Crisis in the Shenandoah – Harmful Algal Blooms Put River at Risk

River Users, Pets and Wildlife at Risk

Washington, D.C. – August 9 – Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Shenandoah Riverkeeper called on the Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Department of Health to expand water testing in the Shenandoah River and to develop enforceable standards for deadly cyanotoxins found in blue-green algae in the river, in response to the state’s issuance of its first-ever public health advisory for the Shenandoah. Harmful algal blooms containing dangerous cyanobacteria led the state to warn people not to come in contact with a ten-mile stretch of the river.

“The health advisory, warning river users to avoid contact, and the data collected by state scientists supporting it, clearly show that the Shenandoah River’s health is at great risk, and now the public’s is as well. In fact, toxic cyanobacteria has been discovered; the danger of it cannot be overestimated. State regulators and lawmakers need the political will to take strong action before it’s too late and the river is permanently degraded. We cannot allow that to happen, for the sake of this beautiful river and the valley communities it runs through,” said Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah Riverkeeper.

The toxic algal outbreak in the North Fork underscores the urgent need to address nutrient pollution to protect the health of people, pets, livestock, smallmouth bass and other creatures that call the river home. Algae blooms, both cyanobacteria and filamentous, are made worse by nutrient runoff, much of which comes from agricultural operations.

Frondorf continued, “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is developing new standards to measure algae pollution in the Shenandoah. Shenandoah Riverkeeper’s daily river patrols and reports of algae blooms over the past ten years played a key role in compelling them to finally act. But new standards will take years to reap benefits. And even more important, the new standards will cover only filamentous algae, which is extremely unpleasant and harmful, but they do not include blue-green algae, which is the source of the deadly cyanobacteria we are seeing. In the meantime, hotter summers, lower river flows and continued pollution have created the “perfect storm” for both nuisance and toxic algal blooms to thrive. And we need vastly more real-time sampling so that river users know where and when contact with the water is safe.”

Potomac Riverkeeper Network also calls on lawmakers in Richmond to increase funding to DEQ and other agencies, enact enforceable standards for toxic algae, hire staff to monitor water quality, assist farmers to adopt better practices and take action against polluters. Other stakeholder communities relying upon a clean, healthy river – such as outfitters, restaurants, campgrounds and lodging – should enjoy the same level of support for their business interests as farmers.

About Potomac Riverkeeper Network
Potomac Riverkeeper Network is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization with three regional Waterkeeper branches: Potomac Riverkeeper, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, and Shenandoah Riverkeeper. Our mission is to protect the public’s right to clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries. We stop pollution to enhance the safety of our drinking water, protect healthy river habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment. 

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