VIDEO: “Sneaker Index” Sees Improved Water Clarity

At 95 years old, former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler continues his annual tradition of measuring water clarity by wading into the Patuxent River. His so-called “sneaker index” logs the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his white shoes.

And this year, the unscientific test showed better results than last year. Last Sunday, at the 32nd Patuxent River Wade-In, Fowler could still see his sneakers on the bottom in 47 inches of water. That’s 11 inches further than last year, when he only got to 36 inches deep before his shoes disappeared.

Fowler has held the wade-in on the second Sunday of June since 1988, gathering with supporters in his cowboy hat and white sneakers. The tradition, held first on Broomes Island, then at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, now marks the end of Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

Fowler began the wade-in to call attention to the badly-degraded water quality on the Patuxent. Back in the 1950s and 60s, Fowler could wade into the water chest-deep and still see the bottom. The “sneaker index” then was 57 inches— a number that environmentalists strive to reach again.

Since then, nutrient and sediment pollution have fueled algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the river bottom, the Chesapeake Bay Program explains.

Fowler talks about his nine decades of passion for the Patuxent in the Bay Program’s video below:

-Meg Walburn Viviano