by Alicia Pimental
August 31, 2010
The health of some Virginia rivers is showing signs of improvement, but many of the state’s waterways are still polluted, according to a recent report issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The report assesses water quality in more than 1,200 Virginia watersheds from January 2003 through December 2008 and includes a statewide list of “impaired” waters.
Water quality is assessed in relation to several “designated uses”: wildlife, aquatic life, swimming, fish consumption, shellfish consumption and public water supply. A waterway is considered impaired if its water quality cannot support one or more of these uses. Several subcategories also exist for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries to ensure that water quality in those waterways can support the Bay’s aquatic life.
Pollution continues to plague many streams, rivers and lakes in Virginia, leading to the addition of about 1,400 miles of streams and rivers and 2,500 acres of lakes to this year’s statewide impaired waters list.
More than 430 waters, including about 25 square miles of estuaries, were removed from the list, as they now fully meet water quality standards. An additional 600 waters were removed for at least one impairment.
In addition, the report proposes 80 full delistings and 540 partial delistings.
According to the report, about 5,600 miles of rivers and streams, 16,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 113 square miles of estuaries have high water quality that supports some or all of the designated uses. About 12,100 miles of rivers and streams, 96,500 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 2,200 square miles of estuaries are considered impaired.
Of the waters that were assessed, less than one-third of stream and river miles has high water quality; about 14 percent of lake and reservoir acres have high water quality; and less than 5 percent of estuary square miles has high water quality.
“We continue to find watersheds where pollution is a problem, but we also are seeing more areas where water quality has improved,” said Virginia DEQ Director David Paylor. “This is good news that we expect to continue as our cleanup efforts progress throughout the state.”
Every two years Virginia DEQ monitors about one-third of the state’s watersheds on a rotating basis, taking six years to complete a full monitoring cycle. The agency has assessed 98 percent of the state’s watersheds (1,218 out of 1,247) since the 2002 report.
The water quality assessments completed for the Virginia portions of the Bay watershed may help set clean-up plans for the waters that will be part of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).
The draft water quality report is available in its entirety at www.deq.virginia.gov. DEQ is soliciting public comment on the report until Sept. 24 at 5 p.m.