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DNR Releases 2006 Wicomico River Water Quality Assessment Newsletter
Water quality impacted by high nutrient inputs
ANNAPOLIS — On Thursday, April 5, 2007 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its 2006 Wicomico River Water Quality Assessment newsletter, the first in a planned series describing how DNR shallow water quality monitoring data can be used to inform local resource managers, policy makers, and the general public of the status of their watersheds. With information focusing on single watersheds, local communities can use data from DNR’s Bay-wide shallow water monitoring system to help them safeguard their waterway and contribute to the overall health of the Bay.
The 2006 Wicomico newsletter reports that water quality was impacted by high nutrient inputs contributing to poor water clarity, tidally-influenced algal blooms, and a lack of underwater grasses. These findings were based on a review of data from DNR’s shallow water monitoring program, which consists of two main components, automated continuous monitoring and water quality mapping.
Continuous monitoring uses three automated water quality monitors in the Wicomico River system, located at Upper Ferry, Whitehaven and Little Monie Creek. These monitors collect data on temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll (a surrogate for algae content) every 15 minutes between April and October.
Water quality mapping, the second component, uses similar monitoring equipment attached to a boat. As the boat travels a prescribed cruise track up and down the river, the monitor collects data every four seconds along with a global positioning satellite (GPS) coordinate. These coordinates and the associated data are used to map water quality conditions throughout the river system. The Wicomico is also sampled at multiple locations for nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations throughout the year.
In 2006, the Wicomico River had both the highest average nitrogen concentration and the fourth highest average phosphorus concentration among the surrounding lower Eastern shore tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay. Continuous monitoring and water quality mapping showed that algae were moderately high over large portions of the lower Wicomico River during the summer of 2006. High algae levels result from an overabundance of nutrients and contribute to decreases in water clarity and dissolved oxygen. Bay grasses, which are important biological indicators of ecosystem health in the Chesapeake Bay, have not inhabited the Wicomico River in more than 30 years. Continuous monitoring data also revealed that moderately high algae levels and related dips in dissolved oxygen potentially harmful to aquatic life occurred with the ebb tide in the lower part of the river.
The newsletter also describes changes in land use that may affect the amount and timing of nutrients entering the Wicomico River. The latest land use survey in 2000 concluded that nearly half of the watershed remained forested, with a little over a third in agriculture. The biggest land use change over the past 30 years involved conversion of forests, wetlands, and agricultural areas to residential development.
The full newsletter is available on the Maryland DNR Eyes on the Bay website (http://mddnr.chesapeakebay.net/eyesonthebay/documents/Wicomico_Newsletter.pdf). Current monitoring data for the Wicomico River, as well as the rest of the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bays, is also available at this site (www.eyesonthebay.net).
April 5, 2007
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 446,000 acres of public lands and 18,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov