Saturday, February 18, 2012


Photo by John Singleton.  Inland tributaries like the Severn Run and Jabez Branch propel clear, fresh water from underground springs into the local rivers.
By John Singleton

Splitting the mist on the Severn Run the morning of Saturday, September 11 presented a glimpse into a mystery. There is no universally accepted definition of a stream’s source. Yet the nose of the kayak pushed upstream against the cold, fresh, water that feeds the Severn River.
On September 7, the U.S. Geological Survey released a published report confirming substantial improvement of the water quality in the Potomac River. On September 1 the state of Maryland proposed tripling its efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. It was a cascade of press releases promising a universally accepted virtue – a cleaner environment.
Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin stands ready with legislation to authorize $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to fund the retrofitting of storm drains, the upgrade of sewage plants and household septic tanks, and new legislation to curb farm runoff.  To pay for it state legislation requiring all counties and municipalities to levy storm water fees may be reintroduced.
Only moments ago, mud-carp leapt out of foot-deep water as we left the Severn River for the tightening channel ahead. The orange bellies of the carp gave them away. In our hands our paddles felt like clumsy and useless when what we really wanted was a rod-and-reel. The mud-carp wouldn’t be following us into the clear waters of the Run.
“West of the Severn Run, the Jabez Branch pumps fresh, water into the Severn River from underground acquifers,” explained Millersville resident and local naturalist Linna Vlavianos. “The Jabez Branch is thought to be the only naturally reproducing brook-trout stream in the coastal plains from New York to Florida. These native fish have been there for a millennium.”
Could this be the source of the Severn River we were looking for? Ahead lay the possibility of brook-trout and the answer to a mystery. Like the Severn, the Magothy River is tidal - its primary influence being the massive volume of water in the Chesapeake Bay. But the Magothy and Severn are also thought to share the same aquifer – an underground layer where fresh water collects and can be extracted.
“I grew up on the Magothy River. I’ve seen its decline,” added Matt Griswold a local outdoorsman and writer. “If a large group of people make a small individual effort it can make a huge impact on the Bay. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the government making new laws.”
Before reaching the underpass at Route 97 our kayaks bottomed-out. We dragged them into the brambles and walked upstream. The mud flats beneath our feet are the hatching area for yellow perch in the spring.
“The Jabez is a unique stream with a unique environment despite the urbanization around it,” added Vlavianos. “The waters of the Jabez Branch exit the steep slopes above the Severn Run from hidden springs.”
The Jabez Branch empties between the Dicus Mill Road Bridge and the Route 97 Bridge. As we trudged west we searched the brambles for an egress point. The underground springs that flow into the Run remained hidden from our eyes, but we felt the secret gush of current against our bare legs, turning the water icy cold.
Hugging the sides of the Run in ankle-deep water presented the clearest path home. We kept an eye out for our kayaks. I thought of improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river and the $950-million enhanced nitrogen removal facility breaking ground along the Potomac River in a few months.
The ancient stream rippled behind us tickling the back of our legs. The east flowing current was gently urging us out, having thwarted our attempt to identify its source, and a universally agreed upon direction outside the secluded Run.


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