Acid Rain affected River demonstrates need for Pollution Cuts
4/11/2001 -- --
Arlington, VA…Trout Unlimited has applauded the inclusion of Virginia’s Paine Run River as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers on an annual list compiled by American Rivers, saying the action will help bolster the argument for legislation designed to reduce the pollution that causes acid rain. TU nominated Paine Run to the list, because the river and its native brook trout are threatened by acid rain.
Paine Run is located in the Shenandoah National Park in Augusta County, Virginia. Its ecosystem and natural buffering capacity have been whittled away by acid rain caused by sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides emitted by coal burning power plants. Even though the park is far from these plants, wind and weather patterns carry the chemical compounds great distances. The compounds are transformed into acid in the atmosphere and then deposited on the river in the form of rain, snow, and fog. The stream was placed on the Most Endangered list because, without further cuts in air pollution, Paine Run will become too acidic to sustain populations of brook trout and other aquatic organisms.
Paine Run has already been impaired by acid rain, but brook trout, a relatively acid tolerant species, still survive in the stream. Paine Run was once home to as many as eight different fish species, but now only three survive. The stream, closely monitored by the National Park Service, has already suffered “acid pulses” fatal to juvenile brook trout. Rainstorms and snow melt-off can cause acid pulses that overwhelm the river’s capacity to neutralize that acid and, as a result, kill acid sensitive organisms. Over time, a stream’s capacity to neutralize acid is destroyed, and the stream becomes chronically acidic. Chronically acidic streams lose their native fish and insect populations. Numerous streams in New York and New England have reached that state -- Paine Run and other streams in Virginia are fast on their way to this condition.
“Despite the fact that they are miles away from any major pollution source, Paine Run and other mountain streams in the east are getting pounded by high doses of acid rain. This recognition will help to focus attention on acid rain and hopefully make a difference in the stream's future. The cuts in air pollution needed to protect Paine Run and other Appalachian trout streams are achievable, but Congress needs to act soon,” said TU Eastern Conservation Director Leon Szeptycki.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Virginia concluded that six percent of Virginia's 304 trout streams are too acidic to support reproducing populations of brook trout. The results of the study also show that without further cuts in air pollution from coal burning power plants, many more of the state’s trout streams– including Paine Run – will join that group.
Szeptycki said that if emissions are not reduced soon, Paine Run will quickly go the way of another area river, the St. Mary’s, which has lost its wild trout populations due to acid rain. The U.S. Forest Service has resorted to depositing limestone in the St. Mary’s in an effort to reduce the acidity of the stream enough to restore the native fish populations.
“People have always thought of acid rain as a Northeastern problem,” said Jay Henderson, chair of TU’s Virginia Council, “but the science has shown us that Virginia trout streams are suffering as well.”
Trout Unlimited has long been involved in studying and fighting to reverse the plight of Virginia’s acid rain damaged watersheds. TU’s Virginia Council has played a central role in supporting the Virginia Trout Stream Sensitivity Study (“VTSSS”), a long-term project based at the University of Virginia to study acid rain in Virginia’s mountain stream. When the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries cut the project’s funding in 1997, TU Chapters in Virginia contributed $15,000 to continue the survey until the EPA began funding the project in 1999. In April 2000, over 150 TU members volunteered to collect water quality samples for over 400 sites in Virginia’s mountains as part of an effort by the VTSSS to do a complete, synoptic survey of the water quality of Virginia’s brook trout streams.
In a 1997 study researchers used data collected by the VTSSS to predict the future of the state’s mountain streams. The study concluded that the number of brook trout streams in the chronically acidic category would grow from six to 22 percent, and that Paine Run would become chronically acidic in the next fifteen years, even assuming the reduction in acid deposition that should occur under the current Clean Air Act.
"The time for action is upon us. This spring, bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate have introduced two bills that are necessary steps to win the battle against acid rain. These measures are vital to the restoration of damaged streams and rivers, like Paine Run," said Szeptycki.