Virginia's Waters: Still at Risk - A Critique of the Commonwealth's Water Quality Assessment Reports

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Vol: 2, Issue: 1, Page: 1-20

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Foundation, Chesapeake Bay
Environmental Law; Water Law
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Federal law requires all states to periodically report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the water quality of their rivers, lakes and streams and provide EPA with a listing of polluted waters. Virginia has recently prepared two reports for 1996 and boasts that only 5 percent of the Commonwealth's rivers are polluted. Under closer inspection, this information is found to be extremely misleading due to a number of serious gaps and flaws within Virginia's water quality monitoring program and its methods of data reporting and evaluation. When Virginia states that only 5 percent of the waters it monitors fail to meet water quality standards, it is misleading the public by concluding that Virginia's waters are in great shape. Such a conclusion ignores the fact that compliance with a water quality standard is but one of may indices of the health of a waterbody. The absence of underwater grasses; the level of polluting nutrients; the presence of toxics in fish tissue or sediments B each of these is also an indicator of water quality conditions.