Rappahannock River generic

A scene of the Rappahannock River 

Fiery Run, Carter Run and Great Run made the “honor roll” on a scorecard developed by the Friends of the Rappahannock to assess the condition of the waterways. The analysis was focused on the upper Rappahannock River area, which includes Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties.  

Great Run received an “A” grade for open space protection. A land-use analysis found that 45 percent of open space is conserved under either private or government ownership.

Fiery Run made the honor roll because of the success that agricultural best management practices have had in capturing pollutants from pastures, croplands and farm operations. Marriott Ranch, for instance, worked with the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District to install 13 miles of cattle exclusion barrier to protect the waterway west of Hume.

Carter Run made the honor roll because of the presence of forested areas that slow erosion and filter pollutants.

Great Run also made the “needs improvement” list, along with Thumb Run and Marsh Run. For Great Run, more needs to be done to provide “green infrastructure” -- rain gardens made up of shrubs and perennials as well as cisterns -- to mitigate the effects of runoff from parking lots and buildings. 

The Town of Warrenton, on the edge of the Great Run watershed, contributes runoff to Great Run. 

Thumb Run needs improvement because 70.3% of streams in the watershed have high bacteria levels based on Virginia Department of Environmental Quality tests. The high levels come mainly from agricultural runoff, septic overflows and pet waste. 

Marsh Run needs improvement because of its shortage of road crossing signage, which is considered important by the Friends because signs increase public awareness of the stream. Only one of 11 streams in the Marsh Run watershed are marked. Installing just five new markers would increase the scorecard grade to an “A.”

Assessing the Rappahannock River

Adam Lynch, restoration coordinator and environmental educator for the Friends group, explained the purpose of the scorecard and how the grades were arrived at to the Jan. 13 quarterly Conservation Roundtable meeting. The roundtable group includes representatives from Fauquier County government, Piedmont Environmental Council, Citizens for Fauquier County, Goose Creek Association and others.

“How can we raise our score?” Fauquier County Administrator Paul McCulla asked.

When scores based on human health impact, land use, stream ecology and community engagement were averaged, Fiery Run, Thumb Run, Carter Run and Great Run had C+ grades while Marsh Run had a C.

Lynch said addressing problems such as animal waste runoff, septic system overflows, signage, more conservation land and providing public access to waterways would help.

“Adding more public access gets more people to interact” with nature, Lynch said. 

Roundtable member Ken Alm said getting youngsters involved with nature is beneficial. Lynch said the Friends group interacted with a total of 13,000 students last year through its various outreach efforts. He said the organization also works to create partnerships with like-minded groups so that they can influence decision makers at the local and state levels.

Alm wondered if last year’s heavy rainfall impacted results, but Lynch said the scoring used two or more years of figures rather than one.

The upper Rappahannock scorecard is the second of three being prepared by the Friends. The first covered the middle Rappahannock area. The third, still to come, will cover the Tidewater area. Grants from the PATH Foundation and the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation funded the project.

“The goal is to repeat this. This will be the benchmark,” Lynch said of these initial scorecards.

The full scorecard document can be found at riverfriends.org/RappReportCard.

Reach James Ivancic at jivancic@fauquier.com

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