Antietam Aqueduct, photograph  ©  Bryan Seipp Fisherman, photograph  ©   Capitol Area Fishing

Antietam Aqueduct, photograph © Bryan Seipp
Fisherman, photograph © Capitol Area Fishing

6 Things You Should Know About Frederick County's Waters

1. You can fish, paddle, or picnic at 11 scenic spots along the Monocacy, Frederick County’s largest river.

Whether you enjoy fishing, paddling, picnicking, hiking, or taking in the sights of historic locations – the Monocacy River has it all. Along its shores you can find quiet respite from the daily hustle-and-bustle, or seek out new adventures and experiences on its waters.

The Monocacy River originates near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border by the city of Harney, Maryland, and winds its way southbound through Frederick County before its waters drain into the Potomac River and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. With its Shawnee name meaning “river with many bends,” the Monocacy meanders through Emmitsburg and Thurmont, and then continues its journey through Woodsboro, Frederick, and Buckeystown.

Plan a special outing with your friends and family along the Monocacy!

Monocacy Scenic River Water Trail >  

Monocacy Water Trail map and points of interest, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network >


2. Local streams, groundwater, and reservoirs are the primary source of drinking water for Frederick County residents.

 Lake Linganore

Lake Linganore

A 2010 assessment confirms that nearly 60% of Frederick County residents get their drinking water from community water systems. Water from individual wells supplies the the remaining 40% of the population. Both the surface water and the groundwater supply are intimately related. Groundwater is recharged by above-ground rain and snow and the groundwater seeps from below into streams or other surface water bodies in the County.

Due to the volume and consistency of its flow, the Potomac River is the principal source of community drinking water for Frederick County. In Frederick City,  the drinking water is supplied by Linganore Creek (42%), the Monocacy River (29%), Fishing Creek (12%) and the Potomac River (16%).

Sources: Water Resources Element 2010 and Annual Drinking Water Quality Report


3. Frederick County’s rivers and streams – the water you drink – are some of the most polluted in all of Maryland.

The State of Maryland designated the Monocacy as a Maryland Scenic River in 1974. Yet sadly, it has one of the greatest polluted runoff problems in the state. Plagued by runoff from agricultural and urban lands, and sediment from tree-stripped streams and rivers, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has listed the Monocacy with impaired water quality for sediment, phosphorus, and fecal bacteria.

Since smaller streams and rivers feed into the Monocacy, the problems that face Frederick County’s largest river are also indicative of the pollution problems found in your neighborhood waterways.

Excess phosphorus, nitrogen, and other pollutants over-fertilize, choke, and severely degrade Frederick County's streams and rivers.

A four year study conducted for the County by Versar, Inc. sampled 200 sites in each of the 20 sub-watersheds* in Frederick County. The assessment revealed that 9 of the County's 20 sub-watersheds are in fair condition and 11 are in poor condition. There is not a single sub-watersheds in Frederick County that is in good health!  

What's more, 70% of stream miles on Glade Creek and the Monocacy River were found to have high levels of nitrogen. Glade Creek, Upper Linganore Creek, Catoctin Creek and the Monocacy River also suffer from high levels of phosphorus.

If you're interested in learning more about water quality in your community, find your local river in the How Healthy Is Your Stream Summary Report published by the Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources, Frederick County Community Development Division

*A watershed or sub-watershed is an area of land that maintains a common set of waterways that drain into a larger body of water, like a river.


4. The Frederick County government is responsible for controlling land use near the county’s drinking water supply areas.

The leaders you elect to county offices make decisions that impact the lands and waterways in your neighborhood. Specifically, local county leaders enact or change local zones and ordinances that dictate how individuals and businesses can or cannot use land.

What happens on the land directly affects the health of local waterways.

Water quality in our local streams and rivers is significantly healthier when water runs off tree-lined lands. Lands with native forest and shrub cover act as nature’s filters - removing toxins, animal waste, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. When forested shoreline land is stripped of its trees and native plants, our waterways are highly vulnerable to the threat of local pollution that is carried over hardened surfaces like driveways, roads, parking lots, and lawns.

If shoreline land is stripped of important natural protections and filters, like trees, then the water flowing off those lands and into our waterways includes more pollution like sediment, fertilizers, dog waste, and motor oils.


5. Over the past decade, local zoning codes relaxed land use restrictions, including on land surrounding local streams, creeks, and reservoirs. But, recent legislation suggests change is coming.

In 2013, the Board of County Commissioners voted to change the stream buffer setback requirements. The ordinance change allows developers to build closer to streams and on unstable ground that increases surface runoff, sedimentation and pollutants rushing into our waters. By reducing the natural filter at a stream buffer provides, the ordinance change directly contributes to dirtier water.

But, more recently in 2015, Council member Donald sponsored a bill (co-sponsored by Council member Fitzwater) to remove some of these detrimental changes, including prohibiting impervious surfaces, open shelters, and pole structures in the buffer zones. On December 1, 2015, the County Council voted 5-2 to enact the new legislation, promoting better buffers for clean water in Frederick County.



6. Frederick County is the second-fastest growing suburban district in Maryland.

A study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis found that Frederick County is the second-fastest growing suburban jurisdiction in Maryland (Charles County is the first).

According to the US Census, between 2000 and 2010, Frederick County’s population grew 19.5% from a population of 195,277 in 2000 to a population of 233,385 in 2010.

The US Census also counted 65,239 people living in Frederick City, making it the second largest incorporated city in Maryland – behind Baltimore.

Frederick is growing and with that growth comes decisions about responsible stewardship of the county’s lands and waters. The fastest growing source of pollution into our waters is stormwater runoff — rainfall that carries pollutants like excess nutrients, chemicals, and pathogens from impervious surfaces into local streams and rivers. If we act together, we can curb the pollutants that are running into our streams and drinking water and leave a better Frederick County for our children and grandchildren.


Concerned about pollution impacting your local water?

Take an action today!