February 28, 2013
Herons are Back!
In the cold grey dawn on the 10th of February, a Sassafras watcher observed the first of many male Great Blue Herons arriving in order to begin the construction of his primary attraction to females. Reportedly, the fairer sex of the species care more about the looks of the nest than the looks of the bridegroom. The result being that a carefully constructed home can attract a suitable bride and become a wonderful place to settle down and raise some chicks . So, regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil says, the real harbingers of Spring on the Sassafras have spoken: And they said, “Spring is just around the corner."
Upriver from Georgetown and all the commercial activity of the marinas, restaurants, fishing and bridge-raising foghorns, the new influx of herons are busy scouting out likely places along the edge of the river and in the surrounding wetlands for food. Being carnivores, they feed mostly on fish, but also will eat rabbits, frogs, and small mammals.
It’s such a beautiful sight that on March 23 at 4:00pm I’ll be leading a group of interested folks in kayaks and canoes to observe their activities. By then, the eggs will have cracked and the new hatchlings will be peeking over the edges of their nests and squealing for their next meal.
There is just nothing like Springtime on the Sassafras. The sights and sounds begin to change on the river, with the sight of Pennsylvania Navy officers cleaning their boats and sounds of their motors rumbling to life replacing the honks of the Canada geese in the cool morning air. The bridge horn sounds more frequently as boaters begin their own annual migration back to the river. Fish Hawks - more often called Ospreys in these parts - will become a common sight again around the middle of March, constructing their nests on every precarious perch they can find.
And yours truly, the Sassafras RIVERKEEPER® will begin my patrols, clean up efforts, and weekly water sampling for another fun summer on the beautiful Sassafras River.
For more information about the paddle, visit SRA's event page! Call me at 410-708-3303, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
-Captain Emmett Duke, Sassafras RIVERKEEPER®
February 1, 2013
January not only means a new year with new opportunities to improve the Sassafras River, but it’s also time for the Riverkeeper and other staff at SRA to pull together all the river and stream testing data from the past year in order to create our annual Report Card. The Report Card for the Sassafras River tells the story of how the river is doing…the state of “health” of our precious Sassafras.
You may also view the past three Report Cards on our website under "What We Do" or by clicking here.
-Captain Emmett Duke, RIVERKEEPER®
November 30, 2012
Unless a house is within the reach of a town’s waste water treatment facility, the residents are most likely using a septic tank and drain field system for disposing of waste water. If you have a septic tank, it is vitally important to the groundwater and even surface water that your system is maintained properly. That means having it pumped out every 3 to 5 years, being careful what you flush down the drain, and even reducing your use of water wherever possible.
The following is from the EPA program known as “SepticSmart”.
Use Water Efficiently
Did you know that average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day? And just a single leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day?
All of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. This means that the more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use can not only improve the operation of a septic system, but it can reduce the risk of failure as well.
- High-efficiency toilets
Toilet use accounts for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. Most older homes have toilets with 3.5- to 5-gallon reservoirs, while newer, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. Replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models is an easy way to quickly reduce the amount of household water entering your septic system.
- Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads
Faucet aerators help reduce water use as well as the volume of water entering your septic system. High-efficiency showerheads or shower flow restrictors also reduce water use.
- Washing machines
Washing small loads of laundry on your washing machine’s large-load cycle wastes water and energy. By selecting the proper load size, you’ll reduce water waste. If you’re unable to select a load size, run only full loads of laundry.
Another tip? Try to spread water use via washing machine throughout the week. Doing all household laundry in one day might seem like a time-saver, but it can be harmful to your septic system, as it doesn’t allow your septic tank time to adequately treat waste and could potentially flood your drainfield.
- Whether you flush it down the toilet, grind it in the garbage disposal, or pour it down the sink, shower, or bath, everything that goes down your drains ends up in your septic system. And what goes down the drain can have a major impact on how well your septic system works.
Toilets Aren’t Trash Cans!
Your septic system is not a trash can. An easy rule of thumb? Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:
- Cooking grease or oil
- Photographic solutions
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
Think at the Sink!
Your septic system contains a collection of living organisms that digest and treat household waste. Pouring toxins down your drain can kill these organisms and harm your septic system. Whether you’re at the kitchen sink, bathtub, or utility sink:
- Avoid chemical drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake.
- Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain!
- Never pour oil-based paints, solvents, or large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain. Even latex paint waste should be minimized.
- Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal, which will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clog its drainfield.
Maintain Your Drainfield
Your drainfield—a component of your septic system that removes contaminants from the liquid that emerges from your septic tank—is an important part of your septic system. Here are a few things you should do to maintain it:
- Parking: Never park or drive on your drainfield.
- Planting: Plant trees the appropriate distance from your drainfield to keep roots from growing into your septic system. A septic service professional can advise you of the proper distance, depending on your septic tank and landscape.
- Placing: Keep roof drains, sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield area, as excess water slows down or stops the wastewater treatment process.
- Captain Emmett Duke, Sassafras RIVERKEEPER®
October 31, 2012
"Superstorm" Sandy and the Sassafras
“Fall has come to the River. Sassafras tree leaves – along with many other varieties – are falling gently from the tree-lined banks and hillsides onto the surface of the water. I took my penultimate boat sampling excursion yesterday and it was one of the prettiest days of the year. October 24 was about 75 degrees and almost no wind on the river. The air was cool and crisp as we motored from site to site and sampled the river at our seven usual locations. The water is clearing somewhat, and at the edge of the Bay in front of Betterton, we could clearly see about 42 inches into the water. “
The previous paragraph was to be the beginning of RIVERKEEPER Cove for the month of October. That was written on Thursday, October 25. It was certainly a beautiful day on the river. Only three days later, the eye of what was called the “worst storm in a lifetime” came ashore in New Jersey and devastated the Mid-Atlantic coastline.
Sandy has reportedly killed 55 people as of this morning, and caused 20 billion dollars in damage. What a difference a few days can make! As I’m writing this, it is Wednesday, October 31…Halloween Day. There are over a million people still without electricity.
Today, the winds are calm again. The surface of the Sassafras River is a sheet of glass. If you didn’t know better, you may not realize that anything happened. But where the river was looking better last week, it is certainly not looking good today. It is brown and murky. I scooped up a bucket from the dock beside the Georgetown Bridge this morning, and it is thick with sediment. A great deal of damage has been done to the health of our river.
The sediment, washed into the river from its banks and from all the small and large streams that feed into it contains the river’s most dangerous enemies - nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients have been added to the already nutrient rich river, and will cause more algae blooms to the already algae filled river.
One thing is for sure - as it has for as long as it has existed - the beautiful and stately Sassafras will cope with it. Much of the sediment will eventually sink and accumulate on the bottom. What doesn’t will be carried to the Chesapeake Bay and add to the accumulated pollution that is surely pouring through the gates of the Conowingo Dam at this very moment.
Later today, I will make the last sampling run down the river and document how much damage has been done in just a few days of high winds and torrential rain. And as always, I’ll finish my run with a little prayer of hope…for better days and a cleaner river.
-Captain Emmett Duke, Sassafras RIVERKEEPER®
April 1st, 2012
Sassafras Stream Waders - Assessing the Health of our StreamsDuring March 2012, SRA volunteers and staff visited 11 non-tidal streams to collect benthic macroinvertebrate samples. Often simply referred to as “benthics”, these organisms are the insects, crustaceans, and other small creatures which dwell on the bottom of our streams. Because benthics live in streams year-round and are subject to all the environmental stressors, changes, and water quality impairments – assessing benthic abundance and diversity is an excellent method of measuring overall stream health. The condition of the benthic community can be a direct reflection of human impacts and land use in our watershed.
Benthics vary in their sensitivity to pollution and habitat disturbance – healthy streams may have a wide ranging diversity of both tolerant and intolerant species, while unhealthy streams may have only tolerant species. This summer scientists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will use SRA’s samples to calculate a benthic “Index of Biotic Integrity”, which is essentially a method of grading stream impairment.
The last benthic survey in the Sassafras Watershed was conducted in 2009, with 6 out of 6 sites receiving very poor scores. In the Sassafras Watershed, excess erosion is a common problem leading to muddy stream bottoms – a serious disadvantage for many benthic organisms which need rocky substrate or leaf packs for habitat. Some of SRA’s streams have exceptionally high nutrient concentrations, and were chocked with algae growth even during March. Other streams showed evidence of having been used as trash dump sites for years. This spring SRA saw "the good, the bad, and the ugly" in the realm of stream health. But it’s important to note among all the examples of poor stream health, that SRA did see some positive signs for our streams. Our streams are the first to show examples of improvement whem we increase our efforts to better manage and protect our land. The work of individuals to reduce erosion and runoff into our streams can and will continue to play a big part in cleaning up our River.
March 1st, 2012
Arsenic and Old LitterArsenic has a long history of use in industry and agriculture as a pesticide, herbicide and fungicide. It’s widely known that arsenic is a carcinogenic poison – made famous in the 1940’s play “Arsenic and Old Lace” in which characters poisoned old men with arsenic laced wine. The effects of arsenic are no exaggeration – even low-level human exposure to arsenic has been linked to health impacts like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and various forms of cancer.
Until recently arsenic was a common additive in chicken feed, in the form of the drug Roxarsone, which was used to control intestinal parasites. Chickens administered Roxarsone excrete the toxic inorganic form of arsenic in litter, and this litter was spread in fields across Delmarva as fertilizer for decades. In a study written by the Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology "The Environmental Concerns of Arsenic Additives in Poultry Litter: Literature Review”, it was identified that not only does arsenic from poultry litter build up in soils, but that some areas of Delmarva have already accumulated high levels of arsenic beyond background remediation standards.
Amid growing concern over arsenic and human health impacts, members of the Maryland General Assembly attempted to pass a bill banning the use of arsenic based additives in chicken feed during both the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released results from a study in June of 2011 which detected elevated levels of arsenic in livers of chickens that had been administered Roxarsone. The FDA study led to the manufacturer of Roxarsone immediately and voluntarily removing the drug from the market.
The Maryland General Assembly is again considering a bill to ban arsenic in chicken feed during the 2012 session. Although Roxarsone is no longer manufactured, other arsenic based drugs do exist and could end up in chickens on the eastern shore – as well as on our farm fields, in our water, and even on our plates. Arsenic is a known carcinogenic poison. To protect our environment and the health of our communities we must permanently stop the use of this toxin in chicken feed.
Hear more about the arsenic ban issue in this radio podcast of “On Delmarva Soundbites”, in which Maryland state delegates are interviewed, as well as representatives from Perdue and the non-profit Food and Water Watch.
Get involved; contact our state representatives and senators to show your support for the bill, and for a healthy environment.
Who I Am
Captain Emmett Duke
As the Sassafras RIVERKEEPER®, I serve as the eyes, ears, and public voice of the Sassafras River. I patrol the River regularly, looking for sources of pollution, conducting water quality testing, and observing the condition of shorelines and buffers.
I work closely with my colleagues in the WATERKEEPER® Alliance, an international coalition of more than 182 organizations working at the grassroots level for clean water. There are 18 RIVERKEEPERS working on the Chesapeake Bay's tributaries.
You can read my latest findings in the "RIVERKEEPER's Corner" in the Sassafras Update.
What I Do
I patrol the Sassafras River Watershed in the RIVERKEEPER vessel, by canoe and kayak, on foot, and by car looking for sources of pollution. When I identify potential issues, I work with homeowners, businesses, boaters and governments to correct the issue. If you would like to accompany me on patrol, contact me by email or on 410 708-3303.
I'm not here to prevent people from doing what they want to do. I'm here to help them see that there are different ways of going about things that are better for the health of the River.
I also conduct regular water quality testing, both as part of the Sassafras Samplers and on my own. I'm responsible for analyzing the results and formatting data so that it can be readily understood by our members, other users of the Sassafras River watershed, and government officials.
You can help me as your RIVERKEEPER . If you have a concern about the Sassafras River or observe any condition which may be degrading water quality, click on Report Pollution, call me on 410 708-3303 or send an email. Please provide as much specific information as you can — date, time, location, issue, photo — so I can follow up. I will report back to you on what I find.
I'm also SRA's lead researcher in the Sassafras Watershed Action Plan (SWAP).
InterviewsRiver Radio - Episode 2, May 5th, 2012.Episode two of "River Radio" featuring interviews and segments on SRA's poultry litter injector, an SRA rain barrel workshop, and Project Clean Stream. Listen to the podcast here, or tune in to Chestertown's WCTR (AM1530, FM102.3) the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month at 11am. "River Radio" is a joint project of Chester River Association and Sassafras River Association to cover issues and projects focused on restoring our Rivers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
River Radio - Episode 1, April 7th, 2012. The first episode of "River Radio" featuring interviews with Sassafras River Association Staff, local watershed residents, and discussion of the environmental issues facing the Sassafras River. Show airs on Chestertown's WCTR the first and third Saturdays of each month at 11am (AM 1530, and FM 102.3).