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River data collection underway

HARPERS FERRY – A program to gather concrete data on the county’s contribution to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay is now underway. Its organizers hope the measurements will make it easier to point out ways in which the model used to estimate pollution output may be incorrect.

[cleeng_content id=”270300766″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]The Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition began training with Karen Anderson of the Friends of the Shenandoah Laboratory to do regular water sampling of the Shenandoah River last year.

“It is a very long process, because everyone has to learn to do everything exactly the same way every time,” said BRWC president Ronda Lehman. “We got our first sample at the end of May, and we will get our next set of samples on June 21.”

Fourteen local volunteers will gather samples from three locations along the Shenandoah, along with four additional locations in streams on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountain, in order to gather a complete picture of water pollution in the county. The data is publicly available at fosr.org.

The BRWC’s program extends the Friends of the Shenandoah’s existing stretch of monitored river substantially.

Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition president Ronda Lehman said her group has begun to collect hard data on water pollution entering and leaving Jefferson County, allowing the EPA to use real rather than modeled data in order to determine what pollution mitigation techniques the county should use.

Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition president Ronda Lehman said her group has begun to collect hard data on water pollution entering and leaving
Jefferson County, allowing the EPA to use real rather than modeled data in order to determine what pollution mitigation techniques the county should use.

“This program is very important because we complete a part of the Shenandoah River that has not been monitored until now,” Lehman said. “Now she has close to 100 volunteer monitors that take samples every two weeks from Weyers Cave, Va. to the Potomac at Harpers Ferry.”

The collection effort is aimed at answering a few very important questions about water pollution in the county, she said.

“We will be able to pinpoint what Jefferson County actually contributes to the Total Daily Maximum Load (of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment). Is there septic runoff? Is there agricultural runoff? Is there any problem at all?”

The BRWC plans to soon install high-tech turbidity sensors in the Shenandoah as well, which will automatically scan the water every few seconds with a laser beam to determine the amount of sediment in the water.

These efforts should give Jefferson County a nearly unique understanding of its true impact on downstream bodies of water, Lehman said.

“I doubt that there are any places in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that actually know their real TMDL,” Lehman said. “Right now a lot of the contention is over the EPA models. Everyone wants to dispute those models. Now we’re going to have actual facts to go off of.”

She said it could be some time before enough data is collected to make a serious argument, however.

“You need to get a couple years of samples to have comparative data,” she said. “We can compare somewhat to samples that were taken in the past by USGS, but they weren’t take in the same place.”

Lehman said the group is currently looking for new volunteers to extend the monitoring program into new area streams, including Elks Run.

“We are always looking for new people to train,” she said.

Group members hope Blue Ridge residents will also take part in their septic maintenance assistance program, which will match homeowner payments for septic pumping up to $150.

“I would like to see everyone in a big push begin to get their septic tanks taken care of, and then we should see a real reduction in our TMDL,” Lehman said.[/cleeng_content]

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