Mixed Results For Wicomico River Health

SALISBURY — The Wicomico Creekwatchers, a partnership of citizen and Salisbury University student volunteers, this week released the annual report, “Wicomico River Creekwatchers: 2014 Water Monitoring Results,” with mixed results on the health of the river.

The Wicomico River Creekwatchers monitor water quality at 22 sites from the headwater ponds to the mouth of the river every other week from March into November.  For 13 years, they have measured nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, algae, and water clarity, as well as a number of other variables which affect the health of the river.  They have monitored fecal bacteria for three years, to help assess the risks of water contact activities to humans.

In 2014, the Wicomico River’s water quality improved overall, with annual averages for nutrients markedly better than both 2013’s averages and the long-term averages.  Chlorophyll-a and water clarity were more mixed, and bacteria levels were mostly worse.

“The report is good news on the nitrogen and phosphorus front, and a mixed bag for bacteria levels,” said Salisbury Mayor James Ireton, Jr.  “With the implementation of our stormwater utility, the new wastewater treatment plant, and efforts by area farmers and the State of Maryland regarding septic tank improvement regulations, we hope that the waterway is on a course for continued success.”

While the report included good news on certain indicators, bacteria levels continue to be a concern, according to Ireton.

“We still see high levels of bacteria after major rain events, which means bacteria-causing nitrogen and phosphorous are still making it into the waterway,” he said. “Our focus now, after six years of addressing trash, and the implementation of the new utility, will be to drill down to see if the bacteria levels are reduced after nitrogen and phosphorus levels go down.  We will scour the country looking for examples of other bacteria controlling systems, weigh the cost, and then figure out how to incorporate that into our Watershed Protection Plan.”

Ireton said the favorable report could spur the city to achieve other goals for the Wicomico River.

“… the city will work with DNR to meet the criteria necessary to receive DNR’s Clean Marina certification,” he said.

Wicomico Creekwatchers are supported by the city of Salisbury, Wicomico Environmental Trust, George Miles & Buhr Engineering, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Salisbury University’s Henson School of Science and Technology, the Salisbury University Department of Biological Sciences, and more than 50 citizen and student volunteers.