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Residents wade into water woes

Concerned citizens gathered in the Midway Volunteer Fire Department Thursday night to discuss how to save local impaired bodies of water in southeastern Halifax County.

Virginia Department of Environment Quality (VDEQ) TMDL Coordinator Paula Nash said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the bacteria and benthic impairments in the Hyco River, Little Coleman Creek Coleman Creek, Big Bluewing Creek, Aarons Creek, and Beech Creek and seek input from local citizens on what can be done to improve water quality.

 According to Nash, the VDEQ has numeric and narrative criteria that must be met in order to meet its water quality standards and the VDEQ’s numeric criteria for water quality sets the bacteria standard at 235 colonies per 1000ml waters. 

If bacteria levels violate the standard more than 10.5 percent of the time, the body of water is considered impaired, and the VDEQ does a total maximum load (TMDL) study, Nash said.

The total maximum daily load is the amount of a particular pollutant that a stream can receive and still meet water quality standards.

Project Manager for the TMDL study, Henry Manguerra of the Michael Baker Corporation, shared the findings from the TMDL study done on Hyco River and its tributaries and discussed what can be done to develop the TMDL so that it meets VDEQ standards.

Manguerra explained Hyco River, Araons Creek, Little Buffalo Creek and Beech Creek are impaired due to the levels of E.coli found in these streams, and Coleman Creek suffers from benthic impairment and the cause is unknown.

The TMDL study is one of the approaches to restore water quality. In order to develop the TMDL they have to find out the maximum load these bodies of water can take without having any harmful effects, he explained. 

 Also defined are watershed boundaries that help determine where the runoff is coming from.

Land cover and land use also are examined to determine what exactly is running off into streams.

Then they must identify bacteria sources that may include waste treatment plants, animal feeding operations, failing septic systems and straight pipes, livestock pets and wildlife waste via surface runoff or directly into the stream.

 He noted Newton Mobile Court Inc., the South Boston Foursquare Church, Town of Virgilina, Cluster Springs Elementary, Longwood Sand Filter and Pine Grove Park STP are waste water treatment plants in the area  permitted to discharge waste into nearby streams.

According to Manguerra, Coleman Creek, Little Bluewing Creek and Aarons Creek are on the receiving end of the runoff from the active hog farms in the area.

The project manager informed the group some 77 percent of households use septic systems in Halifax County, and 14 percent use public sewer systems, while 10 percent use straight pipes.

A total of 1,255 houses in the Hyco River Watershed including 944 of those in Halifax County have septic systems, while 584 houses are included in the Aarons Creek watershed with 334 of those located in Halifax County using septic systems, while 90 in Mecklenburg County use septic systems. 

A total of 81 houses on the Beech Creek water shed use a septic system, and 139 in the Little Buffalo Creek watershed use septic systems.

Manguerra also pointed out 97 goats were located in the Hyco River watershed, while 57 are in the Aarons Creek watershed, 12 in the Beech Creek watershed, and 98 are in the Little Buffalo Creek watershed.

 A total of 3,976 hogs are found in the Hyco River watershed and 2,760 in the Aarons Creek watershed. No hogs were found in the Beech Creek and Little Buffalo Creek watersheds.

The project manager said 78 horses and ponies live in the Hyco River watershed, while 49 live in the Aarons Creek watershed, 12 live in the Beech Creek watershed and eight are can be found in the Little Buffalo Creek watershed.

A total of 11 sheep and lambs are in the Hyco River watershed, while six are in the Aarons Creek watershed, one in the Beech Creek watershed and another lives in the Little Buffalo Creek watershed. 

No milk cows were found in these watersheds, and numbers for beef cows are yet to be determined. 

The poultry population for poultry is zero in both the Beech Creek and Little Buffalo Creek watersheds, while the numbers for Aarons Creek and Hyco River watersheds remain to be determined.

Out of 584 households in the Aarons Creek watershed, 341 dogs and 373 cats were accounted for, and out of the 81 households in the Beech Creek watershed 47 dogs and 52 cats were counted. 

Out of the 1,225 households in the Hyco River watershed, some 715 dogs and 782 cats were counted, while out of the 139 households in the Little Buffalo Creek watershed 81 dogs and 89 cats were accounted for.

Deer, geese, wild turkey, raccoon, muskrat, beaver and ducks make up the wildlife population for the Hyco River, Aarons Creek, Beech Creek and Little Buffalo Creek watersheds.

Manguerra also explained the benthic impairment in Coleman Creek.

He said benthic macroinvertebrate data was collected at two monitoring sites to help determine the cause of the impairment.

He said potential stressors and causes of the impairment include ammonia, ph levels, temperature, metals, toxic organic compounds, nutrients, organic matter, ionic strength and streambed sedimentation which he noted is the most probable stressor. 

Habitat evaluation in that area shows a decline due to sediment accumulation.

On Jan. 16, he said they will visit the watershed to investigate sediment sources in upland areas and stream channel network.

The project manager explained the next major steps for developing the bacteria and benthic TMDL for the Hyco River and its tributaries include estimating a base line of loads from various sources, develop, calibrate and validate a hydrologic simulation program model and a generalized watershed loading functions model and develop alternative load reduction scenarios to derive TMDL and meet water quality standards.  

He said a final public meeting is scheduled for July 2014.