- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

CHESTERTOWN, Md. To the newcomer, the Chester River does not look like a waterway in trouble.
There are no piles of floating garbage, oil slicks or dead fish floating upside down. There's not even a bad smell.
But to Andrew McCown, who has spent much of his 49 years on the river, its decline has been dramatic.
"Everybody sees the resource as it is now," said Mr. McCown, president of the Chester River Association. "So many people don't realize what's been lost what we had."
The commercial and recreational fishing boats that used to crowd the river in Mr. McCown's childhood are gone; there's not enough fish, crabs and clams for more than a few boats to catch. The underwater grasses that used to line both sides of the waterway have virtually disappeared.
"It's pathetic," said Mr. McCown, a teacher of natural science and bay ecology at the Echo Hill Outdoor School in Chestertown.
The causes of the Chester's decline include sediment from erosion and pollution from nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous that run off developed land and farms, which cover 65 percent of its 390-square-mile watershed. The combination of sediment and algae blooms caused by nutrient pollution robs underwater life of essential light and oxygen.
Mr. McCown and other association volunteers have come up with a plan that they hope will bring the river back. They have begun raising money to pay for a "riverkeeper," a full-time advocate for the Chester.
The association has been working for 15 years to rally public support for measures to protect and revitalize the river. Meanwhile, the Chester's health has continued to decline.
Mr. McCown said a group of part-time volunteers can't accomplish what a full-time advocate could. He said Chester's riverkeeper would be able to work full time with government officials, farmers, developers and other property owners in its watershed on steps to reduce runoff and other pollution in the river.
He or she would be a watchdog, cruising the river regularly and insisting that laws protecting it are enforced.
"A riverkeeper will have a presence on the river," Mr. McCown said. "A riverkeeper has to be approachable to everyone, the little guy and the big guy."
Early this year, the association got the green light from an international group, the Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., to establish a riverkeeper for the Chester. The alliance, headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has more than 70 affiliates working on rivers, lakes and bays around the country.
Just one other waterway in Maryland has a riverkeeper the Anacostia, which originates in Prince George's County before running through Washington. Efforts are under way to establish one for the Potomac, which forms the boundary between Maryland and Virginia.
Keepers for waterways are a tradition dating back hundreds of years to the British Isles, where guardians tended trout and salmon streams for large estates and fishing clubs.
The approach was reborn in the United States in the early 1980s when the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, a partnership of commercial and recreational fishermen, hired its own riverkeeper.
The first person to hold that job, John Cronin, brought public attention to polluters in the Hudson and occasionally sued them. His efforts, and those of his successor, Alex Matthiessen, are credited with improving the health of the river and its fisheries.
The Chester River Association hopes to raise $300,000 to launch its riverkeeper program by fall 2002. Chestertown's Washington College already has offered to house the riverkeeper in its Center for the Environment and Society, headquartered in a building near the river's edge.
Murray Fisher, field coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance, said his organization does not provide direct financial help for its affiliates, but helps them with fund-raising strategy. Once affiliates have raised enough to sustain their programs, Mr. Kennedy attends their opening.
Mr. Kennedy is the brother of Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is widely believed to be a candidate for governor in 2002. Alan Fleischmann, Mrs. Townsend's chief of staff, said he was unaware of any contact between Mrs. Townsend and her brother's organization about the Chester application.


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