respect the shenandoah webinar


The Shenandoah River and its Valley have long been regarded as among the most beautiful and majestic natural features of America. But for many reasons, the river has suffered over the last few decades. Fish kills and algal outbreaks, associated with manure from unfenced herds of cattle and large poultry operations, make the river unhealthy and unpleasant for those hoping to enjoy it. And so Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, has launched the Respect the Shenandoah Campaign.

The goal is to return the Shenandoah River to the condition of health and beauty that many of us remember from days gone by when there were healthy fish populations and clear, clean water for paddling and swimming.

This is not just a dream. There are solutions that can be put in place by people of goodwill throughout the Valley that will enable the Valley to prosper economically as well as environmentally. Through the Shenandoah Watershed Compact process, Mark was able to bring people across the watershed together around a collaboratively built and shared vision for a clean, healthy river. The Respect the Shenandoah campaign launches that shared vision.

Algae close up

Reducing harmful algal outbreaks so they no longer interfere with river use and enjoyment is one of the major goals of this campaign. Getting cattle out of the river is a vital first step to achieving that goal. Mark’s efforts in Richmond 2021 were successful, for he and his fellow Riverkeepers across the Commonwealth, with critical and welcome support from Gov. Northam, were able to get legislation passed to require the cattle be fenced out of the river and to help farmers with some much needed funding to erect fences, plant stream buffers, and create nutrient management programs to keep manure on the crops and out of the river.

The dramatic increase in poultry production farming has also resulted in excess application of poultry manure on farm fields. The soil’s inability to absorb the manure leads to nutrient pollution in the Shenandoah, and so another goal of the Respect the Shenandoah campaign will be to establish regulations to limit poultry manure application to match crop needs.

Cattle in the Shenandoah

The Shenandoah has been under stress for so long that many new to the river no longer remember what a healthy river looks like. Through a public awareness and information campaign, Mark will work to change that. Once his fellow Valley residents and visitors understand what was, and is therefore possible again, he hopes to mobilize everyone who comes in contact with or relies on the Shenandoah to return it to its former glory.

In 2020, Mark and Alan Lehman, Program Manager for Shenandoah Riverkeeper in the Valley, together filed more than 60 complaints of nuisance algal outbreaks with Virginia authorities. This work is labor-intensive, but necessary, so that regulators and legislators in Richmond know the pervasiveness of the problem. Mark is hoping that through his outreach program, he will be able to engage other river users and organizations to file complaints as well. The more the Department of Environmental Quality hears from those on the ground – and in the water – the more likely it will take action.


For the casual river user, reporting is easy – just download the Water Reporter smartphone app on your phone, and let Mark know when you see an algal outbreak, an uncovered pile of poultry manure, or a herd of cattle in the river. Chesapeake Commons and Downstream Project are working with us to develop a Shenandoah Watershed map, laying out the algal outbreak locations as reported to Water Reporter. This kind of assistance is tremendously valuable to Mark and will be instrumental in making our case to DEQ that more needs to be done to protect the river from excessive nutrient loads and widespread algal outbreaks.