Waterways, fracking top environmental concerns in 2014

Local Shenandoah Valley residents, conservationists and researchers sought to make major impacts and improvements to the environment in 2014.

Some groups worked to clean up waterways, while others sought to protect areas within the Shenandoah Valley.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations that caused a variety of reactions.

Here are the top area environmental stories in 2014:

Riverkeeper battles the state, EPA

On Aug. 7, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper filed a motion of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its “failure to act” on the issue of the Shenandoah River being omitted from Virginia’s list of impaired waters.

On Sept. 23, the EPA approved the 2012 list as it was presented. Jeff Kelble, president of Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., and his staff will look to submit a public comment on the state’s 2014 integrated report draft near the middle of January.

Kelble noted that if the river is not placed on either the 2012 or 2014 list, the Riverkeeper will pursue legal action.

Fracking allowed in National Forest, conservationist weighs in

On Nov. 17, the National Park Service released an updated management plan for the George Washington National Forest that, in part, allowed for hydraulic fracturing in privately leased areas of the forest.

While many state agencies supported this decision, Matt Kowalski, senior conservationist with the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District, voiced some concerns. Chief among those concerns is how fracking might affect groundwater. Although Kowalski was happy that fracking is being permitted on a limited basis, he would have liked to have seen more research on the potential effects of fracking.

National forest recommends scenic area from local proposal

The forest service’s plan also included a recommendation to turn 67,000 acres of the Shenandoah Mountain into a National Scenic Area. This designation, pending legislation, would prohibit any kind of commercial development in that space. The recommendation was based on an extensive proposal from a local coalition called Friends of Shenandoah Mountain.

Rare bumblebee rediscovered by citizen scientist

A rare rusty-patched bumblebee was sighted for the first time in five years in the eastern United States at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane. Alex Newhart, a citizen scientist and volunteer with Virginia Working Landscapes, made the initial discovery in July. Local researchers said they will return to the park in the spring to search for more bees.

EPA reveals ambitious Clean Power Plan

On June 6, the EPA’s  Clean Power Plan drew reaction.  The plan promises to slash carbon emissions by 30 percent before 2030. Mike Aulgur, of the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, said the plan will increase energy costs for local residents. Dave Belote, retired Air Force colonel and member of Environmental Entrepreneurs, argued that costs will go down as a result of the plan. State health officials asserted that the Clean Power Plan will make Virginia healthier in the long run.

EPA proposes divisive water regulation
In spring 2014, some area farmers joined a national campaign of the American Farm Bureau to oppose the EPA’s proposed Waters of the United States Rule. This rule seeks to clarify the Clean Water Act in terms of what is and is not regulated by the EPA. Some local conservation groups approved, while some farmers and state officials claimed that the rule would make operations, including conservation, more difficult and costly.

Group warns of rising nitrate levels in streams

In October, the Friends of the Shenandoah River discovered that water in certain low-flow streams could become undrinkable if nitrate levels continue to rise. According to the group’s members, the water will become a danger to heath if nitrate levels reach the EPA standard of 10 mg/L. Nitrate levels in certain areas are not expected to reach those levels until 2084.

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