Guest commentary: Holy Toledo! Just fooling … ourselves

By Trace Noel

Toledo, Ohio? You bet! Recent national hand-wringing in response to the massive algae bloom in Lake Erie directly affecting the safety of that city’s water supply is fading. Valley residents who are not directly connected to Toledo or Lake Erie should take little comfort. Complacent about distant drum beats and dangers, we valley residents and local elected officials are clever enough to see the looming threat that algal degradation of our Shenandoah Rivers — just like Lake Erie — is a back to the future issue. The smart money whispers “there but by the grace of God go” (1st Corinthians and John Bradford).

Over the past several years the Shenandoah River gained “impaired status” both nationally and statewide. Other than the efforts of a few dedicated individuals and organizations, the plight — and therefore the future — of our rivers (read drinking water) continues to worsen. The Shenandoah rivers supply drinking water from Harrisonburg and Winchester to Berryville and, ultimately to Washington, DC.

The elected power holders — like the gossamer strands of algae that infest our valley rivers — at the county, state and federal level exhibit vague, oblivious and/or entrenched positional relationships with regard to our Shenandoah rivers. Like most valley residents, few could name boat launches, rapids or even understand that there are three separate Shenandoah rivers. Always there to provide substantial revenue and employment from tourism, real estate and recreation, our rivers provoke little or, at best, cavalier support from all those who reap the economic and health benefits they provide; especially clean healthy drinking water.

Those who actually experience our rivers, as opposed to viewing them from a bridge, will describe clots of floating algae that look and often smell like human waste gathering in slower pools or dark algal mats covering all the rocks on our rivers’ bottom. Algae now out competes the “river grass” which provided great nurseries for growing fish and the aquatic creatures that sustain the system.

After years of study and compiled data, Shenandoah River Keeper Jeff Kelble recently issued notice of intent to sue both federal and state agencies for not enforcing existing statutes to protect our water supply.

Now is not the time to lay blame. There is an abundance of culprits. There is not, nor should there be, a political left or right to this issue. In our divisive political society of today there is a home for both the political left and right for stewardship of our drinking water. The right might decry intrusion from big “govment” while the Bambi lovers will find it difficult to hug the slimy strands of algae. However, the core value and need for all human kind is good drinking water.

The Shenandoah Valley is internationally recognized — from Civil War, tourism, wineries, peaceful mountains, welcoming small communities, and, of course, the Shenandoah. I’d really hate to see our valley home become fodder for the 24/7 news cycle when our rivers and our drinking water become the next Toledo. I can see those local elected officials up and down the valley trying to explain away their curious lack of interest in the river and its health.

Trace Noel is a Front Royal resident.