Wednesday, July 11, 2007

COLONIAL BEACH, Va. (AP) — Virginia plans to install a monitoring station in the Potomac River that will help boaters and fishermen while assisting marine biologists studying the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The station will be put at the mouth of Monroe Bay in a section of the Potomac where a lot of fish have died. It will collect water-quality information every 15 minutes and post it on a Virginia Institute of Marine Science Web site,

The station, which should be in place next month, is the first of two real-time monitoring sites that the institute will be offering on its year-old Virginia Estuarine and Coastal Observing System. A second real-time station will keep tabs on the James River near Hopewell.

“Ultimately, we’d like to have as much real-time data as possible,” said marine science professor Ken Moore.

In the waters off of the summer resort of Colonial Beach, persistent fish-killing algal blooms have made the Monroe Bay station a natural pick for real-time monitoring, Mr. Moore said.

The station is similar to one about five miles away on the other side of the Potomac, at Swan Point, Md., which is maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Virginia and Maryland began placing sensors in their waters several years ago to measure the regional effort to control Bay pollution.

The states are under a federal order to improve water quality in the troubled estuary.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality recently began posting information on the Potomac River algal bloom on its site,

“The root cause of these things is excess pollution, which we, as a society, need to more fully address,” said agency spokeswoman Julia Wellman.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,, also posts up-to-date weather and water-quality information from two sites — the James River near Jamestown and the mouth of the Potomac.

Virginia’s monitoring stations collect information on water temperature, salinity, acidity, chlorophyll, turbidity and dissolved oxygen.

High chlorophyll levels indicate the presence of algae that flourish in waters enriched with sewage or fertilizers and animal manure that have washed into streams. When the algae die, the decomposition consumes oxygen, reflected by low-dissolved oxygen counts. A large amount of fish dying at one time, known as fish kill, often follows.

Algal blooms and scattered fish kills have occurred in the Potomac near Colonial Beach several times this year. The town was forced to close its beaches in 2004 when a toxic species of algae turned the Potomac shades of blue and green and posed the threat of skin rashes and gastric upset to swimmers.

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