James Pinsky: Fried chicken and TMDLs

James Pinsky


My absolute favorite meal is fried chicken. It’s also my friend Jimmy’s favorite meal – he’s a funeral home director. I eat fried chicken a lot less now.

It’s no secret fatty foods can clog our heart and take up valuable space in our blood we ought to use for things like nourishment, oxygen, etc. We need our blood to flow. As such, we (should) exercise, (should) eat healthy; even medicate ourselves to make sure it does; otherwise, we die.

Mother Nature has a heart too; and, her blood comes in the form of our natural waterways. Her creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and even oceans all help store, transport and sustain life-sustaining nutrients including our mutual friend, oxygen, for not just we humans, but all life on Earth. So …

We’ve got to quit giving her fried chicken. Yes. Yes, we do. Wait. What?

In the conservation world, we like to toss around this term known as total maximum daily load, or “TMDLs,” when we’re talking about the health of our water. By definition, a TMDL is a regulatory term in the Clean Water Act used to explain a value of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards. To simplify things, it’s just a fancy way of measuring how much fat (pollutant) there is in Mother Nature’s blood.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some of these pollutants or fats include:

  • Excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas
  • Oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production
  • Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks
  • Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines
  • Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes and faulty septic systems
  • Atmospheric deposition and hydromodification

Like your doctor who always prefers you diet and exercise first to lower your blood’s pollutants, the natural resource health experts like the federal Environmental Protection Agency or Virginia’s own Department of Environmental Quality prescribe lifestyle changes and plain, old-fashioned hard work first to clean our waterways of fat, I mean pollutants.

Terrific. Now, how do we get a stream to a gym? Well, you don’t. You bring the gym, including its personal trainers, to the stream. You see, conservation specialists like the ones we have here at Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District are like natural resource personal trainers because we help coach, inspire and facilitate natural resource workouts, known as conservation best management practices, to get our waterways stronger, healthier and cleaner.

By definition, best management practices are methods, measures, or practices determined to be reasonable and cost-effective means for a landowner to meet certain, generally nonpoint source, pollution control needs. These practices include structural and nonstructural controls and operation and maintenance procedures. Sound expensive? Sure, but Virginia helps pay Mother Nature’s gym membership through the use of cost-share programs which reimburse landowners who build gyms on their land for their waterways.

Virginia put Mother Nature on an exercise routine beginning in 2002 when Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation started three TMDL workout plans. In June 2013, the Department of Environmental Quality became Virginia’s lead nonpoint source pollution agency, and took over as the lead fitness trainer for our waterways in Virginia.

So, what are Mother Nature’s water fitness goals? According to the Department of Environmental Quality they are that all our rivers, lakes, streams and tidal waters are healthy and attain the appropriate designated uses which include serving as drinking water, primary contact/swimming, fishing, shell fishing, and aquatic life.

That’s going to take a few trips to the gym folks. So, the next time you see a soil conservationist out of breath, you know it’s because they’ve been working out with Mother Nature. Feel free to throw us a dry towel or even some ice-cold bottled water. Just don’t offer us any fried chicken.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.