will ensure a better community for those living around it. “It’s all about the quality of life for the residents within the watershed,” Spadaro said. “The habitat of the fish and the health of the water are like a canary in a coal mine. Even though we can report we have more grasses this year and we can start to see some of the improvements from the county’s projects, the reality is that when you look at the state of the Magothy, we’re going backward. Why is that? It’s because of loss of tree cover, and it’s because of development. There are consequences. If we want to improve our quality of life, we have to reverse these things.”

For more information on State of the Magothy and other MRA programs and volunteer efforts, visit www.magothyriver.org.

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