SHENANDOAH COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- According to a new study, much of the Shenandoah River is polluted with unsafe levels of E. coli. The study, conducted by the Environmental Integrity Project, says the pollution is because of animal waste runoff. Using state records, it was found that more than 90 percent of the water quality monitoring stations where the state regularly samples the Shenandoah River found fecal bacteria (also known as E. coli) at levels unsafe for human contact.
Many farmers will use animal waste as a fertilizer for crops. The Shenandoah River runs through Shenandoah, Page, Rockingham, and Augusta counties, which, combined, have about 159 million chickens, 16 million turkeys and 528,000 cows raised annually. That's a lot of manure in the fields. When it rains, that waste can run into the river and cause trouble, because the levels aren't only unsafe for fish, but also for humans.
"I am always very careful about getting in this water. I make sure not to get it in my eyes, God forbid I drink any of it. It's just dangerous," said Herschel Finch, a fisherman in Front Royal.
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is responding by calling the report "an opinion piece."
“Virginia needs to start notifying the public that the Shenandoah Valley’s waterways are unsafe for swimming and tubing – or, better yet, the state should solve this manure overload problem,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA. “The state should either require the livestock industry --or use public funds -- to collect the excess manure that crops can’t use and ship it out of the valley, to a region that needs it.”