Riverkeeper files intent to sue EPA over algae in river

By Katie Demeria

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble has been fighting this fight for the better part of four years. Now he is taking the next step.

Shenandoah Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, represented by Earthjustice, according to a Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc., news release, due to the agency’s lack of action regarding the river’s disruptive algae blooms.

Algae blooms in the Shenandoah River have been a significant problem to the river’s recreational use for a number of years, Kelble said. The last time native grasses solely dominated the river, he said, was in 2002.

“Since then it’s been a competition between the algae and the grasses,” Kelble said.

Excessive algae blooms create an unpleasant odor, discolors the water, creates slime and gets stuck to fishing lures, he added.

According to the release, the algae could also be “contributing to a decline in the health of fish and aquatic ecosystems in the river.”

Kelble has been trying to get the river added to Virginia’s bi-annual list of impaired waters for several years. But in 2012, when the last list was released, the river was not included.

“It went to the EPA, which has the ultimate decision-making capabilities,” Kelble said. “The EPA approved the list and deferred a decision on the Shenandoah River issue.”

With the intent to sue, the EPA has 60 days in which to remedy the situation. Shenandoah Riverkeeper will go to court if the agency decides to either refuse the Shenandoah River’s inclusion on the impaired waters list, or if it decides to defer the decision indefinitely.

“I would like to work with the state and with the EPA to provide them with all the information they need to do the right thing,” Kelble said.

He added that he and his staff have provided them with a great deal of information already.

“And I felt like they understood it, yet we’re not getting to where we need to be yet, we’re not getting the ultimate result we need,” he said.

Virginia is opening up comments on its 2014 impaired waters list on Aug. 25, Kelble pointed out. He encouraged anyone who has dealt with algae issues in the river to reach out to him.

“My hope is that if the citizens speak, that the agencies will listen, and the government will listen,” Kelble said.

It is unclear as of now how the 2014 impaired waters list will impact the EPA’s decision, but it is an opportunity for the public to voice their opinions on the issue, Kelble said.

“This isn’t a drinking water issue, but when you have this much algae, you want to take care of it,” Kelble said. “It’s not good for the system, it’s not good in any way, and we want to start the steps it takes to honestly identify why we’re having the problem.”

Those interested in making a comment on the impaired water list can email Kelble at jeff@shenandoahriverkeeper.org.

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