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Susquehanna River Flooding Will Cause Problems for Chesapeake Bay

Flood water from the Susquehanna River containing debris, silt, and other contaminants is entering the Chesapeake Bay in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee.

It would be an understatement to say that we have had a lot of rain in the past few weeks. According to NOAA, rainfall records at BWI show that our area has received approximately 19 inches of rain since Aug. 1. That's nearly 15 inches of rain above normal in the past five weeks.

The heavy rains from Tropical Storm Lee have caused severe flooding on the Susquehanna River and comparisons are being made to the flooding from Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972. The flooding from Agnes brought massive amounts of silt into the Chesapeake Bay which devastated underwater grass beds.

Unfortunately the grass beds, which provide food for waterfowl and cover for small fish and crabs, have had great difficulty recovering to levels that existed before Agnes.

Prior to Agnes, the grass beds were so thick in the Magothy and Severn Rivers that I have often reminisced with friends about how it was not uncommon for the prop on a boat to become fouled with aquatic grasses.

Bruce Michael, director of the Resource Assessment Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was quoted in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Bay Daily  that: “Rains from the remnants of Tropic Storm Lee impacted the Susquehanna River basin far more than Hurricane Irene and will deliver major nutrients and sediments to the Bay.”

While there is great concern about the sediment and nutrient load in the Susquehanna River, Bob Orth an expert on aquatic vegetation at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, commented in the Bay Daily: “The current rainfall is unlikely to have much of an impact on Bay grasses, because it is later in the season and the grasses are already dying back as part of their natural lifecycle. Hurricane Agnes, by contrast, hit in the spring, when the grasses were sprouting and growing.”

Another problem associated with the floodwaters from the Susquehanna River is the amount of debris that will be washed into the Bay. Large pieces of floating debris can damage boat hulls, propellers, and rudders, especially if the boat is moving at cruising speed.

 The Maryland DNR has asked boaters to call 1-877-224-7229 and select Option 3 to report floating debris such as trees and large branches. If boaters see propane tanks or fuel tanks, which could contain hazardous material, they asked to report the sighting to the Maryland Department of the Environment at 1-866-633-4686.

Issues related to storm water runoff not only have a negative impact on those of us live in the Severn and Magothy watersheds, but it impacts the entire Bay watershed as well. Hopefully the pictures of flooded towns, water pouring through the dam at Conowingo, and silt clouded water will help raise our awareness of the dangers caused by excessive runoff during large storms.

All of us can do our part to reduce the harmful effects of runoff beginning with our yards. The Chesapeake Bay Program  provides many good ideas for ways to help improve the health of our local waterways.

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