FOSR Home > Newsletters > WINTER 2001
I picked up an interesting little publication by the American Works Association- " the Story of Drinking Water". Did you know that "almost 80% of the earth's surface is covered with water"?
"The average person in North America uses 176 gallons of (fresh) water each day."
The 2000 census shows that there are 402,463 people living in the Shenandoah Valley river Basin. Multiply this number by the 176 gallons of water per person and you get 70,833,488 gallons per day. This must come from the surface and ground water sources in the Valley.
Towns, sewers, animals and chemical waste can pollute this valuable resource. The FOSR is a nonprofit, scientific organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the aquatic environment of the Shenandoah River and its tributaries. Won't you join us in this effort?
You are cordially invited to the Tenth Annual Awards Banquet
Saturday, April 28, 2001
Social Hour and Silent Auction 6:00 p.m.
Dinner served at 7:30 p.m.
Lord Fairfax Community College
R.S.V.P. by April 23
Bill Tanger, Chairman Friends of the Rivers of Virginia
“The State of Our Rivers”
Banquet by The Emporium Eatery of Middletown
Main Entree: Pork Loin Medallions/Roasted Potatoes
Served with: Sauteed Mixed Vegetable
Desserts: Peach Cobbler
Drink Station: Tea, Coffee, Soda, Beer and Wine
The State of the Rivers in Virginia
by Val Van Meter
A dramatic new report on the health of Virginia’s rivers shows grim news for those who care about the quality of the state’s waters.
The Friends of the Rivers of Virginia (FORVA) has published its first report using data collected from volunteer citizen monitoring organization, such as FOSR, and both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, along with other states agencies including the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Copies of the report, State of Our Rivers, will be available to members at the annual banquet of the Friends of the Shenandoah River on Saturday, April 28. (See banquet information elsewhere in this issue).
The report includes maps of each of the watersheds in the state, and descriptions of the types of problems affecting the various streams and rivers which make up the watershed.
“If it can be said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ then each of these maps is worth ten thousand words,” says Bill Tanger, chairman of FORVA. Bill will be the guest speaker at the Friends of the Shenandoah River next month, to discuss the SORR report. He goes on to say the new report ups the number of miles of “impaired” waterways in Virginia by 50 %.
In 1996, DEQ listed over 1,400 miles of state rivers as polluted. In 1998, the agency listed 2,166 miles. However, DEQ only monitors about 30 % of the state’s 49,000 miles of streams and rivers. EPA added another 98 miles that it considers impaired much of that along the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.
“While the reasons for this are due in large part to methods used in calculation, the bottom line is that we now know our waters are not as clean as we thought they were. We now have a much more accurate picture,” Tanger explains.
With maps with colorful graphics, the report traces each river, the “impaired” segments and the types of pollution involved. The orange and yellow lines, designating DEQ or EPA-judged impaired waters are easy to spot. Pink lines showing high quality waters are few and far between.
The SORR report on the Shenandoah’s watershed lists 746.07 miles as “impaired.”
While one of the top problems with the Shenandoah is “non-point source’ pollution, mainly agricultural runoff, the river is a victim of “industrial “ pollution as well. The cancer-causing PCBs from the now defunct Avtex plant in Front Royal remain in the river, from Warren County to the West Virginia line, and the mercury from the Du Pont plant in Waynesboro has moved downstream to Warren County. (See Meryl Christensen’s report on the mercury problem elsewhere in this issue).
We know much about the problems of the Shenandoah because it is one of the most heavily documented streams in the state, thanks in great measure to the volunteers of the Friends of the Shenandoah and the Friends of the North Fork. These groups sample the river at 77 sites every two weeks. Test results stretch back almost a decade. The test findings are shared with both DEQ and EPA.
The Virginia Constitution calls pure water a “right” of its citizenry. The federal Clean Water Act only sets minimum standards. States can set standards that are more stringent. A state committee last year recommended that more monitoring be done on state rivers.
But more monitoring will require more money. More money will require citizen support.
Members of the Friends of the Shenandoah River are urged to attend the banquet meeting on April 28, to learn more about the report from FORVA chairman Tanger.
NOTE: This is not the DEQ 305b error ridden report. Come hear the real thing.
History of Mercury
by Fran Endicott
Du Pont had used Mercury in the manufacture of acetate fibers between 1929 - 1950.In September 1970, Du Pont discovered mercury contamination in the soil of the Waynesboro Plant in the South River.
More studies were made by Du Pont to find the extent of contamination of ground water and soils. The State Water Control Board investigated the extent of mercury in fish and sediment and water in the flood plain.
In 1978, an independent consultant was retained by Du Pont to study feasibility of decontamination of the rivers. The consultant investigated three possible management alternatives: 1) chemical fixation, 2) dredging, and 3) no action -- let nature take its course.
Mercury is heavy and will settle into the sediment. Over the years with severe floods and bottom feeding fish mercury has spread throughout the river.Mercury has a cumulative effect that effects the central nervous system. See other articles in this issue.
SAVE THE SHENANDOAH RIVER
by Meryl Christiansen
Many times over the past decade we have been asked, “What is the condition of the river?” The usual answer has been, “Quite good, considering the abuse it has suffered!” A litany would follow: mercury on the South River and the South Fork, PCBs on the main channel, health advisories on the upper reaches of the South Fork, and “Don’t Eat the Fish” signs on the main channel from Front Royal to Harper’s Ferry. The mercury advisory extended from Waynesboro to the Page-Warren County boundary. In the late seventies, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) predicted that the mercury in the South River would be inactivated by silt coverage in the river bottom.Continued monitoring of mercury in fish and sediment supported the thesis until 1999, when higher levels of mercury were found at sampling sites in Warren County. The floods of l994 and 1996 apparently caused the downstream transfer of large quantities of mercury-laden silt. The result is an extension of the State Health Department advisory to limit fish consumption to two meals per month. The advisory applies to that part of the South Fork between the Page-Warren County line and Front Royal. Monitoring of mercury in fish, water and sediment will continue until levels are below EPA standards. How long? Probably not in our lifetimes!
The levels of PCBs in fish from the main channel are gradually declining, but these levels also continue to support the ban on fish consumption. PCBs are not as persistent as mercury, but are very stable compounds with a high boiling point. Levels could persist for as long as ten more years. The FOSR monitoring program has uncovered other problems of the river which, if not addressed, could impact river use. A recent report by the Friends of the Rivers of Virginia, which lists the impaired streams and rivers of Virginia, lists the Shenandoah Basin with more miles of impaired streams than any other basin.
The cause? Primarily high levels of fecal coliform, which is a bacteria commonly found in digestive tracts of warm-blooded creatures. Coliform bacterias are not usually causal agents of disease, but are generally found in sewage. Thus, presence of coliform indicates contamination from waste material in leaking septic fields, ineffective waste-water treatment plants, run-off from livestock operations, or from wildlife. EPA standards are zero coliform for drinking water and 200 bacteria per 100 ml coliform for swimmable waters. The Virginia Rivers report lists 49 stream or river areas in the Shenandoah Basin which are impaired, of which 23 are coliform-impacted. Therefore, many sites are unsuitable for water-contact recreation (such as swimming, canoeing, and fishing). The remaining sites have depleted aquatic insect populations due to polluted water, or PCB and mercury problems.
According to the Friends of the Rivers of Virginia Report, our lovely river is in horrible condition, as defined by data collectedby FOSR and confirmed by DEQ monitoring.So where do we go from here? FOSR has spent the past twelve years defining the problems, their locations, and in many cases, the source of pollution. At least 28 of the 49 impaired sites are from agricultural non-point sources, five are from urban sites, three are from trout farms, three are from industrial point sources, and one is from a sewage treatment plant. Nine were not defined as to cause. Most of the impaired waters are blamed on agriculture, irrespective of the expenditure of approximately $10 million dollars for Best Management Practice projects with farmers who contributed matching funds. It is of more than passing interest that most of the impaired waters are in the counties of Augusta and Rockingham, where agriculture reigns supreme, as does the poultry industry.
Having spent twelve years in the quest to preserve and protect the Shenandoah River, along with developing a reputation for veracity of data, acceptance of lab Q/A-Q/C, and providing a data bank of river water quality, it is extremely disquieting to learn that the Shenandoah Basin is the most impairedriver system in the state. (The Daughter of the Stars Has Dirty Skirts). The Clean Water Act passed by Congress and signed with great expectations by President Clinton promised clean (swimmable) waters by the year 2000. It has not happened! Maybe it is time to start pestering our governmental representatives for some concerted action and our state DEQ and DCR for some conscientious effort.
The Shenandoah is rapidly going to hell in a hand basket. Please help FOSR and our related citizen groups to preserve one of Virginia’s natural treasures. We need your help, be it your time, your ideas, or your funds to enable FOSR to continue to monitor the waters, educate people on river problems, and influence governmental agencies.
Current River Problems: Low Flow, Excessive Nutrients, Fecal Coliform, PCBs, and Mercury
by Charles Vandervoort
The water levels in the Shenandoah River continue to be very low -- current flow is only one-third the average level recorded over the past 84 years. The USGS reports indicate that the North Fork flow is flowing at 295 cubic feet per second; the South Fork flow is at 776 cubic feet per second and the Main Stem is flowing at 1,370 cubic feet per second. In million gallons per day, these flows are equivalent to 657, 173 and 858 respectively.
The health of the Main Stem of the Shenandoah River is generally good although there are times when certain harmful nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are too high. And the trends in concentration of these pollutants are rising. These findings are discussed in detail in the FOSR report "The Health of the Shenandoah River in Clarke County: The FOSR Water Testing Program." This report will be on our web page in the near future, and the FOSR will be happy to provide a hard copy upon request. (The FOSR is now working on similar reports for the upper North Fork and the South Fork).
The EPA reports on a worrisome trend in that mercury is now contaminating almost all of the South Fork and Main Stem. This toxin originated at the Du Pont plant in Waynesboro about 30 years ago, settled in the river bottom, and is now slowly washing downstream by high water and floods. The EPA recommends eating no more than 2 meals of small mouth bass or sunfish per month. There are also advisories by the Virginia Department of Health to limit consumption of fish because of PCBs. This contaminant was generated by the former Avtex plant in Front Royal, and is now also slowly washing down stream. Finally, though the FOSR have no hard data, fecal coliform is present in all sections of the river. Thus, the river is still good for swimming, boating and fishing (but limit consumption), there are emerging problems. The FOSR plans to expand its testing program to include fecal coliform, PCBs, and mercury in addition to the nutrients and river quality indicators such as oxygen, acidity, and turbidity. To put this into effect, additional funding is needed for the instrumentation and additional lab space.
The Regional Water Supply Commission
by Charles Vandervoort
This regional water study group got started at the water summit meeting last September at the Bowling Green Country Club. A study group was formed, consultants were hired, and the consultants delivered the Phase I report in late February. The main conclusion was that, by 2025, the North Fork might not be capable of supplying enough water during drought conditions to the many municipalities that now draw from it.
They also maintain that there is enough water in the overall Shenandoah River watershed, including the river, quarries, and wells to provide the maximum water needs of the region. Meeting these needs, however, requires a cooperative approach and an efficient distribution system. The members of the committee include the counties of Clarke, Frederick, and Shenandoah, and the towns of Berryville, Edinburg, Mt. Jackson, New market, Winchester, and Woodstock. The counties of Page and Warren send representatives.
Some of the options that the consultants are now studying include:
Phase II of the regional water supply study has started. The goal of Phase II is the implementation phase, and a presentation is scheduled for April 26 at the Virginia Inland Port.
UNDERSTANDING GROUND WATER PRINCIPALS
by Glen Hickerson
Water is one of are most important resources, and it constitutes the major part of most living things. Man’s existence depends upon it, yet water supplies are taken for granted by most individuals.
Ground water is precipitation that has percolated downward through the soil and openings in the rocks to a zone were all interconnected openings are filled with water under pressure greater than the atmospheric pressure. The upper surface of this zone is called the water table. Ground water moves continuously from points of high hydraulic head to points of lower hydraulic head and eventually to points of discharge such as spring, stream, river, or to a well.
If water is added to the ground water reservoir (aquifer) at a faster rate than it can be discharged, the water level will rise in the aquifer. The amount of recharge an aquifer receives depends upon the amount and distribution of precipitation.
Most recharge of the aquifer occurs during the winter months. Despite the fact that more precipitation falls between April and September than between October and March, little recharge occurs during the summer and fall months, because of higher temperatures and the growth of plants which result in the evapotranspiration or consumption of nearly all the precipitation. By the middle of May, generally, ground water levels begin to decline and may continue to do so past the period of high temperature and the growing season. The rate at which the water level falls and the size of the annual fluctuations depend chiefly on the permeability of the rocks, the height of the water above points of discharge, and the distance the water must travel to the discharge points.
Whereas the precipitation that is received during the summer and fall does benefit the health of the vegetation and the flow of the streams and rivers it does very little to recharge the ground water. The next time you draw a refreshing glass of water remember how important and precious a resource water is to us all and how important it is to preserve this resource for the future.
EPA SOLICITS COMMENTS ON PLANS TO DEVELOP TMDL PROTOCOLS FOR SHENANDOAH RIVER PCBs
by Meryl Christiansen
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will combine forces to develop Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Shenandoah River which was polluted with high levels of Polychlorinatedbiphenyls from the Avtex Rayon Plant. The TMDL program will do the following:
In other words, the agencies intend to determine how much PCBs from all sources can be tolerated in the river. Additional data will be developed on potential sources of PCBs. Studies will also assess content of PCBs in river water, sediment, and in a variety of living creatures such as fish, insects, and other aquatic and land species. Based on the data, a tolerable level of PCB input into the river will be computed.
In my opinion, the acceptable level of PCBs should be zero, if that level can be attained. The one fact that the Agencies seem to ignore is that PCBs bio-accumulates in living creatures. In many earlier studies with the insecticide DDT, it was found that biological entities exposed to only minute levels of less than 1 part per billion could accumulate high levels of DDT in body tissue. PCBs do likewise! Consequently, tolerating a minimal level of PCB is unacceptable. The same applies to the problem of mercury pollution in the South Fork. Older fish or fish eaters such as osprey, eagles, and MAN will eventually accumulate high mercury and PCB levels that can either be fatal of drastically alter health and behavior.
Possibly the beautiful Shenandoah will suffer its deadly pollution for the next century, unless more definitive remedial measures are developed. Hopefully, future scientific research will solve the long-term problem that will otherwise be handed off to our future generation!
Friends of the Shenandoah River in the News
(Extracted from News Articles)
The Clarke Times-Courier and Winchester Star reported on the February 20 presentation given by Charles Vandervoort, our lead monitor for Clarke County to the Board of Supervisors of Clarke County on " The Health of the Shenandoah river in Clarke County: The FOSR Water Testing Program."
The most important conclusions of the testing program are that, though the Shenandoah River in Clarke County is generally safe for swimming, fishing, and municipal water supply, the levels of pollution are on the rise. He also reported that the FOSR testing program currently is limited to testing for excessive nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), and the habitat indicators of oxygen, acidity, turbidity, and temperature. Our program does not yet include testing for fecal coliform, PCBs, and the heavy metals such as mercury.
He stressed the importance of expanding the FOSR testing program to include these harmful contaminants. Already the Main Stem in Clarke County is under a health advisory cautioning the public to severely limit the consumption of fish caught in the river. And recent data presented by the EPA shows that mercury from the now closed Du Pont factory near Waynesboro is reaching the Main Stem. Now is the time to start collecting base-line data to measure the effectiveness of the cleanup programs now underway at the old Avtex factory for PCBs, and to start closely monitoring the trends in mercury pollution.
The presentation was well received by the Supervisors and a number of questions were asked about the scope and intensity of the FOSR water testing program, on the measures that can be taken to reduce the rise in nutrient pollution. The Supervisors strongly support what the FOSR is doing, and Clarke County is providing financial supported our program.
Dipper’s Log: February 17, 2001
by Scott Copper, FOSR Monitor
It’s about 6:45 when I rise to make my rounds of the Shenandoah River’s water collection sites near Front Royal. A gray light finds it way through treetop fog to our home on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There has been light rain for the past thirty hours or so, but with morning, the front has finally passed with an accompanying temperature dropped from the high 40’s to the 30’s.
Our bird feeder and its iron support stand have been knocked to the deck with seed strewn about. This typically means a bear paid us a visit. It seems a bit early in the year for bears to be up and about.Every year they seem to catch us by surprise, getting to our feeders before we think they’ll be out foraging for their first meal.They seem to be quite timid and fearful of humans, but last year I unwittingly surprised one lying on our deck and grazing on birdseed.I heard something outside about four in the morning and went to the front window.It was very dark, so I pressed my eyes to cupped hands at the window pane. Startled, the bear jumped up and swiped at me, hitting the glass, before lumbering off.Both of us were surprised. He (I think it was a male) came back about an hour later as I watched just inches away on the other side of the window.I sat motionless, disguised in an afghan.He would get up occasionally to peer into the house, still apprehensive about me, I guess. What an exhilarating experience, but we hope to avoid such encounters this year by bringing our feeder in each night.
We saw our first bluebird of the season several days ago, though I’m told some stay with us all year. It stopped for a moment at our feeder and quickly yielded to the ubiquitous nuthatches, chickadees and titmice. Today, the weather seems too dreary for birding while I collect water samples.It is damp and chilly. The Shenandoah is muddy, but not high. Its temperature is 7˚ C. That’s cold enough to make your hands ache as you dip for samples eight inches under the surface. At Karo Landing, a site upriver (south) from Front Royal, I decide to wade out into the stream. It is about twenty-five yards across a shallow bar to the main river.This is the first time this year I can wade this way.Two weeks ago the river’s banks were iced over.A four-day warm spell about a week back took care of that. The first few steps didn’t seem too bad, but as I shuffled gingerly in calf deep water over the slippery river stones; a dull, penetrating pain pulsed through my legs. I am briefly mindful of how painful it must be to be immersed accidentally in a frigid sea like the fishermen in “Perfect Storm.” Luckily, I find a convenient boulder and step out of the cold.In moments with sample and temperature readings in hand, I am on my way back…for some reason the stream doesn’t seem quite so cold this time.
On this damp gray morning I saw no birds, fish or any river life to speak off.An eerie silence greeted me at each location…not even the noisy geese seem to be stirring.Perhaps there was a bit of green in the muddy waters, and may be there was a little more green amongst the brown stalks and stems of last years flora. It won’t be long.
New Board of Directors Member
Charlie Newton is a 25 year resident of Virginia and has lived in Page County for the last 12 years. Charles has a BS in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration from Union College. Charles works for Shenandoah National Park and volunteers for the Page County Water Advisory Committee. Charles has a strong interest in water quality issues and is the lead monitor for FOSR in Page County.
We would like to welcome these new members:
A special thanks goes to Charles Robbins for the generous donation of $500.
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