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.

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.”

Water in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly: Nutrient Credits

This is one of a series of posts on particular water-related bills in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly.  For an inventory of about 165 water-related bills in the 2017 General Assembly, please visit the Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s “Virginia Water Legislation” page, online at  Each post includes a summary of the bill(s), their legislative status (in committee, passed, failed, etc.), and a list of hyperlinked headlines for news media items on the bill(s).  Information on the bill’s provisions and status is taken from the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), online at  The bill number is hyperlinked to the LIS entry for that bill.

HB 2311 – Nutrient Offset Fund; additional stipulations for the purchase and sale of credits.  This bill, sponsored by Del. M. Kirkland Cox (R-66th District), of Colonial Heights, passed the House and Senate and was approved by the governor.  The bill does the following, according to the bill’s text:

*Renames nutrient “offsets” as nutrient “credits…that achieve equivalent point or nonpoint source reductions in the same tributary beyond those reductions already required by or funded under federal or state law or the Watershed Implementation Plan prepared for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load pursuant to § 2.2-218.”

*Continues to allow the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director to enter into contracts to acquire such credits using the Nutrient Offset Subfund; removes the priority given to nutrient offsets produced from facilities that generate electricity from animal waste; and adds a new requirement that credits in the Nutrient Offset Subfund be listed in a registry maintained by the DEQ.

*Adds a new provision that the DEQ “shall establish a procedure to govern the distribution of moneys from the Subfund that shall include criteria that address (i) the annualized cost per pound of the reduction, (ii) the reliability of the underlying technology or practice, (iii) the relative durability and permanence of the credits generated, and (iv) other such factors that the Department deems appropriate to ensure that the practices will achieve the necessary reduction in nutrients for the term of credit.”

*Continues to require the DEQ director to make nutrient credits available for sale to owners or operators of new or expanded facilities pursuant to § 62.1-44.19:15, and to permitted facilities pursuant to § 62.1-44.19:18.  Adds a requirement that DEQ director “consider recommendations of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade consistent with the requirements of the State Water Control Law (§ 62.1-44.2 et seq.) in the sale of nutrient credits to new or expanding private facilities.”

*In Section E, adds “nonpoint” to the allowable source of nutrient credits: “For the purposes of this section, a ‘nutrient credit’ means a nutrient reduction certified by the Department of Environmental Quality as a load allocation, point or nonpoint source nitrogen credit, or point or nonpoint source phosphorus credit under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Credit Exchange Program.”

Related News Media Item
New plant on James River to require 1st pollution trade of its kind in VA, Bay Journal, 1/22/17.

Pigg River Dam Removal in Rocky Mount, Va., in Fall 2016

An unused power dam over 100 years old on the Pigg River in Rocky Mount, Va., was one of 72 outdated dams removed in the United States in 2016, according to the non-profit group American Rivers.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pigg River dam was built in 1915 for the Light and Power Company of Rocky Mount and later American Electric Power, and it has been inoperable since the late 1950s.

The dam’s demolition in fall 2016 opens up fish access to 72 miles of the Roanoke River tributary from its headwaters in Franklin County to the Leesville Lake on the Franklin/Bedford/Campbell county border.  The removal also will provide 2.2 miles of habitat for the Roanoke Logperch, which is on the federal Endangered Species List.

Partners in the removal of the Pigg River dam included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of the Rivers of Virginia (the dam’s owners), Franklin County, the Town of Rocky Mount, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and American Electric Power.  Duke Energy provided $1 million for Pigg River dam removal as part of the company’s response to the February 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River (also a Roanoke River tributary) from a Duke facility near Eden, North Carolina.

Pigg River dam removal project part of national trend, Roanoke Times, 2/16/17.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, online at

A map of dams removed in the United States since 1916 is available from American Rivers, online at

More background on U.S. dams and the removal of outdated ones is available in “The Undamming of America,” by Anna Lieb for the Public Broadcasting System’s “NOVA Next,” 8/12/15, online at

Stream Protection Rule Regarding Coal Mining Impacts on Waterways Rescinded in February 2017 After Finalization in December 2016

In early February 2017, Congress used the Congressional Review Act to rescind the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) “Stream Protection Rule,” on impacts of coal mining on waterways.  The rule had been finalized with Federal Register publication on December 20, 2016.  OSMRE’s Web site on the proposed rule is at; a link to the text of the proposed rule is available there.  OSMRE first proposed the rule on July 16, 2015 (the draft rule was published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2015).

According to the OSMRE Web site on 2/14/17, the rule was intended to have done the following:

“…[Define] ‘material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area’ for the first time…clarifying that the statutory prohibition on the approval of proposed operations that would result in material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area applies to both surface and underground mining operations.  Under SMCRA [the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, passed in 1977], the regulatory authority may not approve a permit application unless the application demonstrates, and the regulatory authority finds, that the proposed operation would not result in material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.

“…[Require] that the regulatory authority specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would constitute material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area reach that level of damage.  It further provides that the regulatory authority must specify threshold values for surface water and groundwater parameters that will trigger an evaluation of whether the permit must be revised to prevent the occurrence of material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.

“…[Expand] the baseline data requirements for permit applications for proposed coal mining operations to ensure that the permittee and the regulatory authority have a complete picture of pre-mining conditions to which the impacts of mining can be compared.  Monitoring during mining and reclamation will include a comprehensive suite of parameters for both surface water and groundwater to ensure that the impacts of mining are identified in a manner that will enable timely initiation of corrective measures.

“…[Require] the restoration of the physical form, hydrologic function, and ecological function of the segment of a perennial or intermittent stream that a permittee mines through.  Additionally, it requires that the post-mining surface configuration of the reclaimed mine site include a drainage pattern, including ephemeral streams, similar to the pre-mining drainage pattern, with exceptions for stability, topographical changes, fish and wildlife habitat, etc.

“…[Require] the establishment of a 100-foot-wide streamside vegetative corridor of native species (including riparian species, when appropriate) along each bank of any restored or permanently-diverted perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral stream.”

The proposed rule’s announcement in July 2015 raised immediate objections from the National Mining Association, some elected officials from mining states like West Virginia, and others about its potential economic impacts.  On the other hand, some environmental organizations criticized the proposal for allowing some variance, under certain conditions, from the 100-foot buffer requirement established in 1983; those conditions are described in the proposed rule on p.364 (part of the section entitled, “What additional requirements apply to proposed activities in, through, or adjacent to streams?”).

The Stream Protection Rule was the latest in a series of regulatory and litigation developments since the 1977 passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.  Some of those developments that led to the Stream Protection Rule were the following:
*1983 OSMRE rule requiring a 100-foot buffer zone along streams;
*2008 OSMRE Stream Buffer Zone Rule allowing deposition of mining materials within the 100-foot zone, with certain requirements for reducing impacts;
*2009 Memorandum of Understanding among the Interior Department, U.S. EPA, and Army Corps of Engineers on reducing stream impacts of coal mining, simultaneously starting OSMRE’s process to develop the current proposed regulation; and
*February 2014 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacating OSMRE’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule and reinstating the 1983 buffer zone.


House Republicans Vote to End Rule Stopping Coal Mining Debris From Being Dumped in Streams, Associated Press, as published by Time, 2/1/17.

Republicans Move to Block Rule on Coal Mining Near Streams, New York Times, 2/2/17.

Congress passes first rollback of Obama environmental rule, USA Today, 2/2/17.

Federal Register, “Stream Protection Rule,” 81 FR 93066, 12/20/16, online at

Interior Department Finalizes Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Impacts, U.S. Department of the Interior News Release, 12/19/16.

Interior Department Unveils Proposed Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Operations, U.S. Department of Interior News Release, 7/16/15.

National Mining Association Calls on Congress to Block OSM’s Costly, Unnecessary Stream Rule
, National Mining Association News Release, 7/16/15.

Interior unveils rule aimed at protecting streams from mining
, and Industry vows to fight ‘needless and conflicting’ stream rule, both from Greenwire, E&E Publishing, 7/16/15 (subscription required for access).

Two Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Announcements from Virginia DEQ in February 2017: DEQ Seeking Water-quality Data from Citizen/Non-Agency Monitoring Groups for 2018 305(b)/303(d) Report; 2016 Citizen/Non-Agency Monitoring Activity Report Available

As of early February 2017, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is seeking water quality data to help assess Virginia waterways for the next biennial, statewide water-quality report (the 2018 report), known as the 305(b)/303(d) Integrated Report (referring to relevant section numbers of the federal Clean Water Act).  Information about the biennial report is available online at (see also this News Grouper link on the 2016 report).

Please note that groups which are part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Friends of Shenandoah River, or Virginia Save Our Streams, or who routinely upload data to the DEQ Citizen/Non-Agency Database, do not need to resubmit their results.

For more information on submitting data, contact the DEQ’s James Beckley at

Meanwhile, the DEQ’s report summarizing the contributions of monitoring organizations for 2016 is available online at the DEQ’s “Citizen Monitoring” Web site, (click on “Follow-Up Monitoring”).

Information for this post was provided by the Virginia Water Monitoring Council (VWMC).  More information about the VWMC is available online at; or contact Jane Walker at the or (540) 231-4159.  Please feel free to forward this information; when forwarding, please acknowledge the VWMC.