Water Quality and Agriculture in Shenandoah River Watershed in Virginia are Focus of Report Released in April 2017 by Environmental Integrity Project; Lawsuit Filed in May 2017 in Federal Court over Nutrients from Agricultural Runoff

On April 26, 2017, the non-profit organization Environmental Integrity Project (headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Tex.; online at https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/) released a report documenting water quality problems from bacteria and phosphorus in the Shenandoah River watershed in Virginia (counties of Augusta, Page, Rockingham, and Shenandoah); documenting the amount of waste generated in the region by cattle and poultry operations; asserting that waste from agricultural operations in the watershed are largely responsible for the pollution; and asserting the Commonwealth should do more to reduce water-quality impacts from agricultural operations.

The report is available online at https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/livestock-pollution-on-shenandoah/.

According to the report’s Executive Summary, the report was based on analysis of pollution management plans for 675 farms, inspection reports in 2014-2016 from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In May 2017, news media reported that some farmers and state regulators were asserting that the report failed to account adequately for efforts being made to reduce impacts on water quality from agricultural operations in the Shenandoah Valley.

On May 30, 2017, four organizations—Earthjustice on behalf of the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, the Potomac Riverkeeper, the Potomac River Smallmouth Club and the Warren County, Va., chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America—filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleging that the federal agency should require the Commonwealth of Virginia to declare the Shenandoah River “impaired” by agricultural runoff, under the federal Clean Water Act.

Sources for this post, plus other news media articles on this topic (listed from oldest to newest):
A River Runs Through It: The Shenandoah, Virginia’s Breadbasket and Algae, WVTF Radio IQ, 7/6/17.
Algae blooms sprout lawsuit over polluted Virginia river, Bay Journal, 6/1/17.
Environmental groups sue over lack of action on nutrient pollution in Shenandoah River, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/30/17.
Virginia faulted for handling of cattle pollution in Shenandoah, Bay Journal, 4/26/17.
A billion gallons of liquid cow manure is generated yearly in the Shenandoah Valley, fouling waterways, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/26/17.
Nearly 200 million chickens, turkeys and cows are making a mess of the Shenandoah River, Washington Post, 4/26/17.
Progress is being made on non-point source pollutants, Northern Virginia Daily, 5/11/17.  [Comment by staff person at the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District on implementation of stream fencing, nutrient management plans, education, and other activities to reduce the kinds of polluted runoff cited in the report.]
Local farmers, regulators critical of environmental group’s report, Waynesboro News Virginian, 5/14/17.

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