U.S. Water News Online
RICHMOND, Va. -- Nutrient-borne pollution is depleting
oxygen in Virginia's major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, making
it hard for fish, crabs and oysters to survive, the Chesapeake Bay
The entire York River and parts of the Pamunkey and Rappahanock
rivers lack oxygen levels necessary to sustain healthy marine life,
according to data collected by the Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality in early June.
That the problem is occurring so early in the season and so far
from the mouth of the rivers alarms some researchers, who say the
problem is likely to worsen this summer.
Jeff Corbin, senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation,
said he fears a repeat of last year's "dead zone,'' where
oxygen-starved water covered 40 percent of the bay, from Baltimore to
the mouth of the York River.
"We're on track to having just about as bad a dead zone problem
this year,'' Corbin said. "That we see these conditions so early in
the summer and so far up Virginia rivers is truly alarming.''
Recently, the foundation found a large "mahogany tide'' of brown
algae several hundred yards long in the lower James River. Such
blooms are known to kill oysters and other shellfish by clogging
their gills and producing toxins that kill their young.
Charles Landon, a Gloucester County waterman who crabs in the York
River, Ware and Severn rivers, told the Daily Press of Newport News
that his catches have been rotten so far this year. "We haven't had
this kind of trouble this bad before,'' he said.
Low oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, have been occurring annually
in the bay and its tributaries. The phenomenon results from excessive
amounts of nutrient pollution running off from farms, stormwater and
septic systems, and flowing from sewage-treatment plants.
State environmental agency officials acknowledge that water
quality continues to be a problem but say it's too early to predict
another bad year for the rivers and the bay.
"It's premature to draw conclusions,'' DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden
said. "This is not cause for alarm. It's cause for continuing the
work we've been doing.''
The foundation and other environmental groups have been calling
for limiting such nutrient pollution from sewage-treatment plants.
State officials said Virginia is tackling the problem by drafting
strategies to reduce river pollution and developing regulations
designed to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing out of industrial
and sewage-treatment plants.
But other state and federal regulatory agencies and residents of
the bay watershed itself will have to share the burden of cleaning up
the bay, which could cost as much as $18.7 billion according to
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