Legislators & Chemical Spill

In January 2014, a coal industrial chemical spill into the Elk River from the company Freedom Industries upstream from Charleston  left 300,000 people in the Kanawha River Valley without safe drinking water for nearly three months.  Above-ground storage tanks leaked the chemical, and with citizen clamor the W.Va. legislature passed a law to regulate them.  Disgracefully, a year later, lawmakers  in both parties gutted the law, again leaving citizens unprotected:  http://wvecouncil.org/asta-rollback/

Ken Ward explains the politics in Charleston Gazette-Mail’s blog:  http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/coaltattoo/2015/03/10/chemical-tank-rollbacks-how-soon-we-forget/comment-page-1/#comment-245631

Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies estimates that the 2015 law regulates only 0.2% of the tanks covered under the 2014 law—that is, 90 tanks statewide.  The offending company ’s tanks in the chemical spill would not even be regulated.

Storage tanks listed in the Potomac Highlands counties are fewer than in many other counties where coal and oil dominate the economy. Nevertheless, we have 108 in Jefferson County,  22 in Morgan,  213 in Berkeley,  58 in Hampshire, 63 in Hardy, 67 Mineral, 132 in Grant, and 44 in Pendleton: downstreamstrategies.com ... asts-in-wv-a-snapshot.pdf

How did your legislators vote on the bill and the failed attempts to amend it to protect clean water?  https://legiscan.com/WV/votes/SB423/2015

ANYWAY—Who is your legislator?  Our gerrymandered districts confuse counties and regions, but you can find out here:  http://www.legis.state.wv.us/districts/maps.cfm

Remember that 2016 is an election year. Time to make some changes?? sos.wv.gov...WEST VIRGINIA ELECTION CALENDAR 2016.pdf

If you wish to run for election in 2016, you need to file a form, signed, notarized and postmarked by January 30. No petitions are needed. The filing fee is 1% of the first year's salary. Running for Office in West Virginia Guide (PDF)

Chesapeake Bay Water Less Healthy

Whether you measure chemical pollution, or biological health of plants and invertebrates, clean water quality has dropped in Potomac watershed since 2009. Click labels in the key of the trends graph, to see each item trend: ian.umces.edu/ecocheck/report-ca … ies/potomac_river/#_Trends_Graph

Total Maximum Daliy Loads of pollutants in the river continue to be an issue: bayjournal.com/article/court_hea … uments_on_challenges_to_bay_tmdl

January 2012 Storm Water Update

In spite of meetings and phone calls with environmentalists, EPA has not acted to adopt WV’s discharge permit process, which might provide better enforcement against pollution. However, EPA has specifically scrutinized huge mountaintop removal proposals including Consol Energy’s Buffalo Mountain Mine on Pigeon Creek in Mingo County. wvgazette.com/News/201201260284

Stewards & Allies Win Jefferson County Sewage Case

In August 2009, Stewards of the Potomac Highlands won a case for better treatment of local sewage. We had joined with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, WV Rivers Coalition, and the Jefferson County Sewer Board to support limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, set by the WV Department of Environmental Protection. Sewer boards for Charles Town, Martinsburg, Berkeley County and Morgan County were protesting a DEP proposal to impose limits in 2012, and took the issue to the WV Environmental Quality Board.

Nitrogen and Phosphorus fertilize our food, so they are in the food, then in us, then go into our sewers, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. In the water they continue to be fertilizers, so too many algae grow, which shade out the submerged plants where marine life breeds. Furthermore the algae die, and bacteria which eat them take too much oxygen from the water, killing fish.

The sewer boards were told that, yes, they do have to limit Nitrogen and Phosphorus by 2012. We didn't even have to put on our expert witnesses. The EQB gave a directed verdict that the limits were right. The sewer boards now have only three years left to upgrade their sewer plants, but instead of getting busy on the problem, they have asked the EQB to re-open the case.

A Berkeley County manager insisted his county is really trying to improve sewer treatment, to get out of the way of the oncoming "train" of tighter limits on Nitrogen and Phosphorus. An EQB member, Edward Armbrecht, jokingly chided them that the goal is to get on the train.

Stewards was represented by Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Amy McDonnell of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Potomac Basin Clean-Up: Money Flows

As of late 2009, Congress is considering adding more money and muscle to the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes all the streams feeding the Potomac River in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, DC, and Pennsylvania. The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, a bill (S. 1816/H.R. 3852), is the first realistic and comprehensive effort to clean up Mid-Atlantic and Potomac Highlands waters since the early 1970s. This legislation aims to protect clean streams from being polluted, and sets the year 2025 as a deadline to complete restoration of polluted waters. With all the problems of intersex and diseased fish, and fertilizer runoff from agriculture and suburban lawns, this date is none too soon. But according to Peter Marx of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Coalition, 2025 is a realistic deadline.

In 2009 West Virginia's Headwater State Grant was $500,000. The new bill in Congress would raise that annual grant to $2.7 million, with at least $530,000 in technical assistance for agriculture and forestry. Already, West Virginia farmers will be getting $2.7 million in 2010 from the 2008 federal farm bill. The government sets limits on how much fertilizer (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) and sediment are allowed in a stream. This limit is known as TMDL or "total maximum daily load." The program offers farmers help in controlling runoff to meet the regulation. Under the bill, local governments in West Virginia would also be eligible for $1.5 billion in handling storm water. Please let Congress members know of your support for H.R. 3852, known as Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act.

EPA has been explaining the TMDL limits at public meetings, including sessions in Martinsburg and Moorefield this fall. The audience in Martinsburg asked why the pollution estimated by EPA's model differs from actual stream measurements. Only then did EPA admit their slides were showing modeled progress, not measured progress. They promised to show measured progress in some undefined future, but we feel it would be more helpful to be using real data from our streams now. Many groups measure water quality in our region. These statistics are used for education, for measuring cleanups, for filing lawsuits. We have gathered the links and data that we know about at the bottom of this page so you can use the links when you need data.

Can you as a homeowner or farmer help control river pollution? Yes, especially if you live in a suburban-style development where paved streets and parking lots keep rain from soaking into the soil. The runoff carries oil, lawn chemicals and other pollutants directly into nearby ditches, which lead to streams and then to rivers. You can plant a curbside or back yard wildflower garden to catch the rain, allow the soil to filter out pollutants, and attract interesting birds and insects. The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin is mapping and recognizing citizens' watershed-friendly gardens.

The ICPRB also has a rain barrel program to help gardeners capture rain to water their plants. Details on this and more are at PotomacRiver.org.

EPA Asked to Take Over from WV DEP

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have asked the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to remove West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's authority over water pollution (NPDES). The 26-page petition is here: epapetition.pdf.

EPA says it has never taken over a state program, but it could increase oversight or do more of its own inspections.

The petition points to the impairment of one-third of West Virginia's rivers, streams, and lakes, non-enforcement of city storm water rules, violations of federal law on backsliding, costs, and public notices. Since EPA does not enforce rules when DEP makes a settlement agreement, the petition says polluters "have flocked to DEP to negotiate settlement agreements to block legal action by citizens or EPA."

A DEP attorney admitted they issue permits which will not be complied with; the Charleston Gazette reported the attorney as saying "if his agency did not renew permits for companies with outstanding water pollution violations, no mining permits would ever be renewed."

Chemicals and Hormones in the Potomac Watershed

The Cacapon Institute and other groups are monitoring ongoing pollution problems in the Potomac watershed. For serveral years, groups of dead fish have been spotted in the South Branch, Cacapon, Potomac, and Shenandoah Rivers. Unfortunantly, no scientific explanation has yet been determined. Intersex fish — individual fish with both male and female characteristics— have appeared. These fish are are often weak and sick. We know that water pollution includes hormones and chemicals that disrupt people's and animals' endocrine gland systems.

Part of the cause may be agricultural chemicals, but these chemicals may also come from hospitals, nursing homes, and houses flushing prescription medications down the drain. Potomac Water Watch has organized a pill drive, calling for people to return outdated prescriptions to Judy's Drug Store in Petersburg and CVS in Moorefield, rather than flush them down the drain.

Rivers don't stop at the state line. Potomac Water Watch is also distributing a poster to ask anglers, boaters, landowners and others who use rivers to report sick and dying fish so that the full extent of this problem can be analyzed. You can report fish kills to Jeff Kelble, fishing guide, B&B host, and eagle-eyed river patroller from Boyce, VA, at 540-837-1479. His website (PotomacRiverKeeper.org/shenandoah) links to many other Virginia river sites. The Potomac Conservancy watches the DC end of the river.

January 2007 Storm Water Update: Flood thy Neighbor?

Stewards has asked the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board again to rule that drainage from storm ponds must go to a stream and not just be dumped on a neighbor downhill. Many builders have tried to oppose us in the case and the EQB has let one intervene to represent the others' interests. The other builders appealed to Kanawha County Circuit Court, so they clearly want to send their storm water downhill to the neighbors, without the neighbors' permission of course.

We thought we had cleared up this problem with a 2005 case, reported in our January 2005 newsletter, where Stewards challenged the inadequacies of Corridor H storm drainage plans. We reached a settlement on that, where we, DEP, and EQB all agreed that storm ponds must drain either directly to a receiving stream or along a channel to a stream. They cannot just drain onto the downhill neighbor's land. We'll see how this case comes out. If you have storm water coming on your land from neighboring construction sites, please contact us.

December 2006: Shenandoah Fish Kill

Neil Gillies, executive director of Cacapon Institute in Highview, Hampshire County, West Virginia, passes along this report of a fish kill from Jeff Kelble with the Shenandoah Riverkeepers.

Jeff reported that he and another fisherman had identified, with a GPS locator, over 50 dead Northern Hogsucker fish in a couple of hundred yards of the Shenandoah main stem between Route 50 and Loches Landing in Virginia. He wondered if the South Branch and main stem Potomac have dead fish as well. Potomac Water Watch is researching fish kills, intersex fish, emerging contaminants and endocrine disrupters. PWW is a partnership of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, WV Rivers Coalition, Cacapon Institute, and Friends of the Cacapon River. PotomacWaterWatch.org . Neil can take your reports about fish kills or pollution 304-856-1385. ngillies@cacaponinstitute.org.

Close To Home: Your Septic System Protects the Groundwater

How can you keep your septic system working well? What are alternative costs if your septic system stops working? How do septic systems work? What can go wrong at each step? Click here to "Save Money by Keeping Your Septic System Sweet"!

Clean Rivers: Why Clean Water Matters

Clean water is important for the life of fish, turtles, waterfowl and invertebrates in the water. It is also important for recreation, tourism, and to minimize drinking water treatment costs.

Rain carries sediment (mud) from cities, construction sites, eroded areas and plowed fields into rivers. Mud is the most pervasive killer in rivers because it suffocates life on the bottom.

When you feel slippery rocks on a clean river bottom, you are feeling a community of life. Diatoms that coat the rocks create energy by photosynthesis. Tiny insect larvae and other invertebrates have mouth parts adapted to graze on the slippery coating or they use nets or filters to capture food in crannies or water flowing over the rocks. These hunters and gatherers become food for adult fish, turtles and waterfowl. Sediment or lack of oxygen suffocates the whole chain of life.

Before people developed the Potomac Highlands area, mud was held by forests and captured by thousands of beaver ponds, so rivers ran clear even in storms. Now every rain turns rivers brown. Construction in this area is the biggest cause of mud in rivers. Farm plowing used to be a big problem, but most farmers now use no-till methods and drill seeds into the stubble of the previous crop, never plowing the ground bare to prevent their soil from running off.

The national Clean Water Act of 1972 limits pollution that individuals, businesses, and governments may put in rivers. Successful legal actions by Stewards help you learn about potential pollution more easily and suggest ways to avoid it.

Most polluters need a permit that limits what they may discharge. Every five years after a permit is issued, the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revises the permit, receives public comment, revises the permit again, and writes back explaining why it accepts or rejects each comment.

You can comment on each pollution permit twice per decade. Commenting is an important way to work for cleaner water. You may see a way to reduce pollution, and DEP may accept your comments and require the pollution to be reduced. If your comments are rejected and you don't think the reasons given are good enough, you can appeal to the Environmental Quality Board. The Board consists of five people, mostly science and engineering professors, appointed by the Governor, who hear appeals and also establish the overall limits for pollution in our rivers, the West Virginia Water Quality Standards.

Find Out About Pollution Permits Near You

Starting in 2004 DEP will send emails (or letters if you lack email) listing pollution permits that DEP wants comments on. The notices are organized by county, so you only have to see the ones near you. Early in 2004 you will be able to sign up for as many counties as you want at www.wvdep.org. If you don't use the internet you can write to: Public Information Office, 1356 Hansford Street, Charleston, WV 25301.

We and the WV Rivers Coalition got these notices started by appealing a permit that had not gone through proper public notice. The settlement of our appeal included these notices so people can find out about comment periods in their area. The notices were required for years, and the state ignored the rules. Stewards has met several times with Rivers Coalition, DEP, and other groups to work out details.

If you learn about a polluter or pollution permit and need help, contact us, or call the Rivers Coalition's permit program 304-291-8205 or email ehansen@downstreamstrategies.com.

Storm Sewers

Also starting in 2004 you can comment on a city's plans to clean up storm water. Most city storm sewers are separate from treated sewage, and they have been unregulated for many years. When it rains, storm sewers carry mud, oil, and anything else from streets into rivers. Because of national appeals by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 of the largest cities in West Virginia have to educate the public and reduce the pollution that storm sewers cause. By March 2004 each city must submit a 4-year plan, which will be announced on the area lists described above, so you can comment on whether the plan will be effective, and can suggest stronger actions or a faster schedule. DEP's original permit did not include public comment, and an appeal by Stewards and the Rivers Coalition was needed to open the process to public comment.

Less Degradation Of Rivers

Stewards participated in yet another successful appeal in 2003 on rules in West Virginia that let streams be degraded by more pollution. Stewards was one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit about anti-degradation rules. US District Judge Goodwin agreed with us that DEP was weaker than EPA rules allow on 7 out of 13 issues challenged, and he told the government to fix them.

Most streams are somewhat cleaner than the legal limits. The Water Quality Standards, which set a limit on each pollutant, such as nitrates, phosphorus, etc., has anti-degradation rules try to keep this clean situation, unless important socioeconomic reasons justify degradation. The purpose of the Clean Water Act is to remove all pollution, not let it continue or get worse, but, unfortunately, polluters are still allowed to add pollution in 6 ways:

(1) each polluter may go to the limits of its current permit until it expands;

(2) polluted water which comes from a broad area (non-point or sheet flow, such as farms and forests) is not reviewed as long as reasonable, cost-effective, best management practices (BMPs) are installed and maintained;

(3) polluters may discharge more pollutants if they get someone upstream to reduce those pollutants even more (trading);

(4) polluters on low quality streams (tier 1) may discharge each pollutant up to the legal limit for the stream;

(5) polluters on middle quality streams (tiers 2 or 2.5) may use, collectively, 10% of the gap between the actual water quality in the stream, and the legal limit;

(6) polluters on lower middle quality streams (tier 2) may go beyond 10%, all the way to the legal limit, if they use the cleanest practical techniques, and show social or economic benefits (such as jobs, taxes, or meeting social needs);

On the best streams (tier 3, usually in remote wilderness), new polluters are basically not allowed unless they send their effluent to another stream or reduce other pollution even farther upstream.

The winning arguments keep higher standards on rivers where DEP wanted to drop them. The win also requires reviews of each pollutant in sewer plants and all sites covered by a general permit, and keeps the cumulative limit in exception 5 above at 10%, not 20%.

Nitrogen in the Chesapeake

The Chesapeake Bay Program is trying to protect the bay from being suffocated by pollution all over the watershed, including the Potomac Highlands in West Virginia. Their main concerns are sediment, as discussed above, and nitrogen.

Excess nitrogen from poultry, cattle, human waste, and fertilizer, is a nutrient that can cause explosive algae growth. When the algae die, bacteria that cause the algae to decay use up oxygen in the water, suffocating fish and invertebrates. Phosphorus acts similarly as an excess nutrient.

The Bay program has tentatively set the following goals for reduction of Nitrogen and sediment. These are rough numbers, because they are applied region-wide, with very broad data. West Virginia is trying to find the main source of each to achieve reductions.




2010 goal lbs/year

% reduction needed by 2010

2010 goal tons/year

% reduction needed by 2010









































wv total





Any new loads, from new construction or new polluters, have to be balanced by greater reductions somewhere else. Sewer plants re-lease substantial amounts of Nitrogen: six pounds per year per per-son, not counting sewer pipe breaks or permit violations. Septic systems release 40% less per person, but are not being used for most new homes in the area.

Construction Signs

In 2004 you will start seeing signs on large construction sites, where over 1 acre of land is to be cleared. The signs will say what is being built and will give a DEP phone number you can call for a copy of the erosion plan.

Construction sites are required to manage their bare earth so rain will not carry mud or discolored water into rivers, suffocating life there. When you see the sign go up, you can get a copy of what the builder filed at DEP and comment on it.

The state rule is that "distinctly visible color" is not allowed in rivers and streams, so report it when you see it (State regs: 46-1-3.2.f, on our website).

Compliance is required anywhere an acre will be cleared of vegetation or cleared of previous construction (i.e., demolition). Even an old subdivision with four or more lots remaining to be built must comply, because an acre will be disturbed eventually (1/4 acre on each lot). It doesn't matter if there are separate builders at separate times. Subdivisions are considered a "larger plan of development" and each builder must comply.

The construction signs and the public comment process result from an appeal by Stewards, which criticized several aspects of construction permits, including lack of opportunity for the public to comment on erosion controls. We won this sign requirement, though we did not succeed in getting big enough storm water basins to hold the biggest storms each year, or quick mulching of bare earth to stop erosion before each rain.

If you see discolored water flowing off a construction site, or if you see a builder clear more than one acre without a sign,

1) Take pictures;

2) Call Enforcement, 304-558-2497, and send the pictures with date, location, and how much rain fell, to

a) Enforcement, 1356 Hansford St., Charleston, WV 25301

b) And contact us; we want to keep a file of problems and solutions.

Clean Water Resources and Links

The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment is a regional law and policy organization. The Center works together with individual citizens and grassroots citizens' groups to clarify, analyze and act on the environmental and economic issues that affect our communities. They seek to start the long process of replacing the shortsighted economic policies of the region with more sustainable and responsible policies.

From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, the Cacapon Institute protects rivers and watersheds using science and education.

The West Virgina Code of State Rules Search Page lets you search the state code. For example to see the state code on water quality standards search for Title/Series 46-01, or search on Title for water quality.

Blue Heron Environmental Network watches over the the Back Creek watershed in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition seeks the conservation and restoration of West Virginia's exceptional rivers and streams.

The Groundwater Foundation makes learning about groundwater fun and understandable for kids and adults alike.

The Potomac Conservancy is a regional land and water conservation organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the natural, scenic, recreational, and historical qualities of the Potomac River and its watershed lands.

Friends of the Cacapon River is a nonprofit citizens watershed group based in Great Cacapon, focusing on the lower (northernmost) reaches of the Cacapon through Hampshire and Morgan Counties. Has published a tour map of the Cacapon.

Water Quality Data

Many groups measure water quality in our region. These statistics are used for education, for measuring cleanups, for filing lawsuits. Here are the links and data that we know about. If you know of other sources of data, please send us the data or the link, so we can all share it.

WV-DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management posts data from their Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Program online

Steward's own Paul Burke's Listener site links to Water Quality Test results from the Potomac's South Branch and its tributaries.

Friends of the Shenandoah River has a convenient monitoring map and data portal for sites along the Shenandoah River.

Here is a spreadsheet of coliform data measurements from Elk Run, west of Harpers Ferry, WV, from 1991 through 2006: Coliform_Elks_Run_1991-2006.xls.