CHESTERTOWN — Evidenced by the standing room only attendance at the first State of the Creeks meeting, the community in Kent County is interested in keeping tabs on the health of the county’s creeks.
While ShoreRivers has monitored and annually presented updates on the Sassafras and Chester rivers during the organization’s “state of the rivers” series, the four creeks in Kent County that drain directly into the Chesapeake Bay have never been reported on.
Sassafras Riverkeepr Zach Kelleher will now oversee the “organization of water quality monitoring, outreach and restoration programs for the combined area” of those creeks — Still Pond, Churn, Worton and Fairlee.
The State of the Creeks meeting was held Wednesday, Aug. 14 in the yellow building behind the Kent County Public Library. The meeting was run as a town hall-style event where Kelleher first presented information on ShoreRivers’ work to protect the health of the Eastern Shore’s rivers followed by a brief outline of the health of the Sassafras River.
The meeting was then opened to questions from the audience.
Two years ago, ShoreRivers combined existing organizations that monitored the health of rivers on the Shore into one unified organization. ShoreRivers now employs riverkeepers who monitor and advocate for the health of the Chester, Choptank, Miles and Wye as well as the Sassafras rivers.
With the addition of the creeks to Kelleher’s monitoring zone, he said 2018 was a “year of change” for the Sassafras River. The riverkeeper’s office moved from just across the river in Cecil County to a building on North Main Street in Galena in order to have more of a presence in the community, he said.
Kelleher said monitoring the four creeks serves as a major change as there has been little to no data collected from those areas in the past.
“We added these four creeks to our jurisdiction, which is very exciting,” Kelleher said. “This is really the first time that these bodies of water, and these communities and community members have been represented and have had a seat at the table. So it’s kind of uncharted territory, which means we have the sky’s the limit, the world is our oyster.”
Kelleher said ShoreRivers plans to determine where and how the organization monitors creeks based on community interest. In the Chester and Sassafras rivers, for example, ShoreRivers utilizes “citizen scientists” — “Chester Testers” in the Chester River and “Sassafras Samplers” in the Sassafras River — who take water samples from certain sites for their respective riverkeepers.
Those samples are then tested for indictors of the health of those rivers: phosphorus levels, nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, salinity and more.
Last week’s meeting aimed to gauge the level of community interest in collecting water samples to monitor the creeks. Kelleher said other health indicators such as SAVs, submerged aquatic vegetation, also could be added to the list of indicators he and the community could monitor.
Following feedback from community members who attended the Aug. 14 meeting, hot topics for ShoreRivers to monitor included bacteria testing to help determine if the creeks are safe to swim in, invasive species — such as phragmites — monitoring and potential removal as well as rule enforcement.
One attendee said a strip of grass near Still Pond Creek is repeatedly mowed too low by county employees despite the area being labeled as a buffer zone for the creek. She said she has gone so far as to stand in the way of the mowers.
Keheller said this could be attributed to employees receiving unclear instructions on where to mow or how short the grass should be cut, but part of his job as riverkeeper is to enforce those rules.
“Again, I’m the voice of these areas. So, exactly situations like that, where there’s something that doesn’t seem right, or in a Critical Area, or they’re doing something that you know is wrong,” Kelleher said. “That’s exactly the thing to reach out to me, and I’ll come look at it and go to the proper local, county, state, federal, whatever agency I can go to, to see what we can do about it.”
When prompted, more than half the audience members raised their hands to indicate interest in volunteering to monitor the health of the creeks.
“I don’t have a homeowners’ association, but I have a kayak,” one audience member said.
For more information on ShoreRivers, visit shorerivers.org.