Jug Bay is located near the mid-point of the 110 mile-long Patuxent River, and is in the estuarine region of the river near the head of tide. The freshwater tidal wetlands at Jug Bay are one of the most significant wetland systems of this type on the U.S. East Coast. This diverse and productive tidal system provides important ecological functions such as nutrient cycling, sediment capture, and flood control, while providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Three streams (Two-run, Galloway and Pindell Creeks) flow through the Sanctuary and into the Patuxent River. Extensive scientific research takes place at Jug Bay because these tidal wetlands are so ecologically important, relatively undisturbed, and easily accessible.
In 1981, the freshwater tidal wetlands at the mouth of Two-run Creek and throughout Jug Bay were designated as an Area of Critical State Concern. In 1985, the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary (JBWS) was established in Anne Arundel County. Then in 1990 part of the JBWS was designated as a site within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) - a federal program administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The site is within the Chesapeake Bay - MD component of the NERRS, and its management is delegated to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties (the actual land owners).
The Smithsonian Institution has identified Jug Bay as one of the ten most unique ecological communities in Maryland. The wetlands are also designated as the Upper Patuxent Marshes Natural Heritage Area, both as a Nontidal Wetlands of Special State Concern and a Natural Heritage Area. The broader area is part of the Patuxent Regional Greenway, an ecological greenway through parts of seven Counties. Jug Bay is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. The IBA Program is a global effort to identify and conserve areas vital to birds and biodiversity. In both of Maryland’s Breeding Bird Atlas Projects (1983-1987 and 2002-2006), the area around Jug Bay had the highest number of confirmed and probable breeding bird species (100+) for any location in the state. Over 200 bird species are observed at Jug Bay annually, and the overall species list stands at 300. The annual JBWS Christmas Bird Count now regularly documents over 110 species, making this the second or third best Christmas Bird Count location, in terms of species richness, in Maryland. Maryland’s first state-wide Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (2010-2014) is underway now, and when completed it is possible that the Jug Bay area will lead the state in terms of amphibian and reptile diversity as well.
JBWS staff and volunteers conduct research, stewardship and environmental education activities on more than 1,700 acres of the Sanctuary lands. Each year almost 10,000 people visit JBWS to enjoy the scenery, to view wildlife, and to participate in educational and research programs. Last year over 200 active volunteers at JBWS contributed over 6,500 hours to education, research and stewardship. The western shore of the river in Prince George’s County is protected as part of the Jug Bay Natural Area within the Patuxent River Park (more than 2,000 acres), and is managed separately but cooperatively.
The Friends of Jug Bay (FOJB) is a non-profit organization, incorporated in 1986 to support and promote the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. The FOJB fosters activities that increase public appreciation and understanding of the natural environment of Jug Bay and the Patuxent River watershed. Currently, FOJB has over 430 memberships and represents about 912 individuals.
The Jug Bay ecosystem is impacted by population growth and changes in land use within the Patuxent River watershed. This has led to chronic eutrophication of the wetlands and river by over-enrichment with nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, atmospheric deposition, and fertilizer runoff. These degrade the aquatic habitats, cause declines in sensitive species, and reduce overall ecological integrity. Invasive plant species and the over population of white-tailed deer (and their grazing impacts on native plants) are general but major area-wide concerns. Specific current threats to the Jug Bay ecosystem include:
- Commercial, out-of-scale building development in Two-run Creek watershed. Two-run Creek’s ecological integrity will be threatened by a planned 57-acre private school off of Pindell Road. Due to a court-directed settlement with Anne Arundel County, the landowner is allowed to build an over-sized school that will create extensive impervious surfaces. The court required the county to allow the owner to use outdated stormwater management designs which are now prohibited elsewhere in the county. During future storms, this inadequate design will allow for and result in increased stream temperatures and pollutants from excess stormwater runoff. As a result of the lawsuit, the school was also permitted to have a site design that allows significantly greater clearing and less stringent controls for groundwater withdrawal and waste water disposal. The FOJB asked the county and the landowner to consider a voluntary and equitable site design that the FOJB developed with a consultant, that would use new environmental site design standards that are required elsewhere and would actually save the owner money due to reduced construction and maintenance costs. However, neither the county nor the owner wished to pursue this mutually beneficial solution. Unfortunately, once the school is constructed, it will cause unavoidable adverse impacts to the stream’s water quality and its significant biota.
- Public Trash Transfer Station, Prince George’s County, on the edge of the Patuxent River at Jug Bay. The Prince George’s County’s landfill on Brown Station Road was proposed to be closed in 2011 but is still open. The county selected a site for a new county-wide trash transfer station to be built on Maude Savoy Brown Road, directly adjacent to the WSSC sewage treatment facility and only about one mile from the Patuxent River at Jug Bay. The proposed new transfer station will process all of the residential and commercial waste from the entire county. The FOJB has concern for several threats, including potential stormwater runoff from the site, which would reach the Patuxent very quickly by draining either into Western Branch (to the NE) or Horse Tavern Branch (to the SW, which flows into Western Branch), and then into the Patuxent River. The prevailing northwest winds in this area could also blow any loose debris from the site directly into Western Branch, its floodplain wetlands, or Jug Bay and the Patuxent. The sanctuary already frequently receives small fragments of plastic debris that are blown from the proposed transfer site, where the county now operates a yard waste facility which creates mulch from yard waste that is received in plastic bags and shredded on site. The material is not emptied from the bags, so the mulch includes all the fragments of shredded plastic which are loose and easily blown by wind. The FOJB brought this problem to the composting management’s attention and they tried to address it, but the plastic is still not contained. Although there seems to be less that is blown into the sanctuary, there is still a significant amount that escapes the site, especially during storms. It is highly likely that similar pieces of lightweight debris from trash transfer operations would be blown into Jug Bay, and it is unlikely that all the debris could be contained on site.
Additionally, the volume of vehicle traffic in this area will increase exponentially due to the hundreds of trash truck trips bringing in trash there every day, as well as from the vehicles that will transport waste off the site after the trash is processed. When conditions are favorable, such as in winter or during low wind periods in the summer, much of the traffic noise would be heard at the sanctuary. There is as well the potential for fuel spills from large vehicles. The site was approved by the county but it has not yet been permitted. The county is still trying to figure out where and how it will dispose of the trash, and it also still needs approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment. This project is a clear threat to the ecological integrity of the Jug Bay region. The state should either require relocating it farther from the river or suggest an alternative site.
This fact sheet was prepared by the Friends of Jug Bay, July 2012.