Rivanna watershed snapshot shows progress, room for improvement

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The Rivanna River. Photo: Jack Looney The Rivanna River. Photo: Jack Looney

The Rivanna River was recognized in 2000 as a “national treasure,” and local organizations want the waterway to maintain its value. The Rivanna River Basin Commission (RRBC)—a regional organization representing Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Green counties, that recommends programs for enhancement of the river and its watershed—recently released the 2012 Rivanna Watershed Snapshot to bring attention to its current condition and encourage future preservation.

The RRBC partnered with other organizations, like the Center for Watershed Protection and StreamWatch, to compile the 12-page document. Local waterway monitor StreamWatch collected the scientific data, and much of the project’s funding came from the RRBC’s startup fund from 2009. The snapshot puts the river’s current state in simple language alongside colorful photos for the public, and officials said they hope it will promote awareness and involvement.

RRBC Executive Director Leslie Middleton said understanding and conservation of the Rivanna has been a hot topic for years, and knowledge of its current state is essential to move forward with much needed improvements.

“If you don’t know where you are, it’s pretty hard to know where you’re going,” Middleton said.

Middleton said the three organizations with the most involvement—RRBC, CWP, and StreamWatch—are distinct entities, but have a “united front” in regards to protecting the river. Middleton said there’s general frustration among many people that it’s too hard to decipher whether preservation efforts are successful and if any progress is being made.

“The snapshot was developed to identify what we know, what we still don’t have much data on, and what to focus on if we want to protect the river and the watershed,” she said.

Middleton said she was surprised to find, while compiling the snapshot, that 20 percent of land in the watershed is protected, either by easement or because it’s public property.

“That’s one fifth,” she said. “I hadn’t really seen it geographically before, so I was very pleased to discover that.”

StreamWatch Director Rose Brown said she was alarmed by some of the results highlighted in the snapshot, like the fact that nearly 70 percent of the area’s waterways are failing to meet standards set by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean our streams aren’t healthy to be in,” Brown said. “It just means that their ecological health is declining.”

But most streams in the watershed that are failing by these standards, Brown said, are right on the cusp, which means they could come back to health with “corrective actions by the community.”

The snapshot spells out what private landowners and local governments have been doing—and can continue doing—to manage and protect the Rivanna Watershed’s resources. Landowners and farmers, for example, are encouraged to plant stream side buffers which can prevent up to 97 percent of sediment, and install fencing to keep livestock out of the water.

The RRBC is using the snapshot as a foundation for its 2013 plan, which includes developing a road map and toolkit so local governments, agencies, landowners, and other watershed partners can collaborate and work “more effectively toward the goal of a healthy Rivanna River system.”

For individuals who want to get involved, Middleton said it’s essential to learn about the watershed and storm water, and look for opportunities to talk to local officials.

“Abundant clean water and healthy streams are important to this community, as much for our quality of life but also for business, tourism, and outdoor recreation,” she said.

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