Friday, July 12, 2013

Pilgrim on Radcliffe Creek

Arial view of Radcliffe Creek
Despite the time that I have spent in Chestertown as a student of Washington College, it was not until about two months ago that I first heard of Radcliffe Creek. Even as an Environmental Studies major, this creek was something that I had not been introduced to in my two years in school. As I began to research the history of the creek and its watershed, I met with some members from the town who are currently planning the construction of three retention pools at the source of Radcliffe Creek. Radcliffe Creek begins to form very near to the LaMotte building and the Acme shopping center on Route 213. The mouth of the creek is roughly a quarter mile from the Boat House on South Cross Street and feeds directly into the Chester River. Radcliffe Creek was identified as an area of impaired water in the Middle Chester River Restoration Action Strategy (MD DNR 2002) and the purpose of these retention pools is to help improve the water and habitat quality of Radcliffe so that it may no longer be considered impaired. During my research it was discovered that there used to be an old dumpsite in an area just south of Cromwell Clark Road. Additionally, there was a coal/gas manufacturing plant located on 813 West High Street—an area that backs up directly to Radcliffe Creek—that operated from 1910 to 1946. After these discoveries, the idea of performing sediment sampling and trace metal testing in addition to nutrient and water quality testing became much more prevalent. The creek itself is primarily fed by ground water and storm water runoff and has very low salinity (the average salinity of the creek is a mere 0.2 ppt). The plant life within the creek consists mostly of phragmites but there are healthy strands of cattails amongst the phragmites in addition to some forest vegetation along some of the banks of the creek.
Osprey with dinner

The times that I have kayaked along the creek I have seen numerous Ospreys, Red-winged Black Birds, Great Blue Herons, two muskrats, a few turtles (I was not able to get close enough to determine the type of turtle), and some very small fish. The creek itself has high potential to become a fantastic area for wildlife, as it is already home to many different types of organisms. Since there had been no prior delineation of it, one of the first things that I began doing when I found out about Radcliffe Creek was delineate its watershed in order to get an idea of the land that contributes to its runoff. I also went out on the creek and measured various depths of Radcliffe so that a 3D bathymetric model of the creek can be produced at some point. Since there has been virtually no research conducted on Radcliffe Creek, there is a lot to catch up on and even more to pursue. My primary focus for the past two months has been to test the overall water quality of Radcliffe. I perform biweekly surveys of the creek and measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (both in mg/L and % saturation), Chlorophyll a and pH using a water quality sonde. I also take water samples from four different sites along the creek and use them to test for ammonia, nitrate, orthophosphate, total nitrogen and total phosphorus. The average amount of total nitrogen within the creek has been 2.5 mg/L and the average total phosphorus is 0.26 mg/L which produces a nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P) ratio of about 10 to 1 rather than the16 to 1 that is typically needed for phytoplankton. (This means that for every atom of P used a phytoplankton cell needs 16 atoms of N – on average). It appears that N may be limiting phytoplankton growth, at least for the short period of time that I have been investigating the Radcliffe Creek water quality.
Students paddling on Radcliff Creek
My hope is that this research and data collection will be able to continue over the years so that a better understanding of the ecosystem quality of Radcliffe Creek emerges. Radcliffe has huge potential to become an even more wonderful and habitable creek than it is currently and my hope is that by raising awareness and learning more about the charming creek, Radcliffe will become one of the gems of Chestertown. I would like to thank all of the people who have helped me with this research—my fellow students Sarah Winters, Olivia Hughes and Rachel Stoddard and professors Christian Krahforst, Leslie Sherman and Karl Kehm. I would not have been able to do this without their fantastic efforts.

Drew Hobbs is an Environmental Studies major with minors in Computer Science and Chemistry. He will be starting his Junior year at Washington College in the fall.

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