- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

HOPEWELL, Va. (AP) — An algae bloom in the James River illustrates what ails the Chesapeake Bay: too many nutrients from farms, factories and fertilizers spread on green suburban lawns.

“It’s a sign of a polluted river,” said Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association, an environmental group.

The brownish-green James turns a light green about 1 miles below the Benjamin Harrison Bridge.

The discoloration detected last week was caused by a rapid outbreak of tiny plants called algae.

While nutrients occur naturally, too much fuels the growth of an overabundance of algae, which suck oxygen from the water when they die. That can make water inhospitable for fish, crabs and other river life.

The algae also cloud the water, blocking the sun and contributing to the death of river grasses where fish hide.

“This area here used to be blanketed with grasses in the ‘30s,” said Mr. Street, as the group’s 23-foot skiff drifted about two miles below the bridge. Now, he said, “They’re gone.”

There were signs, however, of a healthy river — fish jumping, a bald eagle gliding over the river, an osprey swooping to catch a fish. Water pollution laws have cleaned the river considerably, experts say.

“In a lot of respects, the river looks beautiful, but it’s sort of like the beauty is only skin deep,” Mr. Street said. “You’ve got a lot of problems going on down below.”

The algae appeared to cover several square miles of the river.

The state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) investigates algae outbreaks, often called blooms.

A worker took water samples to assess what type of algae is proliferating in the James.

Some types of algae can be harmful to people and fish, although the most harmful types occur more often in salty water. The water just below Hopewell is fresh.

The resort town of Colonial Beach temporarily closed its beaches last summer when a toxic form of algae, which could cause skin rashes and upset stomachs, contaminated the slightly salty Potomac River.

The nutrient overload in the James and the hot, sunny weather of the past few days provided perfect conditions for the algae to grow, said Alan Pollock, director of water quality for the DEQ.

Mr. Pollock said he expected the James River outbreak to last a week or so.

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