Listing the Shenandoah as Impaired Due to Algae

Although the Shenandoah River and it’s wildlife and recreational users are suffering terribly from excess nutrient runoff, which fuel massive algae blooms, Virginia has no water quality standard for nutrients. We have been working for many years to push to get the Shenandoah officially listed by the state of Virginia because of this problem. Virginia continues to reject the Shenandoah River from their 303(d) list of impaired rivers.

Since 2010, Shenandoah Riverkeeper has collected hundreds of complaints from river users and submitted most of them to the Virginia government in hopes it would recognize the problem and take direct corrective action. Shenandoah Riverkeeper continues to receive complaints from river users about slimy green growths of algae, which cause bad odors, interfere with swimming, fishing, paddling and boating, and are contributing to a decline in the health of fish and aquatic ecosystems in the river. The Shenandoah River is an iconic fishery featured nationally in books and fishing shows, and tourism dollars from fishing and other water sports are an important driver of the local economy.

In 2012, Shenandoah Riverkeeper officially requested that Virginia DEQ designate all reaches of the Shenandoah River as impaired by algae on Virginia’s “303(d) list,” the list on which states are required to designate water bodies that fail to meet water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Virginia is required by the Act to consider all information about stream impairments when updating its list. While Virginia has taken account of similar evidence in prior decisions to list other water bodies as impaired, it has refused to list the Shenandoah as impaired despite the ample evidence submitted in this case.

In December 2013, EPA compounded Virginia’s inaction by failing to either approve or disapprove of Virginia’s decision not to list the Shenandoah as impaired, in violation of an explicit statutory duty to take action. In August 2014, Shenandoah Riverkeeper filed its notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to act in the face of this threat. We submitted legal arguments in support of listing the river as impaired due to the algae, including an intense expert factual record of the problems, and over 1000 pieces of supporting evidence, not to mention more than 120 personal affadavits by river users. In 2015, Virginia submitted its revised 303(d) list to the EPA that ignored our call to list the river for algae.

Status Update: In April 2016, we filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to act on Virginia’s listing decision. Again, the EPA ignored our request by approving Virginia’s Integrated Report that supports the state’s decision not to list the Shenandoah. We retained Earthjustice to draft our complaint. In May 2017, we filed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s approval of Virginia’s decision to not list the Shenandoah as ‘impaired,’ despite excessive algae blooms and nutrient pollution.

What you can do: send letters documenting your complaints about algae
Sample Letter about algae complaint


Latest Updates

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Files Lawsuit Over Algae in the Shenandoah

We’ve been dealing with excessive algae blooms throughout the river ever since a massive fish kill occurred in 2005. That event spawned Virginia’s Fish Kill Task Force to study the problem. The Task Force discovered many things. None of them good. They discovered male fish with female parts, known as intersex fish. They discovered fish […]


EPA Fails to Protect the Shenandoah River

Local groups challenge EPA’s approval of Virginia’s decision to not list the Shenandoah as ‘impaired,’ despite excessive algae blooms and nutrient pollution Front Royal, VA — Today, four local citizen groups filed a lawsuit filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the agency’s repeated failure to address the Shenandoah River’s increasing problem with […]


New Report on Livestock and Poultry Pollution Issues in the Shenandoah

On April 26, 2017, Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) came out with a report focusing on the livestock pollution issues in the Shenandoah. The Washington Post covered the report’s release, and perhaps out of an abundance of caution, focused a bit too heavily on the bacterial concerns. The report is extremely important, however, and is accurate […]


Low Water, High Temps, Nutrients = Algae!

We received almost an inch of rain yesterday in addition to the localized storms that have been rumbling through the Valley this entire week. It certainly has been an interesting season as river levels have stayed at or above normal most of the spring and summer. Last week, river levels finally dropped to normal summer […]


What’s Behind the Fish Kills on the Shenandoah?

Now that the summer has officially arrived, everyone wants to know how the fishing is doing on the Shenandoah River. Unfortunately, for this season, I am afraid it will be a bit of a slog, but there are a couple of encouraging signs that bode well for the fishery in future seasons. In 2014, a […]