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What's Up Magazine

Restoring a River, One Resident at a Time

Sep 13, 2012 01:21PM ● By Anonymous

In September 2003, riverfront homeowner Debbie Pusey saw the Corsica overflow into her yard during Hurricane Isabel and then recede, leaving behind dead fish in her swimming pool and so much E. coli that her ground well had to be decontaminated three times.

“That’s when I started asking myself: ‘What’s in the river?’” Pusey recalls. She also began talking to her neighbors and discovered that many of them shared her concerns.

In September of 2005, then-Governor Bob Ehrlich stood on the banks of the river (during a fish kill that one observer described as “devastating”), and announced the launch of an interagency effort to remove the Centreville waterway, a tributary of the Chester River, from a list of impaired rivers.

Some of the millions allocated to aid Corsica restoration have affected crucial improvements. Sewage facilities in the town of Centreville, which channel treated wastewater into a tributary of the Corsica for part of the year, have seen a number of upgrades.

Although funding is essential, building ground-level support for cleanup efforts is perhaps equally important, and this is where Pusey other co-founders of the Corsica River Conservancy have focused their efforts. While having a riverfront home gave Pusey first-hand awareness of the Corsica, the current CRC president says that, when the organization was founded, many people in the watershed knew little, if anything, about the river. By creating and highlighting of a series of smaller actions residents can take individually to improve the river’s health, the CRC has worked to change that.

This September, a measure of their success will be apparent as a good portion of the population living in the watershed will make its way to Bloomfield Farm outside Centreville to participate in the CRC’s seventh annual Corsica Watershed Awareness Day, featuring conservation activities and information for the whole family, including a native-tree giveaway, hayride eco-tours, an interactive environmental education game for kids, crafts, and some of the area’s best bluegrass, courtesy of Chester River Runoff.

During the years, countless hours donated by the all-volunteer CRC have gone into efforts to involve area watershed residents in everything from a weekly water testing program to caring for oyster spat to maintaining rain gardens.

Using geographic information systems, CRC members have identified and successfully recruited many homeowners with viable docks on the river to participate in the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, where they care for caged Horn Point spat until they grow large enough to be placed in Corsica sanctuaries and serve as natural water filters.

Sediment from storm water runoff is one of the biggest problems for the Corsica, Pusey says. With grant funding, the CRC has helped install almost 400 rain gardens in the watershed, more than anywhere else in the state, she adds. More grants are being sought to accommodate a growing waiting list of local homeowners who also want to participate in the program, Pusey says.

A single raingarden may not have a profound impact on the river’s health and, in Queen Anne’s County, runoff also comes from agricultural lands that remain the area’s dominant use, but Pusey says that when a homeowner has a rain garden installed or volunteers to host an oyster cage (receiving the CRC’s information packet about basic maintenance and other issues affecting the river), they become more invested in the Corsica’s future. Like Pusey did in 2003, they are likely to discuss it with their neighbors, who might become more interested in participating in the CRC’s restoration programs themselves. Inevitably, matters of environmental policy will continue to arise and, with expanded awareness, these residents may be more supportive of policies that will positively impact the river.

Little by little, often one person at a time, the CRC has built support for restoration of the Corsica. Although immediate results are not always evident, if it takes a community to save a river, the CRC has positioned its watershed to see continued improvement. For more information, go to CRC's website.

Corsica Watershed Awareness Day will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 15th, at Bloomfield Farm on Route 213, just north of Centreville. This free event, which combines family fun with engaging environmental education, is designed to remind residents of their responsibility to help restore and maintain a clean and healthy river and watershed. During the past seven years it has become a local tradition attracting more than 1,000 visitors each year.