State agencies, locals take steps to improve streams

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — Local groups have partnered with state officials to start the necessary actions required to remove local streams from Virginia’s impaired waters list.

Tuesday evening Tara Sieber, valley region total maximum daily load coordinator with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, presented the results of a recent study conducted by the DEQ, with help from members of a technical advisory committee.

Eight streams within Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties are on the state’s impaired waters list: West Run, Stephens Run, Willow Brook, Borden Marsh Run, Long Branch, Happy Creek and Manassas Run.

All of the streams were listed as impaired because they did not meet swimming water quality standards, known as primary contact, due to high concentrations of bacteria, according to Sieber’s presentation.

Happy Creek is also considered impaired for aquatic life “because it does not host a rich and diverse aquatic population,” the report summary stated.

“We want our rivers and streams to be safe places for our kids and grandkids to play,” Sieber said. “We want them to be a place where we can swim.”

“When we talk about bacteria, we are specifically talking about E.coli because that is the strain of bacteria most closely aligned with human health,” she added.

All the streams exceeded the water quality standard more than 10.5 percent of the time, according to Sieber, which means they must be listed on the impaired waters list.

While conducting the study and collecting bacteria samples, DEQ worked with a technical advisory committee, a group of local individuals who know the area and can help the department pinpoint exactly what is causing the high rates of bacteria.

Wayne Webb, a member of the advisory committee, is on the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors and is a member of the Friends of the Shenandoah. He said the committee is meant “to get the local knowledge into the study.”

“We share the knowledge that we have of the valley, and the knowledge we have of hydrology and geology and what’s happened in the valley,” Webb said.

DEQ worked with the committee to pinpoint what areas could be causing the high amounts of bacteria. Possibilities include livestock direct deposits, pastureland, cropland and developed areas.

The report includes the percentage of reductions required, in each stream, to bring them back to safe conditions.

“One of the things we really focused on was how actions on the land impact streams,” Sieber said. “We really got into some of the details about what was going on in these watersheds.”

The next steps, Sieber explained, in removing these streams from the impaired waters list is allowing the report to go through a month-long public comment period. Then the United States Environmental Protection Agency has to approve the report. Finally, with approval, an implementation plan can then be established and a timeline created.

“That’s when we’ll get together again and think, where exactly can we make these reductions?” she said. “That timeline is flexible at this moment in time, probably in the next two to three years we will be able to get going on that.”

And that, she added, depends on funding, both from the state legislature as well as the EPA.

“There’s already a lot of great work that has been done,” she said. “It’s now time to build on that. We’re excited about it.”

To download the full report, go to http://tinyurl.com/nb2w8om. To make a comment, email Sieber at Tara.Sieber@deq.virginia.gov with a full name and address.

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