Listing the Shenandoah as Impaired Due to Algae

Latest Updates

Posts not found


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


Help us document the severity of the issue. If you’re a frequenter to the Shenandoah, who’s use or enjoyment of the river has been impaired due to algae, you can help by start by creating a detailed log of when you encounter algae.


Write a complaint letter including the eight pieces of information below. Chose to fill out the online submission form below, email, or mail them directly. Please include the following pieces of information in order for your letter to qualify in court:

Name & Contact Information: Include your name and address (other contact information is optional, but useful).

Usage: Describe when and how often you use the river, and describe what you do (fish, swim, walk dog, etc.).

Location: Use landmarks or coordinates to describe specific locations where on the Shenandoah River you have encountered algae.

Date/s & Time/s: List specific dates and times you experienced issues with algae (Month/Day/Year and Time of Day).

Description of Incident: Describe in detail how algae impacted your use or enjoyment of the river, including the level of severity of the algae blooms and it’s impact.

Impact: Tell the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ) if the algae has diminished your use or your enjoyment of the river. Please use the words “has diminished my use” and/or “has diminished my enjoyment” if in fact the algae has impacted your enjoyment or use of the river.

Comparison: Tell DEQ if you believe the algae is worse in the Shenandoah than other rivers.

Less Likely to Use: Tell us if the algae makes you less likely to use the Shenandoah River for recreation (YES/NO).

Additional Information: Share any additional information about the algae you’ve experienced (ie. dog got sick after ingesting, made your picnic smell, etc.)

Request for Action: Request that VA DEQ include the North Fork, South Fork and/or Main Stem on its impaired waters 303D/305B list

Photos/Videos: Any pictures or video footage you have of acquired of algae and it’s impact can help bring the issue to life.

Address the top of your letter to:

John M. Kennedy

DEQ Office of Water Monitoring and Assessment

P.O. Box 1105

Richmond, Virginia 23218-1105

RE: Draft 2014 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report

Email or mail your letter to Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah Riverkeeper:

Mark Frondorf – Shenandoah Riverkeeper

1615 M Street 2nd Floor, NW Washington, DC 20036

Sample Letter about algae complaint
John M. Kennedy
DEQ Office of Water Monitoring and Assessment
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, Virginia 23218-1105

RE: Draft 2014 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

I am writing to request that Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality add the North Fork, South Fork and Main Stem of the Shenandoah as impaired waters on thee 2014  305(b)3/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report because of the severe algae problems the river experiences every year.

I fish the North Fork, South Fork and Main Stem of the Shenandoah extensively and I also use all three rivers to take my family canoeing and camping.  However, for much of the year, large sections of each river seems to experience a series of noxious algae blooms that seriously diminish my use and enjoyment of the rivers.

In each of the past six years during late winter a planktonic algae blooms, usually after a high water event, but not always.  Over the course of the year I use the entire river system and have seen this on all three rivers from Port Republic down to Front Royal, from Broadway to Front Royal and from Front Royal to the Confluence with the Potomac River.  This bloom turns the river a dark murky green color, like green paint, from late winter until about July.  When the algae blooms I often choose not to swim or fish and I don’t like to take my family swimming because they don’t like the off-color murk water.  When I do fish I find the fishing is poor and I don’t enjoy the experience as much.  Whenever the river is this murky color, it’s disturbing to fish and the fish are usually lethargic and often they don’t feed at all.  Activity in the river drops to near zero. For the past two years I simply could not fish the lower south fork or the entire MainStem from July through August because of the plankton green water.  I have never seen these problems on other Virginia Rivers.

By mid May or June each year as the river clears the planktons seem to die back.  But then a filamentous algae (rock snot) takes hold covers the river bottom and the native grasses which are trying to emerge. The native grasses turn brown and lose their leaves and remain bare the rest of the year.  Additionally, a floating bubbly type of algae (I’m told its Cynabacteria or Blue Green Algae) comes at this time.  Clumps rise up to and float on the water surface and then accumulates on anything sticking out of the river and in back eddies.  This algae smells like sewage or rotting broccoli.  When these algaes are blooming I literally do not want to be anywhere near the river and I often choose to go somewhere else.  When I have no other place to go then it just takes all the enjoyment out of my day.  The fishing is frustrating because you cannot fish without fouling your line on the algae, the fish won’t bite lures or bait with algae sticking to it.  I find being around the river very unpleasant due to the odors and annoyance.  I found this problem in the following areas last year from July through August; Broadway, Lupton, Deer Rapids, Edinburg, Woodstock, Strasburg, Front Royal, Goods Mill, Luray Dam, 211, Alma, Port Republic, Warren Dam, Shenandoah, Route 50, Route7 among other places.

Finally, in the fall each year the  native grasses die back and a bright green filamentous algae again covers the entire bottom of the river from Broadway to Strasburg.  All three of these algaes make it nearly impossible to fish and again diminishes and sometimes eliminates my ability to enjoy the river.

This cycle of algae diminishes both my use and my enjoyment of the Shenandoah River system.  As a result I would like to ask that DEQ include the three sections of the Shenandoah River on 305B/303D list, determine why we are having these algae problems, and to develop and implement a plan to make them go away.
Thank you for considering my comments,

Mr. Tired’of Algae
102 East Main Street
Boyce, VA 22620
Phone: 555-555-1234