Cleanup Efforts Making Progress
But Creek Figures Represent Far-Off Goal
Posted: February 4, 2013
TENTH LEGION — Although Kathy Holm knows most people tend to focus on numbers when it comes to stream cleanup, she hopes they’ll see the bigger picture in this case.
That’s what Holm, of the local Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the group of mostly local farmers and agency officials at the Smith Creek Watershed Partnership meeting Tuesday at the Tenth Legion Mountain Valley Ruritan Club as she handed out the latest numbers showing Smith Creek progress.
The Partnership is a group of stakeholders interested in improving the quality of water in the Smith Creek watershed, including federal, state and local agencies, private business and nonprofits.
It’s not that the numbers don’t show progress, she says, but they illustrate a still far-off goal. And, she said, they’re not entirely comprehensive.
Not the Whole Picture?
The latest numbers, reported by creek partners and compiled by Holm, reflect best management practices that have been implemented in the area, such as cattle fenced out from streams and septic tanks cleaned.
They only reflect progress since June of 2010, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated the Smith Creek watershed as a showcase watershed to demonstrate how strong partnerships between farmers and other landowners, nonprofits, and local, state and federal agencies can help clean up the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay. Smith Creek is part of the bay’s watershed.
The creek, which covers more than 67,000 acres across Rockingham and Shenandoah counties, was declared “impaired” many years ago.
A total maximum daily load, essentially a pollution diet meant to help clean up a body of water, was established for Smith Creek in June of 2004. In adherence to the Clean Water Act of 1972, local TMDLs are created for streams, rivers and lakes when they don’t meet state standards. Smith Creek has a TMDL because it was in violation of the state’s water quality standard for E.coli and aquatic life use.
The plan meant to address the TMDL was completed in February of 2009, so the numbers showing progress since June of 2010 leave out more than a year of data. While the state Department of Conservation and Recreation tracks some progress toward the TMDL goals, no one has collected all such data since the plan was completed.
Also, the numbers collected only reflect the progress that officials know about.
Farmers who implement best management practices sans government assistance do not typically have that effort counted. The Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District was one of six in the state to receive funding for a pilot program to collect that data from July 2011 through June but much of it remains uncollected.
The state agency is still able to collect that data, but there’s no longer much of a push to do so, says Megen Dalton, district manager of the agency.
The Chesapeake Bay Program — a regional partnership leading bay restoration — is searching more comprehensive, reliable ways of collecting all best management practice data.
Water Quality ‘The Ultimate Decider’
The numbers Holm collected show progress in every category — more than 25 — but extreme gaps between what’s been accomplished and what the creek’s implementation plan calls for.
For example, almost 50,000 linear feet of stream has been fenced out since June of 2010, but the plan calls for more than 900,000 linear feet of stream exclusion. That goal would result in a 95 percent reduction in bacteria caused by livestock direct deposit in the stream.
Also, pasture management has been applied to more than 100 acres of land, but the goal calls for more than 20,000 acres.
The local partnership of more than 20 groups has also been responsible for more than 3,000 acres of cover crops planted and more than 51 acres of riparian buffers established or restored, among a host of other feats.
“We don’t have all the money, the time, the staff, the energy to do everything the [plan] says we need to do,” Holm told the crowd.
In a later interview, she explained, “There’s a lot of anecdotal information and education and outreach and synergy that happens to clean up a watershed that aren’t reflected in the numbers; it’s really hard to capture that. … I feel like we’re really gathering momentum and moving forward, but I guess the water quality will be the ultimate decider.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com