Monday 27 May 2019

Shenandoah Riverkeeper

Mark Frondorf joined Potomac RIVERKEEPER® Network in 2015 as the Shenandoah RIVERKEEPER®. Having guided on the Shenandoah and Potomac for almost twenty years, Mark comes to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper position used to hard work and recognizing the importance of a hands-on approach to protecting our rivers.  His passion for the water, combined with his people and analytical skills, honed over 25 years as a think tank senior policy analyst tackling some of the most vexing issues facing our nation, make him ideally suited to defend the Shenandoah against pollution, protect our right to clean water, and promote the recreational use of this beautiful river.

As the former president of the Potomac River Smallmouth Club, he successfully lobbied both Virginia and Maryland officials to implement and expand catch and release regulations and he was instrumental in getting the federal government to revise the Code of Federal Regulations to permit wade fishing on portions of the Potomac.  Mark also served on the Board of Directors for the Mid-Atlantic Federation of Fly Fishers. 

(Former Shenandoah RIVERKEEPER® Jeff Kelble stepped out of his fishing guide raft and into conservation work in 2005 when he started the Shenandoah Riverkeeper Program at Potomac RIVERKEEPER®, Inc. and became the Shenandoah Riverkeeper in 2006. In July 2014, Jeff became President of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, home to Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, and Upper Potomac Riverkeeper.)

Shenandoah Riverkeeper works to protect the public's right to clean water in our rivers and streams. We stop pollution to promote safe drinking water, protect healthy river habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment.

Monitoring Program

We are dedicated to monitoring the condition of the rivers through regular on-the-water patrols, volunteer Riverwatchers, and citizen reports through our website and the new mobile phone app, the Water Reporter. In addition, we work with university law clinics, nonprofit legal groups and corporate law firms that provide pro bono legal services and conduct compliance reviews of pollution permits. Staff and legal interns also provide legal research on pollution permit compliance.

The evidence of pollution that we observe during monitoring includes polluted runoff from construction sites and farm land, fish kills and fish with lesions, algae blooms, illicit discharges from pipes and many other signs of compromised water quality. Some of problems are old and ongoing, but others are new. We notify government oversight agencies, contact the polluter, and if needed, take legal action if other actions do not result in improvements.

  • Riverwatchers -- Our volunteer Riverwatchers Program monitor and report pollution on the Potomac River, the Shenandoah River, the Upper Potomac, and all the tributaries. We train volunteers what to look out for while out on the river, which pollution issues are prevalent for our watershed and how you can report pollution. Our Riverwatchers are often the first to detect problems such as early spring fish kills.
  • The Water Reporter, a mobile reporting app -- We have made it easier to find and report pollution -- and to report the fun things you see and do on the river. Working with Chesapeake Commons, we developed a mobile app, which is a Bay-wide initiative, to gather critical data on the waterways you love! The Water Reporter App for iPhone and iPad is now available for download for free! If you’re out and about and see debris flowing from a construction site, cows in your stream, or a pipe discharging questionable water, use the app to report it. Or if you are on a hike, bike or paddling trip let us know. If your organization or group is planning a stream cleanup, tree planting, or any water related activity, please report those on the app as well! We will try to advertise far and wide. Once your report is submitted it will be sent to your local Waterkeeper and to a live map available on the Water Reporter Website. The Water Reporter app is not only for the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. There are 18 local Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay region waiting for your reports. Reports will go to your local Waterkeeper.

 Enforcement & Advocacy Program

We take information from our monitoring and community activity and take actions to create positive change. At any given time, our three Riverkeepers are working on roughly two dozen active enforcement and advocacy matters, including commenting on pollution permits when they are up for renewal, pushing government regulators to recognize major pollution problems and act on them, and filing lawsuits against polluters and government agencies that are allowing pollution to continue unchecked.

Our priority issue areas are:

Major Polluters

The Clean Water Act and other environmental laws allow residents to improve their local rivers and streams through "citizen suits." On behalf of our members and the residents throughout the watershed, Potomac Riverkeeper and its attorneys routinely monitor known polluters. When we find that a facility is violating its pollution permit, we consider factors, such as the impact of the violations on public health, and the size and scope of the violations, before taking action.

After our review, in most cases, we contact the worst polluters to tell them to stop polluting our water supply and to clean up existing pollution. If they do not, we begin legal actions by filing a mandatory 60-day "letter of intent" to sue under the Clean Water Act. As a last resort, we will take a polluter to court to stop the pollution.

Current Shenandoah Riverkeeper actions include:

  • Virginia’s Sewage Sludge regulations --  Shenandoah Riverkeeper filed to appeal Virginia’s sewage sludge regulations that govern the application, staging and storage of sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is a by-product of treating industrial and municipal sewage and its use as a crop fertilizer is controversial. Shenandoah Riverkeeper contends the final regulations do not meet the requirements of state law. .


We track, comment on and challenge Clean Water Act permits for stormwater from construction sites, industrial sites, and municipal stormwater systems. Stormwater runs off the land and picks up sediment, fertilizer, trash, chemicals, and other pollutants and carries them into our creeks and rivers directly or through storm sewer systems.

Current actions include:

  • General stormwater permits – We are mounting court challenges to multiple stormwater general permits – blanket permits issued by states that apply to a large number of similar sources of discharge. These include:
    • Virginia’s Construction Stormwater General Permit
    • Maryland’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit
    • Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permits


Small farms, when viewed as one, represent a large portion of the agricultural sector in the Shenandoah Valley and other parts of the Potomac River watershed.  In the Shenandoah Valley, we're going "site by site" to all the farms in the area, opening a dialogue with farmers about improving the practices that endanger the health and jobs of people living downstream.

Many small farms are not regulated and difficult for government agencies to monitor. So far, the best way to improve water quality downstream from farms is to persuade farmers to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) on a voluntary basis. Small changes can make a big difference. Here are a few of the most common and most effective changes we ask farmers to make:

  • Prevent cattle from using the river as a restroom by fencing cattle away from rivers and streams (goal: Get the Cattle Out of the Shenandoah River by end of 2015)
  • Stop feeding of cattle on the banks of rivers and streams
  • Creating buffers to catch rainwater that carries animal waste, dirt, fertilizers and pesticides into the river during rain storms

The program begins by initiating dialogue with the farmers to build trust and understanding about the way their farming practices may be damaging our water supply. We offer assistance including our Shenandoah River Conservation Fund, links to cost share programs and other support for farmers who are willing to implement best management practices. In the event that discussions break down, or improvements stall, the program will use local regulations where they exist that may compel farmers to make changes.

Fracking & Mining

George Washington National Forest  In 2011, the US Forest Service rewrote the George Washington National Forest management plan and rightfully excluded industrial horizontal fracking and gas development from the public areas of the forest. It drew tremendous local support. Ten local governments submitted comments expressing concerns over fracking in the forest and many passed resolutions against horizontal drilling in the National Forest. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Na­tional Park Service, and three major metropolitan water suppliers filed comments supporting the Forest Service’s proposed prohibition. More than 53,000 comments were submitted during the comment period on the Forest Service’s draft plan, with more than 95 percent supporting the pro­posed restrictions. Now, the US Forest Service is under intense pressure from the oil and gas industry to abandon its proposal. We circulated an action alert and are working with other groups to bring attention to this issue while awaiting the Forest Service’s final management plan.

Cove Point Fracked Gas Export Facility  Potomac Riverkeeper and Shenandoah Riverkeeper joined a coalition of environmental groups to oppose this facility. The coalition has intervened in the proceedings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) calling on the agency to conduct a thorough environmental review and economic and risk assessment (an Environmental Impact Statement). Demands for natural gas exports will mean more dangerous fracking in our local communities, as well as more pipelines and compressor stations, more water and air pollution, and destruction of land. A broader coalition of local, regional and national groups has been formed, the Cove Point Emergency Coalition, to oppose this facility. There have been several actions taken in the months leading up to FERC’s release of the final Environmental Assessment, anticipated to be in September 2014.

Water Body Standards

Algae & Nutrient Pollution in the Shenandoah: Shenandoah Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to act in the face of this threat. EPA has failed to carry out a non-discretionary duty to either approve or disapprove of Virginia’s list of waters deemed impaired under the Clean Water Act, which was published in 2012 without an acknowledgment of the Shenandoah’s algae problems. Listing would have triggered specific government plans to combat algae pollution on the Shenandoah. Omission from the list means delay in addressing a serious and growing problem.

Since 2010, Shenandoah Riverkeeper has collected hundreds of complaints from river users and submitted most of them to the Virginia government in hopes it would recognize the problem and take direct corrective action. Shenandoah Riverkeeper continues to receive complaints from river users about slimy green growths of algae, which cause bad odors, interfere with swimming, fishing, paddling and boating, and are contributing to a decline in the health of fish and aquatic ecosystems in the river.

In 2012, Shenandoah Riverkeeper officially requested that Virginia DEQ designate all reaches of the Shenandoah River as impaired by algae on Virginia’s “303(d) list,” the list on which states are required to designate water bodies that fail to meet water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Virginia is required by the Act to consider all information about stream impairments when updating its list. While Virginia has taken account of similar evidence in prior decisions to list other water bodies as impaired, it has refused to list the Shenandoah as impaired despite the ample evidence submitted in this case. In December 2013, EPA compounded Virginia’s inaction by failing to either approve or disapprove of Virginia’s decision not to list the Shenandoah as impaired, in violation of an explicit statutory duty to take action. This is why Shenandoah Riverkeeper has filed its notice of intent to sue the EPA.

Emerging Contaminants: For several years, we have worked with research partners at the USGS and other agencies on further understanding the health effects of endocrine disruptors in our rivers, vigilantly monitoring the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers for further fish kills, and are building community awareness. There are 80,000 chemicals in the US marketplace. Our government only tests our water for 1 out of every 400. Many of these chemicals that are not regulated or tested for are endocrine distruptors, a type of chemical pollution believed to be the cause of fish kills and intersex fish in the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers. Our Federal, state, and local governments are mandated to provide basic services like safe, clean drinking water. In order to guarantee that our water is safe, we must stop these pollutants from entering our waterways in the first place, and we must study, test for, and--if necessary--remove endocrine disruptors in our water supply.

Recreation Program

Our Riverkeeper programs undertake a number of activities and projects that enhance the use and enjoyment of our rivers, with the ultimate goal of increasing public awareness of and participation in protection of the rivers. The Riverkeeper programs also work on some policy and legislative issues related to our work protecting the rivers.

River Access Projects

Shenandoah River Access Improvements

Shenandoah Riverkeeper kicked off its River Access Improvement Project by prioritizing the river access locations in terms of use characteristics and need for infrastructural improvements. We have teamed up with the Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries to find funding sources for these river access sites. We found our first partners, Dominion Energy and Zachary Construction, who have been working to completely upgrade one of the most popular powerboat accesses (Riverton) in the entire Shenandoah system. (The funding for the site improvements was disbursed through another nonprofit.) This upgrade includes a permanent sanitary facility, a new ramp, picnic area next to the river, improved parking lighting and landscaping.

Special Outreach Projects

Shenandoah Landowner Outreach Project

In 2012, we experimented on the North Fork with riparian landowner outreach. Two major issues provided an excellent reason to reach out to landowners, the first was an epoch algae bloom and the second was a severe and sudden drop in river flow during the end of June. We went to the press about the issues and sent postcards to over 800 riparian landowners along the river asking them to report algae and to contact us if they had a potential explanation for the drop in flow. In 2013, we are launched a Landowner Outreach Program designed to serve several purposes 1) build relationships with landowners, 2) build advocacy power by developing those relationships, 3) build our membership, and 4) build our donor base. We have developed a nearly complete database of landowner addresses and names. We plan to periodically send them information about the river to begin interjecting Shenandoah Riverkeeper into their lives. We are also developing a multi-series of meetings to promote river health and riparian landowner care of the river. Similar to our Riverwatcher trainings, we will offer training on topics such as septic care, riparian buffers, cattle exclusion, and how to detect and then report issues when looking at or recreating on the river. Among the things we are trying to accomplish is 100% cattle exclusion by the end of the 2015. 


Read 54116 times Last modified on Tuesday, 23 October 2018 15:36