Riverkeeper Report: Murky water, trash mars Blackwater River

Published 9:16 am Friday, February 11, 2011

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 27th through the 29th on the Blackwater below Franklin.

Air temps ranged from 26 to 45 degrees. The water was 38 degrees, murky and 7.20 on the U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Burdette.

I hate reporting stuff like this, but it is how I found the river this trip and that is my job. I wish I never had to call anybody to report problems.

Anyway, the river was trashed. It has been awhile since I have seen so much trash in the river. Most of it came from the Franklin stormwater ditch that enters the river off Pretlow Street.

How do I know this, you ask?

Well, for one thing, I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I know what to look for. Then there are the obvious clues, like hardly any trash upriver of that ditch and the fact that the mouth of the ditch had trash piled up all around it and in it.

The other bad thing I discovered there was some kind of suspended particles in the river so thick that 3 miles downriver I could only see about a foot underwater. I traced this back to the Franklin sewage treatment plant.

I called the city and they were there in less than two minutes, for which I was grateful. They told me the stuff was grease. That would be a lot of grease and a big problem, especially to have been as thick as it was.

I have never seen this before, and I believe that whatever it is, it would not be good for critters that use gills to breath. The stuff was so thick that it has accumulated on the bottom of the river, and, if you stir it up, the stuff rises in a great cloud. I would think that would be bad for fish that have to make beds in the sand to spawn.

My investigation of this matter is ongoing and we will get to the bottom of this eventually. I’ll let you know what we find, and I don’t think it will be grease.

Not all the news is bad, though. The City of Franklin has graciously taken the lead in a project the Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program initiated to make it easier for the disabled to get in and out of a boat at the Franklin boat landing pier.

The step-down platform will be very nice for our Eco-Cruises. The project still has to be approved by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but I can’t imagine them saying no to such a great idea.

The fishing on this trip was terrible, but I can’t blame it on the nasty water as I went up-river and got out of it, and still only caught a couple of yellow perch. I also caught three bowfin and one small largemouth downriver. All fish were caught on the silver buddy.

While I was way downriver, I visited the Cherry Grove eagles’ nest to see if it was occupied and I believe that it is. I saw one adult in a tree nearby, so that is a pretty good indication they are nesting. I also saw one on my way in Saturday near Franklin.

Another sight I have rarely witnessed was that most of the river was lightly frozen over the first morning when I launched the boat. We took off toward the campsite having to break ice the entire way.

When we got near the campsite, the ice suddenly began to thicken and the boat got slower and slower. We rounded a curve in the river and ground to a stop in sight of the campsite.

The camp was in ice-free water, but between us and it was a house-size ice sheet and a flock of geese that were just sitting there in the ice. They, too, looked to be stuck.

I told Moonpie, “Well, I guess we are not going to make it and will have to wait until the ice thaws some or turn back.”

Moonpie thought a minute and then said, “I have an idea.”

With that, she jumped up on the front deck of the boat and faced the geese. To my amazement she started a flappin’ and honking and making terrible ugly sounds I’ve never heard before.

The geese looked like they woke up, and right away they started honking and flapping also. The next thing I saw was something truly magical. The whole flock took off and, with their legs frozen through the ice, lifted the entire ice sheet off the river, clearing a way for us to make it to camp.

We heard what sounded like glass breaking a few seconds later, so I guess the geese lost the ice OK over the woods.

“Moonpie,” I said, “that was indeed a great idea, I didn’t know you had it in ya.”

“Thank you,” Moonpie replied. “You just, ‘HONK,’ never know what you’ll see out here on the two rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.”

JEFF TURNER is riverkeeper for the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, an environmentally conscious organization that focuses on keeping local waterways healthy. BNRP’s parent organization is The Waterkeeper Alliance. Contact Turner at his website, www.blackwaternottoway.com.