County and Community Partner to Restore Spout Run Watershed

From the Clarke Daily News
By  on May 9 2012.

Clarke County is moving forward to begin water quality improvements in the Spout Run watershed. The Spout Run watershed covers a portion of southern Clarke County including the areas near Boyce and Millwood, Virginia. A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June, 2010 identified high levels of bacteria and sediment in the Spout Run watershed.

According information presented by Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) representatives at an April public meeting to discuss a water quality improvement plan for Spout Run held in Boyce, portions of Spout Run and one of its tributaries, Page Brook, are on Virginia’s list of impaired or dirty” waters because they violate the state’s water quality standard for bacteria. DCR says that levels of bacteria in these stream segments could lead to increased risk of illness for people who come in contact with the streams’ waters. Bacteria sources identified include failing septic systems, direct discharges of human waste, pets and agricultural practices in the area.

DCR says that in addition, a portion of Spout Run is on the dirty waters list because of its failure to support a healthy and diverse population of aquatic life. Studies have determined this is a result of excessive sediment in the stream. Sediment covers the stream bottom and destroys critical habitat for aquatic life. Sediment is transported to the stream in runoff from paved surfaces, construction sites, agricultural fields and lawns.

Clarke County environmental planner Alison Teetor told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Monday that the study, which was completed in 2009 by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), identified sources of pollution and reductions needed to attain water quality standards.

“This is a similar process to that which has recently been completed for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Teetor said.

Sediment sources in Spout Run (Click to enlarge)

Teetor explained that the TMDL study considers point sources such as residential, municipal, or industrial discharges and non-point sources such as residential, urban, or agricultural runoff. According to Teetor, DEQ computer models track bacteria from the source, to the land, to the stream, and then downstream to the Shenandoah River.

Teetor said that DEQ verified that accuracy of the study by also looking at water samples collected from the stream from 1991 to 2008.  As with the bacteria samples, DEQ’s sediment model was calibrated against real-world suspended sediment and flow measurements taken from the stream.

Teetor said that once the Spout Run bacteria and sediment in sources were identified, DEQ’s computer models were used to determine how the level of bacteria and sediment load reduction needed to clean up Spout Run and its tributaries.

Teetor said that bacteria and sediment load reduction typically are accomplished by fencing out cattle from streams and provide alternative water sources; conducting stream bank restoration projects in areas where banks are actively eroding; creating riparian buffers to filter bacteria and sediment from farm or residential land; identification and repair of failing septic systems; and picking up pet waste on residential and commercial land

Teetor said that a substantial grassroots effort has been initiated to bring funding to help with development and implementation of the Spout Run cleanup plan. Teetor said that Trout Unlimited, Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District, The Downstream Project, Piedmont Environmental Council and Friends of the Shenandoah River have agreed to help with the clean-up effort.

Teetor said that the County is currently seeking a grant to fund the initial cleanup effort at Spout Run. In a letter to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation endorsing the grant request, Clarke County Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) said “The holistic nature of the C-Spout Run project and the partnership that is behind it make it an excellent opportunity to improve a unique and ecologically valuable local stream and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Agricultural runoff has been cited as the primary source of bacteria in Spout Run (Click to enlarge)

Hobert also said that Spout Run is one of several spring creeks in the Shenandoah Valley that shows great promise for the reintroduction of brook trout. “The local watershed community is both aware of, and enthusiastic about the streams potential to support a coldwater fishery,” Hobert added.

The Downstream Project president George Ohrstrom said that said that Spout Run offers a unique opportunity to visually document a stream clean-up project from start to finish.

“One of the beauties of Spout Run is that the entire watershed is in one County so it’s a good candidate for successfully implementing and managing a TMDL plan,” Ohrstrom said. “The problems at Spout Run are really representative of the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. We are planning to do a short video documentary that covers the clean-up process from the beginning to the point where Spout Run is hopefully removed from the impaired waterway list. Releasing a video will be a good way of helping people see what can be accomplished through a coordinated community effort.”

Teetor said that the cost and timeline for the clean-up effort can’t be accurately predicted but better information will become available once the project starts.

“I don’t know how much the cleanup will cost and I’m not sure if anyone can estimate that at this stage,” Teetor said. “That information  should be one of the items listed when the implementation plan is completed.”