Cleanup campaign for Crooked Run area laid out

Agriculture largely responsible for E.coli levels in area streams

FRONT ROYAL – The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, with assistance from the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and Friends of the North Fork came together Wednesday to hold a community meeting to present and give updates on a clean-up plan for certain streams in the Crooked Run watershed. Streams included in the plan were Crooked Run, Stephens Run, West Run and Willow Brook.

These bodies of water are considered to be unsafe according to the DEQ as the result of high amounts of fecal bacteria contained in them.

Led by Nesha McRae, non-point source total maximum daily load coordinator for the DEQ’s valley regional office, the event offered four presenters.

“E. coli comes from warm-blooded animals,” McRae explained. “It lives in our guts. We’re looking at humans. We’re looking at wildlife, livestock and pets. Some of the bacteria that you find in a creek is deposited on the land and requires a precipitation event; either rain or snow in order to make it to the creek. Some of the bacteria that we find in the creek is directly deposited in the creek mostly by livestock or by wildlife in the creek.”

Understanding the origin of the bacteria in these creeks is essential, said McRae, as knowing the source of the problem is the key to eliminating, or at least reducing these issues.

McRae presented the background on the watershed’s clean-up plan. Patrick Farris, of the Warren County Heritage Society, provided a historical context for the watershed. Michael Neese, of the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District, explained the state’s conservation assistance program to local farmers and landowners, and Dan Gochenour, also of the conservation district, discussed cost share programs for residential and agricultural land users.

McRae displayed graphs and charts to illustrate the breakdown of where the bacteria comes from.

“If you look at the land use in these watersheds, next to forest, which doesn’t have a lot of runoff, pasture is our greatest land use.”

McRae said that pasture lands contribute by manure running off into bodies of water.

Also in McRae’s presentation were the reductions needed to return these bodies of water to healthy, safe statuses.

McRae said that 80- and 78-percent reductions in E. coli originating from livestock in streams are needed in Willow Brook and West Run, respectively. Crooked and Stephens Run would need 45 and 20 percent reductions of the same source respectively. For all four creeks, reductions in E. coli ranged from 34 to 43 percent. McRae’s presentation also called for a 10-percent reduction in E. coli from croplands in all four bodies.

The study that identified the need for cleanup initiatives was completed in 2014 and the cleanup effort planning began in January of 2016. The meeting Wednesday was the final one in a series of meetings to address the concerns. A 30-day public comment period began Thursday.

The plan laid out by McRae also recommends improved pasture management for roughly 9,000 acres of pastureland in the watershed in question. It also suggested 362 acres of reforestation of erodible pastures and four acres of permanent vegetation coverage of critical areas. Furthermore, the plan calls for the exclusion of livestock from 17.8 miles of the streams.

Also outlined in the plan were proposed resources for landowners who want to do their part. McRae plans on developing and distributing educational materials along with volunteer monitoring and encouraging a partnership between the Department of Health and local realtors.

The agricultural best management practices outlined in the plan will cost an estimated $3 million, with $500,000 that is already invested. With other costs like the appointment of a position for technical assistance and $4.4 million in residential storm water and septic system best management practices, the total estimated cost would be $8 million over 10 years.

These funds are available on a reimbursement basis for any who are interested. Contact Nesha McRae at nesha.mcrae@deq.virginia.gov, or call 540-574-7850.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com

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