Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler remembers the days of his youth, when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent River and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.
Unfortunately, that picture was not so clear at Fowler's annual Patuxent River wade-in on June 10, when he could see his white sneakers through just 21 inches of water.
On the second Sunday in June for the past 20 years, Fowler has hosted a wade-in at Broomes Island, Md., to measure the depth of water clarity in the Patuxent. More importantly, Fowler uses his annual wade-in to raise public awareness of declining water quality in the river due to nutrient and sediment pollution.
“If we can wade out chest-high and see my feet, and see the little crabs and the grass shrimp clearly, then, we will be there,” said Fowler.
The water line on Fowler's denim overalls is measured and recorded in the “Bernie Fowler Sneaker Index.” Measurements have been as high as 44.5 inches in 1997 and as low as 8 inches in 1989—all a far cry from the 60-plus inches of water Fowler could see through when he was young. This year's measurement of 21 inches was down from 27.5 inches last year.
Despite this year's low reading, spirits were high among the approximately 100 people gathered for the wade-in. Fowler and other attendees expressed optimism about the future of Bay restoration, due to increased public awareness of the environment and a number of environmental and Bay-related bills that became law this year in Maryland.
Others, including Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised Fowler for his work to raise awareness of water quality issues in the Patuxent and larger Bay watershed.
“The Patuxent River has known no greater friend, advocate and defender than Bernie Fowler,” said U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), wearing a “Fowler's Followers” t-shirt. “God created the Patuxent River, and then God blessed the river by giving it Bernie Fowler.”
Since Fowler's first wade-in in 1988, annual wade-ins have begun on more than a dozen other tributaries throughout Maryland, including the Choptank, Patapsco, Potomac, Nanticoke and South rivers.