Monday, July 27, 2015

Summertime stream monitoring

Walking through the woods is always nice.  Walking through the woods next to a stream is even better – just ask any dog!  It’s nice to listen to the stream gurgling along, cool your feet in the water, and look for salamanders and other critters.
It’s also easy to find a stream – no long drive necessary.  But that proximity comes with some problems.  Runoff from roads, lawns, farms, and hard surfaces such as roofs and parking lots can really cause problems for our local waterways.  Most of us assume that our local streams are relatively clean, but that’s a bad assumption.  My family and I have learned, as stream monitors for VA Save Our Streams (VASOS), that our local waterways are badly impacted by development.  A few of the everyday pollutants that negatively affect our streams include:
  • fertilizers from lawns and gardens
  • oil from our cars, washed onto roads and then into streams
  • pollutants from our roofs and sidewalks – when it rains, they end up in our streams
  • soil from construction sites (often carrying phosphorous with it)
In the Chesapeake Bay region, the biggest source of non-point source pollution (pollution that comes from sources like fields, yards, roads, rather than from one spot. like a pipe) is agriculture.  But the fastest growing source of nonpoint source pollution is urban and suburban stormwater runoff – roads, roofs, lawns, etc.

Yesterday, our family completed our “summer” monitoring at our assigned stream – Difficult Run in Great Falls VA.  We found a bumper crop of small clams, but not too many invertebrates that require very clean water. 
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Our stream isn’t in the best of shape, even in this area which is heavily wooded with light development. 

So what does VA do with the data we collect?  Here’s the scoop from the VASOS website:
“Virginia, like all states, is required under the federal Clean Water Act to report information on water quality to Congress. This information is published in the 305(b) Report, which is issued every two years by the Department of Environmental Quality.
The report identifies impaired or polluted waterways. If waters are listed as impaired, funding and other resources become available to clean them up. Volunteers can augment the report by monitoring streams that state agency staff do not have time or resources to monitor. These volunteer efforts ensure that any stream that is impaired is documented, and resources are made available for cleanup.
When a waterway is impaired, the state is required to develop a plan for cleanup. The plan includes a pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that states how much of each type of pollutant is permitted in the stream on a given day. The plan then details how pollution will be reduced from each potential source to meet that pollution diet.”

Thus, volunteer stream monitors play an important role in flagging streams that might need more attention from state regulators.  Want to help?  If you live in VA, just check out the VA SOS website.  If you live in another state, just do a quick internet search.  I was able to find monitoring programs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Michigan, Maryland, and North Carolina in just a couple minutes of searching!

Happy wading!

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