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Help Us Learn More About the Potomac

Do you have a favorite stream that you paddle, fish, or walk along? Have you found areas where stringy green algae seems to always grow? How about new stands of plants, or areas where the water always seems green with algae? Would you share your observations with us?

In ICPRB’s  5th year studying the prevalence and ecological impact of algae and plants in freshwater systems, our biologists hope to expand the project’s range and scope to include more rivers and streams affected by dense plant blooms. Logistically, this task is daunting without the help of volunteers. For this project, we are asking volunteers in different organizations throughout the Potomac basin to report bloom areas that they regularly visit. Ideally ICPRB biologists hope to identify more hot spots within the basin to later target more exhaustive localized research efforts.

The reporting network will be made up of volunteers and researchers found throughout Potomac waters. Using a newly developed smartphone APP we hope to get snapshots of these sites throughout the basin. This work can be done by watershed or other groups, or interested individuals. For more information, contact Mike Selckmann at GMSelckmann@icprb.org.

A close-up of a man's face.

The Passing of a Commissioner

The ICPRB is saddened to announce the death of former Pennsylvania Commissioner Andy Zemba. Mr. Zemba, 50, passed away at his home on January 3. He was the director of the Interstate Waters Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). His responsibilities as an ICPRB Pennsylvania Commissioner had recently been assumed by DEP Special Secretary of Water Resources Planning Kelly Heffner.

Mr. Zemba was appointed a Pennsylvania commissioner in 2011, served on the executive committee, served as vice-chairman in 2014 and chairman in 2015. During his tenure, Mr. Zemba worked closely with ICPRB in efforts to help with Pennsylvania’ Water Resources Planning Act, which involves stakeholders in planning for sustainable water resources. Mr. Zemba worked with ICPRB, which helped to assess needs and develop plans in the state’s Potomac drainage.

As vice-chairman, and later chairman, Mr. Zemba helped ICPRB administrate a range of efforts. He brought with him a positive attitude toward the ICPRB, and was always constructive in guiding the commission in protecting and preserving the waters of his state and the basin. We thank him for his many efforts and contributions. He is missed by the commission and Pennsylvania.

For information on the services or to send condolences to the Zemba family, please visit:
http://www.parthemore.com/obituaries/obituary-listings?obId=706768#/obituaryInfo

A picture of a bridge across a river. It is slightly foggy. It is a stone bridge with three arches.

The Relationship Between Forest Cover and Source Water Protection

Water utilities across the United States and the world face difficult decisions in evaluating source water protection opportunities. While source water protection is seen as an important component of a multi-barrier approach to providing high-quality drinking water, it can be difficult to assess the financial benefits of specific programs.

A new project, conducted by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, seeks to explore the relationship between forest cover and source water protection. This project will apply sophisticated watershed modeling tools to determine the potential impacts of forest loss on water quality, and how this in turn may affect drinking water treatment costs. The results will provide an initial step for evaluating the costs and benefits of protecting forested land within the non-tidal Potomac River basin. Read more…

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Literature Survey on BMP Reduction Efficiencies for Pathogens and Indicator Bacteria

ICPRB was interested in exploring methods for developing implementation plans which address TMDLs for multiple constituents.  In particular, ICPRB was interested in documenting how methods to control nutrient and sediment can be related to bacteria controls and how management actions required to meet the nutrient and sediment reductions under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL may have benefits for reducing bacteria to meet the goals of local bacteria TMDLs. This interest is an outgrowth of earlier work ICPRB performed for the DC Source Water Assessment, where the Phase 4 Watershed Model was adapted to simulate fecal coliform bacteria so that likely sources of pathogens at DC water intakes could be identified.

After initial research, it was found that a survey and report had already been completed for urban Best Management Practices (BMPs) . The associated database, known as the International Stormwater BMP Database, is available online. A literature survey of bacteria efficiencies for BMPs in the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) had also been performed as part of an effort to quantify additional benefits from the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. This findings report documents the key elements in the urban BMP database and the more general survey quantifying the additional benefits from BMP implementation.

The findings of these two reports are documented below.

International Stormwater Best Management Practices Database

The International Stormwater Best Management Practices Database was developed by Wright Water Engineer and Geosyntec Consultants on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the American Public Works Association.  As of 2010, the BMP Database contained 2,500 analysis results for indicator bacteria from 141 studies. Most of the results were for fecal coliform bacteria.  Bacteria reduction efficiencies were documented for the following BMPs:

Grass Strips Green Roofs
Grass Swales Infiltration Trenches
Bioretention Porous Pavement
Dry Detention Basins Wet Retention Ponds
Sand Filters (or filters with other media) Artificial Wetlands

A parallel effort to develop a database for agricultural BMPs is underway but it does not appear that the effects of agricultural BMPs on indicator bacteria will be addressed by the database.

Additional beneficial outcomes of implementing the Chesapeake Bay TMDL: Quantification and description of ecosystem services not monetized

As part of a study for the EPA to estimate additional benefits derived from Chesapeake Bay TMDL implementation, Wainger et al. quantified the amount of bacteria reduction associated with implementation of the Phase II WIPs.   As part of that effort, Wainiger et al. performed a literature review of reported BMP efficiencies for reducing pathogens or associated indicator bacteria.  The review was conducted using Google Scholar, EBSCO, and Google. Efficiencies were taken from three sources: peer-reviewed journal articles, TMDL documentation from state agencies, and BMP guidance reports from state agencies and research universities. Appendix A of their report summarizes the bacteria reduction efficiencies found for the BMPs used in the state WIPs.  The report relied heavily on the International Stormwater BMP Database for efficiencies for urban BMPs.  Efficiencies for agricultural BMPs were derived to a large extent on guidance documents or TMDLs from Texas[1], Minnesota[2], and Virginia[3].  Bacteria reduction efficiencies for the following non-urban BMPs were determined through the literature review:

Barnyard Runoff Control Pasture Management
Land Retirement Loafing Lot Management
Pasture Alternative Watering Precision Grazing
Stream Access Control (Fencing) Livestock and Poultry Waste Management Systems
Forest Buffers Grass Buffers

Please contact us for more information.


[1]Peterson, J., E. Jordan, K. Wagner, and L. Redmon. 2012b. Lone Star Healthy Streams: Dairy Cattle Manual. Page 80. Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and AgriLife Communications, The Texas A&M System. Retrieved online.

Peterson, J., L. Redmon, and McFarland, Michael. 2011a. Reducing Bacteria with Best Management Practices for Livestock: Prescribed Grazing. Page 2. Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Retrieved online.

Peterson, J., L. Redmon, and McFarland, Michael. 2011b. Reducing Bacteria with Best Management Practices for Livestock: Access Control. Page 2. Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Retrieved online.

[2]MPCA. 2009. Groundhouse River Fecal Coliform and Biota (Sediment) Total Maximum Daily Load Implementation Plan. Page 61. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Retrieved online.

[3]VDEQ. 2003. Total Maximum Daily Load Development for Linville Creek: Bacteria and General Standard (Benthic) Impairments. Page 160. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Retrieved online.

Wainger, L. , J. Richkus, and M. Barber. 2015. Additional beneficial outcomes of implementing the Chesapeake Bay TMDL: Quantification and description of ecosystem services not monetized. Oneida Total Intgerated Enterprises, LLC: Oak Ridge, TN. Retrieved online.

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The Future of Water Supply

ICPRB, on behalf of the major metropolitan area water suppliers, recently commissioned a study on the feasibility of using the Travilah Quarry in Rockville, Md., as a potential raw water supply storage facility. The quarry could serve as a supplement to existing water supply for the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies water to the District of Columbia via DC Water, and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. The Travilah Quarry study, and others like it, are being performed throughout the watershed.

This week, the Commission hosted the first of several round-table discussions with state agencies, water suppliers and additional stakeholders to discuss water markets and other promising tools for managing water scarcity. “One of the Commission’s most important roles is to bring people together to discuss the important issues facing the basin, and that is what we are trying to do in our new water markets discussion series,” says Dr. Cherie Schultz, Director of Operations for ICPRB’s CO-OP Section. ICPRB is also planning a study that explores the viability of additional water supply alternatives.

With some forethought and careful planning, we are confident that the future holds sufficient clean, healthy water for all who live in the Potomac River watershed. 

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ICPRB Receives Stormwater Stewardship Grant

Watershed Model

The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) has been awarded a Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant that will bring watershed stewardship lessons to about 400 students and up to 13 teachers in Prince George’s County, Md. The grant supports ICPRB’s Score Four program in which students look into problems caused by stormwater runoff on their school grounds and then implement campus projects to reduce polluted stormwater entering their local streams.

Funded through Prince George’s County and administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the goal of the County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program is to encourage on-the-ground restoration activities that improve communities and water quality and to engage County residents in the protection of county waterways.

In ICPRB’s Score Four program students from Parkdale High School in Riverdale will tackle two problems – water pollution and hunger – by starting a campus Food Forest featuring native fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs. At Northwestern High School (Adelphi) and the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College students will undertake a series of stream and campus investigations that lead to the planting of Bay-Wise gardens to reduce polluted stormwater and beautify their campuses.

From the perspectives of involved teachers, the Score Four Program engages their students in every-day science, math, and social studies skills as they plan their restoration projects. At Northwestern High School, ICPRB is partnering with teacher Kari Rowe to deliver the program to newly immigrated students in her English-as-a-Second-Language classes. The government and biology teachers at the Academy of Health Sciences plan for their students to present their project in their school newspaper, at their science fair, and at a community presentation.

ICPRB staff members Rebecca Wolf and Nguyen Le are conducting the program. “We are excited to work with these teachers and students, helping them reduce their ecological footprint while meeting education goals for the students,” Wolf said. “Our biggest goals are for students to gain the inspiration, knowledge, and skills to become stewards of their streams.”

As part of this grant, ICPRB will provide Score Four training to teachers at a 3-day workshop in July, 2016, with the support of the Prince Georges County Public Schools and Chesapeake Natives, Inc.


Contact us for more information on the Score Four program or the teacher training.

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An aerial view of a housing development.

Study on the Effects of Impervious Cover on Streamflow

What makes streams most susceptible to the impacts of impervious cover?

A recently released study by ICPRB, entitled The Effects of Impervious Cover on Streamflow under Various Watershed Conditions in the Potomac Basin: Phase 1, found that impervious cover is particularly prone to altering streamflows in watersheds with steep slopes.  Small headwater streams are also especially susceptible to the impacts of impervious cover.  These initial findings are only a first part of the study.  Phase 2, scheduled for completion in September 2017, will explore the question using the latest data at a higher spatial resolution. You can read the full study on our website.

A wide-angle view of a lake with a forested bank in the background. Two men are fishing from a boat on the lefthand side.

Drought Exercise Completed

The region’s major water suppliers and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) exercised their ability to respond to severe drought conditions during a week-long exercise beginning September 23, 2015.

CO-OP’s annual drought exercises are a way to practice operations under severe drought conditions. Under such conditions, the region’s normally independent water suppliers work cooperatively with CO-OP to meet the demands of their customers while minimizing the need for restrictions. The week-long exercise uses simulated low flows that allow all parties to practice daily reporting procedures, internal communications, and releases of stored water.

The three major water suppliers draw the bulk of their raw water from the Potomac River. A record drought could drop the natural flow of the river to a level insufficient to meet summertime water demands. When river flow and other data indicate a coming shortage, CO-OP can guide Potomac use among the suppliers and manage releases of stored water to augment flow in the river. The Jennings Randolph Reservoir on the North Branch Potomac holds billions of gallons of water that can be released to help meet Washington metropolitan area demands and environmental flow needs. A release from Jennings Randolph Reservoir can take 8-9 days to reach the metropolitan suppliers’ intakes. The much smaller Little Seneca Reservoir in Montgomery County, Md., is used to adjust river flow over a shorter period of 1- to 2-days.

This year’s exercise focused on honing the communications channels between the utilities, CO-OP, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, divisions of which operate both as a metropolitan water supplier and operator of Jennings Randolph Reservoir. Another focus was the modeling that incorporates drinking water demand data and forecasts from utilities, stream flow data, and weather forecasts to determine the timing and volume of reservoir releases. In addition, the exercise included an actual release of water from Little Seneca Reservoir, testing improved data reporting systems, and a simulation of planned reservoir maintenance that could impact drought operations.

Drought response procedures are refined during the annual exercise, and have resulted in a resilient drinking water system for the Washington metropolitan area’s more than four-million residents who rely on the Potomac as their primary drinking source. More information about the metropolitan water supply system and CO-OP are available on the ICPRB website.

Contact us for more information on the exercise.

The ICPRB is celebrating 75 years of service to the Potomac basin and its residents.