Mild Weather but Persistent Dead Zones

We have finished the 2020 monitoring season for the South, West and Rhode Rivers. The season was characterized by relatively mild weather but those creeks with the most impervious surfaces experience persistent problems from polluted runoff.

Throughout the three rivers, an early season algae bloom demonstrated that warming winter temperatures will continue to chip away at traditionally better water quality in the winter months. Although we did not see any significant heat waves during the summer, dead zones persisted for a longer-than-average time in the South River as we continue to grapple with excess nutrient loads in stormwater resulting from lawn fertilizer use, unstable construction sites, and erosive stream channels. 

The shallower West and Rhode rivers saw less water clarity than the South, despite the smaller percentage of impervious surfaces in their watersheds. The shallow water allows fine sediments to be continually churned up from the bottom by wave action and boat wakes, which contributes to the elevated turbidity levels. On the plus side, a large pod of dolphins made a long stopover between the mouths of our three rivers, with dozens of sightings reported by supporters in late June and early July.

With Gratitude to Our Volunteers

We are always grateful for the help and support of our Federation family, but specifically wish to recognize the persistent effort of our monitoring volunteers who helped us navigate an altogether historic monitoring season out. To Richard Kuhlman, for captaining the boat on the South River week in and week out, your time and effort was a blessing beyond measure. To Marvin Solberg and Diane McBee, your steadfast and reliable collection of bacterial samples helped keep hundreds of people informed and safe as they struggled to find ways to recreate during the pandemic. From the bottoms of our hearts, thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!

As we begin to crunch the numbers in our water quality data to develop our report card this spring, we look forward to the cooling weather and diminished algal activity in the rivers. With any luck we can avoid the sort of warm streak that brought an early winter algae bloom like we saw around the holidays in 2019.

Also, as the Osprey began their migration south, other avian friends took their place, with Kingfishers, Canada Geese, and dozens of Bald Eagles stretching their wings over the water. Flocks of Buffleheads, American Coots, Cormorants, and an uncommonly large variety of seagulls can also be seen floating in the creeks these days, enjoying the diminished boat traffic of autumn.

For Clean Water,
–Jesse Iliff, South, West, and Rhode Riverkeeper

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