LINVILLE — In the first public meeting to create a cleanup plan for Linville Creek, which has been designated a “dirty water” body by the state, about 60 nearby residents, largely farmers, crammed in the town’s Ruritan hall Nov. 27.
While concrete plans for how to get the creek de-listed are very much still up in the air, one thing’s for certain: Local residents are in disagreement over who should be responsible for the clean-up and how much work is necessary.
Linville Creek, which covers almost 30,000 acres, is one of the state waterways that, if cleaned up, would help achieve the Chesapeake Bay’s total maximum daily load goals. The TMDL is essentially a pollution diet meant to limit nutrients and sediment from making their way into the watershed.
Virginia is among the six states, along with the District of Columbia, that are working toward developing strategies to purify the heavily polluted body of water and its tributaries.
But Nesha McRae, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation TMDL/watershed field coordinator, says the focus for now isn’t the bigger picture, but rather the immediate goals of cleaning up a local body of water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the local Linville Creek TMDL study in 2003 based largely on data collected from 2002 through 2003, McRae said.
“We’re kind of playing catch-up,” McRae said when asked why the agency has waited nine years to start addressing problems identified with Linville Creek.
Linville Creek is considered impaired for two main reasons: it contains too much sediment and too much E. coli, a bacteria found naturally in the human body but certain strains of which can cause illness.
Almost 57 percent of the sediment is estimated to be coming from cropland and another 15 percent from pasture, with channel erosion, hay, forest and urban uses constituting the remaining percentage.
As for the bacteria, about 45 percent is estimated to be coming from cattle defecating directly in the creek, with another nearly 19 percent coming from wildlife direct deposit. The remainder comes from pasture runoff, straight pipes and less than one percent from residential runoff, McRae said.
In order to de-list the creek, serious reductions in bacteria would need to be made, including 100 percent reductions in cattle direct deposits.
“I debated showing you all this slide, because it’s kind of scary,” McRae said about the slide containing necessary reduction counts. “[But] this isn’t what the plan has to be.”
She encouraged the crowd of local residents to try not to worry about the long road ahead and, instead, discuss practical ways to clean up the creek. She also noted that Virginia Department of Environmental Quality water monitoring of Linville Creek shows significant improvement in the sediment arena.
“We need to recognize that a huge amount of work has been done by this community already,” McRae said, noting that almost $2 million has been spent implementing agricultural best management practices, and that’s not counting what farmers have done without cost-share help, as those measures aren’t tracked by the state.
The public started commenting as soon as McRae finished her presentation.
Some noted that local big businesses along the creek should also be involved in the clean-up process, while others wondered aloud how much clean-up is actually necessary.
“Are we working on data that’s anywhere from 12 to 15 years old, or can you tell me the state of Linville Creek today,” asked Dan Pinnell, who’s lived in Linville for 10 years.
“Linville Creek’s a lot cleaner than it used to be,” said John Geil, a hay farmer who’s lived on the creek his whole life. “I’m not saying we can’t do better. Everybody benefits from clean water.”
In an interview after the meeting, he added, “There’s a lot of expense that is applied to farmers for keeping the water clean. Most farmers who own their own property go to expense because it is important to them.”
He explained that although state agency numbers show that farms are contributing a bulk of pollution that ends up in the stream, people should remember that farmers are using much more of the land than others and working with animals.
“Farmers are very conscientious environmentalists,” he said. “There is a misconception that farmers don’t care about the property. ... That’s very far from the truth.”
James Herrick, a James Madison University biology professor who moved to Linville from out west 15 years ago, said the condition of nearby rivers alarmed him.
“I couldn’t believe how high the counts were,” he said. “There are still some awfully nasty streams here. … I think it might be easier than you think to restore even portions of the streams. I’d love to see this stream get restored.”
Those in attendance broke into two groups: agricultural and residential, with the vast majority going to the former. At the end of the meeting, the agricultural group wasn’t able to get through all of the questions McRae had to ask them, such as whether the stream floods often, whether rotational grazing and no-till practices are common among area farmers and what percentage of local farmers would be interested in fencing out cattle.
The plan is for each group to meet again in the next two months and to wrap up the overall development of a practical plan to clean up the creek by the end of April.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org