Meeting held on river quality

Published 10:55 pm Saturday, July 11, 2009

A group of about 20 people gathered at King’s Fork Middle School this week to learn how they could contribute to cleaning up the Nansemond River.

The river’s high levels of bacteria have rendered it unsafe for shell fishing and contact sports like swimming, according to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Health.

The meeting was one of the first steps in cleaning up the river, after a 2006 study showed that sections of Nansemond River and Shingle Creek have high levels of fecal coliform and enterococci, indicators of risks for those recreating in or consuming shell fish from the waters.

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Jennifer Tribo, an environmental expert at the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, led the discussion among a group of residents, city officials and others.

The Nansemond River, Tribo said, was placed on the DEQ’s impaired waters list in 1996. The study completed in 2006 showed that the river’s high levels of bacteria were not acceptable, and officials have been working since to develop a plan to clean up the river.

Bacteria and other pollutants get into the river from many different sources. Septic tank overflows, wildlife and livestock living near the river, and even putting fat, oil and grease down the drain can contribute to the pollution of the river.

The plan, Tribo said, is to identify the biggest sources of pollution in the Nansemond and Shingle Creek, and rid the environment of them. Because the biggest source is most likely human, the process of cleaning up the river will involve education of those living in the watershed, new initiatives and more, she said.

For example, Suffolk currently is in the first stage of a septic tank pump out program, which will require homeowners with septic tanks to pump them out at least once every five years, and submit proof that it has been done to the city. This move will decrease failures of septic tank systems that could result in leaching of sewage into the river, Tribo said.

Localities also plan to begin marking storm sewer drains with “Do Not Dump” so that people will know that the drains flow to the river, Tribo said.

Already, there have been signs of improvement in the river since the study was completed, Tribo said. Levels of fecal coliform in Shingle Creek have decreased, and the part of the river closest to the mouth recently was opened for shell fishing. Still, there is much left to improve.

Another public meeting likely will be held in October, after a draft plan for improving the river is developed, Tribo said. A plan must be developed to send to DEQ by December.

To be placed on the list to be notified of the exact date for the next public meeting, e-mail JTribo@hrpdcva.gov. To view the 2006 study, visit www.deq.state.va.us/tmdl/develop.html.