by Rachel Felver
May 06, 2019
ShoreRivers, a non-profit organization that works to protect and restore the waterways of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, recently released its first-ever combined report card, presenting the latest data and information on the Sassafras, Chester, Miles and Wye and Choptank rivers. While the report card presents individual information about each of the rivers, this combined view helps paint a larger, regional view of the overall water quality on the Eastern Shore.
The rivers and streams of the Eastern Shore suffered last year due to the heavy rainfall that fell across the region, increasing the agricultural and stormwater runoff that flowed into the waterways. However, it is important to note that many of the rivers showed higher levels of pollution upstream, rather than at their mouths, indicating that poor water quality can be attributed to local sources.
- Chester River (C+): For the fourth consecutive year, the Chester River retained its grade of C+. In their water sampling efforts, riverkeepers found that the river tended to be more polluted further upstream. However, on a positive note, nutrient pollution at Centerville Wharf, which was measured two to three times greater than the rest of the river last year, improved significantly. It is believed that the resurgence of dark false mussels, which help to filter the water, aided in this improvement, as the species thrives with low salinity levels (caused by the high levels of rainfall).
- Choptank River (C+): The Choptank region received nearly six feet of rain in 2018, leading to a decline in water quality throughout the entire river and its tributaries. Notably, the river’s score fell from a B in 2017 to C+ in 2018. The overall area suffered as a result, even economically, as a popular swim was cancelled due to unsafe levels of bacteria in the water and farms experienced planting delays and loss of crops.
- Miles and Wye rivers (C+): Dissolved oxygen continued to be strong among the waterways of the Eastern Bay Complex (Miles and Wye rivers and the Eastern Bay), but unfortunately the good news ends there. The Wye East and Wye Narrows not only received their lowest scores since monitoring began but recorded the worst water quality in the entire ShoreRivers watershed. Both the Miles and Wye measured low levels of chlorophyll-a, indicating high levels of algae growth. These declines are thought to be due to the increased rainfall and runoff in 2018. More positive news was noted near the mouth of the rivers in the Eastern Bay, where some tributaries, like Crab Alley Bay, received their highest score since monitoring began.
- Sassafras River (B-): Like last year, the Sassafras River continues to be healthier near its mouth that its headwaters. Despite the historical rainfall, the overall grade only decreased slightly, showing that restoration projects and community efforts are working to protect the waterway. While dissolved oxygen levels are strong throughout the river, the creeks that form the headwaters of the river suffer from nitrogen pollution and turbidity. High levels of algae and low levels of underwater grasses were observed in the upper tidal portion of the river.
Learn more about the state of rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.