Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition Launches Monitoring Program

The Truth Lies in the Data

In 2008, several community meetings were held on the Blue Ridge of Jefferson County to help create a vision of these mountain communities in years to come. The meetings were well attended by approximately 350 mountain residents.

With the new Chesapeake Bay pollution diet restrictions (TMDL) looming, a loud consensus was heard from these meetings, “What is in the Shenandoah? And did we put it there?” Mountain community members are not known for agreeing on much, but this theme was heard throughout the community meetings.

A “Vision of the Blue Ridge” was created with help from Downstream Strategies of Morgantown, WV. Many members of the community board that helped facilitate the meetings decided to join together in the name of understanding and improving water quality on the Blue Ridge Mountain, and the Chesapeake Bay downstream. In April 2011, the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition (BRWC) was formed to begin the arduous process of fixing 50-year-old problems that affect water quality in the mountain watershed.

A Governor’s Community Participation Grant was awarded to the BRWC with the help of Senator John Unger. With the grant, continuous turbidity meters were purchased to help with state of the art water monitoring of the Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge watersheds. The meters take continuous readings every 3 seconds with the help of laser. These readings measure the turbidity or amount of sediment in our sampling locations.

The Jefferson County Commission voted to match and surpass the $10,000 Governor’s grant to allow the BRWC to test 6 sites on the Blue Ridge mountain, and 3 sites on the Shenandoah River with training and analysis by the laboratory at Shenandoah University established and funded by the Friends of the Shenandoah River. The Friend’s lab and its protocol, run by Karen Anderson, is approved by the EPA making the BRWC’s results very valuable. The $15,000 match supplied by the County Commission will cover the training of water monitors, and the lab fees for one year. The monitoring project is funded through March of 2014.

Training has begun for the BRWC and some friends living on Elk’s Run in Jefferson County. Volunteers will have training completed and will begin sampling May 2013. With the data gained from the turbidity meters in conjunction with water level readings from the USGS gauge at Millville, the actual TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) will be calculated making Jefferson County one of the few watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that has an actual TMDL model based on fact, and not computer generated models.

Our neighbors spoke, and the BRWC responded. As data begins to pour in, the BRWC plans on using this data to address issues indicated by our results. Our success will be demonstrated in our data for years to come. The BRWC will actively seek funding to keep this important program a float in Jefferson County.

(Ronda Nickey Lehman, President of the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition, contributed to this post. Video was produced by The Downstream Project.)

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