What’s Polluting Our Water?
The major threat to today’s water quality is pollution without an easily identifiable source, or nonpoint-source pollution. Nonpoint-source pollution accounts for more than half of all surface water pollution. We all contribute to nonpoint-source pollution.
Using fertilizer and pesticides on our lawns, failing to clean up after our pets, and washing our cars are all activities that cause nonpoint-source pollution. Every time it rains or snows, natural and man-made pollutants on the land are washed into streams and wetlands with the storm water.
These pollutants include pesticides, fertilizers, metals, manure, road salt and motor oil that originate from farms, lawns, paved surfaces, landfills and home septic systems. In addition, air pollutants contaminate rain water. Excess soil erosion caused by construction sites, logging, and other land disturbances is another significant contributor to nonpoint-source pollution.
Nonpoint-source pollution can degrade a stream quickly by introducing organic and inorganic pollutants that bury streambeds, decrease oxygen and negatively affect aquatic life. Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus that enter streams through storm water runoff, cause excess algae growth in streams, lakes, wetlands and estuaries. When the algae dies, it decomposes, depleting dissolved oxygen required by fish and other aquatic organisms. Erosion of sediment into a stream can smother aquatic life and clog the gills of fish as well as diminish light that underwater plants need to grow. Bacteria washed into streams from septic tanks and animal waste runoff can make aquatic organisms and humans sick.
How VA SOS Protects Water Quality
Virginia Save Our Streams engages volunteers in monitoring water quality. Volunteers can provide information on whether or not a waterway is polluted.
Virginia, like all states, is required under the federal Clean Water Act to report information on water quality to Congress. This information is published in the 305(b) Report, which is issued every two years by the Department of Environmental Quality.
The report identifies impaired or polluted waterways. If waters are listed as impaired, funding and other resources become available to clean them up. Volunteers can augment the report by monitoring streams that state agency staff do not have time or resources to monitor. These volunteer efforts ensure that any stream that is impaired is documented, and resources are made available for cleanup.
When a waterway is impaired, the state is required to develop a plan for cleanup. The plan includes a pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that states how much of each type of pollutant is permitted in the stream on a given day. The plan then details how pollution will be reduced from each potential source to meet that pollution diet.
What Can I Do to Help?
Become a Virginia Save Our Streams monitor today. The more volunteers we have, the more streams we can monitor. This helps us and Virginia DEQ identify and prioritize waterways for clean-up. Get started today. In addition to monitoring, there are many actions you can take as an individual or with your friends or community group to protect and improve water quality.
You can report an acute pollution problem directly to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Also, you track and comment on requests by potential polluters for permits or other related actions. Information also is available from VA DEQ about Public Notices, Public Calendar of Hearings (including TMDL public hearings), News Releases, and Citizen Boards. Notices about TMDL public hearings are included in the Public Notice section.
You may also want to review Virginia’s report to Congress to see if nearby streams have acceptable or unacceptable water quality. The 305(b) report, though large and a bit difficult to digest, contains important information on aquatic resources and pollution control programs in Virginia, including the number of river miles impaired. The entire report or sections can be downloaded from the DEQ website.