Water, water (testing) everywhere

It was heartening to see the support last month among county officials for a proposal to monitor water quality at select locations at Blue Ridge Mountain streams and on the Shenandoah River.

The testing project, which has secured a $10,000 Community Participation Grant from Sen. John Unger, is still in need of $15,000 from the County Commission — to fully fund both the monitoring effort as well sediment monitoring equipment and volunteer training.

County commissioners signaled their support for the work of the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition during a recent commission meeting and are expected to budget the necessary funding for the next fiscal year.

The importance of the testing can hardly be understated.

Armed with data from the monitors, West Virginia can show the Environmental Protection Agency the real contribution from pollution and runoff in Jefferson County, which would be helpful in the state’s developing and getting approval for its watershed plan. That plan has been provisionally accepted after four earlier submissions were turned down by the Chesapeake Bay Initiative’s Federal Leadership Committee.

The plan’s approval would allow the state to qualify for Clean Water Act grants, which would offset some of the costs — in the form of higher water and sewer bills — anticipated as part of efforts to comply with more stringent Initiative regulations brought into being in 2009 by an executive order by President Obama. The order affects storm water systems to sewage treatment plants and impacts both farmers and homeowners.

Without the monitors, the state has had to rely on mathematical models developed by the EPA, that substitute actual measurements with the leveling of responsibility to certain sectors with management of different pollutants, to the consternation of many area officials who have complained the result is an unfair emphasis on farming practices. Indeed, says Conservation District Supervisor Warren Mickey, some area farmers have done much to improve environmental impacts, from adopting nutrient management plans to reduce over-fertilization to installing riparian buffers and stream fencing, and Mickey has noted that water quality testing done of the Opequon Creek by the state Department of Agriculture shows the water going into the Potomac River is cleaner than it is at the Virginia line.

Of particular interest to the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition is sediment that washes down from the Mountain after it rains.

Conducting regular runoff monitoring will aid in efforts at targeting project funds where the real problems lie, rather than resorting to imposing onerous mandates that don’t fully address the problem areas.

Like Coalition member John Maxey says, “We’ve got to have the data.”

But, before that, we’ve got to have the money. Here’s hoping the commission is able to make it part of its budget.

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