The latest newsletter is now available here.
Riverkeeper Around Town
Here are some of the folks the Riverkeeper has visited since the last newsletter. I visited and presented to the Carrsville Ruritan’s, Walters Ruritan’s, Holland Ruritan’s and the Newsoms Ruritan’s. I tended the BNRP information booth at the Franklin Jr. Woman’s Club “Day In The Park.” I attended International Paper’s CAC meeting held at Joe’s Pizza. I also attended a nice luncheon with Jack Camp, author Susan T. Block, Lynda Updike, Linda Beatty, Kaye Story and Joe Stutts at the Southern Sisters Restaurant. The Southampton County Stormwater Committee met in June to overview the finishing touches of the counties stormwater management plan. I am a member of that committee.
Riverkeeper on Patrol
Since April 29th I have only been able to do six 3-day tours of the rivers, mostly due to the fact that I am only one person. While it is true that regular patrols of the river are important, so is the daily administration of this organization. Also I have been on the river quite a bit but just not on my usual three-day tours. There have been many Eco-Cruises and I have been out for other reasons as well, such as checking on the new bridge construction of Rt 58 over the Blackwater at Franklin. Of course Moonpie and I are always on the go visiting the local boat landings and checking the stormwater ditches in Franklin. We also monitor the sewage treatment plants in both the city and the county, and do our monthly water testing of certain streams that feed the rivers.
I’m sure as fall turns into winter I will get back to the rivers that are undoubtedly my favorite office space.
New Bridge Construction
The new Rt. 58 Bridge being built over the Blackwater in Franklin near the mill is slowly plodding along. The original bridge built in 1938 has survived several floods, including the big ones in 1940 & 1999. It has been repaired and patched numerous times. Underneath the bridge one can see the numerous places where bridge inspection crews have used red paint to mark the troubled spots. August 2009 is the scheduled completion date for the $4.2 million dollar project. A kink occurred in the beginning of construction when I alerted DEQ that the construction site on the Franklin side of the river was filled in with fly ash from the mill back in the 1960’s. I have learned since then that over the years several sites around Franklin had fly ash used as landfill including the field directly across the road from the bridge. VDOT and the Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program had the ash tested for heavy metals. Test results showed for the most part the ash did not contain high levels of these metals. Only Barium showed up in an amount EPA considers high for drinking water and that actually showed up in samples taken from both sides of the river. Thanks to VDOT, DEQ and IOW Board of Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw, proper measures were taken to limit erosion of the fly ash into the river and to make sure ash removed from the construction site was properly disposed of.
Invasion Of The Cows
After the discovery this summer of cows in the Nottoway and the increased frequency of those sighted in the Blackwater, I have filed formal complaint with VDACS or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This is the agency that claims to look into these issues. I filed once, a few years ago on the Blackwater cows, but it was determined that it was a borderline case, and therefore the case was dropped. I still cannot understand why the state pays for so many studies and spends so much money to do research to find causes of our water pollution, yet when a blatant source of pollution is shown to them, they cannot mandate a solution. Millions of dollars are spent annually to find sources of pollution. Yet here are the cows using the river as a sewage dump, right there where everybody can see them, yet no one can stop them, except the owner of the cows. I just don’t get it. It’s a lot of pollution, more than you might think. A cow dumps about 90 pounds of dung per day. Let’s say only a third of that is deposited in the river. That’s 30 pounds a day. There are 30 cows there, so let’s say only half of them put 30 pounds a day into the river. So that’s 450 pounds of dung into the river everyday. Now let’s cut the cow owner another break and say that it only happens one half of the time or six months out of the year. That’s 82,125 pounds a year into the river, or around 41 tons!!!! Now if you really want to understand how much that is, it would be the equivalent of 32,850 people, or the entire city of Petersburg gathering on the shore of the river, dropping their pants and using the bathroom in the river. Graphic, huh? Well I just wanted you to get the full gist of what I’m trying to tell you here. The fact is, these ranchers that are allowing the cows in the river are not bad people, but just doo not realize what a negative impact they are making. Our local Chowan Soil & Water District people have told me they have been to both cow owners and offered assistance with paying for fencing to keep the cows out of the river, and offered to pay for a well so the cows would have water. It just looks like these ranchers would doo the right thing.
New BNRP Truck
On June 13th the BNRP took possession of a new 2008 Ford F-150 four-wheel drive truck. The truck replaces the 1996 model that had served the program well. This past year I was one of three winning finalist in the Volvo Hero For Life Awards. Because of that Volvo awarded $25,000 to the charity or organization of my choice. Of course I chose the money to go to the Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program. I started to have it donated to the organization KRIC (Killing River Intrusive Cows) but decided we needed the money for a new truck. The cost of the new truck was $26,566.20, which the Volvo money mostly paid for. The BNRP also purchased a bug shield so that RIVERKEEPER is clearly displayed from the front of the truck, a see through tailgate to facilitate backing the boats and a spray in bed liner to protect the truck from all the trash and stuff I collect out of the rivers. The truck pulls the boats very nicely, especially the big 24-foot Eco-Cruise boat. Because of increased Eco-Cruise interest this summer, the new truck has really been given a good work out. The new truck will represent the BNRP well at boat landings, meetings, clean-ups, parades, on patrols and anywhere I travel with its BNRP logos and the signage on the doors and cab. The truck shows that the BNRP is a viable organization that has the support of people that live, work and play in this piece of our Virginia. The old BNRP truck was sold for $3000.
Hole In The Dam
For years I have been trying to get interest stirred up to have the dam in Burdette removed. The dam restricts water flow and impedes migrating fish from reaching potential spawning grounds upriver. There was always the question of whether there was, or was not, a by-pass hole constructed in the dam. In August a 17-year-old diver named Kyle O’Brien agreed to dive at the Norfolk Pump Station on the Blackwater to see once and for all if this existed. After looking and not finding anything, he did indeed eventually find a six-foot opening in the structure. The hole was clogged pretty badly with debris, but there is a hole there. In my opinion, it is still not sufficient for allow migrating fish through the dam. However, we now know that around 1940 when it was built, they did indeed put a hole in the structure. The dam was not built to dam the river but instead is a pipe from the Nottoway River that pumps water to Norfolk. The pipe was encased in concrete to protect it. The city of Norfolk draws millions of gallons of water from our two rivers daily and pays Southampton County nary a dime for that water. They turn around and sell it to their citizens.
New Mercury Advisory Signs
Finally after more than a year the new mercury advisory signs were delivered to me. The Virginia Department of Health and DEQ had to update the original signs we posted in 2004. The reason being that the last round of fish tissue testing showed more species affected than was previously known. The advisory now covers Largemouth Bass, Redear Sunfish, Bowfin, Chain pickerel, White Catfish, Redhorse Sucker and Longnose Gar. The warning is for the entire river. I will also tell you that even some fish not listed such as Speckle and Blue Catfish, should be treated the same as the fish listed. The reason some species are not listed is because there were not enough samples taken of that species, or they did not test any. Certainly one would have to eat a lot of river fish before any ill effects would result. Now if you ate fish from the river everyday, yes, you could be at risk. So don’t be afraid to eat fish out of the river. However, I do not recommend young children, nursing mothers or women thinking about having children eating any fish from the river, just to be on the safe side. The Nottoway also now has the same mercury problem, but those signs still have not been delivered.
Eco-Cruise has really been a big success this summer. I have already taken fifteen groups out this year, which is twice what has been done in previous years. Some groups enjoying the tours this year are the PDCCC Kids College, Village at Woods Edge, Isle of Wight Museum Summer Camp, Boy Scouts, Drewryville Woman’s Club and 4-H Jr. Master Gardeners to name a few. Groups are taken for a tour that last approximately a couple of hours. Usually the wildlife cooperates and they get to see several species of wetland critters. Some critters, like the snakes, are very popular with the kids, but usually are the least favorite of the older crowds. The fall season is fast approaching and with that will come the spectacular colors of the season. Cooler weather and great scenery make a Fall Eco-Cruise a worthwhile adventure for sure. Groups and organizations that have environmental committees, do community clean-ups, beautification projects or in other words, help our environment in some form or fashion should seize this opportunity to see nature’s great show of color with the river acting as the canvas.
Earlier this month my dad and I traveled to Winton N.C. to interview Harry Ward. Mr. Ward worked on the tugs at the mill and became a captain of those tugs. He worked there from 1940 to 1984 except during WWII for a couple of years and during a couple of stints out for health issues. He is a very interesting man and sharp as a tack at age 86, though in poor health due to emphysema. Mr. Ward told me many fascinating stories and set straight several questions I have had over the years concerning how things were on the river years ago. I intend on writing a paper soon about the tug and steamship history of our rivers. It was an honor indeed for me to be able to talk to somebody in person that knew and worked on the river during that era. If only I had a time machine….