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Stream monitors found water quality problems

Residents across Virginia rely on streams and rivers to provide their drinking water. Although drinking water is treated, not all pollutants can be filtered out — some emerging pollutants require new equipment to remove, and some can’t be removed at all — so stream health is vital to everyone’s health. Just how healthy are Virginia’s streams and rivers? The Izaak Walton League is working to find out.

Through a volunteer-based program called Virginia Save Our Streams (VA SOS), citizen scientists test water quality across the state every year. After monitoring more than 100 stream sites in the first half of 2019, volunteers reported that nearly half these streams received unacceptable scores for stream health — the majority around major metropolitan areas, including Fairfax County and the cities of Roanoke and Richmond. Areas with healthy stream scores were mainly found in less population-dense areas such as Loudon County, Franklin County and Staunton.

These results aren’t surprising. A stream’s health is directly affected by use of the land that surrounds it. The greatest threat to our water quality today is polluted runoff from farm fields, parking lots, industrial sites and neighborhood yards. That runoff flows unchecked into our streams and rivers, carrying animal waste, bacteria, chemicals and countless other pollutants through our communities — and into our drinking water supplies.

Volunteer stream monitors provide the first line of defense for clean water, highlighting potential problems — and solutions — and providing local communities with the water quality information they need to make informed decisions. These volunteers visit the same sites year after year, creating a multi-year history of local stream health. The information gathered by VA SOS monitors is provided directly to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which uses this information to select sites for conservation, cleanup and restoration efforts.

Every person in Virginia deserves clean water, yet only a fraction of the creeks, streams and rivers across the state are monitored for water quality. VA SOS monitors are on the ground every year, collecting crucial information the public needs. Virginians can easily access stream monitoring results through the League’s Clean Water Hub, www.cleanwaterhub.org – and can even become trained monitors themselves. Visit the VA SOS website at www.vasos.org) for more information on stream monitoring and to find a local training event.