Chesapeake Quarterly
Telling the Corsica's Story

THE CORSICA IS A LITTLE RIVER that's seen a lot of love. Since 2005, an infusion of public funds helped set in motion unprecedented levels of engagement in restoration. Diverse sectors, including citizens, agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local governments have rallied around the river. They've upgraded sewage, septic, and stormwater systems. They've planted thousands of acres of cover crops, and hundreds of rain gardens — monumental efforts to improve degraded water quality in this tiny 6-mile sub-watershed of the Chester River on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

This summer, along with Maryland Sea Grant journalism intern Matthew Ellis, I had the chance to meet some of the Corsica's champions. They showed us the sheer scale of restoration efforts undertaken in the watershed. I asked a lot of questions and Matt captured these local heroes on video.

Our first guide was John McCoy, who helped to coordinate the pilot restoration project from the beginning through his role at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He showed us the demonstration rain garden at the Centreville Public Library and dozens of other rain gardens put in by residents of the over-55 community at Symphony Village, proof-positive that good practices can be contagious. He brought us to new stormwater retention cells, where the town of Centreville has constructed a three-quarter-acre wooded wetland that helps to filter runoff. He pointed out surgical scars in the roadway, where new sewer lines connect to an upgraded sewage treatment facility. Later, we followed McCoy out to Bloomfield Farm, a property owned by the county on the edge of town, where he showed us restored wetlands, meadows, forest buffers, and cover crops.

Corica River by Erica Goldman
Matthew Ellis gets a lesson from Corsica River Conservancy volunteer Sandy Simpson by Erica Goldman
Using an age-old method for measuring water clarity — the Secchi disk — Maryland Sea Grant journalism intern Matthew Ellis gets a lesson from Corsica River Conservancy volunteer Sandy Simpson (bottom). Despite the Corsica River's shallow depth, 90 percent of the river bottom receives no light at all. A stretch of Corsica River shoreline (top).
Credit: Erica Goldman.

We had other tour guides too. Sandy Simpson and other volunteers from the Corsica River Conservancy showed us the sampling protocol for water quality testing, an ongoing monitoring effort to track the health of the waterway. On a volunteer basis, they've sampled the water every Wednesday, all summer long — for the past six years.

We learned a lot about cover crops. Dave Mister and Katie Starr from the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Queen Anne's County Soil Conservation District talked with us at length about the Maryland Winter Cover Crop program, an essential piece of the nutrient reduction puzzle. They took us to meet Buck Morris, a farmer who's been planting cover crops for more than a decade.

The commitment of many individuals to their local environment and their efforts to improve the Corsica have created a lasting infrastructure for restoration in the watershed. But has all of this effort improved water quality in the river? That's what we wanted to find out.

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