Riverkeeper prepares to fight EPA

The Shenandoah Riverkeeper is preparing to comment on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s draft for the 2014 Integrated Report.

This biannual report, which includes the state’s list of impaired waters, has been an area of contention for Jeff Kelble, the acting Shenandoah Riverkeeper and president of Potomac Riverkeeper Inc.

Since 2010, Kelble and his staff have fought to get the Shenandoah River on that list due to the ongoing presence of algae.

Unhappy with the omission of the river from the 2012 list, the Riverkeeper — represented by Earthjustice — filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for “its failure to act” on the issue.

This notice gave the EPA 60 days to make a decision.

On Sept. 23, the Riverkeeper received a response in the form of letter from the EPA addressed to the state — as well as a statement of rationale — that the 2012 list and the Integrated Report would be approved.

According to the 2012 Integrated Report, portions of the Shenandoah River — the North Fork, South Fork and mainstream — were essentially designated as bodies of water that will “remain a priority for monitoring and assessment in the future.”

Although the EPA acknowledged, “the Riverkeeper’s information … warrants further investigation,” it asserted that the Riverkeeper did not “provide an adequate record” to the state in order for the EPA to “disapprove Virginia’s 2012 [list],” which did not include the Shenandoah River on the state’s list of impaired waters.

Despite this acknowledgement from the EPA, Kelble said that the Riverkeeper is not resting on the 2012 decision.

In terms of the EPA’s rationale, Kelble said, “I don’t believe there is legally sound reasoning. I don’t think it exists.”

Kelble said the Riverkeeper’s original submission to the state included member and citizen testimonies as well as an analysis documenting how often algae bloomed and where it occurred on the river.

According to Kelble, the algae appeared to be blooming everywhere and his organization felt it was sufficient evidence for the state.

The EPA reasoned, “due to the lack of methodology … [the state] categorized the Riverkeeper’s information as Level II Citizen monitoring data.”

The state’s website notes that only citizen water quality data considered Level III could be used “to list or delist waters on … the Impaired Waters List.”

Level II data, on the other hand, is primarily used for assessment, educational and monitoring purposes.

The Riverkeeper’s updated submission for 2014 will include photographic evidence, scientific data and more testimonials from citizens and stakeholders, Kelble said.

“We spent two and a half years filling in photographic evidence from the river,” Kelble said.

According to Kelble, the Riverkeeper provided similar information to the EPA, but did not have it available for public commenting in 2012.

The draft for the 2014 Integrated Report will be made available for public comment on Dec. 15, according to John Kennedy, director of ecology at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

This commenting period will run until Jan. 31, 2015. The final Integrated Report will be submitted to the EPA for approval.

The state had originally planned to release the draft on Aug. 25.

However, Kennedy said the state was told by the EPA to hold the release because “they were considering how they were going to … address the Riverkeeper’s concerns.”

Kennedy also mentioned that the draft for the 2014 Integrated Report contains the same designation for the Shenandoah River that the 2012 report did.

The reason for this designation, according to Kennedy, is that the state does not currently have the assessment methods and water quality standards concerning algae that relate to recreational use.

Kennedy said that the state is looking at and trying other methods to measure the extent of algal growth as well as its impact on the Shenandoah River.

In the Sept. 23 statement, the EPA noted that the agency and the state “have agreed to cooperate in a pilot study to develop the means to evaluate … algal growth in Virginia’s non-tidal waters.”

The EPA also noted that it funded $80,000 toward algal research to the Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin.

According to the EPA, the Potomac River Basin collected “algal cover data all throughout the summer of 2014.”

The EPA expects results and an assessment method from the Potomac River Basin study to be available for use by the state in early 2015.

In terms of the 2014 Integrated Report, Kennedy said the state is “really inviting the public to comment on this matter.”

On Jan. 8, the state will host a public webinar where the 2014 report will be summarized and people can submit more questions.

Kennedy added that the state will be considering all public comments and data concerning this draft as well as the issue of the Shenandoah River.

“What it comes down to,” Kennedy said, “is that if there is a problem, we want to know what is causing the problem.”

In terms of the Riverkeeper, Kelble said, “We are preparing as though we will still receive the same kind of responses that we got in 2012.”

Kelble added that, after their comments, the next few months will essentially be a waiting game for the organization.

“We will submit our information, wait for the response, analyze where we stand and decide where to go from there,” Kelble said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com