ICPRB’s Spill Response

Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin

Emergency River Spill Model

Click here for a short video on the Emergency River Spill Model.

Photo of a tree-lined river form the river bank.

Photo Credit: Jack Delawder, Paw Paw Water Plant

Recent events have increased the focus on infrastructure security throughout the United States, including that for water supplies. The Potomac River basin is no exception. In the metro Washington area, about 75% of drinking water comes from the Potomac River. Across the basin there are 77 public water supply systems with surface water intakes. When spills occur, water suppliers, local emergency responders, state emergency management agencies, and federal agencies mobilize quickly to protect public health and minimize environmental impacts. During the spill response, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin’s (ICPRB) Emergency River Spill Model (ERSM) is an important tool in protecting public water supplies along the Potomac River from an upstream contamination threat.

The Model estimates the movement of spills along the Potomac, from Cumberland in western Maryland to Little Falls dam upstream of Washington, D.C., and several major tributaries. It provides timely information to water suppliers and emergency response agencies along the river so they can appropriately respond to the situation and protect water supplies and other uses of the river. The ERSM provides estimates of travel times from the site of the spill to downstream points of interest or concern, including estimates for the leading edge of the spill, time of maximum concentration, the trailing edge, and estimates of the maximum concentration.

The Emergency River Spill Model was developed based on dye studies conducted in the river by the U.S. Geological Survey. In those studies, a fluorescent dye was put into the river and its downstream travel monitored. The model is best suited for substances that mix in the water column, including bacteria in sewage spills. The model is less suited for floating products such as oil but still can provide useful information about those events and ICPRB is developing additional tools to model these types of events.

The ERSM’s travel time information and characteristics of the spilled material gives emergency responders, water suppliers, and other river users advance notification of when a spill might arrive at downstream points of interest. This information is integrated into many government and facility emergency response plans and is used to make decisions about when and where to collect water samples, warnings to the public, modification to water treatment methods, or even temporary closure of a drinking water intake.

An important component of ICPRB’s response to material spills is the dissemination of information to the media and other stakeholders in the basin. As needed, ICPRB shares information with the public, including advisories from the suppliers. These advisories could involve a variety of actions, including water conservation or a recommendation to boil the water before use.

Fact Sheets

General Information │ Technical Information

Report a Spill to ICPRB

When a significant spill occurs in the Potomac River or one of its tributaries, please notify ICPRB at 301-274-8133. When calling ICPRB, please leave the following information:

1.  Name and telephone number of person reporting the spill
2.  Location of spill, including
– name of affected stream
– street address and/or latitude & longitude
3.  Identity of spill material
4.  Estimate of quantity of spill: total mass or volume or discharge rate

Looking to stay informed of spills in the Potomac River basin? Sign up for our Newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get the updates.

Emergency State and Regional Contact Information

Download a PDF of the Contact List

Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB)

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)

Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) – N. Regional Office

Virginia Department of Health (VDH)

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) – S. Central Regional Office

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP)

  • Report a spill
    24 Hours: 800-642-3074
  • Rusty Joins, Chief, Homeland Security and Emergency Response
    304-558-5938 x3824 (office); 304-389-8188 (cell); rusty.t.joins@wv.gov

West Virginia Department of Health Human Resources (WV DHHR)

District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE)

  • John Emminizer, Chief, Emergency Operations
    202-645-5665 (office); 202-281-0885 (cell)

U.S. EPA Region 3

U. S. Coast Guard National Response Center