The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 1, 2013

Water quality groups team to promote goals

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

— The waters of the New and Greenbrier rivers converge at the town of Hinton before rushing through the New River Gorge. Likewise, two water quality organizations dedicated to the health of these rivers are joining together to move their goals forward into the new year.

The Confluence Campaign is an effort by the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River and the National Committee on the New River to raise $18,000 for their organizing and outreach work in West Virginia.

“Thousands of people use and enjoy the rivers and we want to funnel their appreciation for the rivers into taking better care of them,” says Chris Chanlett, president of the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River.

The group performs water monitoring, educates local students about the watershed, creates reading material and spearheads other activities focused on conserving and protecting water resources in the Greenbrier River watershed.

In 2011, they released a Greenbrier River State of the Watershed, an educational document that details the watershed, its impairments and some of the activities being undertaken to improve its health.

Working with an artist, they are also creating a 3D model of the watershed, which will be displayed at the Alderson Interpretive Center. Chanlett says they also have a proposal on the table to create a boat ramp access point where the Greenbrier meets the New.

The National Committee for the New River (NCNR) works to protect, restore and advocate for a healthy New River, whose 8,970 miles of tributaries drain a 6,920-square-mile basin. In West Virginia, they have partnered with other local organizations on water monitoring and education projects.

NCNR, the larger of the two organizations, challenged the Greenbrier group to raise the money. They will keep one third of it for their outreach work in West Virginia.

“The Greenbrier is a very significant portion of the New’s total watershed, so it makes complete sense for them, as an ambitious organization, to keep reaching out to people in southern West Virginia,” says Chanlett.

Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River will use their portion for staffing to support all their activities and programs. They currently rely on a VISTA worker, an arrangement that can continue if the campaign is a success.

Chanlett says the Greenbrier’s most immediate problem is the formation of large amounts of algae in the river during the summer months due to phosphorus from sewage treatment plants.

“The algae forms in such large blooms that it gets in the way of boating, fishing and swimming and it’s generally unpleasant for people using the river,” he says.

In cooperation with its sister organization, the Greenbrier River Watershed Association, the Friends is addressing the issue with water authorities to try to upgrade the systems to release less phosphorus.

Another problem is E. coli, which comes from various sources, including livestock and dysfunctional septic systems. The Muddy Creek watershed is a point of focus for the Friends in this respect. They have a project with the soil conservation district for upgrading septic systems and cost sharing to exclude livestock from grazing along the creeks.

Both Friends and NCNR began in protest of certain projects that would have significantly impacted the rivers — a hydroelectric impoundment in the case of the New and a pressure-treated wood plant in the case of the Greenbrier. They have grown into organizations with a wider focus on watershed health.

Chanlett says he feels good about the direction the country has moved since passing the Clean Water Act in 1972, but that maintaining that positive change requires continued efforts at the local level.

“Publicly, we’ve invested in rivers, and it shows. More people can live along them and spend their days enjoying them,” he says.

“But it takes local organizations like ours to sustain the energy to take care of places, keep government bodies accountable, and organize citizen activities along the rivers.”

For more information or to donate to the Confluence Campaign, visit http://www.lowergreenbrierriver.org or call 304-445-2005.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com