Every other year, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality publishes a water quality assessment of its rivers. On Tuesday, the DEQ announced that the state now has 3,000 more miles of polluted rivers than it did in 2012.
The current draft of what is sometimes referred to as the “Dirty Waters” list is waiting approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that no major changes are expected. As it stands, the Virginia DEQ concludes that over 16,000 miles of the state’s rivers are polluted.
And now for the bad news: The most common pollutant found in these rivers was from fecal bacteria (likely discharged from farm manure, runoff and leaking sewers). Other pollutants include mercury and PCBs.
And now for the worse news: Of the nearly 101,000 miles of rivers in Virginia, only 22,480 miles were surveyed for the report. Taken as a percentage of the whole, only 16 percent of Virginia river water is contaminated. Taken as a percentage of the water actually sampled, 71 percent is contaminated.
However, DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden told the Times-Dispatch that the agency doesn’t believe the waters are getting more polluted. We are finding pollution in areas we had not looked before,” he said. “So it’s really a much more sophisticated look at statewide water quality each time we do this report.”
The also reports that “unacceptable” pollution levels in 81 percent of its lake acreage and 75 percent of its tidal waters.
In 2012, Environment Virginia reported that Virginia is the second-worst state for toxic chemicals dumped in its waterways.
“Virginia’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now. Polluters dump 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Virginia’s lakes, rivers and streams every year,” said Laura Anderson, field organizer with Environment Virginia, in a news release. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”
In its report, Wasting Our Waterways, the group writes that over 12 million pounds of toxic pollution were dumped into the New River, 1.1 million pounds were dumped in the James River and over 370,000 pounds were dumped in the Shenandoah River.