Around South County: Volunteers take Watershed Snapshot

By Mitchelle Stephenson for the Capital

Published 04/30/09

Each year the South River and the West/Rhode River Riverkeepers recruit several dozen people
to take a look at the state of our local waterways. Diana Muller is the Riverkeeper for the South
River and Chris Trumbauer is the Riverkeeper for the West/Rhode River.

They call it the Watershed Snapshot, when volunteers measure and record details on water
conditions at a variety of locations. Each volunteer collects the same set of data at the same time.
The snapshot event happened last Saturday morning at 50 locations in the South River watershed
and a dozen locations in the West/Rhode River watershed. The field locations were both tidal and
nontidal.

The volunteers all took training classes, led by Diana, where they received instruction on
scientific collection methods.

First, she handed out white one-gallon buckets with smaller buckets inside along with testing
bottles, materials, maps and instructions. Diana gave the volunteers step-by-step instructions for
collecting the water, measuring dissolved oxygen, pH levels, temperature and more. As she went
through each step in the process, she explained why each of the information points is important
to determining the health of the rivers.

For example, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water – which is measured in the field in a
test tube with a dissolvable pill – can determine whether or not fish can live in the water. Low
levels of dissolved oxygen have been responsible for some of the large fish kills in our area in the
recent past.

She also asked the volunteers to give their assessment of other factors that aren’t measured with
the water sample. They are asked to look at the conditions at the site: is there a lot of pollution on
the ground or in the water? Is there an odor? What is the land use in the surrounding area –
industry, agriculture, residential?

They’re asked to look for evidence of wildlife in the area, as well as wind and outside weather
conditions.

Many of the volunteers are returning from previous year snapshot events. Diana said that about
75 percent of volunteers will return next year.

“The more information we have about the health of the river, the more we can argue for what’s
working and what’s not.” Chris Reinert said. Chris was one of the volunteers testing Church
Creek in the Wilelenor neighborhood in Edgewater. On Saturday morning, Sam Faddis arrived in
the Withernsea community in Edgewater to test the water of a stream that feeds into Beards
Creek – a tributary to the South River.

Sam got out his bucket and hiked down through the poison ivy to get to trickling stream of clear
water. Sam reported raccoon tracks and a slick of oil on the water’s surface. There was no trash.
The results of the data collected were inconclusive, all of the results will be available at a later
date. However, the dissolved oxygen was in the normal range, as was the pH level. The two most
important samples he collected – bacteria and nutrients – went on ice to be tested later at the
laboratory at Anne Arundel Community College.

Still, when he finished with his assignment and took his bucket to be dropped off with Diana at
the drop site, he thought the effort was worth it. “It was great. I encourage everyone to come out
and do this,” Sam said.

Diana said that many of her volunteers are also riverwatchers, people who volunteer to take
regular samples of the water near their homes. Bev MacWilliams is one such river watcher. She
is taking two samples, first sampling the stormwater runoff from an outfall or culvert flowing
from a pipe and then testing the water in the river about 50 feet away to see the similarities and
changes in water quality.

The sampling and the snapshot have been ongoing efforts for the South River Federation. While
Diana has an army of volunteers helping her to collect the data, she isn’t optimistic that the
results will show improvements over last year. She’s recently been called to area outfalls to
observe pollution and runoff problems that have troubled her.

The results of the snapshot will be revealed at 7 p.m. June 9 at Edgewater Elementary School.
For more information on the Riverkeeper’s work, visit www.southriverfederation.net and
www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org.