- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

RICHMOND — The public should not be alarmed by a report showing that nearly two-thirds of rivers and streams monitored by the state are polluted, a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official said yesterday.

“We’re not talking about imminent threat to human health,” said Darryl M. Glover, manager of water-quality monitoring and assessment programs. “When we’re talking about the health of Virginia waters, we’re mainly talking about aquatic life.”

Virginians generally can enjoy recreational activities on the “impaired” rivers and streams as long as they heed state Health Department fish-consumption advisories and are careful not to swallow too much water while swimming, Mr. Glover said at a press conference.

The DEQ studied about 14,300 miles of rivers and streams — nearly 30 percent of the state’s total — from 2000 through 2004.

About 9,000 miles were listed as “impaired,” meaning that they fail to fully support at least one of six usage categories: aquatic life, fishing, shellfishing, swimming, public water supplies and wildlife.

The impaired waters are up from 6,931 miles, or 61 percent of the total studied for the last five-year assessment, released in 2004.

DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said the monitoring program focuses on waters that the agency thinks are impaired.

That, plus the lack of data on about 36,000 stream miles, tends to skew the overall picture, he said.

“We found more waters that qualified as impaired because we are assessing new waters, and some water-quality standards have become stricter,” DEQ Director David K. Paylor said.

The DEQ also studied 112,500 acres of lakes and reservoirs and listed 109,200 acres as impaired.

About 2,370 square miles of estuaries were studied, and 2,200 square miles were impaired.

The draft 2006 Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report includes the first extensive update of trends at 261 monitoring stations since the 2000 report.

Since 1995, nearly 20 percent of those stations showed lower levels of bacteria, the leading contaminant in Virginia’s rivers and streams.

The remaining 80 percent stayed about the same.

“Anecdotally, as far as impairment, we don’t really see our waters getting any worse,” Mr. Glover said.

He said better management practices by farmers and other landowners are probably responsible for the overall decline in bacteria at those monitoring stations, which are among the more than 5,000 stations contributing data for the 2006 report.

The DEQ will receive public comments on the report through Aug. 11.

The agency also will conduct seven regional public hearings on the report over the next week.

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