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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.