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Fauquier water almost in the clear

Wednesday, Mar. 26 | By Julie Taylor
Photo by Rick Wasser
Tom Turner, conservation manager with John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), walks along Carter Run, where pollution has dropped thanks to efforts by the SWCD and cooperation from local farmers.
What does it take to heal 35,000 acres of tainted water?

For the Carter Run watershed, it took $783,626 and years of government conservationists and private landowners working in tandem to create what the Department of Environmental Quality is calling a "success story."

The DEQ put Carter Run, a portion of the Upper Rappahannock River Basin in Fauquier, on its naughty list in 1992 after a sample showed high levels of fecal bacteria. In 1998, the watershed joined Virginia's Clear Water Act list of "impaired waters."

But after years of improvements, the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District is proud to announce the latest results. Back in '92, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality did a routine test on the river, which parallels Wilson Road northwest of Warrenton, and put up a red flag.

Subsequent testing confirmed that measures needed to be taken to improve the water quality.

"Grant managers felt the project had a good chance of success and was an appropriate investment of public dollars," said Kris Jarvis, conservation specialist at the conservation district.
In the water, fecal bacteria from human, pet, livestock, and wildlife sources was present.

"Although there are unique aspects to local watersheds, general thinking is that bacteria problems arise from a variety of sources and that it is most cost-effective to focus on agricultural [livestock access] and residential [malfunctioning septic system] sources while working to restore the natural processes of a rural stream," Jarvis said.

In order to address the problem, funds were allocated, and a plan was set in motion. More than 140 agricultural and residential projects were installed from 2007 to 2012, including more than 29 miles of fencing to keep livestock from the river. In addition, the watershed's guardians took extra steps to properly maintain the essential topsoil.

"They are farming methods that have multiple benefits including preventing the loss of precious topsoil, the foundation of all food production systems, protecting water quality including surface and groundwater, the source of most people’s water supply, and they typically fit the farmer’s economic goals," Jarvis said.

Some of these methods included "planting pine or hardwood trees in the riparian zone which extends at least 35 feet out from the top of stream banks; an annual crop rotation system that protects fields from erosion when they are most vulnerable during the winter when plant uptake of water and nutrients is greatly reduced," Jarvis said.

These practices, along with "livestock exclusion in particular, protect Carter Run and other watersheds by establishing natural vegetative filters and stabilizing stream banks," Jarvis said. "They keep soil in the fields and nutrients on the farm where they cycle through the production system and become food or fiber."

"Our part was fairly limited," said Gary Switzer, Environmental Heath Manager at the Environmental Health Services sector of the Fauquier County Health Department. We did drain field repairs, septic tank pump out, and the residential part [of the project]. We're continuing to do that with the other soil and water districts. The Carter Run project ended Dec. 31 for us."

Some of the farms that have participated, due to bordering the river are Waveland, Clover Hill, Spring Hill and Moonshine Mountain Farm.

"The approximate 30 miles of stream protection fence and 58 acres of newly created riparian buffer in Carter Run represent a statistically significant amount of protection in a watershed of this size," Jarvis said. "In a nutshell, the forest, field and water resources in this area are better able to function in a natural way, and the cattle and other livestock utilizing them will be healthier as well."

"We collect samples at each of our monitoring sites once a month," Jarvis said.

She said they are completely committed to having Carter Run de-listed in the near future, and are also devoted to Marsh Run in southern Fauquier, which they have been told is also in range of being de-listed.

"We hope to receive an extension of our. . . grant funds and complete additional practices in Carter Run watershed through June 2015," Jarvis said. "After the grant project is completed, farmers in that area will be able to have conservation practices considered for implementation through our regular Virginia Ag program.

"Support for the livestock exclusion practices statewide is currently unprecedented. Eligible agricultural producers who sign up by June 2015 may obtain 100 percent cost share reimbursement (of the allowable expense) for protecting their stream frontage and providing their stock with an alternative water source."

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