Kevin Sellner is most comfortable in two environments: his laboratory at Hood College or getting his feet wet. An oceanographer by trade, he has spent his career studying plankton and nutrient pollution in rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay.
A little article on the Monocacy River, with a pretty good map.
“When I see algae in the water, I look around and say, ‘How are they getting sufficient nutrients?’” Sellner said.
It’s a question with broader reach than one might think. In fact, it has driven decades of policy within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as blooms of algae have devastated portions of the bay’s ecosystem and — through years of expensive rehabilitation and conservation — begun to show improvements.
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Sellner spent 14 years as the director of the Chesapeake Research Consortium before he retired and moved to Frederick, where he works as a senior scholar for the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies at Hood College. He occasionally weighs in on county water affairs, and on the periphery, he has watched a debate about the Monocacy River erupt.
The water quality of the Monocacy River has been a controversial topic in Frederick County over the last year and a half as policymakers, advocates and residents have tried to write a management plan for its future. A large tree buffer and a resource protection zone were originally proposed along the river corridor — where there is active agricultural land — in the draft released in 2016.
The draft has since been modified, but in its wake, a groundswell of people have denied that Frederick County’s agriculture is affecting the water quality of the river. Instead, residents have pointed blame at Pennsylvania, urban stormwater runoff or discharge from local wastewater treatment plants.
“In my opinion, they’ve ignored the data from the river,” Sellner said.
The Monocacy River has “marginally” and “slowly” been improving, but it is nowhere near where it’s supposed to be, he said. And the interpretation that Frederick County is not contributing nutrients or sediment to the river also isn’t backed up by available data, he said.
Data collected since the 1980s from monitoring sites at the top and bottom of the river show that more nitrogen exits the Monocacy River at its confluence with the Potomac River than flows into it from the Pennsylvania border, Sellner said.
Considering that the Monocacy just barely gets into Pennsylvania, that's not a particularly high bar. I would be surprised if it managed to pass through Maryland without picking up a lot more nutrients (and a lot more volume).
Frederick County has more than 127,000 acres of farmland, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which makes it one of the largest land uses in the county.
Kevin and I worked at the Academy of Natural Science (under a variety of names) together for quite a while. He ran a pretty big program called Biomonitoring that involved measuring algae and zooplankton in Maryland's portion of Chesapeake Bay. The program was not without its problems (usually lack of money), but it produced years worth of valuable data.
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