Even the Nanticoke, Bay's healthiest river, has issues
The Nanticoke River on the Eastern Shore, which many consider to be the Chesapeake Bay's most pristine - or least degraded - river, has earned a B-minus health grade overall on the first report card put together by scientists and water watchdogs.
The report card, released today, finds that while the river's water quality was good enough overall to support fish and shellfish, the upper stretch reaching into Delaware and the creeks feeding into the Nanticoke were plagued by high levels of nitrogen.
"Despite its general health ... it does have issues, nutrients being one of them," EB James, executive director of the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, said in an email. "Whereas the Maryland portion of the river is heavily wooded and has lots of marshes, the Delaware portion has a great deal of farmland and a more urban nature- at least at the head of the river in Seaford."
Many consider the Nanticoke the most biologically diverse and healthiest of the Chesapeake Bay's rivers. Its 30-mile length is free of dams and still supports good fisheries. It boasts the northernmost stand of bald cypress on the Atlantic coast, and the highest concentration of bald eagles in the Northeast. At its mouth, where it meets Blackwater and Fishing Bay, is Maryland's largest tidal marsh. The 725,000-acre watershed is 46 percent forested, 39 percent farmland and only 6 percent developed.
The report card gave the Nanticoke proper and its largest tributary, Marshyhope Creek, B-minus grades, tying the upper Western Shore's Bush and Gunpowder rivers for the highest health ratings earned this year by any Chesapeake Bay waters assessed by University of Maryland scientists. But Broad Creek and other creeks feeding into the lower river fared worse, and Fishing Bay, which influences water quality in the lower river, scored poorly across the board, earning a D-plus for poor water clarity, high nutrient levels and even potentially unsafe bacteria counts. Only the Baltimore area's Patapsco and Back rivers have been rated worse, with an 'F' health grade.
The report card says treated wastewater from sewage plants, septic systems and industrial activities, plus over-application of fertilizer on farms and residential lawns, are all sources of the river's elevated nutrient levels. For more, go here.
(Marshyhope Creek, May 1995. Baltimore Sun photo)