It’s a fresh spring morning, mist is rising from the quiet creek in the valley below. The biologist’s rubber boots crunch softly as they step around crags and downed branches leading down to the banks of the creek. They set down their equipment, looking for a safe entry point below a bubbling riffle. Gripping their net, they spot a crayfish retreating underneath a mossy stone in the depths of the channel. They step into the creek, and it whispers to them. No, this isn’t an opening sequence to a new series on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime. It’s a scene from the Frederick County Stream Survey!
What Is It?
The Frederick County Stream Survey (FCSS) provides an ongoing assessment of the water quality and ecological health of our local creeks, streams, and rivers.
Who Conducts the Survey and How?
The County contracts stream scientists to collect and analyze water and biological samples from the five watersheds across Frederick County. Staff from the Division of Energy & Environment (DEE) oversee the monitoring process, analyze the results, and put together reports to explain the survey’s findings.
The survey process takes place in the Spring (see the "Project Timeline" tab below) and involves examining water quality and evaluating biological and habitat conditions throughout the County’s watersheds. By comparing data gathered annually, we can identify any potential water quality problems or environmental stressors and try to be proactive about solving them.
Monitoring sites are randomly selected using a computer program to generate sampling points in streams across the County. Collaboration from the community is critical to this program's success! DEE staff reach out to the property owners to obtain permission to collect samples. Then stream scientists proceed to assess our local waterways.
The three main categories of assessment are:
- Water quality samples examine the stream's water chemistry, such as pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrogen and phosphorus levels, and temperature. Analyzing this type of information tells us about the composition of the water at each site and can reveal factors that may cause environmental stress for the stream ecosystem, such as low dissolved oxygen, which makes it difficult for aquatic life to breathe.
- Biological sampling looks at aquatic animals like insect nymphs, shellfish, and worms that may be living in the stream bed. This class of creatures, referred to as benthic macroinvertebrates, are large enough to see without a microscope and can be important indicators of water quality. Unlike fish, these organisms are not very mobile and so are less able to escape the effects of pollution and sedimentation.
- Physical habitat assessments document the physical features of the stream channel, the floodplain, and the streambanks. Studying these features can tell us about the capability of the stream ecosystem to support life.
Why Do We Conduct the Stream Survey?
It’s the law. Assessing watershed health and water quality is a requirement of the Federal Clean Water Act and one of the actions required by our State Stormwater permits. This program integrates into our other work to help monitor and reduce pollutants that might enter our local waterways via storm drains and stormwater runoff.
It improves our work. In addition to being a regulatory requirement, gathering this type of data annually allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs, like stream restoration projects or pollution control mechanisms, and to report this information to the public. We want to be good stewards of the environment and to provide an honest, transparent, and critical look at whether environmental conditions in the County are getting better or worse.
Why Should This Matter to You?
Watersheds are interconnected systems that YOU are a part of!
Healthy watershed ecosystems provide numerous benefits, such as:
- Water quality. Our watersheds contribute to drinking water supplies as well as provide natural environments for recreational activities.
- Increased biodiversity. Degraded habitat quality can lead to declines or extinctions of native species, disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
- Economic Benefits. Healthy watersheds support various industries like agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.
- Disaster Management. Understanding changes in water flow and habitat conditions enables us to implement measures to mitigate the impacts of flooding and better understand the impacts of climate change.
2023 is an Important Year for the Frederick County Stream Survey!
In early fall we will be releasing the aggregated data from our third round of stream sampling. This will provide the community with a valuable update on what we have observed in our watershed assessments and monitoring. Each of the five regions will have a new Watershed Fact Sheet produced, which will be available online and at our in-person events. 2023 also kicks off a whole new, fourth round of 4-year stream sampling, continuing our efforts into the future.
What are Our Watersheds?
A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt into creeks, streams, and rivers. In Frederick County, all watersheds flow into the Potomac River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean.
The five watersheds in Frederick County are named for their primary tributaries:
- Catoctin Creek
- Double Pipe Creek
- Potomac River
- Lower Monocacy River
- Upper Monocacy River
Find your address on our watershed map!
What’s the Timeline?
Data is gathered from waterways across Frederick County for a period of four years. This information is then aggregated and used to produce Stream Survey Fact Sheets. Every four years a new round of data collection begins.
The Scope of this Project is Significant.
Within Frederick County’s main watersheds, there are 20 smaller sub-watershed areas, and we visit and monitor each of these every Spring. This seasonal timing allows sampling activity to observe the benthic macroinvertebrates during their aquatic stages of development, as some may emerge from the water later in the year.
Two to three sites per sub-watershed are visited, totaling 50 sites sampled per year. The stream scientists who conduct the survey follow monitoring protocols based closely on the Maryland Biological Stream Survey.
- Stream Survey Round 1: 2008 - 2011
- Stream Survey Round 2: 2013 - 2016
- Stream Survey Round 3: 2018 - 2021
- Stream Survey Round 4 data gathering began in 2023!
We value YOUR participation!
Public outreach is a huge part of this program. Informed citizens are more likely to support conservation efforts, adopt sustainable practices, and advocate for better environmental policies. Now that you know more about your watershed…it’s time to get involved!
Here are five easy ways to show your watershed some love:
- Spend time outdoors! Visit one of your County parks or nature centers. Check out our reforestation project at Ballenger Creek Park!
- Volunteer for a stream & trail cleanup event.
- Plant trees and native plants
- Use a rain barrel, build a bioswale, or put other best practices to work in your landscape.
- Share our information on social media.
Frederick County Division of Energy & Environment