New watershed assessment: Still bad, but not as bad

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John Ince, a longtime StreamWatch volunteer, helps conduct a stream sample in a Greene County stream. Photo courtesy of David Hannah John Ince, a longtime StreamWatch volunteer, helps conduct a stream sample in a Greene County stream. Photo courtesy of David Hannah

Though the health of the Rivanna River watershed has consistently failed to meet one of five Virginia water quality standards, a new report shows that its conditions are improving.

According to David Hannah, the executive director of StreamWatch—a local nonprofit that assesses watershed health by monitoring and testing streams—32 of the 50 assessed streams failed to meet the Virginia water quality standard for aquatic life in a report the organization released this month.

That’s a failing 64 percent of streams that lead into the Rivanna River, which is slightly less than the 67 percent failing average that StreamWatch has monitored since 2003.

It’s not all bad news, though.

“The fact that there is an improvement in water quality at the same time our population is growing is actually a great accomplishment,” says Robbi Savage, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society, a partner of StreamWatch.

Not only has the population contributing to wastewater increased by 17 percent, according to Hannah, but for this assessment, he and volunteers monitored more sites than ever before. In the first few years of sampling, StreamWatch monitored 25 sites. That number grew to 38 in 2007 and now stands at 50.

The Rivanna River Watershed 2012-2014 Stream Health Report is also the first in which no streams were given a rating of “very poor” in the Rivanna River watershed.

Savage, who says Moores Creek, traditionally the watershed’s most unhealthy, improved from a very poor rating to a rating of poor, and she hopes the urban stream’s health will continue to improve. She and the Rivanna Conservation Society planted buffers at Quarry Park to keep polluted runoff from reaching Moores Creek and sponsored 27 other river cleanups.

Of the 50 monitored streams, three were rated poor, 29 were fair, 13 were good and five were very good.

In order to meet Virginia water quality standards, a stream must achieve a rating of “good” or “very good,” which means only 36 percent of sampled streams passed in this assessment, though almost half of the streams are at least fair in rating.

Hannah and Savage agree that the community should commit to improving water quality, as the Rivanna River watershed is one where we drink, swim, fish and play.

Savage says anyone can help improve the conditions by conserving water, applying pesticides and herbicides consistently with manufacturers’ instructions, ensuring that cars are in good condition and not leaking oil or brake fluids, and making sure properties are properly buffered where dirt and soil can’t run off into waterways.