I’m in Two Rivers!

The Earth Lodge weekend trip began at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Since I had rain boots on, my first inclination was to run straight into the water and put my feet in both at the same time. In a way, all of us continued on this vein the rest of the weekend. Anytime we were out on a boat or skipjack or at Sandy Point State Park, we couldn’t help ourselves from getting hands-on.

Part of gaining a deeper understanding of watersheds is comparative hands-on research. We got the opportunity to do this through abiotic and biotic surveys in the Potomac at two different points and in the Chesapeake Bay. I was personally surprised that water near D.C. had better nitrate readings than in the Chespeake Bay (1.7 PPM vs. 35+PPM). Yet, the successful wastewater treatment in D.C. most likely gets rid of these excess nutrients. This got me thinking back to Richmond and the James. How effective is our wastewater management. What are the exact water quality readings that characterize the water near us at the University of Richmond? This also got me thinking back to my summer internship where I did water quality surveys all around Baltimore County, whose subwatersheds also end up in the Chesapeake. I never remember any nitrate values getting that high, but I’m tempted to check with my supervisor. How do we let things get this way?

Agriculture is a huge culprit. It is a top contributor to the nitrate levels we observed in the Chesapeake. In the James, I assume agriculture would also raise levels. Even on the Richmond campus, higher nutrient loads are observed downstream of the golf course that heavily overfertilizes. This basically mirrors what happens downstream of farms that use fertilizers on their crops.

In terms of observations from biotic surveying, the Potomac catch only supplied us with 2 or 3 different species of fish. The Chesapeake Bay proved more biodiverse with a total of 6 very different species – macroinvertebrates such as worms and barnacles, multiple fish species, 1 live oyster (out of 30 maybe) , and blue crabs. There were bald eagles spotted in the skies near both sites, which indicates that they are sustained by feeding on the life in the water. It strikes me as strange that there was more biodiversity in an area with a higher nutrient load. Perhaps the algal blooms that result from high nitrate levels have not begun yet.


In the end, we may not have literally dived into the Potomac or the Chesapeake Bay, but we did make many key observations necessary to compare it to our watershed in Richmond and in my case, my hometown watershed. My memorable quote from the Earth Lodge trip sums up our semester – we have been in different watersheds and now these watersheds are a part of us.

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