Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (April 4, 2005) – Information used to make determinations about Maryland’s shellfish harvesting will be more timely and accurate thanks to a unique data-sharing partnership between the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center (MARFC), an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service.

MARFC monitors hydrologic conditions and prepares streamflow forecasts for Maryland and surrounding states. The MARFC has been working with MDE’s Shellfish Certification Section and is providing access to the Multi-sensor Precipitation Estimate data, a system that combines weather radar rainfall estimates and rain gauge data to produce optimized precipitation estimates for use in river forecasting. MDE’s Shellfish Certification Section uses 24-hour rainfall totals to evaluate the potential for pollution runoff and decide if shellfish harvesting waters should remain open or be closed to protect public health.

“This is an excellent example of multi-government cooperation and how one agency can help another without costing the taxpayers additional money,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “The new system is almost completely automated. And in addition to providing greatly improved resolution, it will save a significant amount of time and effort.”

Rainfall in excess of one inch in 24 hours in certain locations has been associated with pollution levels that fail to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards for the harvest of shellfish. Since oysters and clams are filter feeders, they have the potential of consuming and concentrating pollutants that are picked up by runoff released into the Bay or its tributaries. When rainfall exceeds the threshold amount in the areas of concern, MDE closes harvesting waters for three days to allow water quality to return to acceptable levels. Human health concerns are heightened because many people consume shellfish raw or partially cooked.

“We are happy to be part of this project and excited about the opportunity to share information for such an important effort,” said MARFC Hydrologist-in-Charge, Peter Ahnert. “NOAA's National Weather Service looks forward to continued work with MDE on this important project supporting healthy estuarine ecosystems."

The data generated by MARFC, located in State College, Pa., can be incorporated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for graphical display and analysis, which helps greatly in conveying the information to both industry and the public. Prior to using this information, the Shellfish Certification Section used a very limited system of land-based, volunteer operated, rain gauges around the Chesapeake Bay that required a great deal of coordination.