Nanticoke Watershed

The Nanticoke River Watershed Wetland Study (NRWWS) is a cooperative research project between SERC and The Nature Conservancy aimed at determining the ecological health and function of freshwater non-tidal wetlands in the Nanticoke River watershed in Maryland and Delaware.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds this study and we are currently in the data analysis and interpretation phase. The Pennsylvania State University is conducting a companion project on the Juniata River watershed.

The Nanticoke River watershed (map) was selected for several reasons. It is one of the major tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, draining more than 500,000 acres of Maryland and Delaware's coastal plain landscape.

This watershed area of interconnected uplands, wetlands, and waters encompasses tremendous biodiversity and extraordinary wetland resources. Land use on the predominantly rural watershed is about half agriculture and half in forests.

While the river and many of its major tributaries are free of dams, there has been a significant amount of drainage caused by ditching.

This photograph was taken immediately upstream of the photograph above. It has been ditched along this length.

Aquatic and wetland ecosystems in the Nanticoke support outstanding fisheries and the watershed is an important resting point and overwintering area for migratory bird species. Both Maryland and Delaware government officials and many private organizations are very interested in maintaining and enhancing the rich and valuable natural resource base of the Nanticoke.

The Nanticoke project is significant because it and the companion Juniata project are among the first in the nation to apply the HGM assessment methodology at the landscape scale. SERC is involved in the project because of our knowledge about the HGM wetland assessment method and our hope to expand this approach to a larger scale of application.

The Plant Ecology Laboratory has been responsible for developing the HGM methods that have been used to assess wetland conditions. In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, we have assessed more than 100 wetland in two categories, non-tidal freshwater wetlands associated with rivers and flats.

SERC scientists Don Weller and Tom Jordan also collaborate on the project. Don is using spatial analysis data to extend the HGM results. This part of the project has the potential to provide managers with a powerful approach to evaluating the conditions of wetland ecosystems at the landscape level. Tom Jordan has been studying the cycling of nitrogen in wetlands that are being assessed using the HGM methods. Preliminary results from his laboratory suggest that the HGM method is an effective tool to assess actual ecological functions.

Return to this webpage from time to time, as we will post results from this project as they become available.

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