Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waste from livestock operations is polluting Shenandoah River, environmental group says

Red arrow marks confluence of the Shenandoah River
(55.6 miles long plus two forks) with the Potomac River
The Shenandoah River is being polluted from waste from 176 million animals that defecate in or near the water, says the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.

One of the group's main concerns, especially with summer approaching, is that the river is a popular swimming location, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post.
Animal waste raises the level of E. coli and other bacteria in the area. While ingesting bacteria-infested water rarely leads to human death, it can lead to serious gastrointestinal illness, such as diarrhea and vomiting.

"According to the report, which relied on 2014-2016 data from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, about 160 million chickens, 16 million turkeys and half a million cows account for 410,000 pounds of poultry litter and a billion pounds of liquid manure each year in the section of the Shenandoah Valley that includes Page, Rockingham, Augusta and Shenandoah counties," Fears writes.

"Farmers apply much of the manure to their fields to grow crops, but the earth can hold only so much before it releases it into the water, usually during rains," Fears notes. "Manure is rich with phosphorous and nitrogen, pollutants that algae greedily feed upon. That creates spectacular algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water, creating an environment in which fish can’t breathe — and zones where everything dies."

"Virginia tells rafters, swimmers, anglers and boaters to avoid waters where 10 percent of the samples far exceed the state’s limit for E. coli contamination," Fears reports. "But the state tests the Shenandoah Valley and its tributaries only twice a year. Nearly all the stations where the water is monitored were above the threshold 10 percent of the time, and about 20 of the stations exceeded it 'at least half of the time,' the Environmental Integrity Project found."

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