Pollution spreads on the Nansemond

Published 8:34 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To the editor:

On the Opinion Page of the January 1/2, 2016, edition of the Suffolk News-Herald, Mayor Linda Johnson refers to “wellness initiatives” of the city to enhance opportunities to enjoy our pristine waterways.

Unfortunately Suffolk’s Nansemond River is not “pristine” in a health sense. In fact, it is moving backwards.

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Effective Aug. 26, 2014, the Virginia Department of Health, based on 30 months of observation, issued an order condemning 850 to 1,000 acres of the lower river (toward its mouth), all of Bennett’s Creek, Knott’s Creek and a portion of Bleakhorn Creek to shellfish harvesting (including commercial oystering) due to bacteria.

Then, effective Sept. 10, 2015, an additional 85 acres of the Nansemond (again moving toward its mouth) were closed by the Virginia Department of Health due to bacteria.

It is important that the closure was based on 30 months of observation, because that means it was not due to a single event, such as a heavy rainstorm, or to a specific “point source” of pollution. Rather, the closure is due to generalized flow across land, asphalt, concrete and other impervious surfaces and through stormwater drains into the river.

The fact is, the city has continued to freely allow development within what is supposed to be the 100-foot buffer adjacent to the river, instead of requiring the heavy vegetation which would inexpensively filter nutrients and sediments from running into the river. This unrestrained development effectively turns the river into a sink.

The Nansemond River Preservation Alliance has made specific written suggestions to the city planning department to enforce the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. We have asked Suffolk’s elected officials to give authority over the buffer to a single Chesapeake Bay Board rather than leaving it split between the city’s Planning Commission and wetlands board.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Councilman Mike Duman, neither City Council nor city staff has been receptive.

In the long run, as pollution spreads toward the mouth of the river, harvestable oysters will decline and the cost to Suffolk taxpayers of meeting the Total Maximum Daily Load Requirements under the Federal Clean Water Act will rise.

John Newhard


Nansemond River Preservation Alliance