by Jake Solyst
May 07, 2020
Nature has a lot of variables, so understanding the health of a river can be a daunting task. But with the release of the inaugural Arundel Rivers Report Card, those who protect, live and play on a stretch of Maryland’s Western Shore have more data and information than ever before to paint a holistic, regional view about the health of the South, West and Rhode rivers.
This 2019 report card is the first for the newly formed Arundel Rivers Federation, which formed in January 2019 when the West & Rhode Riverkeeper joined forces with the South River Federation to form a single organization with a shared research strategy.
The raw data in the report card is the result of a yearlong effort, giving the Arundel Rivers Federation and various academic, government and environmental partners the necessary insight to guide protection and restoration efforts.
“Every year, we learn something new about how these river systems work and the role they, and we, play in the Bay’s recovery,” Jesse Iliff, the South, West and Rhode Riverkeeper said.
From an increase in underwater grasses to the success of a sanctuary oyster reef, the following insights represent the current and future health of the Arundel rivers.
Rivers fight back from 2018 storms
Record rainfall in 2018 assailed the three rivers, pushing polluted runoff into the water and throwing off salinity levels, but thanks to below-average rainfall in 2019, the rivers fought back.
- Rhode River: Water clarity held steady and dissolved oxygen, bacteria, pH and temperature scores all improved.
- South River: Water clarity, bacteria, temperature and pH levels all improved, while the dissolved oxygen score slightly fell.
- West River: Bacteria, temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen scores improved, while water clarity decreased
Underwater grasses surge
Returning grasses was a high point for the annual evaluation. Thanks again to reduced rainfall, underwater grasses in the Rhode River reached their highest level since 1978 while grasses in the South River were the most abundant they’ve been since 2010. The region had 18 acres of grasses overall, which is a promising increase from the near-zero acreage recorded in 2018.
Oyster reef proves successful
Data from the report card shows that the sanctuary oyster reef in the South River is doing its job, filtering water and providing calcium carbonate that counteracts the effects of acid rain. The water’s pH levels increased in areas near the reef, and those areas also outperformed almost all other South River monitoring stations for water clarity and dissolved oxygen.
Looking towards 2020
Want to help with next year’s report card? Volunteer opportunities exist for anyone looking to help collect data. Some of these opportunities include the Underwater Grass Hunt, which asks locals to alert the Arundel Rivers Federation of short-lived Horned Pondweed grass, and Operation Clear Water, which requires a dedicated volunteer to help monitor bacteria once a week over the summer.