RSS feed for DEQ news releases DEQ news releases

Official DEQ news releases.

List administrator(s): Bill Hayden, Jennifer Underwood, Irina Calos, John Tragesser

Some fish illnesses and deaths observed in rivers, Virginia reports

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 29, 2009

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447
william.hayden@deq.virginia.gov

Julia Dixon, DGIF
(804) 367-0991
julia.dixon@dgif.virginia.gov

RICHMOND, VA. -- Scattered reports of dead fish in Virginia's western rivers have been received since mid-May this year, and in some areas anglers and fish biologists are finding significant numbers of fish with lesions, according to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Reports of dead fish and fish with lesions, similar to what has occurred in past years, have come in to DEQ and DGIF from these rivers:

• North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah County (from the New Market area downstream to beyond Woodstock).
• Upper portions of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Rockingham County (mainly upstream of Elkton).
• Lower sections of the North, Middle and South rivers in Augusta and Rockingham counties.
• Upper James River near Buchanan in Botetourt County.

The number of reported fish kills has been small this year, as streams are just beginning to warm and waters have been high because of recent rains. As in other years, it is difficult to estimate the number of diseased or dead fish. In the affected rivers, the fish kills appear to be mild, with a few dead fish per mile in most areas. With the exception of the single report from the upper James River indicating a high percentage of fish with lesions, biologists generally have seen around 15 percent to 25 percent of fish with lesions.

Weekly observations and fish health evaluations are continuing this spring, and scientists are collecting water and fish samples from the Shenandoah and upper James rivers before, during, and after any disease or fish kill outbreaks.

Scientists recently have found a link between Aeromonas salmonicida – a bacterium found in the diseased river fish – and lesions and deaths of experimentally infected laboratory fish. A significant focus of current investigations is to determine the source of this bacterium and how it is transmitted, and to determine why certain fish appear to be more susceptible than others.

The kills are most severe among smallmouth bass and sunfish, but other types of fish also have been affected. Many of these fish develop skin lesions before dying. Other fish, though, have only fungal infections and many have died without any visible skin lesions. The fish kills have begun in the spring when water temperatures rise above the mid-50s and in past years have run from early April until mid-May.

The investigating agencies and the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force encourage the public to provide information on the location, number and type of fish found dead or sick in the Shenandoah and James river systems. Anyone with information is asked to call the DEQ regional office in Harrisonburg at (540) 574-7800, or toll-free in Virginia at 1-800-592-5482. Information also can be emailed to fishreports@deq.virginia.gov.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: May 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Virginia marine protected areas receive national recognition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2009

Contact: Krystal Coxon, DEQ
(804) 698-4399
krystal.coxon@deq.virginia.gov

RICHMOND, VA. -- Seven sites in Virginia have received national recognition by being accepted into a new national system of marine protected areas.

The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality along with two of the program's member agencies, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Marine Resources Commission, nominated the areas for inclusion in the national system.

The seven Virginia sites are:

• Blue Crab Sanctuary in the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay
• Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve in Mathews County
• Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve in Northumberland County
• Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve in Northumberland County
• Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve in Northampton County
• False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach
• Kiptopeke State Park in Northampton County

The natural area preserves and state parks are included because they contain protected intertidal zones (lands that are submerged at high tide and exposed at low tide) that are considered part of the marine environment. These sites were chosen because they meet national standards established through a science-based, public process that defines whether a marine protected area is eligible for inclusion in the new national system.

The Virginia sites are marine environments already permanently protected under Virginia laws and regulations. No new federal restrictions will be applied to the management of these sites. Rather, Virginia is being recognized for its existing efforts to manage these special marine environments.

The national system was launched by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior to enhance the effectiveness of marine protected areas across the country in conserving cultural resources, marine species, habitats and ecosystems by encouraging partnerships to address issues affecting the areas and improving public access to scientific information and decision-making about marine resources.

The Virginia sites make up 3.1 percent of the overall national system and cover and area of approximately 952 square miles. The full national list is available in the Federal Register at www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html and at www.mpa.gov. A map of the Virginia locations is available upon request from DEQ and at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/coastal/homepage.html.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: May 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm

State Water Board issues largest-ever wetlands penalty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2009

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447
william.hayden@deq.virginia.gov

RICHMOND, VA. -- The State Water Control Board has issued a $145,000 penalty against an Augusta County property owner for destruction of wetlands, the largest wetlands penalty ever imposed by the board.

The civil charge, approved in a consent order at the board's meeting April 27, 2009, cites Arthur J. Fisher for excavating in wetlands without a permit during construction of a house on Quarles Pond in Stuarts Draft. The excavation destroyed the ecological function of the wetlands at the pond, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, which investigated the incident and drafted the consent order.

DEQ said Fisher had been informed in 2003 that a Virginia Water Protection permit would be required before any construction activity took place that would affect the wetlands. However, a DEQ inspection in 2006 discovered extensive excavation work at the site, including unpermitted drainage of portions of the pond.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation has called Quarles Pond the largest intact Shenandoah Valley sinkhole pond in Virginia, dating back 15,000 years. The wetland environment at the pond supported rare plants and insects. The consent order also requires Fisher to restore the wetlands at the pond to the extent feasible and to monitor progress for 10 years.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: May 04, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Virginia investigators prepare for possible fish kills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 27, 2009

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447
wphayden@deq.virginia.gov

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are directing ongoing scientific studies this year in preparation for potential fish kills. Spring 2009 investigations will focus on weekly observations, continued fish health evaluations and in-depth study of possible bacterial causes of the kills.

Since 2004, unexplained fish kills have occurred in the Shenandoah River basin. During 2007 and 2008 similar events took place in the upper James and Cowpasture rivers. No kills have been observed in these rivers in 2009, though April and May are the most likely time for occurrences.

The kills are most severe among smallmouth bass and sunfish, but other types of fish also have been affected. Many of these fish develop skin lesions before dying. Other fish, though, have only fungal infections and many have died without any visible skin lesions. The fish kills have begun in the spring when water temperatures rise above the mid-50s and generally have run from early April until mid-May.

A detailed summary of findings through the 2008 fish kill season is available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov. Fish health studies indicate that fish in the affected rivers are subjected to multiple stresses and reveal significant damage to the skin, gills and internal organs. The fish being studied also contain a large number of parasites, but scientists have not been able to connect this condition directly to impairment or fish kills. Biological pathogens, or fish diseases, have received more attention in the past two years and suggest a strong relationship between certain fish bacteria and the springtime fish kills.

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Fish Health Lab in Leestown, W. Va., recently have found a link between Aeromonas salmonicida – a bacterium found in the diseased river fish – and lesions and deaths of experimentally infected laboratory fish.

A significant focus of current investigations is to determine the source of this bacterium and how it is transmitted, and to determine why certain fish appear to be more susceptible than others. Scientists will continue to collect water and fish samples this spring from the Shenandoah and upper James rivers before, during, and after any disease or fish kill outbreaks.

State agencies and their partners have led multiple investigations into these fish kills. In 2005, DEQ and DGIF formed the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force, which includes university and government scientists, environmental groups, fishing guides, other state agencies and volunteer monitors – all with a common goal of finding the cause of the kills. This group has helped identify, conduct and evaluate research into possible causes of the fish kills.

Studies by state and federal scientists and university researchers have centered on water chemistry, fish diseases, and general health of fish and other aquatic life. Water quality studies have not identified any specific chemicals at levels that would be expected to cause the fish kills.

Many of the contaminants found in the rivers have not been studied, and there is no information on the levels at which they could affect aquatic organisms. A second group at USGS is studying whether combinations of contaminants could increase their strength, or whether they cause problems with immune system function that could help explain the fishes’ susceptibility to diseases. Scientists also are trying to determine whether there is a correlation among contaminants that could cause the intersex condition that is prevalent among smallmouth bass and sunfish.

Researchers have credited the public with providing significant assistance in the investigation. Many of the outbreaks were reported by fishermen, landowners and other river users. Knowing the timing and location of these events allows scientists to concentrate on the areas where fish kills are active. This information also allows DEQ and DGIF to collect current information on locations and severity of fish kills, and to share this information with the public through periodic updates on the agency websites.

DEQ and DGIF ask the public to continue to report observations of diseased or dead fish. Key information includes types and numbers of fish, location, and any unusual circumstances. Digital photographs are particularly helpful. Anyone with information on dead or dying fish is encouraged to contact the DEQ regional office in Harrisonburg at (540) 574-7800 or toll-free in Virginia at 1-800-592-5482. Information and photos also can be emailed to DEQ at fishreports@deq.virginia.gov.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: April 28, 2009 at 11:04 am

Virginia approves localities to receive federal stimulus funds for clean water projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 27, 2009

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447
wphayden@deq.virginia.gov

RICHMOND, VA. -- The State Water Control Board has approved the final list of localities that will receive federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund for improving wastewater treatment plants and collection systems, Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced today.

"These projects will get under way very quickly," Governor Kaine said. "They will enable us to make significant improvements in water quality and to help localities with high unemployment rates put more people to work."

A total of $76.9 million in grants is available from the federal government for these projects, going to 27 localities from across Virginia that will begin making the improvements by September 2009.

The projects include $24.9 million for Lynchburg to continue its combined sewer overflow program, which will eliminate raw sewage overflows that enter the James River. Also included are 13 "green infrastructure" projects costing $16 million that will make other environmental improvements, such as water reuse and alternative energy initiatives.

The Department of Environmental Quality evaluated 294 requests, worth more than $1.3 billion, before submitting a recommendation to the water board. Specific criteria were used in DEQ's analysis, including anticipated environmental benefits, financial hardship and ability to begin the projects in the near future. A locality's unemployment rate also was a consideration.

"Unfortunately, only a limited amount of money is available for these projects," Governor Kaine said. "Virginia will continue working with localities to ensure that other wastewater treatment projects will be completed in the coming years."

In addition to increasing employment in numerous localities, the improvements will help reduce nutrient pollution – excess nitrogen and phosphorus – that wastewater plants discharge into Virginia waterways. Other benefits of the projects include elimination of combined and sanitary sewer overflows, collection of wastewater in areas where septic systems are failing, and encouraging wastewater reuse and use of alternative energy. The complete list of localities receiving federal stimulus money is available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: April 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm