Hope for Dirickson Creek means volunteer action

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper speaks to the Dirickson Creek Team over the new State of Dirickson Creek report.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper speaks to the Dirickson Creek Team over the new State of Dirickson Creek report.Having lived along Dirickson Creek for 30 years, Lynn LeBrun wouldn’t let her grandchildren swim its waters anymore. In fact, anyone with an open cut risks serious bacterial infection from the waters of many parts of the Delaware inland bays. The creeks are beautiful but have serious health issues.

“I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’ve seen the creek change. The color of the water is darker. In the wintertime, you could see the bottom,” LeBrun said of a time decades ago.

“Cleaning up a water body like this is like trying to turn around an aircraft carrier,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper — it takes time, but it is possible.

And the movement has begun. The Dirickson Creek Team is a volunteer group that advocates for the creek and educates their neighbors and legislators. By helping protect the major local tributary, they’re hoping to impact the Little Assawoman Bay.

Recently, Carper, LeBrun and many others drove the winding gravel road to the Assawoman Wildlife Area, where the Delaware Center for Inland Bays (CIB) released the new State of Dirickson Creek environmental report.

Dirickson Creek and its tributaries currently are listed as “impaired” under the federal Clean Water Act, for bacteria and levels of nutrients. Those nutrients are fueling algae blooms, which block the sun and reduce oxygen available to for fish and plants. High bacteria levels come from human, pet and poultry manure, and old septic systems.

Marshes and forests are being eaten up by housing development, with needy lawns that demand pesticides and fertilizer. A growing population brings impervious surfaces, runoff, traffic and more.

Meanwhile, the creek is too harsh an environment for significant beds of baygrass, which provide habitat for small animals.

Originally from California, Pam White and her husband saw the same cycle of rapid development there as they see in Delaware now.

“We saw the development, changes in population growth [and erosion of resources]. Moving here, we very quickly saw a comparison. We wanted to share with people, ‘There are things you can do at the beginning of the process, not 20 years later.’”

For example, she helped some neighbors plant a small wildflower meadow along their waterfront back yard. It’s beautiful, peaceful and low-maintenance. (It only requires mowing once a year, she said while showing off photographs of a deer that had wandered into the backyard habitat.) Plus, it’s an all-natural buffer between a more manicured lawn and the waterway.

“All of our stories go something like this: awareness, concern and action,” said Anna vonLindenberg, Dirickson Creek team leader. “With the release of this report, our Dirickson Creek group will become an [independent entity]. We will use this report as a tool going forward as we interact with state agencies” and educate the public.

The “State of Dirickson Creek” report is online at www.inlandbays.org/about-the-bays/publications. It was compiled by the University of Delaware, citizen-scientists, the Dirickson Creek Team and the CIB.

From Mulberry Landing, the group had a sunny, sparkling view of Dirickson Creek on June 30.

“But as you travel up the creek, nutrient levels grow, bacteria levels grow and oxygen decreases,” said environmental scientist Andrew McGowan. “We need to get our voices out and let people know, if they’re going to build, it’s not a bad thing, but build correctly, to minimize our impacts to the creek. We need to push for these things if you are going to have a cleaner creek.”

People can volunteer on a basis large or small to advocate for their local waterways. VonLindenberg encouraged the public to submit comments on the 2018 Sussex County Comprehensive Plan, to let legislators know what’s important for the next 10 years of land use.

“Together, we can create a more coherent voice,” she said.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a National Estuary Program, for which Carper has advocated.

“For every dollar the Environmental Protection Agency provides, National Estuary Programs leverage $19 in local funds to protect and improve coastal environments, communities and economies,” according to Carper’s office.

The “Your Creek” initiative was a goal of the CIB to build community around each of the tributaries leading to, and ultimately impacting, the inland bays. Near the Rehoboth Bay, the Love Creek group has already split off into their own advocacy group, and Dirickson Creek’s group has now announced they are branching off, too. Next, the CIB will begin work on Herring Creek.

Groups like these can provide hope for Delaware’s waterways, which attract animals and people.

“We’re really lucky,” LeBrun said. “Whenever we go away, we can’t wait to come back.”