RIVERGUARD REPORT: ‘Snow’ on the Blackwater in August

Published 5:38 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

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Whispering Bear and I spent August the 1st through the 3rd on the Blackwater below Franklin. The water was normal, very clear and 79 degrees. Air temps ranged from a refreshing 58 to 86 degrees. It was a pleasant change from the week before. 

The fishing on this trip was not too bad… for largemouth bass. I caught six, with the largest being a very poor-looking 4.10-pounder. That fish was all head and should have weighed at least 6 pounds. All the other ones were also very thin-looking except one that had eggs in it. So, I don’t know if these fish were poor from bad water quality issues or have had a second spawn. I also caught/hung some chain pickerel, and the bream were hitting pretty good also. I caught the bass on crank baits and the jacks on the white tail Mepps. Once again, NO catfish at night. We didn’t see any dead ones in the Blackwater, but when we got to the Nottoway, we started seeing dead blue catfish again. We also ran up with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Fisheries Biologist Eric Brittle and Chad Boyce on the Blackwater in the shock boat. They said they had also seen a few on the Nottoway. Whispering Bear got to see them do a shock run. We saw a bunch of small catfish to like the one-pound size, but that was it. Still, no certain reason for the blue catfish dying in the Nottoway and Chowan has been ascertained yet. 

Yea, snow in August, or that’s what it looked like as we rounded a bend in the river about 3 miles downriver from Franklin. I could see a cloud blowing across the river and at first thought it was dust, maybe from I.P. working on the dike. It was not. When we got there, it was like a blizzard blowing out of the International Paper Aerated Stabilization Basin pond. We had to cover our mouths and nose, and I had to take off fast to get us out of that stuff. I was stunned that it covered the river from shore to shore and was about 2 miles in length before we ran out of it. Since I considered that to be a threat to human health as well as the environment, I called the Virginia Emergency Operations Center (1-800-468-8892). The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is still investigating as of this writing, but it is believed to be a foaming issue from that holding pond. I’ll get more information about it after they finish their investigation. This is the first time I have ever seen a foaming issue like that coming from that pond. I have seen large clumps of foam being blown over the dike at that pond into the river, but it was right many years ago. I talked to a fellow that has property on the river, and he said he saw this same thing last year and that it got in his eyes, causing a burning sensation that lasted a couple of hours. I got a slight headache after we ran through it, and the stuff got all over the boat, but I’m not sure the headache was from breathing that stuff or just from the stress of seeing it and doing all that reporting and relaying information. 

All I know is it’s never good to have pollution going into the river, especially when dissolved oxygen levels and high temps already have the rivers stressed pretty bad. Hopefully the mill and DEQ can figure out a way to better protect us and the rest of the critters that love the two rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.

Jeff Turner is the Blackwater Nottoway RiverGuard. To contact him about river issues, send him an email at blknotkpr@earthlink.net. He can also be followed on the Blackwater Nottoway RiverGuard Facebook page. Just type in “Blackwater Nottoway RiverGuard” in the search field on Facebook.