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Cathy Wiss is hunched over a table that she's set up on the banks of Ten Mile Creek, peering into a plastic bin filled with what looks, frankly, like nothing more than water, rocks and dirt.
"Oh my goodness, here's something I didn't see before... looks kind of interesting," Wiss says.
Wiss coordinates the water quality-monitoring program for the Audubon Naturalist Society. What she's spotted is some kind of benthic macroinvertebrate.
Benthic macroinvertebrates are the tiny animals that live among the stones and sediments at the bottom of streams and rivers. The vast majority are insects, but the community also includes snails, crayfish and worms.
Wiss says the number and diversity of these creatures found in a creek can provide a good sense of its health — and Ten Mile Creek is healthier than any creek in the county, and maybe the region.
"I've just been bowled over by the diversity of organisms we find here," she says.
A coalition of environmental and citizen groups are worried the proposed development near the creek could lead to pollution of what many call the region's 'last, best creek.'
And some county residents say the fight isn't just about clean water, it's about broken promises.
Caroline Taylor of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance says before clearing the path for new homes and outlet malls, the county needs to provide current Clarksburg residents with the town center development that was first talked about two decades ago, when the master plan for the community was first devised. Right now, Clarksburg residents have to drive to Germantown to shop for groceries.
"The fear is that we have two large developments that some seem to think are rather sexy in this sort of economic downturn, and there are some very foolish things that could go on if we promote those developments ahead of this town center, and we promote those developments at the peril of Ten Mile Creek and Seneca Watershed and the groundwater," she says.
Lewis Birnbaum of Pulte Homes, the company that wants to build the homes near Ten Mile Creek, says environmental concerns about his development are unwarranted.
"A lot of the land that we're proposing to development is currently farmland, so the impact to actual trees and forested areas is minimum," she says. "So there should be less pollutant runoff from its development than there is in its current use."
The county's planning board will hold hearings this fall on the Clarksburg Master Plan, giving residents a chance to weigh in on the Ten Mile Creek proposal, as well as the larger question of what this fast-growing suburban community, and its relationship to the area's 'last, best creek', should look like... in the decades to come.
[Music: "Water Me (Instrumental)" by Marie Black from Water Me]