Category Archives: Water Quality and Habitat in Virginia’s Southern Rivers

Items related to aquatic life and conditions in Virginia’s “southern rivers”: Big Sandy, Chowan, Clinch/Holston/Powell, New, and Roanoke.

New River PCBs are Subject of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Study in 2016-17; Draft TMDL Ready for Public Comment in May 2017; Final Public Meeting on TMDL Study Held May 10, 2017

This post updates previous posts from April 2016 and April 2017.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the New River in southwestern Virginia are the subject of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process that began in early April 2016.

The draft TMDL study for New River PCBs became available in May 2017; a link to the report is available at this DEQ Web site: comment on the draft will be accepted through June 9, 2017.

On May 10, 2017, the draft TMDL study was presented in a public meeting in Radford.  Information on the May 10 meeting is available at this Virginia Regulatory Town Hall link (link last checked May 11, 2017).  A Virginia Water Resources Research Center recording from the May 10 meeting is available at this link.  The recording (47 min./37 sec.) was intended to capture only the prepared remarks by Mark Richards, the DEQ staff person presenting the draft TMDL report at that meeting.  The posted audio deletes audience voices asking questions during the presentation and, for the most part, Mr. Richards’ responses to those questions.  Some of all of the visuals that were discussed during the May 10 presentation are available in the draft TMDL study (link noted above).

About 145 miles of the New, from Interstate 77 to the West Virginia line (along with several tributaries), have been under a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) fish-consumption advisory since 2004 (since 2001 for about 75 miles), when PCBs were found in fish-tissue samples.  An April 5, 2016, public meeting was held in Radford by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) to describe the known history of PCB contamination in the river and the TMDL study that aims to identify the current sources and loads of PCBs in the New.  Following a public comment period through May 3, 2016, the BSE Department and a DEQ technical advisory committee developed the New River PCB study that was released in draft form in May 2017.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that a TMDL study be done whenever the level of a pollutant in a water body regularly exceeds a state water-quality standard and, consequently, the water body is identified as “impaired.”  A TMDL study identifies sources of an impairment, allocates the contribution of each source to the overall impairment, and identifies reductions needed for the water body to fall within water-quality standards for the particular contaminant.  In Virginia, state law also requires development of TMDL implementation plan following the TMDL study.

According to the DEQ (“New River Watershed Study,” April 2016, available online at, PCBs “are chemicals that were used in electrical transformers and other equipment until the late 1970s and can remain in the environment for decades. … Sources of PCBs include, but are not limited to, point-source dischargers including municipal stormwater discharges, stormwater runoff from areas of known contamination, atmospheric deposition, and existing contamination in river sediments.”

DEQ information about the New River PCB TMDL is available online at

Other Sources:
Research could aid fight against PCBs in New River, Roanoke Times, 4/5/16.

Long hunt for source of PCBs in New River is to end this year
, Roanoke Times, 3/27/16.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Resources for PCB TMDLs,” online at

Virginia Department of Health, “Fish Consumption Advisories/New River Basin,” online at; and “Frequently Asked Questions about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs),” online (as PDF) at

New River Rt 611 Wilderness Road Pulaski County Jun30 2013 USED Grouper 4-12-16

Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund Stabilization is Focus of Stakeholder Advisory Group Convening May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017, is the date of the first meeting of the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board’s Water Quality Improvement Fund Stabilization Stakeholder Advisory Group.  The meeting will start at 9:30 a.m., at the State Capitol, Senate Room 3, 1000 Bank Street in Richmond.

The Virginia Regulatory Town Hall notice for this meeting is online at  According to that notice, “Item 364 of the [Virginia General Assembly’s] 2017 Appropriations Act requires the Department of Conservation and Recreation [DCR] to establish a stakeholder group to make recommendations on [the following]: (i) increasing the portion of any deposit to the WQIF reserve; (ii) limiting the portion of WQIF reserve that may be utilized; (iii) evaluating combined revenues available from the WQIF and the Natural Resources Commitment Fund in a given fiscal year; (iv) distributing funds to be deposited across a biennial period; and (v) considering the impacts on the staffing and technical assistance needs of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.”

Virginia Code information on the Water Quality Improvement Act (which created the WQIF) is available online at, and information on the Natural Resources Commitment Fund is online at

For more information about the advisory group, contact Christine Watlington, DCR Senior Policy and Planning Analyst, 600 East Main Street, 24th Floor, Richmond, 23219; phone (804)786-3319; e-mail:


National Water Quality Interactive Map Tool Released by USGS in April 2017

On April 4, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced the release of a new interactive mapper tool to show data from 40 years of water-quality monitoring, including from the National Water Quality Assessment program (NAWQA).  The mapper is available online at

According to the mapper’s Web site, the tool shows stream trends in water chemistry and aquatic ecology (fish, invertebrates, and algae) for four time periods: 1972-2012, 1982-2012, 1992-2012, and 2002-2012.

Following is an excerpt from the USGS news release on the tool: “For the first time, monitoring data collected by the USGS and 73 other organizations at almost 1,400 sites have been combined to provide a nationwide look at changes in the quality of our rivers and streams between the 1972 passage of the Clean Water Act and 2012. …The interactive map can be used to see whether 51 water-quality constituents, like nutrients and pesticides, and 38 aquatic-life metrics, like the types and numbers of fish, macroinvertebrates, and algae, have increased, decreased, or remained the same at nearly 1,400 sites between 1972 and 2012.  …The map summarizes the first phase of the study—in which the USGS identifies streams that have been monitored consistently for long periods and reports the trends in those streams.  In the second phase, to take place over the next several years, the USGS will assess whether and where billions in investments in pollution control have been effective, identify major causes of trends in U.S. stream quality, provide details on which chemicals are increasing or decreasing, and highlight whether any drinking water sources or aquatic ecosystems are at increased risk.”

Source: First-of-its-kind Interactive Map Brings Together 40 Years of Water-Quality Data, U.S. Geological Survey News Release, 4/4/17.

New River Symposium held May 16, 2017, at Radford University’s Selu Conservancy

The 2017 edition of the New River Symposium took place on May 16 at Radford University’s Selu Conservancy, near Radford, Va.  The  biennial symposium is organized by Friends of the New River, the New River Conservancy, and the Radford University Environmental Center.  According to the organizers, the symposium aims to bring together the river’s diverse constituents and provide a forum for partnership, research, and policy development regarding the river’s ecological and cultural values.

For more information, visit; or contact Rick Roth at; Rick Van Noy at; or George Santucci at

For a news account of the 2015 symposium, see River lovers gather for discussion at Radford conference, Roanoke Times, 5/20/15.

New River along Eggleston putin road Aug13 2016 ONE USED Grouper 4-3-17

New River near Eggleston, Va. (Giles County), August 13, 2016.

On Virginia Water Radio for 3-20-17: Exploring the Smith River

Virginia Water Radio’s latest episode, for the week of March 20, 2017, is “Who Were Smith and Philpott and What Do They Have to Do with Virginia Water?”   The 4 min./29 sec. episode, available online at, traces some hydrological and historical connections of southern Virginia’s Smith River, including the connection to a legendary speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Smith River below Philpott Dam Jan16 2017 TWO

The Smith River just downstream of the Philpott Dam and Reservoir on the border of Franklin and Henry counties, Va., January 16, 2017.

Virginia Water Radio’s is a weekly broadcast/podcast produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.  The home page is  Have a listen or two!

Virginia Clean Water Financing Programs under the Va. Dept. of Environmental Quality, as of March 2017

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), on behalf of the State Water Control Board and with financial management by the Virginia Resources Authority, operates several water-quality financing programs under the collective term of the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund (VCWRLF).

Previously known as the Virginia Revolving Loan Fund, the VCWRLF began in 1987 with a focus only on low-interest loans to localities for wastwater system infrastructure improvements.  As of March 2017, the VCWRLF includes not only the Wastewater Loan Program but also the the Brownfield Loan Program, the Land Conservation Loan Program, the Stormwater Loan Program, the Living Shorelines Program, and the Water Quality Improvement Fund, and the Agricultural Best Management Practices Program (suspended indefinitely).

Information about these programs is available online at; or by contacting Walter A. Gills, Program Manager, Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Water Financing & Assistance Program, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218; phone (804) 698-4133; e-mail:

More information about the Virginia Resources Authority is available online at

Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains Course Offered by Virginia Tech Aug. 5-12, 2017

If you’re interested in the Great Smoky Mountains or the southern Appalachians in general–the water, air, land, people, plants, wildlife, and more–consider the Virginia Tech course, Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains, August 5-12, 2017.  This three-credit course is led by Dr. Donald Linzey, an adjunct instructor in the the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and the author of A Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2008).

People who are not degree-seeking Virginia Tech students may still participate in the course as special, non-degree students; an application process to Virginia Tech for that status is required.

For more information about the course, contact Dr. Linzey at (540) 231-2290 or  For details about registration, contact Susan Higgins at (540) 231-5482 or Cathy Barker at (540) 231-3486.

For an audio take on biodiversity and how Virginia Tech’s Great Smoky Mountains course focuses on that topic, have a listen to Virginia Water Radio Episode 260 (4-6-15), Biodiversity in Virginia and the Southern Appalachian Mountains (4 min./27 sec.).

Jordans Red-cheeked Salamander near Clingmans Dome Obs Tower Great Smoky Mt NP Aug6 2014 in Don Linzeys hands

A Jordan’s Red-cheeked Salamander, found near Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, was one of the treasures found during the 2014 version of Virginia Tech’s summer field course, “Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains.”