Like The Bay, Maryland Streams Continue To Suffer
New Streamwater Survey Shows Continued Poor Health
ANNAPOLIS, MD — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a report today that updates the condition of freshwater streams across the state.
The new DNR report, titled Maryland Biological Stream Survey 2000-2004, Volume III, reveals that little has changed from the previous survey period, 1995-1997. Forty-five percent of all freshwater streams in the state are currently rated in poor or very poor condition; an additional 41 percent of all streams are rated fair and show obvious signs of stress.
“The poor quality of these streams not only affect their individual ecosystems, but the Chesapeake Bay as a whole,” said DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks. “The data from the Maryland Biological Stream Survey enlightens us to make more informed policy recommendations in the protection and restoration of all of Maryland’s waterways.”
DNR monitors the health of Maryland’s streams, tributaries and waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Department of the Environment uses the data from DNR to make regulatory decisions.
Rather than relying only on chemical measurements taken at permanently fixed monitoring stations, an approach that can underestimate the true extent of problems, the data collected by DNR’s Maryland Biological Stream Survey (MBSS) are being used to rate stream health based on biological community indicators (fish and benthic macroinvertebrates) at large numbers of randomly selected sites. In recent years, nearly every state has adopted biological monitoring to rate stream conditions, and the remaining states are in the process of doing so.
“We see little change in the number of healthy streams since the mid-1990s,” said DNR’s Ecological Assessment Program Chief Paul Kazyak. “Only 14 percent of all streams are currently rated to be in good condition, a scant improvement on the 12 percent in 1995-1997.”
Kazyak is concerned that there is also evidence that many of the best remaining streams in the state are at risk. “Since 2000, three of 25 high-quality streams that make up DNR’s Sentinel Site network had to be dropped from annual monitoring because of obvious degradation in the area, such as trash dumping and clear-cutting of forested stream buffers”. Although the direct impact of losing a few good streams may not have large or immediate effects on the health of Chesapeake Bay, these intact stream habitats are often home to many rare and unique species that cannot be replaced if they are lost.
The monitoring programs conducted by DNR’s Resource Assessment Service have revealed that there are no watersheds in the state whose network of streams rate as being in good overall condition. With 60 percent of the state now sampled for the second time, the results to date suggest that streams in the worst condition are in watersheds on the lower Eastern Shore.
Why are so many miles of Maryland streams in poor condition or showing signs of stress? The causes are many. The DNR report details continuing problems from degraded physical habitat, channelization, bank erosion, reduced baseflow, acid rain, and acid mine drainage. In addition, most watersheds in the state now have problems with invasive non-native plants, such as multiflora rose, mile-a-minute weed, thistle, Japanese honeysuckle, and Japanese stilt grass.
“These hard-to-control species hinder efforts to re-establish streamside forests that are needed to help reduce nutrient and sediment loads flowing to Chesapeake Bay,” Kazyak said.
The DNR stream-survey results also reveal encouraging news—there are still some high-quality streams remaining in Maryland that should continue to be protected. These streams are valuable resources, both for the ecological functions they perform and as reference sites. Examples of these streams are Crabtree Creek, Bear Pen Run, Bear Creek, and Dry Run---in Garrett County in far western Maryland. In the central region, high-quality streams include Baisman Run (Baltimore County), Bussard Branch (Frederick County), and Winch Run (Cecil County). In southern Maryland, streams in good condition include Hoghole Run and Mill Run (Charles County) and Moll Dyers Run (St. Mary’s County). On the Eastern Shore, some of the best remaining streams include Leonard Pond Run (Wicomico County) and Nassawango Creek (Worcester County).
Recognized as one of the best stream-monitoring programs in the nation, DNR’s Maryland Biological Stream Survey is providing the information needed to better manage Maryland watersheds and to target and document protection and restoration efforts throughout the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay Basin. For more information on the survey and to download a copy of this new report, visit DNR’s website at dnr.maryland.gov/streams/pubs/ea04-1_data.pdf
Posted April 22, 2004