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Potomac River earns a 'C' on latest report card

Water flows along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at Chapmans Landing east of Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

In its 2013 State of the Nation's River Report released this week, the Potomac Conservancy gave the health of the Potomac River an overall C grade.

The grade is determined by five categories: quality of habitat, pollution levels, health of fish, water purity and amount of recreational use by people. The last grade the river received, in 2011, was a D.

Although the report shows that the Potomac is moving toward recovery, Conservancy President Hedrick Belin said it's important to remember that improving the health of the river involves improving the health of the land around it.

Equating the river's surrounding forests to "nature's Brita filters," he said that continued population growth and an explosion in urban development has increased the amount of hard surfaces, which are unable to absorb rainfall.

"And that's public enemy number one, polluted water runoff," he said. "It's the largest source of pollution."

Other pollutants pose a challenge. Belin noted progress in reducing sediment and treating wastewater, but he said phosphorus -- which earned a D grade in the report -- continues to be a problem.

"We might be heading in the wrong direction for phosphorus," he said. "Not just for the Potomac, but other basins as well."

The Potomac River provides drinking water for 5 million people in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Among the many tributaries that feed into the Potomac are the Opequon Creek and the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River.

"At the end of the day, we're looking for leadership and implementation at the local level in terms of solutions," Belin said. "Because it's at the local level that it will either be won or lost."

To read the report, visit the conservancy's website at potomac.org.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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