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Entries in Virginia (11)


EPA Levies Record Fine for Water Pollution

Alpha Natural Resources will pay $27.5 million in fines as part of a settlement that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says is “the largest penalty in history” under the water-pollution portion of the federal Clean Water Act. The civil penalty is for nearly 6,300 violations of pollution limits at company sites.

Under the agreement, Alpha also will improve its water treatment practices for 79 active mines and 25 coal processing plants in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. According to EPA, that means $200 million will be used “to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines.”

The Justice Department’s Robert Dreher added, “The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this settlement sends a strong message to others in his industry that such egregious violations of the nation’s Clean Water Act will not be tolerated.”

Alpha spokesman Gene Kitts, meanwhile, said the consent decree “provides a framework for our efforts to become fully compliant with our environmental permits.”

He also pointed out that the company’s compliance rate for 2013 was 99.8 percent.

“That’s a strong record of compliance, particularly considering it’s based on more than 665,000 chances to miss a daily or monthly average limit,” he added. “But our goal is to do even better.”


Pollution Reduced, But Goals Not Reached for Cleaning Up Chesapeake Bay

Progress is being made in reducing the pollution flowing into Chesapeake Bay, according to a report. But the news is not all good, as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced, “Many jurisdictions fell short in implementing practices that reduce pollution from agricultural sources and urban and suburban polluted runoff.”

In 2010, the Bay states--- Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia --- and the Environmental Protect Agency set pollution limits that would restore water quality in the Bay, as well as the rivers that feed it. Additionally, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the agreed-upon pollution reductions.

Reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants exceeded 2013 goals, but “our analysis shows that implementation of some important practices like forested buffers and urban stream restoration lag behind what is necessary to achieve long-term goals,” CBF said.

What’s at risk if those long-term goals aren’t achieved? The list is long. For starters, there are the multi-million-dollar bass fisheries in the Bay’s many tributaries, with the Potomac being the most notable.

And how about this? Five-hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Bay. Also, it’s one of the few places left in the world where an industry exists harvesting oysters from the wild.

Additionally, this unique ecosystem supplies as much as 1/3 of the nation’s blue crabs annually, and striper fishing carries an economic value to the area of about $500 million per year.

“We are not on pace anywhere to meet our 2017 and 2025 goals,” said Jill Witkowski, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “If we’re planning to run a race, so far we’ve done a good job on our couch to 5k. But if we want to run a marathon, we have a long way to go.”

Runoff from farms is one of the biggest threats to the continued health of the Bay, as close to one-quarter of the land in its watershed is devoted to agriculture. Thus, it is the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay.

“While conventional tillage, fertilizers and pesticides can be beneficial to crops, their excessive use can pollute rivers and streams, pushing nutrients and sediment into waterways,” CBF said.

Key Findings:

• Maryland met or exceeded five of seven selected goals, including animal waste management systems, forest buffers, grass buffers, upgrading stormwater systems and septic regulations. It failed to meet tree-planting goals and didn't set a goal for urban forest buffers.

• Delaware reached or surpassed four of its seven selected goals, wetland restoration, cover crops, bioretention and urban tree planting. It fell short on animal waste management, grass buffers and septic system connections.

• Virginia met two of eight milestones evaluated: stream access control with fencing and urban stream restoration. It fell short on forest buffers, conservation tillage, composite agricultural practices, modern stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and composite urban practices.


Electrofishing Surveys Reveal Virginia's Top Bass Fisheries

Western Branch, Briery Creek, Gatewood, and Pelham rank at the top for largemouth bass populations in Virginia’s four regions, according to recent electrofishing surveys.

“Those lakes ranked at the top will provide excellent opportunities for anglers to catch quality largemouth bass,” said Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).

The agency cautioned, however, that “some of the large reservoirs are ranked lower than you might expect. Smaller reservoirs normally have higher sampling efficiency and will thus rank higher based on this evaluation.”

VDGIF based its rankings on the number of bass 15 inches and longer that biologists collected during one hour, as well as relative stock density, which is the proportion of bass in a population  over 8 inches  that are also at least 15 inches.

In Region I, Chesdin, Gardy’s Millpond, Prince, and Chickahominy Lake join Western Branch as the best, while Lake Burton, Smith Mountain, Conner, and Fairystone join Briery Creek in Region II.

For Region III, North Fork Pound Reservoir, Lake Whitten, Rural Retreat, and South Holston rank behind Gatewood, while Germantown, Occoquan, Burke, and Frederick follow Pelham in Region IV.


Fisheries Damage From Coal Ash Spill Investigated

Coal ash on a canoe paddle. Photo by Associated Press

Three weeks following a catastrophic coal ash spill at a Duke Energy facility, biologists are looking into how fish have fared in the Dan River along the North Carolina-Virginia border. They’ve captured samples that will be examined in a lab for contamination from pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, selenium, magnesium, lead, copper, and zinc.

Signs at the Milton boating access, meanwhile, warn people not to eat fish from the river or to touch the water without washing with soap immediately afterward.

And a researcher says that the spill will cause at least $70 million in damage to fish, wildlife, and other economic values associated with the river.  “It will almost certainly go up, perhaps way up, from there by a factor of 5 to 10,” Dennis Lemly said.

Those who collected fish said the river looked relatively normal with the number and species that they would expect to see this time of year, according to the News & Record.

Not far away, the fallout continues from a chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River during early January.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Downstream Strategies have identified 63 potential pollution threats in a new report. They include 40 commercial, 17 industrial, and 5 municipal facilities, including everything from above-ground storage tanks to wells producing natural gas.

The spill at Freedom Industries forced 300,000 people to turn off their taps and use bottled water for 5 to 10 days.

Long-term effects to the river and its aquatic life still are being assessed. Shortly after the spill, investigators said that impact on fish appeared minimal, according to Metro News.


Don't Be 'Dead Right' When It Comes to Public Access

Most of the time, anglers are in the right in confrontations with property owners over access to waterways.

But there’s little consolation in being dead right.

Such was the fate of Paul Dart Jr., who was floating Missouri’s Meramec River with friends with this summer. After stopping at a gravel bar, they were confronted by a property owner, who told them to leave.

Dart asserted that he had the legal right to be there. The property owner disagreed, and, according to witnesses, shot him dead.

In addition to being charged with second-degree murder, the shooter almost certainly was wrong regarding his property rights, according to Missouri case law. But Dart still is dead.

Most times, property owners are content to hurl obscenities and/or squirt water at those of us whom they believe are trespassing. But a confrontation regarding access can turn deadly just as suddenly as can an incident of road rage. Consequently, you are best advised to motor --- or paddle--- away promptly if you feel threatened. Far enough, at least, to be out of firearm range. Then call police, if you believe that you are in the right, and especially if you have been threatened with bodily harm.

But how do you know if you are in the right? On most lakes and reservoirs, the issue usually is clear-cut. Contrary to what they may think, property owners do not own the water that adjoins their land. Yes, local regulations may restrict how close you can get to a private dock or boat house. If you accessed the water legally, however, you have the right to fish most of it. Still, don’t assume anything. Be certain of the law before you challenge those who tell you to leave.

For flowing waters, and the oxbows associated with them, the access issue is far more complicated and rights vary from state to state. Generally, we have the right to fish navigable waters from a boat, no matter who owns the adjacent property.

One overarching constant in this muddled mess is the definition of navigable waters, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations:

“Navigable waters of the United States are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce. A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which impede or destroy navigable capacity.”

Still, a seemingly endless array of variables can play into the determination by states and courts of what flowing waters are “navigable” and public, as well as to what extent. For example, property owners in Virginia assert that anglers cannot wade a stretch of the Jackson River because they own the river bottom based on historical grants dating to the 18th century, before the colonies became a sovereign country.

In a case involving the Missouri River, meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the state of Montana has the right to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of rivers, regardless of who owns the bottom.  At the same time, though, the court decided that a utility that operates hydroelectric dams does not have to pay “rent” to the state for the river bottom.

Under the “equal footing” provision of the Constitution, states have title to the beds of navigable rivers within their borders. But that ownership is dependent upon the navigability of the water at the time of statehood. The court agreed with the utility that this particular stretch of the Missouri was not navigable when Montana became a state in 1889 and so could be privately owned.

Down in Mississippi, where anglers like to fish oxbows, the public’s right to a waterway applies to water between the natural banks. “The public cannot legally step out of the boat and onto the dry bank or bed of a public waterway without landowner permission,” said the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program.

“If the water has flooded beyond the natural banks, that is not public water.”

In many states, the “ordinary high water mark” indicates the limit to which anglers can go. Consequently, they are in their rights to use gravel bars when rivers are low during summer, as long as they accessed the river legally.

That likely was the case for Paul Dart Jr. and his friends who were floating the Meramec River. But, sadly, an ill-advised confrontation made him dead right.