Shenandoah Algae Reporting Campaign

Algal Outbreaks Continue to Plague the Shenandoah

The Shenandoah River and its inhabitants have been suffering from algal outbreaks for years now. We know that a principal source of the problem is nutrient runoff from agricultural operations, and we know that the fish kills directly result from the outbreaks. We also know that there are management practices, such as fencing herds of cattle out of streams, planting stream buffers, and limiting manure application to match crop needs, that would minimize nutrient pollution and their associated harmful algal outbreaks.

So, if we know the cause and we know the solutions, why is nutrient pollution allowed to continue? To make the question even more refined, why is Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) not doing more to address this problem? Always remember that the department is called “Environmental Quality” so we should be asking some hard questions.

Why, for example, does DEQ fight our effort to list the Shenandoah as impaired by nutrient pollution? Recall that Mark Frondorf, as Shenandoah Riverkeeper, and Potomac Riverkeeper Network filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency when it approved DEQ’s refusal to list the river as impaired; a finding of impairment would require DEQ to impose stricter standards to guard against nutrient pollution. That lawsuit was our only recourse against DEQ’s obstinate position. We lost that case, but we are appealing.

For years, we have been asking recreational users of the Shenandoah to take photos, including information about time and location of the algal outbreaks they observe. Our members and volunteers have filled our inboxes with such photos — and we have been submitting them to DEQ with a request for action. Last year, DEQ established a formal program for accepting detailed complaints, so we have been following that new detailed protocol. Despite your efforts to document pollution — and our efforts to use that documentation for advocacy and legal action — DEQ has not yet even begun the process to list the Shenandoah as impaired by nutrient pollution.

Those of you who know us well will not be surprised to learn that we are not giving up — and we don’t want you to give up either. In addition to appealing the adverse legal ruling we received, we are continuing to document algal outbreaks, we are continuing to push for more funding for agricultural management practices that will reduce pollution (and we actually got record levels of funding in 2019), and we are bringing this problem to the attention of the media and to public officials who can help us to solve it.

Agricultural nutrient runoff causes algae to bloom; algae blooms kill fish and make the Shenandoah a less vibrant and rich part of our ecosystem as well as hindering our enjoyment of it. It’s time for DEQ to act. We need your help to make that happen. Please continue to send us your photos and observations every time you see an algal outbreak. We will use those photos with your support to redouble our efforts to advocate on your behalf for a clean Shenandoah. We will no longer be ignored.