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November 16, 2012 12:10 am


Stormwater runoff is a major source of Potomac River pollution, and more action is needed now to continue progress in cleaning up the waterway, according to the Potomac Conservancy.

The Maryland-based river-protection group on Thursday released its latest State of the Nation's River report, which cited nutrients, pathogens, sediments and chemicals as the river's main pollution problems.

One of those--bacteria--is a concern in Fairview Beach on the Potomac in King George County, where ongoing contamination from the shore has led to summer swimming advisories.

"We wanted to sound an alarm that a tsunami [of runoff] is coming, and this storm is going to wreak havoc on the [river] unless we take action now," Conservancy President Hedrick Belin said in a conference call about the report with reporters.

"With the 2012 elections now behind us, we must hold accountable our elected officials and ensure that they fulfill their responsibility to strengthen clean water protections at all levels " Belin said.

"Officials also have an obligation to provide sufficient financial resources to stop polluted runoff on the land, before it gets into the water."

Belin said that within 20 years, the population in the Washington, D.C., region is expected to grow by more than 2 million--as many as currently live in Houston, Texas. The accompanying development, he said, will create more parking lots, rooftops, streets and other impervious surfaces where rainfall can't soak in. Those shunt pollution-laden water into storm drains, and ultimately, the Potomac, Rappahannock and other rivers.

"All these flow across the land when it rains, and it's harder to see, and the effects are more difficult to determine than a generation ago," he said.

The damage is evident on many of the river's tributaries, where streams are impaired to the point that they don't support things like fishing and swimming.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 enacted a strict "pollution diet" requiring Chesapeake Bay states to reduce key pollutants.

The conservancy says some progress is being made. For example, Prince George County, Md., supports low-impact development, and Washington, D.C., officials are promoting runoff-reducing infrastructure such as green roofs.

Three approaches are needed, the conservancy says:

Strengthening state and local regulations to reduce non-point sources, such as runoff;

Increasing funding for clean water programs;

Providing incentives and technical assistance to individual property owners.

Each year since 2007 the conservancy has offered a report on the Potomac River's health. Last year, it gave the river a barely passing "D" grade, a downgrade from the a "D+" in 2007. It assigns a grade every four years.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

The Potomac Conservancy has two clean-water recommendations for Virginia:

That Gov. Bob McDonnell secure another $10 million for farmers' best-management practices in the upcoming General Assembly session;

That Arlington County use green infrastructure and low-impact development techniques for new development and redevelopment projects.

Read the State of the Nation's River report:

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.