Notes on the River – Team Efforts

By Tim Junkin

Just last month, Drew Koslow, our Choptank Riverkeeper, working in collaboration with landowners Ann and Bill Collier, managed the installation of three agridrain structures on Collier’s Morgan Farm, located in northern Caroline County near the town of Henderson. These structures are designed to reduce nitrogen loads entering our streams and rivers.

The Colliers grow corn, soybeans, and wheat, and raise broilers in two poultry barns on their 600 acre farm. Their crop fields drain into ditches, some of which are normally dry, but carry surface runoff into nearby PDA’s, that drain to the Tuckahoe River during rain events. The agridrain structures serve as little dams in the ditch, with a series of flashboards that allow the Colliers to regulate the water levels upstream of the structures. The water retained in the ditch facilitates a biological process whereby nitrate that is dissolved in the water is converted to harmless nitrogen gas—a process termed denitrification. Such devices have been shown to reduce nitrate levels in ditches by up to sixty percent. As an incidental benefit, they also raise the water table during dry weather, providing moisture to the roots of established crops.

Bill and Ann Collier are leaders in conservation initiatives in our community and longstanding members of the Choptank Tributary Strategy Team. Some time ago Bill urged Midshore Riverkeepers to become more active in assisting farmers in the development of innovative pollution reduction measures, and offered to collaborate in the effort. Drew Koslow located and, through MRC, secured a $48,000 grant from the Chesapeake Fund to implement this project. He helped manage the project and will test the water coming out of the ditch for several years to evaluate the results. The actual funding was provided by Pepco Holdings and administered by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Forest Trends. John Shepard and Caroline County’s Soil Conservation District surveyed and designed the project. It became a team effort.

Farmers are the key here on the eastern shore to the effort of restoring and protecting our rivers. Agriculture is the dominant land use and we hope it will remain so. By serving as land stewards as well as food producers, farmers can lead us toward a national environmental restoration. This past year Talbot County farmers led the state in participating in the winter cover crop program, an essential tool in agricultural conservation. Cover crops take up excess fertilizer and hold soil in place preventing winter erosion. The use of best management practices such as no till farming and precision fertilization are now widespread. But community support for such environmental initiatives is also a key. We need to encourage and support our farmers in this effort. And we need to acknowledge and thank them for this contribution. It is often said that our rivers and bay are suffering from a thousand cuts. The way back to ensure clean water and vibrant rivers may be through a thousand bandages. All of us need to be part of this team effort.

In photo: Drew Koslow, Choptank Riverkeeper (left) and Bill Collier landowner of Collier’s Morgan Farm, located in northern Caroline County near the town of Henderson (right) on one of their three newly installed agridrain structures to reduce run-off to the Choptank River.