The Shenandoah Watershed Study monitors the health of mountain streams and the creatures that live in them.
Photo by Jack Mellott.
Acid rain makes its way to Virginia from 13 states in the Southeast and Midwest. Coming primarily from coal-burning power plants, this pollution causes long-term damage to mountain streams and forests. The hazy air that results is obvious, but what most people don’t see is the gradual loss of fish and other aquatic organisms, as well as trees and other vegetation.
Jim Galloway, U.Va. professor of environmental sciences and co-director of the Shenandoah Watershed Study (SWAS), and other scientists have been studying and monitoring dozens of mountain streams in Virginia and throughout the Southeast for 25 years. Their studies show that only about 50 percent of Virginia’s mountain streams support native trout, down from about 80 percent before the start of the Industrial Age in the mid-1800s.
Despite improved air quality since amendments to the Clean Air Act took effect in 1991, mountain streams in the Southeast continue to suffer due to acidic deposition. U.Va. studies indicate that the decline will continue, and only about 42 percent of Virginia’s streams will support native trout by the midpoint of this century. Power plant emissions will likely need to be further reduced in coming years to eventually improve the quality of mountain streams and the overall environment, Galloway said.
In addition to acid rain, stream environments are affected by logging operations, fire, encroaching development, insect infestations, climate change and certain atmospheric chemicals such as ozone. Some of these threats are local in scale, many are regional, and all are national concerns, Galloway said.
SWAS scientists will present their long-term findings, providing a benchmark for the effects of acid rain on native brook trout and other aquatic creatures, at a symposium on Virginia’s mountain streams on Oct. 30 in Charlottesville. Participants from several key stakeholding organizations will present lectures, discussions and informal talks throughout the day.
Participating organizations include: U.Va.’s SWAS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Dominion Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Trout Unlimited, the Canaan Valley Institute and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"This won’t be a bunch of intellectuals talking to other intellectuals; it will be real stakeholders holding discussions with each other and the public about watershed issues that are important to all of us," Galloway said.