From the Chesapeake Bay Foundation:
Water monitoring by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) for the second summer in a row has found occasional high levels of fecal bacteria in some Harford County streams, some at levels 100s times government safety levels. The popular Kilgore Falls swimming hole continues to be unsafe for swimming after some rain storms.
Laboratory tests that cultured the germs in the water supply using a refrigerated incubator showed a dangerous amount of bacteria. In fact, bacteria levels were as high, or even higher after storms, in Harford County as in streams in Baltimore City where media scrutiny has focused on sewer pipes that leak during storms.
Lily Run in Havre de Grace, portions of Deer Creek in the more rural north-central part of the county, and Swan Creek near Aberdeen were a few of the fresh water streams where testing found high levels of excrement in the water.
Parents of children who use Eden Mill Nature Center expressed concerns last year about the safety of Deer Creek. This summer a camp director asked CBF if he should continue to allow children to swim at Kilgore Falls. CBF passed on the general recommendation of the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) that Marylanders should avoid swimming and recreating in natural waters for 48 hours after a significant summer storm.
The problem recognized by MDE, and confirmed by the CBF tests, is that polluted runoff can increase human health risks. Ingesting water with high bacteria can cause illness such as stomach aches and diarrhea.
The CBF tests reinforce the need for Harford County to do more to reduce polluted runoff. Yet the county recently revealed it will only do half the work it is required to do by federal and state law to reduce polluted runoff. The county says it doesn’t have enough money. The county eliminated a stormwater fee that was intended to finance such work.
“Polluted runoff isn’t an abstract problem. It sometimes puts the health of residents who swim, wade or come into contact with these waters at risk. Harford leaders need to work aggressively to reduce polluted runoff, and ensure the health of their residents,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF.”
Polluted runoff is water that runs off the land during storms and picks up contaminants. Those pollutants can include human and animal waste from leaking sewer and septic systems, pet waste and livestock manure. It also can include other types of pollutants, including weed killer, lawn fertilizer and petroleum residue. The runoff flushes into nearby streams, often with no treatment.
CBF commissioned Harford Community College to collect water samples, and conduct tests. Tests were conducted at eight sites total in the county: four on Deer Creek, one on Lily Run, one on Swan Creek just outside of Aberdeen, and two near the Bush River in southern Harford.
CBF also tested streams and rivers this summer in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, and Howard counties, as well as Baltimore City. Many streams in those areas also had high levels of fecal bacteria after storms. The organization also started pilot test programs in Pennsylvania and Virginia. This is the second year CBF has undertaken the program. All results and a map of all test sites can be found here.
The county’s problem with polluted run-off likely isn’t limited to human and animal waste. Fecal bacteria is sort of a canary in a coal mine. Where you find bacteria, you also are likely to find nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution. Those are the same pollutants that are fouling the Chesapeake Bay.
Scientists say these pollutants have declined significantly in the Chesapeake, thanks largely to upgrades to major sewer plants, and efforts by some farmers. But reports show polluted runoff is not being reduced sufficiently to clean up local streams, and to restore the Chesapeake.