EPA Allows Dumping in Chesapeake and Shenandoah River


September 06, 2006

NOTE: Today's Washington Post story, Male Bass Across Region Found to Be Bearing Eggs http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/05/AR2006090501384.html , suggests that serious water pollution is affecting the entire Potomac river basin not just the Shenandoah river tributary described in the piece below. This underscores the consequences of the Bush administration's failure to conscientiously enforce the Clean Water Act for the past six years. Write to your local papers today.

It seemed like an excellent solution to a vexing problem—turning waste into fertilizer. That's the theory, anyway, behind Sheaffer International's plan to treat concentrated waste from the Cargill Meat Solutions and Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plants and use that wastewater to irrigate cropland.

The reality is somewhat different. According to a suit filed by Waterkeeper Alliance, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper, Sheaffer has committed a "multitude" of violations of the federal Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and numerous Virginia environmental laws by dumping excessive levels of major pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay and Shenandoah River.

How excessive? Let us count the ways:

*384,965 pounds of phosphorous dumped into the North Fork, which exceed federal limits by an astounding 6000 percent. (The federal limit is 7,054 pounds.)

*Nitrogen discharges that also exceeded their permitted level by over 1000 percent.

These violations continue to this day. State and national environmental agencies have been unable to structure meaningful remedies to what is a potentially irreversible situation. And this despite EPA's own findings that "90 percent of the [Chesapeake] Bay's waters are on the nation's 'dirty waters' list due to nitrogen and phosphorous pollution."

Despite that finding, the EPA has painted a deceptively rosy picture of Bay restoration. Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director, Steve Fleischli, puts it this way: "EPA has wholly abdicated its responsibility to stop even the most flagrant violators . . . [we're] stepping in for government enforcement officials who have failed to stop the pollution."

Nitrogen and phosphorous are particularly deadly because they rob water of oxygen needed by aquatic life and vegetation, decrease water clarity and encourage the growth of algal blooms. Explains Ed Merrifield of Potomac Riverkeeper, "…the pollution loads have continued to go up, creating dead zones in our rivers…suffocating marine life."

Indeed, Shenandoah's North Fork has seen populations of adult smallmouth bass and sunfish reduced by 80 percent in recent springs, which may explain the declining sales of fishing licenses in the seven counties bordering the river. If this trend continues, its effect may go well beyond fish kills. It will kill tourism and decrease the critical revenue stream river-centered recreational activities generate for the region and the state.

For its part, Sheaffer says that the excessive discharges are not due to corporate misfeasance but to state regulations that have limited the amount of water that could be diverted to irrigation. "What we couldn't irrigate had to go into the river," said Jack Sheaffer, company chairman and a hydrologist. "You can't make it disappear." He added that the company is working to "implement changes" that would reduce its emissions.

The Virginia State Department of Environmental Quality claims it has been pressing Sheaffer to correct violations. The violations have continued, despite a 2002 settlement in which the company promised to take necessary action.

The suit filed by the three river watchdogs gives Sheaffer sixty days to show that it is cleaning up its act. Jeff Kelble of Shenandoah Riverkeepers admits that this is a "very difficult case," but as Ed Merrifield says "…we have to be here for the river itself" and stop the pollution.

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