A 14-member advisory commission was proposed today by local and state officials to oversee efforts to fight runoff and pollution that are spoiling Anne Arundel County's Severn River.
Designated a "scenic river" by the state in 1971, the Chesapeake Bay tributary has declined in water quality and aquatic life for a decade as development has increased.
Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer and Annapolis Mayor Richard L. Hillman announced this morning that they hope to establish the commission as a means of overseeing cleanup and development of the Severn River watershed, which stretches from Odenton east of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway for about 35 miles southeast to Annapolis.
The Severn River is among the most scenic in Maryland, rimmed by forests with a rich history. It was first charted nearly 300 years ago by Capt. John Smith, and has been a bountiful supplier of food. But in recent years, some of its oyster beds have been closed because of high levels of fecal bacteria found in the water, State Sen. Gerald Winegrad (D-Anne Arundel) pointed out today. Natural aquatic grasses are gone and siltation has created sand bars difficult to navigate, he said.
Still, the Severn's headwaters are largely undeveloped and officials hope safeguards can stave off further deterioration.
Resolutions establishing the commission are scheduled to be voted on Monday by the Anne Arundel County Council and the Annapolis City Council. Approval is expected, and the commission should be in place by Jan. 1, Lighthizer said.
Both executives hailed the commission as a model for dealing with environmental problems that cross political and geographical boundaries. Although two previously established river advisory committees elsewhere in the state have foundered for lack of citizen support, Lighthizer and Hillman said they expect the Severn commission to have an active role in decisions affecting the river's watershed.
However, the commission will be strictly advisory, and will have no regulatory authority.
A state report on the Severn River released a year ago called for the creation of a commission to oversee the creation ofcredits of up to 100 percent for land donated for conservation easements and the tightening of laws affecting the river quality.