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The Ripple Effect

On water and land, our wakes stretch ­farther than we can see

In Edgewater, at Camp Letts, on a tiny peninsula that juts into the Rhode River, erosion could down a might oak. The tree has done yeoman’s work by keeping the soil in place. But even now, as a living shoreline restoration project undertaken by the West/Rhode Riverkeeper seeks to halt the degradation, the soil is sinking between the roots and falling into the river.
    Erosion of this kind repeats throughout Chesapeake Country, where there are 11,684 miles of shoreline and over 100,000 waterways.
    You see more erosion, says Kevin Smith of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, where land is vertical, channels narrow and boats abound.
    Compare the gentle slope and spaciousness at Ocean City, for example, with the vertical land along Camp Letts, where the peninsular shape means waves come at the shore from many angles, increasing the pressure.
    Erosion is a fact of nature with its own adaptations. Kingfishers, for example, nest in eroded stream banks. But too much erosion is not a good thing. Humans can help to slow it — both on land and on water.
    On the water, one way is by controlling your speed. Obey the posted speeds. Pay extra attention if you’re boating in narrow areas with lots of traffic, use common sense and slow down.
    “Mind your wake and be thoughtful,” says Jeff Holland West/Rhode Riverkeeper executive director.
    On land, we’re getting better at forestalling erosion.
    Living shorelines incorporate marsh grasses to help buffer land against wave action. The restoration at Camp Letts will feature two living shorelines: smooth cordgrass from the mid tide line to mean high tide; and salt meadow hay from high tide to about two to three feet above the high tide line. Switchgrass interspersed with smooth cordgrass will also be planted up the slope.
    Hardening shoreline with rocks, riprap or bulkheads, on the other hand, deflects waves, stirring up sediment and decreasing water quality, says Joe Ports, also of the West/Rhode Riverkeeper.
    Landowners can help by planting their own buffers of native trees and shrubs along shoreline or any waters running through their properties. More roots equals more capture, says Ports. Capture not only slows erosion but also improves water quality by slowing the flow of water, which stirs up sediment.
    That oak tree at Camp Letts? Part of the restoration, paid for through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, includes placing heavy, large-grained sand under the tree, so it’s not likely to collapse into the Rhode River any time soon.