Across Appalachia

Agricultural Runoff Defiles Shenandoah River

Date: June 14, 2017

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By Carl Blankenship

On April 26, the watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project released a report saying the Shenandoah River had been polluted by livestock production and sections of the river were unsafe for recreation.

The report, which is based on information from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, says E.coli pollution levels have exceeded more than 100 times the limit for safe water recreation in certain parts of the river, and Virginia authorities have failed to notify people who intend to recreate in the river.

Manure from livestock in the area surrounding the river is used as fertilizer, but it is applied in excess and leaks into groundwater to later be washed into waterways, contributing to the increased levels of phosphorus and E.coli.

Algae growth due to high phosphorus levels from the runoff can severely harm wildlife in waterways, and consuming water with high concentrations of E.coli can make humans ill, including vomiting and diarrhea.

The state of Virginia is supposed to advise the public not to recreate in the water when 10 percent of sampling exceeds safe levels of E.Coli. Of the 58 regular sampling sites on the Shenandoah, 53 exceeded the safe threshold between 2014 and 2016.

The report recommends Virginia develop a system to manage manure, require farms to have nutrient management plans, tighten inspections and enforcement on cattle farms and increase the frequency of bacteria monitoring.

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