Report’s focus: Health of Elks Run

HARPERS FERRY – After six years of work, the Elks Run Study Committee has released its final report on the Jefferson County stream.

Elks Run provides water for all residents served by Harpers Ferry Water Works, which includes more than 1,300 people in the towns of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar alone.

“It was difficult because we had to hit the ground running, because the first thing we had to comment on was TDMLs,” said committee member Dan Riss, referring to the stream pollution limits established as part of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative. “We had to educate ourselves very fast. Luckily we had a basis to go on.”

The study committee was formed following the publication of the 2006 Source Water Assessment and Protection Plan, which detailed a wide variety of potential contamination sources in the Elks Run Watershed and recommended several efforts to mitigate such risks.

The committee performed three primary activities to promote protection of the stream, which it outlined to the Town Councils of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar last month.

Among these were education and outreach efforts, such as leading field trips to verify the source of Elks Run, assisting with the 2008 Jefferson County Water Summit and working with middle school students to develop stream monitoring techniques.

“It was great because it got school kids thinking about where their water came from, and to learn important science related to water quality,” Riss said. “Driving around you don’t necessarily pay attention to the waterscape because roads generally cross over, rather than following the streams.”

The committee also participated in a variety of measures to monitor the steam’s health. One such effort included monitoring bank erosion over three years.

That work led to the encouraging finding that erosion was not a major problem in Elks Run.

It also worked to measure the health of the water system itself with the help of local middle school students from Harpers Ferry and Wildwood Middle Schools.

As part of its work, the committee also studied how to bolster the security of the water supply and at Harpers Ferry Water Works, including examining the risks of contamination posed by hazardous materials shipped through the watershed by CSX. The committee also argued against a proposed pipeline that would ship water from Elks Run across the Shenandoah River to communities on the Blue Ridge.

The committee, which had operated as an official subcommittee at the behest of the town governments of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, will now disband, said Riss, but will reform as a private group dedicated to protection of the watershed.

“The reason we are disbanding is because we want the effort to continue, but with private citizens at the helm, rather than as a subcommittee of the town governments of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry,” Riss said.

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