Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Episode 529 (6-15-20): Virginia's Biennial Water Quality Assessment Report

Click to listen to episode (5:15)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-12-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 15, 2020.

SOUND – ~ 5 sec

This week, that sound of Toms Creek, a New River tributary in Montgomery County, Va., opens an episode about Virginia’s current assessment of water quality in streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries.  Water quality refers to what people often call the “health” of water bodies.  Scientifically, it involves chemical, physical, and biological characteristics, each measured in various standardized ways.  Legally, under the federal Clean Water Act and state laws implementing that Act, water quality assessments consider whether water bodies support specified designated uses by humans or by other organisms.  Virginia’s water quality standards identify six designated uses.  For an introduction to designated uses, have a listen for about 30 seconds to several mystery sounds, representing five of Virginia’s six uses.

SOUNDS - ~31 sec

Virginia’s designated uses, and the sounds you heard representing each, are aquatic life use, represented by a Green Frog sound; fish consumption, a fishing line sound; human recreation, a paddling sound; public water supply, a running faucet sound; wildlife use, ducks quacking; and shellfishing, the one use for which there was no sound.

The Clean Water Act requires states to have a water-quality monitoring program and to publish an assessment report every two years.  One of the report’s main purposes is to identify what water bodies do not support their particular designated uses, based on chemical, physical, and biological measurements over time.  Those water bodies are categorized as impaired for one or more uses.  For example, the Toms Creek section you heard earlier has been categorized as impaired for the aquatic life use, because of seasonally high temperatures, and for the human recreation use, because of high bacterial levels.  When a water body is determined to be impaired, typically the water body then undergoes a lengthy cleanup and restoration process known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

[Note not included in audio: Other indicators of impairments of different water bodies in Virginia include measurements of dissolved oxygen, pH, nutrients, sediments, toxic substances, or the community of benthic organisms.]

On June 8, 2020, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, published its draft 2020 water quality assessment, covering data from 2013 to 2018.  The Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report will undergo a public comment period until July 9, with a Webinar about report scheduled for June 24.  Information about the report and the public comment opportunity is available from the DEQ online at www.deq.virginia.gov; click first on “Programs” and then on “Water Quality Assessments”; or phone the DEQ’s main office at (804) 698-4000.

We close with some music for our varied connections to rivers, lakes, and estuaries covered in Virginia’s water-quality monitoring.  Here’s about 15 seconds of “Waters Edge,” by the Rockingham County, Va.-based group, The Steel Wheels.

MUSIC - ~15 sec – Lyrics:“Mama, oh mama, it was out by the water’s edge.”


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds heard in this episode were recorded by Virginia Water Radio as follows:

Toms Creek in Heritage Park, Blacksburg, Va., June 12, 2020;
Green Frog at a seasonal pond in Heritage Park, Blacksburg, Va., August 1, 2016;
Fishing line, Blacksburg, Va., June 23, 2016;
Kayak paddling on the Potomac River in West Virginia, July 11, 2010;
Household water faucet, Blacksburg, Va., November 17, 2013;
Mallards at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond, Blacksburg, Va., December 10, 2015.

“Waters Edge,” from the 2013 album “No More Rain,” is copyright by The Steel Wheels, used with permission. More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at http://www.thesteelwheels.com/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Toms Creek in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va., June 12, 2020.  The stream sound heard in this episode of Virginia Water Radio was recorded at this location.

Map showing the distribution in Virginia of impaired waters within watersheds, as identified in the “Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  Map accessed online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityAssessments/2020305(b)303(d)IntegratedReport.aspx#maps, 6/16/20.

Map showing the status of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) processes by watershed in Virginia, as identified in the “Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  Map accessed online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityAssessments/2020305(b)303(d)IntegratedReport.aspx#maps, 6/16/20.


The following is quoted from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), opening page of “Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report,” online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityAssessments/2020305(b)303(d)IntegratedReport.aspx.

“DEQ released the Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report (Integrated Report) on June 8, 2020.  The 2020 Integrated Report is a summary of the water quality conditions in Virginia from Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2018.

“This biennial report satisfies the requirements of the U.S. Clean Water Act sections 305(b) and 303(d) and the Virginia Water Quality Monitoring, Information and Restoration Act.  The goals of Virginia's water quality assessment program are to determine whether waters meet water quality standards, and to establish a schedule to restore waters with impaired water quality.

“Water quality standards designate uses for waters.  There are six designated uses for surface waters in Virginia: aquatic life; fish consumption; public water supplies (where applicable); recreation; shellfishing; wildlife

“Additionally, several subcategories of aquatic life use have been adopted for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.  The standards define the water quality needed to support each of these uses. If a water body contains more contamination than allowed by water quality standards, it will not support one or more of its designated uses.  Such waters have "impaired" water quality. In most cases, a cleanup plan (called a "total maximum daily load") must be developed and implemented to restore impaired waters.

“Findings in this report will be presented via webinar on June 24, 2020 at 2:00 – 3:30 pm EDT. Interested persons can register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6736552019723263503.

“The report is available for public review and comment.  Comments or questions about the report can be submitted via U.S. mail postmarked on or before July 9, 2020 to
Sandra Mueller
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Monitoring and Assessment
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218-1105
Or via email attachment to Sandra.Mueller@DEQ.Virginia.gov (please include your name, mailing address, telephone number and email address)

“A combined response to comments will be prepared after the public comment period expires and made available on this website with the final report.

“The entire Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report is a 43.7 MB ZIP file available for download.” [You may also view or download the smaller individual components of the report online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityAssessments/2020305(b)303(d)IntegratedReport.aspx.]


Used for Audio

Carolyn Kroehler, “Navigating the Currents of Water Quality Law,” and Alan Raflo, “A Fish-eye View of Water Quality,” pages 1 and 6, respectively, in Virginia Water Central, October 1998, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, Va.; PDF of issue available online at https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49336.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “Draft 2020 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report,” online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityAssessments/2020305(b)303(d)IntegratedReport.aspx. The Executive Summary is available online (as a PDF) at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/Water/WaterQualityAssessments/IntegratedReport/2020/ir20_Executive_Summary.pdf.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “Water Quality Standards,” online at https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterQualityInformationTMDLs/WaterQualityStandards.aspx.

Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, “Public Webinar [on June 24, 2020] - Notice of Availability of and Public Comment on the 2020 Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report,” online at https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewMeeting.cfm?MeetingID=30978.

For More Information about Water Quality and Water-quality Monitoring/Assessment

Code of Virginia, Chapter 21.1, “Virginia Water Quality Improvement Act of 1997,” online at https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title10.1/chapter21.1/.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
“Impaired Waters and TMDLs,” online at https://www.epa.gov/tmdl/program-overview-impaired-waters-and-tmdls;
“National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES),” online at https://www.epa.gov/npdes;
“Summary of the Clean Water Act,” online at https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act.

U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Science School/Water Quality Information by Topic,” online at https://water.usgs.gov/edu/waterquality.html.

Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to water-quality monitoring are available online at https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/category/water-monitoring/.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Water Quality” subject category.

Following are links to some other episodes on water quality science, law, or monitoring.

Chesapeake Bay Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – Episode 115, 6-18-12 and Episode 475, 6-3-19.
Emerging contaminants – Episode 499, 11-18-19.
Nitrogen – Episode 279, 8-24-15 and Episode 280, 9-7-15.
Stream assessment with aquatic macroinvertebrates – Episode 81, 9-26-11.
Water quality and coal – Episode 97, 1-30-12, Episode 98, 2-6-12, and Episode 99, 2-13-12
Waterways cleanups – Episode 383, 8-28-17.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript or by other information included in this post.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, and cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.10 – changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia, with reference to the hydrologic cycle.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Chemistry Course
CH.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

United States History: 1865-to-Present Course
USII.9 – domestic and international issues during the second half of the 20th Century and the early 21st Century.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.4 – types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.
WG.18 – cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.