The portion of Little Bull Run that flows through Kat Macuci’s Claas Farm in Gainesville is a model for water quality protection.
She erected fences around the stream to prevent livestock from walking into it and dropping manure, which contains bacteria that’s harmful to humans.
Instead of allowing the cows to drink from the stream, she installed frost-free water troughs. By adding more fences, Macuci can have more control over where livestock graze and which paddocks should rest for reseeding.
“I wasn’t happy with what the cattle were doing to the property ? the land was getting beat up,” Macuci said.
“It’s been very beneficial for me in that regard, as far as keeping the animals contained,” she said. “To me it’s a win-win. It improves your space for better use, you’re taking care of the stream and they do pay you for the project.”
Every year she receives a check for the land she’s protected from bacteria contamination along Little Bull Run.
Macuci has done what state agencies might ask of more farm owners as soon as next year as stream quality research becomes available.
It seems business as usual isn’t good enough for stream quality in the Occoquan watershed.
Department of Environmental Quality scientists have discovered higher than normal levels of fecal coliform bacteria in Occoquan River watershed streams and the Clean Water Act has required Virginia to clean them up.
The bacteria has been there for years, but a recent lawsuit that the Environmental Protection Agency lost has triggered stream clean up efforts across the country.
The Clean Water Act also requires clean up where nutrients and sediment becomes potent enough to kill organisms such as mussels, dobson flies, mayflies, black flies and caddisflies.
Those types of bugs indicate healthy stream quality. For almost 10 years, Popes Head Creek in Fairfax County, Bull Run and South Run have not sustained habitats for these organisms as required by federal standards, according to the DEQ.
Usually those organisms are deprived of oxygen when excess nutrients and sediment from storm run off enter the streams.
Little Bull Run, Broad Run, Kettle Run, Bull Run, South Run and Popes Head Creek are streams with too much fecal coliform are the other streams with high fecal coliform bacteria counts.
The Occoquan River near Purcell Branch also has high levels of bacteria, but the Occoquan Reservoir, which provides water for more than one million Northern Virginians, is not infected, said Kimberly Davis, regional project coordinator for DEQ.
For the rest of this year the Louis Berger Group, which was hired by DEQ, will sleuth around farms, forests, dog trails and residential lots for the sources of fecal coliform bacteria.
It can be analyzed to determine from what kind of intestinal track it originated: wildlife, pets, humans or livestock.
Once they find the sources, a “total maximum daily load” report will make recommendations on how to clean up the streams.
The total maximum daily load is a pollution budget to determine what nutrients or bacteria can be released into the streams without exceeding federal standards.
The Prince William Health Department would address failing septic systems and agencies like the Soil and Water Conservation District would begin to address livestock manure management, if the bacteria is tracked back to farms, Davis said.
The bacteria found in these streams could cause gastrointestinal illnesses or ear, eye and skin infections, said Davis, who urged caution when coming in contact with any natural streams lakes or rivers.
The Soil and Water Conservation District would play a large role in making people aware of bacteria pollution from manure, if it’s found to be the source.
All of the measures to protect streams from livestock bacteria contamination would be voluntary, state officials said.
“We couldn’t force people to do that [fencing around streams],” said Marc Aveni, regional manager for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. “We can give them incentives through cost share programs and tell them this is a good thing for the environment.”
If human strains of fecal coliform are found in the streams, the Health Department would get involved to make sure houses are properly served by properly functioning septic systems and not straight pipes.
Straight pipes dispose of human waste directly into water bodies and are illegal, Aveni said.
This summer the Louis Berger Group should have preliminary data on the bacteria sources, said Raed EL-Farhan, an engineer working on the project.
The Environmental Protection Agency will review the final study and have 30 days to approve it. After approval, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will begin implementation some time next year.
For more information on the total maximum daily load study, visit http://www.lbg-vatmdls.com or http://www.deq.Virginia.gov/tmdl
Staff writer Lillian Kafka can be reached at (703) 878-8091.