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Underwater Grasses Give New Lease For Other Life In The Chesapeake Bay

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The pounding rains from Tropical Storm Lee caused plenty of problems last summer.

But Alex DeMetrick reports one critical resource feared damaged appears to have come through better than expected.

Billions of gallons of runoff from Tropical Storm Lee swept down the Susquehanna River to the head of the Chesapeake.

Debris spread for miles, turning the Bay into an obstacle course for watermen at the height of crab season.

“Everything from firewood, to propane tanks to hot water heaters,” explained waterman Tony Conrad.

Then this fall, it kept other watermen ashore, after freshwater from Lee killed off oysters in the northern bay.

“When we went out there in November, they were all dead,” Barry Sweitzer, a waterman, said. “Some of those bars were 100 percent dead.”

But what worried researchers is what all that force was doing to bay grasses.

“See that ribbon-like grass? That’s wild celery, which is head of the bay stuff,” John Page Williams of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said. “Pretty good odds most of it’s from the flats.”

He means the Susquehanna flats, where the river merges with the Bay. It was feared one of the largest collection of grasses was damaged or destroyed.

“The good news is, they’re still there,” said Lee Karrh of the Department of Natural Resources Assessment Service. “That’s the thing we’re most excited about is they survived the tropical storms that came through.”

A recently completed aerial survey showed most of the flat’s 16,000 acres of underwater grasses made it, and because they did, a lot of other life gets a shot as well.

“They’re a major habitat for fish and shellfish, and they also provide food for waterfowl,” Karrh said.

But in the past, the plants were no match for this force.

“Agnes decimated everything up on the flats, but Agnes came in June,” Williams said.

It turns out, timing may have played a big part in the grasses survival.

“It would have made a huge difference,” Karrh said. “Hurricane Agnes in 1972 came through in June, when plants on the Susquehanna flats were just starting to come up and if that had happened with Tropical Storm Lee, it would have been much more severe.”

And a real blow to a bay struggling to recover.

To give you an idea of the kind of force at play, Tropical Storm Lee pumped 29 trillion gallons of water into the Chesapeake Bay.

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