Riverkeeper files suit against state to protect streams from discharge

By Katie Demeria

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble has filed a lawsuit against Virginia regarding construction sites draining into local rivers and streams.

This is the second time Kelble has addressed the commonwealth regarding permits for construction sites. He tried to bring attention to the issue in 2009 as well.

New construction permit regulations have been released since then, but they do not include everything Kelble had brought to Virginia’s attention.

He said he has three areas he would like added to the new regulations: public notification of pending permits, evaluation of sites so they do not cause or contribute to a stream’s impairment, and special evaluation of sites discharging into especially pristine streams.

The state did start an online database listing all construction site permits, which Kelble said he thinks can be helpful — but it only lists permits after they have been granted.

“The database doesn’t give any advance notice, and it’s too late to do anything about it once you find out,” Kelble said.

The point of advance notice, he continued, is to allow those working to improve the stream’s quality to voice concerns over the impact the discharge may have.

“There have been instances where people have invested a lot of their time and money in restoring the stream and there would be no guarantee that their work won’t be impacted later on,” he added.

Proper evaluation is not taken into how much the discharge will impact the streams at each particular site, either, according to Kelble.

The impact each site could possibly have on the streams is vital in ensuring the stream’s health despite the discharge.

For example, large sites may not have a very big impact on large rivers like the Shenandoah, since it will likely just be absorbed in the great deal of water.

But smaller streams will be greatly impacted by the discharge from a large construction site, Kelble said.

“I want them to evaluate each site and determine what needs to be done,” he said.

Right now, the state requires construction sites to have cleanup plans and frequent inspections if they are discharging into an impaired stream; they also have to use fertilizer in specific, formerly approved ways; and they must plant seed and grass in the soil after the project is complete to make sure the soil holds in place and does not continue to discharge.

“Those are good things, and I commend the state for doing that,” Kelble said. “The problem is, I don’t think that goes nearly far enough. There’s no evaluation.”

Pristine streams, he said, also need to be carefully considered before construction sites begin discharging.

These streams, Kelble said, are very special — they exist at specific temperatures required in order to continue supporting fish residing there, for example.

If a large area is cleared and a great deal of runoff is sent into a stream, the water temperature will increase and the trout will die, Kelble said.

“The other thing is there are some soils in the valley that have a lot of arsenic,” he said.

That arsenic comes largely from pesticides used on apple orchards, which are now illegal, and a poultry feed additive.

Sending that soil into the streams, Kelble pointed out, will kill the fish as well.

Virginia is expected to respond to Kelble within 30 days of his filed lawsuit, he said. The deadline is coming up soon.

“Granted, it can be complicated — none of these things are easy to deal with. But we believe they are obligations,” he said.

Those interested in participating in river protection can email Kelble at jeff@shenandoahriverkeeper.org .

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com