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Together We Can Save The Severn!


The mission of the Severn Riverkeeper Program is to protect and restore the Severn River for our families and future generations. Our goal is to reduce pollution, muddy runoff, contamination, and loss of habitat so that the Severn is removed from EPA’s “impaired waterways” list and is once again safe and swimmable.

Our staff and volunteers work to preserve, protect and enhance community natural resources in the Severn River Watershed by: 

  • Building prototype restoration projects in our streams and riparian areas that set the standard for ecosystem restoration, wetland enhancement and water resource management

  • Working with local communities to find funding for design and construction of restoration projects to reduce runoff

  • Working with the scientific and environmental engineering disciplines to refine our approaches for stream restoration, outfall restoration and living shoreline management 

  • Performing water quality monitoring

  • Advocating with state, federal and local policy makers and regulators to remove roadblocks to effective restoration

  • Advocating for the river by patrolling for critical area violations and legally challenging developers and regulators when merited

The Severn Riverkeeper Program (SRK) is a staffed, active grassroots organization dedicated to conservation, wetland preservation and restoration. It is part of the National Waterkeepers Alliance. Headed by Fred Kelly, the first environmental attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the SRK was founded by him in 2002. With over 35 years of experience as an environmental attorney, he serves as the Executive Director. 


Sara Caldes, Severn Riverkeeper – has a background in land use planning and project management She has worked for the SRK since 2004 as a project manager, grant writer, and program manager and has recently assumed the duties of Riverkeeper. 


We pride ourselves on being an action, goal-oriented organization. With a small results-oriented staff, we have accomplished much in the way of protection for the Severn.


In the last 16 years, the Severn Riverkeeper Program has concentrated restoration mid river and completed 8 large-scale prototype projects with others in design. Working in partnership with innovative ecosystem restoration practitioners and resource managers, the SRK sees an important niche for Waterkeepers to actively evolve restoration approaches, help pursue the science that justifies these prototype approaches, and daylight the significant roadblocks to restoration that currently exist in the state, local and federal regulatory agencies. One Creek at a Time we can bring back the Severn River and the Bay itself. 

About the Severn River

Early settlers named after our river after the Severn that separates England and Wales. Our Severn is a tidal tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, extending from Annapolis northwestward about 10 miles. Above this, Severn Run provides the main source of fresh water to the tidal river. More than a dozen tidal creeks join the Severn throughout its length, allowing sheltered anchorage for many recreational boats.


The Severn River is the Capital River of the State of Maryland and was designated as a Maryland Scenic River in 1971. Unfortunately, this designation did not provide any special protection, and the Severn has been classified as an “impaired” body of water under the Clean Water Act.


Yellow perch, traditionally targeted by recreational fishermen in the Severn, are no longer common. Oyster harvesting has been banned in the Severn for many years because of public health concerns, but natural reproduction at this low salinity is limited, and active restoration of oyster reefs is underway.


The Severn’s water quality has been a concern for some years. In common with much of the Chesapeake, during the summer the levels of dissolved oxygen diminish with depth, to the point where many fish avoid the low-oxygen “hypoxic” waters that occur about half-way between the surface and the bottom. In the summer these conditions create "dead zones."


Such a dead zone forms each summer in the deep waters of the Chesapeake, and the Severn Riverkeeper Monitoring Project has found a unique dead zone in the upper Round Bay region of the Severn. This is the only documented example of a persistent summer dead zone in such shallow (~20 foot depth) water in a Chesapeake tributary. The consequence of this is that a significant percentage of the Severn has no living bottom-dwelling organisms that form a critical part of the food chain for crabs and fish. This dead zone, combined with the more general hypoxia throughout the Severn, leaves no doubt that lack of oxygen clearly limits marine life in the Severn.


Priority Issues

Stormwater Runoff

Our Broken Streams are the key to cleaning up our river. Currently they are not only conveyors, but also major sources of sediment and the toxic contaminants of nitrogen and phosphorous. With every rainfall sediment is on the march, ending up in tidewater and the Bay itself. 


Sediment and runoff begin in our collective back yards and the solution is to work in the ravines and stream valleys to improve water quality “One Creek at a Time.”   


The scenic Severn River suffers from persistent seasonal shallow water dead zones and is in the “red zone” targeted for reduction of Total Maximum Daily Loads” by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. 


Our broken tributaries are, in large part, the source for the damaging stormwater runoff. Incised streams and outfalls have been caused by multiple factors, including expanding impervious surfaces, erosive soils, legacy sediments, and inadequate stormwater management. Broken streams function as both major sources and conveyors of sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen. 


A key solution is restoration using regenerative practices such as Step Pool Stormwater Conveyance (SPSC) and Regenerative Stream Channel (RSC), which reconnect the stream and wetland complexes, restore a more natural ground water interaction and improve beneficial habitat. 


This allows the stream and wetland complex to grow in a “regenerative” manner so that with each passing year, beneficial habitat continues to emerge.


The Severn Riverkeeper Program works with stream ecologists, designers, resource managers, and contractors who are developing appropriate stream restoration techniques and advancing the science behind these regenerative approaches.


Shoreline Hardening

Hardened shorelines in the form of stone revetments and bulkheads make us more vulnerable to stormwater runoff and storm damage and destroy valuable habitat for fish, crabs, waterfowl and invertebrates. 


Despite the Maryland Living Shoreline Act of 2008, only 17% of shoreline stabilization projects permitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment are in the form of “Living” shorelines.  We must do better.


SRK builds and advocates for prototypes “Dynamic” Living shorelines within the Severn River Watershed.   


Your DONATIONS help us fund the large investment of staff time that it takes to do the outreach with communities and funders to identify projects and take them through pre-design and permitting.  Permitting and inspection is the single biggest roadblock to restoration at this time. The price tag continues to increase.   We need your help.


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