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Pocomoke River Restoration Completes First Stage

Effort Among Largest Such Projects in Maryland History

Photo of Pocomoke RiverThe Nature Conservancy and Maryland Department of Natural Resources have announced the completion of the first stage of a major new project to restore floodplain connectivity to a nine-mile stretch of the Pocomoke River that had been dredged and channelized in the mid-20th century. By doing so, more than 125,000 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment carried downstream by the Pocomoke River every year during rain events will settle in the surrounding wetlands, rather than flowing directly into the Chesapeake Bay where they impair water quality. The project is one of the largest ecological restoration projects in Maryland’s history.

The project was completed with the collaboration of numerous partners, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the France-Merrick Foundation, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and with the cooperation of local landowners.

After reaching voluntary agreements with landowners, local construction firms performed surveys and removed earth from the Pocomoke’s banks at more than 100 locations scientifically pinpointed to provide the most benefit. Now during heavy rainstorms and flood events, which carry nutrients and sediment from both developed and agricultural lands, water flows from the river into forested wetlands that will absorb them. No farmland was taken out of production to achieve this goal.

In addition to water quality improvements for the river and bay, reestablishing these connections will provide additional benefits. By restoring their natural function, the forested wetlands surrounding the river will provide improved habitat for waterfowl and other native species. Providing the river with these “release valves” could also help reduce the severity of flooding in populated areas downstream, which will be the subject of additional scientific study.

“Solving the problem of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay will take innovative solutions and extensive collaboration between private individuals, government agencies and conservation groups,” said Amy Jacobs, agricultural program director for The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and Washington, D.C. “The restoration of the Pocomoke River floodplain is a terrific example of exactly that, and the cooperation of so many agencies and groups has allowed us to achieve it at a scale that wouldn’t have been possible separately. We will make a lasting impact on the health of the bay, and through ongoing scientific monitoring better understand how similar projects could be successfully completed throughout the watershed.”

“Reconnecting this floodplain, together with more than 2,000 acres of headwater wetland restoration projects, greatly improves habitat and water quality within the Pocomoke River watershed,” said Matthew Fleming, director of the Chesapeake and Coastal Service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Our innovative partnership is yielding tremendous results and helping to fulfill Maryland’s commitment to enhancing and restoring a national treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.”

In addition to water quality monitoring, the partnership will restore additional areas along the 9-mile stretch over the next several years. It will simultaneously evaluate opportunities for restoration throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed where the lessons learned from this project might also be applied.