StreamWatch has released their newest report on the biological health of waterways in the Rivanna River watershed. Nearly 70 percent of local streams fail state water quality standards – a statistic that has remained relatively constant over the past decade.

“We are very proud of our ten-year record of assessing the health of streams in the Rivanna River watershed,” said David Hannah, StreamWatch’s executive director. “We take pride in keeping the community informed about local water quality conditions.”

StreamWatch has collaborated with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for the past ten years. The nonprofit provides Level 3 data to the DEQ, meaning they accept and use StreamWatch’s data as if it were their own.

Hannah described the report’s findings as “not very encouraging.” Of the 45 streams evaluated between 2011 and 2013, 31 fail to meet the Virginia water quality standard for aquatic life.

Each site receives a rating of very good, good, fair, poor, or very poor. Streams rated as good or very good pass Virginia water quality standards for aquatic life; the rest fail.

None of the streams have gone up or down by more than one tier in the past ten years, which speaks to the stability of the region’s water quality.

Of the 45 streams evaluated between
2011 and 2013, 31 fail to meet the Virginia
water quality standard for aquatic life.

“The benthic health of the Rivanna stream system and network has not significantly improved or degraded over the past ten years,” said Hannah.

Hannah said that was remarkable given the region’s rate of population growth and development over the same period.

StreamWatch uses the abundance of benthic organisms on stream bottoms to evaluate stream health. At a media event on Friday at Riverview Park, Anne Dunckel, Monitoring Program Manager for StreamWatch, explained the sampling methods used by volunteers.

“Volunteers go out into the stream with a net and ruffle the rocks up,” said Dunckel. “They catch [the organisms] in the net, take the net out, and pick out all of these bugs and identify them.”

Dunckel referred to the insects most sensitive to pollution as “the canary in the coal mine.” StreamWatch volunteers are particularly excited to find mayflies, case makers, and stoneflies – indicators of high quality aquatic life.

Volunteers rate a site’s health depending on the abundance and diversity of the most sensitive insects.

StreamWatch has roughly 100 volunteers who visit sites twice a year to collect data. Dunckel and Hannah emphasized the importance of volunteers to the nonprofit’s efforts.

Jill Meyer has volunteered with StreamWatch for ten years. Meyer’s concern about the quality of the river in her own backyard prompted her to contribute.

“Water is at the top of my list,” said Meyer. “I want to know that what I play in and what I see running through my land is as healthy as I can hope for it to be.”

The nonprofit has seen a substantial increase in the number of its certified volunteers and in the number of sites they sample.

Hannah hopes StreamWatch’s report will spark some sort of change in the region.

“As a community we should not be content with the continuing status of almost 70 percent of our streams failing to meet water quality standards,” said Hannah. “Changes to the landscape are inevitable, but we can protect our streams if we exercise care and good judgment.”

Hannah commented that efforts to improve stream health should be focused on streams that fluctuate between good and fair ratings. Examples in the report include the Moormans River and Mechunk Creek. It’s these streams, Hannah said, where communities can make a real impact.

“These borderline streams are those with the greatest likelihood of improvement to better health,” said Hannah. “We hope this report will motivate the community to take concrete actions to improve the health of our waterways.”