Thu08282014

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Water quality is focus of Potomac River Fisheries Comm.

The Potomac River Fisheries Commission was created in the wake of the deadly Maryland–Virginia “Oyster Wars” of the 1940s and 1950s, with rival watermen from each side of the Potomac battling each other.

But since President Kennedy signed legislation in 1962, giving the commission jurisdiction from near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the mouth of the river, the commission’s mission has changed dramatically.

The commission’s goal is to conserve and improve the fishery resources along the Potomac, but today instead of dealing with warring watermen, much of that effort is focused on water quality.

To underscore that point, last week the commission held the first ever Water Quality Information Exchange at its headquarters in Colonial Beach. The event drew water conservation officials from Virginia and Maryland, as well as watermen and others concerned about the health of the river.

Commission Executive Secretary Martin Gary, who led the meeting, said, “One thing we all have in common is that we care about what’s going on in the river.”  

Representatives from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources spoke to those gathered about the two states’ water-quality monitoring programs.  

Gary said it was important to get the various organizations and individuals together to share information, because the Potomac is facing big challenges linked to pollution and increasing urbanization along its shores.

Tucker Brown, a Maryland waterman, said, “I think this is a good step. Just keep the questions coming, because I’ve already learned something myself. Everybody’s getting together, and nobody’s pointing a finger at anybody.”

According to Jeff Talbott, monitoring program manager with DEQ’s Northern Regional Office in Woodbridge, bacteria levels in the Potomac have stayed about the same in the river over 20 years of monitoring.

Talbott said that more stringent rules for sewage plant discharges have reduced the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus going into the river. Those nutrients can foster algae blooms that can rob the water of oxygen, killing fish, crabs and other marine life. Pollution carried by runoff, however, is a continuing concern, he added.

Several watermen said the Potomac has many more water quality problems than the Rappahannock River.

One commercial fisherman said that the Potomac is different from the Rappahannock.  “In the Potomac, everywhere you go, it’s all the same color as your [brown] podium,” one waterman said. “The bottom is covered with that slime.”

Other watermen raised questions about perennial bacteria contamination problems at Fairview Beach, on the Potomac in King George County, and water-quality monitoring on Mattox Creek in Westmoreland County and on Monroe Bay in Colonial Beach.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Gary said that the agency will post a summary of the session on its website, with contact information and information links.


 — Richard Leggitt

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