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Shenandoah Valley Clean Water Collaboration
Creating a Smart, Green, and Economically Prosperous Watershed
Potomac Riverkeeper Network has obtained a $100,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to develop a Shenandoah Valley “Green Vision” through the use of expanded collaborative forums in the Valley that will be focused on increasing wildlife habitat and biodiversity; promoting economic prosperity by supporting agriculture and local businesses, reducing stormwater and agricultural runoff in critical high-impact areas of the Shenandoah Valley, ensuring healthier communities, enhancing public recreation areas, and improving the health of fisheries and the Shenandoah’s drinking water supply through the protection of source water.
The Shenandoah Valley is an area of rich cultural history and natural beauty with mountain streams, forests, and rolling, pastoral landscapes among the most significant. Our region is famous for its abundant recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts and tourists to enjoy, such as fishing, hiking, birding, hunting, and paddling. As the economic forces in the Valley have shifted, so too have the stressors on water resources. Both urban and rural areas generate pollutant loads that compromise local waters as well as downstream water bodies like the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Examples of pollutant impacts to the Shenandoah River and downstream waters include:
- Discharges from feedlots, manure storage, and runoff (manure, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics) that contribute to algae outbreaks, fish kills and disease, and unsafe water quality;
- Mercury contamination in the sediment as a result of discharges from textile manufacturing from a local Waynesboro plant almost 50 years ago;
- A Front Royal Superfund site contaminated with PCBs that still serves as the reason for a fish consumption advisory on the South Fork and Main Stem of the Shenandoah River system.
Yet, mitigation strategies are at hand. For example, the DuPont Corporation has provided $42 million to remediate the South River and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River to address the long-term effects of the mercury that DuPont used in the manufacturing of fabric decades ago. Federal and state officials conducted a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) that assessed injuries to natural resources resulting from the release of mercury into the environment, determined the amount of the damages, and will use the $42 million in restoration funding for the injuries to the environment throughout the entire Shenandoah watershed.
To reduce the algal outbreaks in the Shenandoah and the oxygen-deprived Dead Zones in the Chesapeake Bay, we are advocating for the Shenandoah in the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) process that will identify and provide funding for new and expanded pollutant reduction strategies. It will also include a more focused and sustained local engagement effort and strategies. Governor Northam’s administration is on record stating that Virginia’s WIP III recommendations will be properly funded in order to help Virginia achieve its 2025 water quality goals.
Given the long history of stewardship in the Valley and its tremendous value as a tourist destination due to its beauty, abundant wildlife, and historical significance, we believe that the time is ripe to redouble our efforts to protect these valuable resources.
We will first reach out to individuals and organizations who are leaders in the Valley for environmental and watershed stewardship, such as local governments, conservation groups, sportsmen’s groups, university officials, tourism businesses, regulators, utilities, industry and agricultural leaders. The Friends of the Shenandoah River, the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, Trout Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League, and the Downstream Project have all expressed great interest in participating in this effort. So too have academic leaders from James Madison University and Shenandoah University as well as many Soil and Water Conservation District officials throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
We will then bring these leaders together in one or more forums to discuss the past, current and projected stressors on water quality in the Valley and their vision for the future. Participants will be asked to help identify leading issues related to water resources and water quality impacts/trends, potential solutions to address water quality issues through new/innovative water technologies, strategies that local individuals and groups can support to drive “win-win” solutions in terms of water quality and future investments and steps that should be considered.
We will bring forward the vision and the recommendations of these leaders so that we can work together to make them a reality. We believe now is the right time to engage in meaningful collaboration to attain a healthy Shenandoah River and a vibrant and sustainable economy in the region. While agricultural interests and environmental concerns are often portrayed as being at odds, in reality, their goals and objectives are often compatible and include healthy families, healthy communities, a strong economy, and safe, clean water and air to sustain us. The challenge is to find the right balance and strategy for the shared vision, along with the roadmap, to bring that vision into existence.