Friday 22 June 2018

The 2017 River Report Cards Are In! Featured

South River

South Riverkeeper’s 2017 Report Card on the South River revealed that once again some underwater grasses had vanished. In 2017, the summer beds of widgeon grass vanished. Just like they did in 2013, 2011, 2010, and several other years in the past. After seeing better, longer visits from 2014-2016, the South River Federation thought that these transient beds of underwater grass could be depended on to show up every year, same time, same place, but with an increasingly large footprint.

Is the diminishing water clarity in those areas the cause, or the effect of this disappearance? They've seen rising chlorophyll levels in those areas for three years in a row as well. Perhaps algae is the culprit? They may never know exactly why underwater grasses come and go, but they will continue administering the finest non-profit monitoring program in the State to search for answers.

ShoreRivers: Chester River, Sassafras River, Choptank River and Miles-Wye Rivers

ShoreRivers issued a series of five State of the Rivers reports: 2017 Report Cards for the Choptank, Chester, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras Rivers, as well as Eastern Bay. The River Report Cards analyze the data from their extensive water quality monitoring during 2017. Data was collected at hundreds of sites by ShoreRivers scientists, Riverkeepers, and dozens of trained volunteers. 

The Chester River 2017 report card results show water quality on the Chester River was similar to recent years. The de-oxygenated dead zone is generally limited to the deepest areas of the channel during the hottest months, but there is still have too much nutrient and sediment pollution. The Chester continues to slowly improve, but is still a river at risk. The Sassafras River 2017 Report Card highlighted that historical water quality data showed a remarkable change in salinity, the level of salt in the water. In the fall of 2016, the salinity levels rose markedly from previous years. A drought in Pennsylvania reduced the amount of fresh water entering the Bay from the Susquehanna - allowing salter Bay water to come north to the Sassafras.

The River Report Card regarding the Choptank, Miles and Wye Rivers, Eastern Bay, and their tributaries show results that are in line with those from the past two years, reflecting improved water clarity, expanding grass beds, and reduced or stable pollution concentrations for many sampling locations. The year 2017 had wet and dry months and the data correlated to these weather trends. Months with increased rainfall washed from the land pollutants such as sediments and fertilizers into the rivers, an important indicator that river pollution comes from the surrounding land. As in years past, ShoreRivers has been heavily involved in installing pollution-reducing practices across the watersheds that are contributing to improved river health.

James River

The State of the James provides an interactive report card on the ongoing effort to bring the James River back to full health. This comprehensive assessment of the health of the river is published every two years. In 2017, the James River had an overall grade of B minus, which is an increase of 10 points over the past 10 years. In order to stay on track, Virginia needs to invest more in urban stormwater and agricultural pollution controls. James Riverkeepers also has an interactive map on current water quality at http://jamesriverwatch.org.

In addition to River Report Cards, several of our Waterkeepers report water quality through other means. These Waterkeepers post water quality data on the Swim Guide:

  • Assateague Coastkeeper
  • West Rhode Riverkeeper
  • South Riverkeeper
  • James Riverkeeper
  • Anacostia Riverkeeper
  • ShoreRivers
  • Shenandoah Riverkeeper
  • Potomac Riverkeeper (coming soon!)

Blue Water Baltimore measures and maps water quality on the Patapsco and its tributaries on its interactive Baltimore Harber Water Alert map. The South River Federation rolled out an interactive data map this year. It takes a look at whether the river is fishable and swimmable and includes historical data. The data map also provides photos and information about where restoration projects are located. View the data map at www.southriverdata.net. James Riverkeepers also has an interactive map on current water quality at http://jamesriverwatch.org.

Exelon Made a Bad Choice Featured

Exelon's challenge of the 401 Water Quality Certification is unfortunate, but not unexpected. From the start of the dam relicensing process back in 2012, Exelon has demonstrated that they would rather pay lawyers to fight to avoid responsibility, rather than investing in protect the nation's largest estuary -- the Chesapeake Bay. Throughout this process, the State of Maryland, and other federal parties, have had to continually push Exelon to provide even the most basic of information on environmental studies and impacts of dam operations, which are essential to making informed decisions about water quality conditions for the 50-year dam operating license.

Exelon has profited billions from this public resource and has a guaranteed profit as long as the Susquehanna River flows for the next 50 years. President Teddy Roosevelt fought for decades to create the Federal Power Act (1919) so that corporations profiting from a public resource were required to provide public benefits. Cleaning up the Bay is an agreed upon bipartisan goal that benefits millions of people in the region. Under the Federal Power Act, we the citizens are providing an exclusive right for a for-profit corporation to have exclusive use of a public river - the Susquehanna - for power generation. In order for this exclusive license to be granted, Exelon must meet a significant burden, including showing the impacted state, here Maryland, that all impacts to state water quality will be addressed through conditions on this license. The sediment that has been building up behind the dam, and the threat it poses to the watershed downstream is the single largest impact associated with the dam. This simply must be properly addressed before this license can be issued.

In its court filings, Exelon complains that having to address these impacts is an "unfair burden." This approach ignores that millions of dollars contributed to the clean up effort by the Chesapeake States and Federal Government, and suggests that Exelon, alone, is being held responsible. This simply isn't true. And, Exelon's delay of this process to date, by failing to provide timely information, and now challenging the state's certification, will continue to push off implementation of best management practices to address sediment and nutrient pollution that is passing through the dam and harming downstream water quality and fisheries.

This shouldn't be a choice of either the dam and hydroelectric power or water quality and fisheries. That is why we need strong conditions in the license. With strong protection for downstream populations, Exelon can continue to operate the dam, generate power and make money, while the crabs, shellfish, people and drinking water downstream are also protected from harm. Exelon had an opportunity to be a leader in the region and protect the critical resource that provides them with their business; instead they chose to fight and put the burden on everyone else. They made a bad choice.

Virginia’s State Water Control Board invited the public to submit new comments on two massive natural gas pipelines that will impact Virginia’s waterways. Waterkeepers Chesapeake were among over 13,000 groups and people who submitted comments to the board.

In our comments on the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, we asked for a swift review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) and requested that the State Water Control Board (Board) direct the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of crossings and to impose the necessary standards to ensure full protection of Virginia’s water resources. We also requested that the Board put on hold MVP and ACP development until all legal and regulatory challenges are resolved.

These fracked gas pipelines will cross rivers, streams, and wetlands more than a thousand times in Virginia. Instead of relying on insufficient permits, the State Water Control Board should direct the DEQ to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of crossings using its authority under § 401 of the Clean Water Act and impose the necessary standards to ensure full protection of Virginia’s designated water uses, including aquatic life, recreation, wildlife, and drinking water supplies.

DEQ and the Board should also put on hold the § 401 “upland” certifications for both the ACP and MVP until the Board has completed its review of public comments on the adequacy of NWP 12 and the Board has determined whether it will take additional action. Likewise, while petitions for rehearing are pending before FERC and court challenges to Virginia’s § 401 certifications, FERC permits, and other critical permits are pending in the federal courts of appeals - all development activities along the pipeline routes in Virginia should halt.

Nationwide permits are appropriate for certain routine projects that have only minimal effects on water quality. The MVP and ACP are not appropriate candidates for coverage under NWP 12 because they are major construction projects that will each cross hundreds of waterways, including some of the most pristine rivers and streams in Virginia.

Further, NWP 12 does not consider cumulative impacts to water quality where there are multiple crossings along the same stream and its tributaries (i.e. the cumulative harm to these watersheds). Therefore, it is appropriate—and necessary—for the Board to direct DEQ to conduct its own more thorough, site-specific review that considers the cumulative effects of multiple crossings within individual watersheds.

Virginia’s response to the NWP and the §401 WQC will determine the quality of hundreds of local waterways across the state. Given our recent torrential thunderstorms, it’s even more critical that we ensure our waterways are protected from the exposed terrain and other harms along the construction path for the ACP and MVP. Without detailed review and research of our headwaters, there is no way for the pipeline developers and regulators to know what our frequent hurricane deluges do to the river bottoms and stream banks where the pipe is proposed to be buried. It's up to Virginia to step up in this process and require a stream-by-stream review of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

READ OUR FULL COMMENTS

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