Livestock, septic systems contaminate waterways

Published 9:45 am Friday, February 17, 2012

COURTLAND—A Virginia Tech study shows that decreasing livestock, pasture and cropland runoff and repairing septic systems along five bodies of water could help remedy water quality concerns in the Nottoway and Meherrin rivers.

Cooperation from farmers and residents along Flat and Mill swamps, Three and Tarrara creeks, and Darden Mill Run could bring them within state standards for recreational use, officials with the university, and the Virginia departments of Environmental Quality and Conservation and Recreation said during a Wednesday meeting.

Samples from each waterway were either above state standards for fecal coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, or both, said Becky Zeckowski, a water quality engineer with Virginia Tech.

Fecal coliform bacteria could lead to ear infections and hepatitis as well as viral and bacterial gastroenteritis. E. coli bacteria can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections and neonatal meningitis.

Darden Mill Run, Three Creek and Mill Swamp empty into the Nottoway. Tarrara Creek empties into the Meherrin River in Emporia, and Flat Creek empties into Tarrara.

The Virginia Tech study showed that wildlife was the top contributor to bacteria.

“There may be times when you will never meet the standards and this may be one of those cases,” said DEQ’s Jennifer Howell.

The study also suggests reducing the livestock using waterways. Livestock can contaminate a waterway by standing in it and a possible solution would be fencing, Zeckowski said.

Runoff from livestock and fertilizer needs to be reduced by 35 percent in Flat Swamp and 75 percent in Three Creek. This can be accomplished by using barriers, or a row of plant life, like trees, that work as filters for runoff, said Blackwater and Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner.

Bacteria from faulty septic systems and pets are a problem in Flat Swamp and Three Creek. Bacteria flowing from a home’s plumbing into the waterway without being treated is a problem at Mill Swamp. This configuration, known as a straight pipe, is illegal.

Bacteria caused from runoff after hunt club members clean their dog kennels is also a problem in Darden Mill Run, Flat Swamp and Three Creek.

Turner said he’s hopeful the plan set forth by DEQ will help reduce the bacteria, but was cautious because so much of it relies on voluntary activity.

“Some of these things are going to be harder to do then others,” Turner said.