West River Sailing Club
For decades after Our Own Dammed Yacht Club was formed, you could see the bottom of the river in ten feet of water, even in the summer. There were hundreds of acres of underwater grasses. You could chicken neck a bushel of crabs in an hour and oyster bars were a navigation hazard. During the last couple of decades, the river has changed dramatically for the worse. Summer visibility is often less than one foot; there have been virtually no grasses in the river for the last eight years. The crab and oyster fisheries are in trouble. Each summer brings news accounts of public health concerns.
In the West River, like other rivers around the Chesapeake Bay, the biggest problem is pollution from an excess of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediments. In this area, the pollution enters the river mainly in the form of storm runoff from urban and suburban development – our roofs and driveways, roads, offices and parking lots. In more rural areas the main source is farms.
Generally, we know how to stop and even reverse the declining condition of the river and the bay. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. It will take the cooperation or everyone – government, businesses and individuals – to get it done.
Around the Club
Marinas are regulated by the state and federal governments to minimize pollution from activities such as sanding and painting boat bottoms, motor maintenance, storage of polluting materials and cleaning bilges. Sailing clubs may be regulated as marinas if they engage in these activities. WRSC generally does not engage in activities that would subject it to regulation as a marina. Please review and abide by posted notices prohibiting such activities on Club property.
The Grounds Committee manages the Club property to keep it looking good while minimizing its impact on the river. The grass is mowed high to reduce the need for watering and to shade out weeds. The soil is tested periodically to minimize the need for fertilizer. Herbicides and pesticides are used only where less toxic means of weed and pest control are not feasible.
It is good idea to follow these green lawn care practices at home too. You can read about them in more detail on the West/Rhode Riverkeeper website at:http://www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org/index.php/programs/sustainable-lawncare.html .
Because we operate power boats and auxiliary sailboats around our dock, there is always the possibility of an accidental discharge of fuel or oil. WRSC is adding a few ‘spill kits’ for use capturing and cleaning up small spills. A spill kit contains rubber gloves, safety glasses, a length of absorbent ‘sock’, plastic bags, and quick start instructions in a 5 gallon bucket. The absorbent socks suck up petroleum products (oil, gasoline) but not water; they float and can be used on the wharf or on the water. In the case of spills that can not be cleaned up with the spill kit, call the coast guard at (410) 267-8107.
On Your Boat
Sail boats are, of course, pretty green when compared to power boats. Some of us also have powerboats and sometimes operate power boats owned by the Club. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources publishes help tips for reducing the impact of boaters on the river. See http://www.dnr.state.md.us/boating/cleanmarina/resources.asp .
Discharge of untreated sewage to the river or the bay is against the law. It not only contributes to nutrient pollution, it also contains bacteria that can cause serious illness in people who have contact with contaminated water. Disposing of waste from you onboard head couldn’t be easier. During the warm weather season (May through October), West/Rhode Riverkeeper operates a pumpout boat service. Just call the Honeydipper on VHF channel 71 or by telephone at 410-940-3754 and Captain Michael will come to your boat and pump out your holding tank for a charge of $5 (waived if you are a member of West/Rhode Riverkeeper). The service is operated Friday through Monday, May through October.
There are waste treatment systems for boats that legally treat and discharge waste overboard. The systems kill bacteria but do little, if anything, to remove nutrient pollution. It is likely that, in the not too distant future, discharges from these systems will be prohibited. Take that into account when you are shopping for a new head or a new boat.
When operating a power boat in shallow water or confined channels, please reduce your speed to minimize your wake. Wakes cause erosion on the shoreline and re-suspend sediments (that can damage habitat) and bacteria.
Public Health Issues
Various types of bacteria occur naturally in the rivers and the bay. Rain storms can dramatically increase levels of some kinds of bacteria in the river, mainly those found in the gut of certain animals and birds, by washing bacteria deposited on the land by domestic and wild animals into the water. Bacteria also enter the river from sewage plant and septic tank malfunctions. Both the West/Rhode Riverkeeper and Anne Arundel County periodically test for bacteria in the river during the boating season. You can learn more about the testing programs and get test results from http://www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org/index.php/programs/ and http://www.aahealth.org . Both sites also provide advice on how to protect yourself from water born bacterial infections. Generally don’t swim for at least 48 hours after a significant rain storm. Wash when you come out of the water and don’t engage in water contact activities if you have open sores or cuts or have a compromised immune system.
For those of you who like to fish or eat fish and shell fish from local waters, the Maryland Department of the Environment publishes fish consumption advisories at http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Marylander/CitizensInfoCenterHome/Pages/citizensinfocenter/fishandshellfish/index.aspx.
Other Things You Can Do
A few members of the Club have recently formed an informal committee to advance the cause of the environment within the Club. If you would like to volunteer in this effort, contact John Cece, Andrew Reznik, Elsie Whitman or Bob Gallagher. We are particularly looking for someone who would like to lead or support the effort to establish oyster gardening at the Club dock.
Be Better Informed
West/Rhode Riverkeeper is a community supported, grass roots organization that works with the community to enforce environmental laws, to promote restoration, and to advocate for better environmental policy. It is the only organization focused exclusively on the West and Rhode Rivers. The West/Rhode Riverkeeper website (www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org) contains much useful information about the river. View the Riverkeeper’s newletter and sign up for future issues at http://www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org/index.php/news/newsletters.html . View the Riverkeeper’s most recent Report Card on the condition of the West and Rhode Rivers at http://www.westrhoderiverkeeper.org/index.php/programs/water-quality-monitoring/report-card.html .
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation website also has much useful information about the Chesapeake Bay: www.cbf.org .
The Chesapeake Bay Trust, financed by Chesapeake Bay license plates, funds restoration projects around the bay watershed: www.cbtrust.org. It also has a free Chesapeake Bay Field Guide iPhone app that identifies critters that live in the bay watershed. It is available from the iTunes store.