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Deep Creek tributaries free of water quality issues, MDE says

Citizens group questions sample location, size
Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News Sun Sep 19, 2010, 08:02 AM EDT

— DEEP CREEK LAKE — While Deep Creek Lake might have water quality issues with nutrients levels in some of its coves, those problems don’t appear to be flowing in with the streams that feed the lake.

That’s according to a report released in mid-August from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Officials outlined the report’s findings Thursday in a meeting of the Deep Creek Lake Workgroup.

Lake-goers have complained of algae blooms and overgrowth of aquatic grasses in some coves, pointing to an overload of nutrients such as phosphorous as a potential cause.

But the data examined by MDE showed that in the watershed, meaning the waterways outside the body of the lake, nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous are present only in low levels.

“We’re not saying it’s not impaired,” said Ross Mandel, an official with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. “We’re just saying it’s not impaired by nutrients.”

Not everyone agreed with MDE’s assessment of the situation. Barbara Beelar, director of local conservation group Friends of Deep Creek Lake, pointed out that MDE looked at data gathered in only a few of the dozens of tributaries feeding Deep Creek Lake.

“I’m concerned about the blanket statement that there is no nutrient impairment of the watershed,” Beelar said. “It’s only four tributaries out of fifty-ish you’ve taken a look at.”

 She pointed out that most of the streams sampled feed into the northern part of the lake, while nutrient-related problems seem more concentrated in the southern part.

The report looked at the watershed as a whole, and also looked separately at the overall water quality of the lake. It contained data collected by MDE and the Department of Natural Resources at different periods over the last decade.

MDE officials say they plan to proceed from this point with studies of any existing problems in the lake from a more localized approach. An MDE field monitoring group will conduct water quality monitoring and other testing through the upcoming months, and could potentially conduct dye tests on septic systems in the lake area — with the permission of property owners — in the spring.

Septic systems are one of the potential sources of phosphorous, along with things like crop fertilizers and animals in pastureland.

Another assessment of the health of Deep Creek Lake is scheduled to be released sometime in the next few months.

Friends of Deep Creek Lake plans to publish the lake’s first-ever ecosystem health report card with the help of EcoCheck, a team affiliated with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report card will factor in things like land-use patterns, watershed boundaries and available data from testing conducted by multiple agencies. In addition to “grading” the lake, the report card will include suggestions of things property owners can do to improve the watershed’s scores.

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