- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Six years of water-quality monitoring along the headwaters of the Potomac River revealed that some contaminants decreased and nitrates increased, but that there was no compelling change in the content of the river’s flow, officials said.

“This is a very complex issue,” said Curtis Dalpra, a spokesman for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, which helps the federal government and the states that make up the Potomac Basin address water quality and related resource problems in the Potomac watershed.

“Over the years [of the water-quality study], there have been great changes,” Mr. Dalpra said. “There have been huge swings in the weather. That equates to huge changes in water flows.”

Weather changes can affect a river’s content of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are important for the health of animals and fish, Mr. Dalpra said. Many pollutants flow into waterways when it rains.

The study, which was released by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, began in 1998 after the state’s Environmental Protection Department reported that seven streams flowing into the Potomac were contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria.

Those streams had been cited by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as polluted by fecal contamination.

The study concluded in 2004 after 13,000 samples had been taken and analyzed from 100 sites in Lost River, South Branch, the north and south forks of the South Branch of the Potomac, Mill Creek, Lunice Creek and Anderson Run.

Analysis revealed that phosphorus and ammonia decreased at 26 test sites and increased at three other test sites.Nitrates increased at 36 test sites but could not be found at three other test sites.

Fecal coliform bacteria, which could be traced to poultry and farm animals, decreased at 14 test sites, while there was no detectable change at 12 other sites.

No detectable change is surprising since there have been many changes in the environmentwhile the study was conducted, officials said.

The poultry industry has tripled during the study years, Mr. Dalpra said.

A government cost-share program was initiated in the mid-1990s to focus on accelerated development of nutrient-management plans and installation of agricultural-waste storage structures, mortality composters and livestock-confinement areas, the study shows.

Nearly 85 percent of poultry growers in the five-county area of the Potomac Valley Conservation District in the eastern part of West Virginia are participating in that program, the study found.

Researchers sought data that might indicate if increased amounts of poultry litter, including manure and bedding materials, infiltrated the headwaters.

“It was a very complicated period of time,” said W. Neil Gillies, executive director of West Virginia-based Cacapon Institute, explaining that the headwaters region experienced a drought in 1998 and 1999, and that 2003 and 2004 “were as wet as it could be.”

During drought conditions, river and creek waters contain few nutrients, but because of little water, the nutrients are not as diluted and test at higher levels. During wet seasons, more nutrients and debris run into the rivers and creeks, but because of more water, the nutrients test at smaller levels.

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