A Focus on Water at Hillsboro Library Environment Talk
Hillsboro, WV – The Greenbrier River is enjoyed by many for fishing, canoeing and other recreation. It’s also the source of drinking water for several towns along its length. When water conditions negatively affect either of these uses, West Virginia law requires the Department of Environmental Protection to intervene.
Most recently, the DEP has ordered the towns of Hillsboro and White Sulphur Springs to reduce the level of phosphorus being discharged into the river by their sewage treatment plants. According to the DEP, these phosphorus discharges have been largely responsible for large algae blooms along stretches of the Greenbrier over the past 5 years. In some places, these blooms produce a slick of green algae across the entire width of the river that stretches from the surface of the water down to the riverbed.
Both towns appealed the DEP order to the West Virginia Environmental Quality board.
According to the Greenbrier River Watershed Association’s Frank Gifford, the severity of these algae blooms is due to the nature of the river itself.
“What we found out is that the Greenbrier River has a peculiar chemistry for a West Virginia river,” said Gifford. “What happens is a little bit of phosphorus in the river makes a whole lot of algae. As a matter of fact, one pound of phosphorus in the river makes about 70 pounds of algae.”
Gifford, speaking at the Hillsboro Library’s second Annual Public Affairs Briefing on the Environment last Thursday, says that the state Environmental Quality Board ruled on the appeal filed by Hillsboro and White Sulphur Springs. However, that ruling won’t be made public until May, according to Gifford.
Hillsboro are resident Laurie Cameron pointed out that algae blooms have also occurred north of Marlinton, well north of Hillsboro and White Sulphur Springs.
Gifford acknowledged that sediment from logging and development, as well as phosphorus from fertilizers can also contribute to the algae blooms along the Greenbrier. But the primary source of phosphorus and the ones that DEP has authority to regulate is wastewater treatment plants.
“Seventy-five percent of all phosphorus comes from sewage treatment plants,” Gifford said, “and about 75 percent of that believe it or not actually comes from detergents that either individuals or businesses institutions, industrial concerns are using.”
Also speaking at Thursday’s briefing were Lynmarie Knight, of the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force, and Leslie McCarty, a member of the GRWA and lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council.
McCarty said that revised gas drilling regulations were close to passing in the Legislature, but the bill stalled in the Senate after passing 89-to-8 in the House of Delegates. The regulations would have put in place tighter restrictions for Marcellus shale gas drilling operations with respect to groundwater and surface water quality.
Knight gave an update on the progress of the county Water Resources Task Force and laid out the challenges ahead for formulating a county-wide Water Resource Management Plan. Knight notes that if the county does not develop its own plan, then a broader, state plan will be put in place by the DEP by 2013, as mandated by the West Virginia Water Resources Management and Protection Act.
The taskforce is holding what Knight describes as a think-tank’ meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 28 at the Hillsboro Library for county residents to offer input on how the county Water Resource Management Plan should take shape.