Fowler uses his personal tracking mechanism, the Bernie Fowler Sneaker Index, where he walks into the river until he can no longer see his shoes, to measure the clarity of the water. With predictions of the measurement being about the same as last year’s 31.25 inches, Fowler was able to wade out 35 inches into the Patuxent before losing sight of his white sneakers.
“It really is not very scientific, but it’s a way of focusing, getting people engaged, connecting them to the river and knowing that there’s something bad happening out there,” Fowler said. The river looks beautiful on the surface, he said, “but it’s what’s down below the surface that you can’t see that’s causing the problem.”
Fowler attributed the slight increase in the measurement to the water temperature, which he said was as warm as it was last year.
Since Fowler began wading into the river, its water quality has constantly declined. This year, the Patuxent River was given a grade of F for its bay health index and was deemed to have very poor ecosystem health by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network Web site.
“We deserve better than that,” Fowler said of the F rating. “The Patuxent River deserves better than that.”
Although the river’s water quality is poor, “that does not in any way give us an excuse to quit trying” to improve it, Fowler said. The improvements might not be realized within the next 10 years, he said, but people need to continue to be relentless with their support.
Southern Maryland commissioners, district representatives and various environmental agencies were among those in attendance last week.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said the annual wade-in is important because even though there are efforts being made to clean up the river, the quality of the water continues to decline, and more needs to be done to help. Last year, the temperature of the Chesapeake Bay rose 2½ degrees, which affects its water quality, he said.
“We have to take greater actions and we have to take it more quickly so that for the grandkids, it’s not all gone,” O’Malley said. “The reason we wade in . . . [is] not only to measure the depth and the clarity of these waters, but to find a greater depth and a greater clarity to the precious consensus necessary for us to be able to restore the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.”
O’Malley presented Fowler with a proclamation declaring June 10 as Bernie Fowler Wade-In Day in Maryland. O’Malley said Fowler is “one of the most decent Americans any of us have ever” met and has spread the love and respect he has for the river as a source of power for cleaning up and restoring the health of the water.
Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary’s) of Great Mills said hat about $7 million is in the budget to set up new oyster sanctuaries and tributaries on the Eastern Shore, which will go a long way toward Maryland’s oyster restoration. Recently, Poplar Island has been restored through a partnership between federal and state governments. Such partnerships are crucial to improving the Patuxent River, Dyson said.
“We can all come together and we can make this thing work,” Dyson said. “Bernie, you gave us the inspiration. I’m still inspired.”
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said when O’Malley became governor, he and Fowler met with him and talked about “how we ought to do God’s work with God’s resources given to us with God’s expectation that we would keep that resource” for future generations to enjoy.
Hoyer presented Fowler with an American flag, which he said flew over the U.S. Capitol, in honor of “25 years of keeping the faith.” Hoyer said when Fowler first walked into the river, he went out about 5½ feet and could still see his shoes.
“America has been both great and successful because of people like Bernie Fowler,” Hoyer said. “America appreciates what [Fowler] has done for its country and for its land and for its waters.”