Column: State: Local Streams and Rivers Are Polluted

Column: State: Local Streams and Rivers Are Polluted

Last week, I received a report from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding Mount Vernon and Lee’s rivers and streams. The annual assessment reports are disturbing and continue to show our rivers and streams are in poor health.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s analysis of the data, 71 percent of Virginia’s streams violate state water quality standards along with 94 percent of all estuaries (tidal parts of Hunting Creek/Cameron Run, Little Hunting Creek, Dogue Creek and the Potomac River). Every embayment and stream monitored in my delegate seat violated state water quality standards.

Here are the specifics for our local streams. Paul Spring Branch has elevated levels of e-coli on five of 12 samples taken where it crosses under Sherwood Hall Lane and an impaired macro-invertebrate community (e.g., crawfish, water bugs and other indicators of a health stream). The sources of impairment are “unknown.” The stream is impaired for recreational uses.

Little Hunting Creek has elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and is impaired for fish consumption and aquatic life from toxic pollutants, combined sewer overflows, contaminated sediments, and unidentified upstream sources.

The data for Dogue Creek is incomplete , but DEQ’s findings show impairment for fish consumption.

Hunting Creek/Cameron Run, which is fed in part by Quander Brook, has elevated e-coli levels and is impaired for recreation. The sources are combined sewer overflows (collection system failures), sewage discharges in unsewered areas, urban runoff/storm sewers and wastes from pets, waterfowl and wildlife other than waterfowl.

Each estuary (embayment) in the 44th District is impaired for fish consumption due to PCB’s and the state recommends limiting fish consumption to no more than two meals per month. The sources of PCBs listed are toxics, clean sediments, combined sewer overflows, contaminated sediments and unidentified upstream sources.

The larger question is how do we remedy this? The stormwater infrastructure in our part of the county is entirely outdated due to the age of most development. Most county stormwater control requirements in effect today post-date the development of our area. The county channelized many streams and converted them into concrete troughs designed to whisk water away, instead of letting it naturally infiltrate into the ground. Many wetlands which normally act as natural filters and absorptive “sponges” were filled or drained. The inexorable expansion of impervious surfaces like parking lots, roofs and roads has created too much polluted runoff.

This approach has effectively turned our streams into sewers and even a small amount of rain can effectively turn a stream like Paul Spring, Little Hunting Creek, Quander Brook or Dogue Creek into a toilet bowl — pushing anything and everything out into the Potomac River. Route 1’s massive parking lots act as large stormwater funnels.

The Center for Watershed Protection says that stream quality is threatened when watershed development exceeds 10-15 percent of impervious cover or one house every one to two acres. The Little Hunting Creek watershed has 25 percent impervious cover; the Belle Haven watershed, 32 percent.

Redevelopment can actually help and the County is upgrading infrastructure. The state also needs to participate by reconfiguring storm water outflows when roads are rebuilt. Homeowners can help by reducing impervious surfaces and doing things as simple as cleaning up after pets.

DEQ’s monitoring does not even cover litter which is also a massive problem in our community. Last year, the Friends of Little Hunting Creek removed 127 bags of trash from one site in three separate cleanups in 2011 alone. Last week, a group hauled 100 bags of trash out of Dyke Marsh.

On Saturday, April 14, from 12 to 4 p.m. as part of the Alice Ferguson Foundation Potomac River Cleanup, I am sponsoring a cleanup of Upper Little Hunting Creek before it flows east under Route 1. I walked the creek last week in the creek I and saw hundreds of bottles and plastic bags, over 20 discarded shopping carts, two mattresses, chairs, tables, a scooter and other trash. To sign up, RSVP online at my newsletter, The Dixie Pig, at or send me an email at

It is an honor to serve as your delegate.

By Scott Surovell

State Delegate (D-44)