News

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ICPRB Celebrates 80 Years

The commissioners and staff of ICPRB celebrate as 2020 marks our 80th anniversary of protecting and preserving the Potomac River basin.

These 80 years have seen incredible change in the Potomac basin, and much has been accomplished by ICPRB and many others to return the Potomac to a resource that its residents so gratefully use and rely on for drinking water, recreation, commercial/agricultural use, and a way to appreciate nature.

The commission will be telling its story during the year in a number of ways, including a social media “Throwback Thursday” series on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each Thursday throughout 2020, ICPRB posted a photo that highlighted the history of the river and the efforts to protect and preserve it throughout the past 80 years. Join in the conversation on social media by using #Potomac80.

Below is a slideshow of all the social media posts.

[timeline src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12JNbMYeF38MiHq-IKoraXiOLALhBGay73fusgfE_o7s/edit#gid=0″ width=”80%” height=”650″ font=”Default” lang=”en” version=”timeline3″ ]

 

Anniversary Celebration Brochure

The Anniversary Celebration Brochure highlights the accomplishments of ICPRB over the last 80 years. Additionally, after 8 decades of success, we look to future decades with the fourteen recommendations from the Potomac River Basin Water Resources Comprehensive Plan.

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Is the Potomac Getting ‘Dirtier and Dirtier and Dirtier’?

A statement from Michael Nardolilli, Executive Director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin:

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has generated lots of discussion about the Potomac River in a recent interview that included his belief that the Potomac River has gotten ”Dirtier and dirtier and dirtier and dirtier. I go down there and that litter is left almost exclusively by immigrants, who I’m sure are good people, but nobody in our country—.”

The Potomac is certainly cleaner than it was 30 years ago in almost every respect. However, stormwater, and the litter it carries, remains a major impact to the Potomac. Stormwater collects litter from everywhere in the landscape and dumps it in waterways. Research suggests that trash in our rivers is a long-term problem throughout society and is not limited to any particular socioeconomic or racial group.

Research shows the large scope of the problem and assessed efforts to combat the issue, both in the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay cleanups. The annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup held every spring since 1989 brings thousands of volunteers to area waterways, showing the region’s strength of commitment. Many great organizations organize cleanup events throughout the year and we encourage basin residents to join them. These cleanup are underpinned by research showing that trash in our waterways is a problem created across social and economic boundaries.

Much progress has been made and the Potomac River is cleaner than it has been in decades. Litter is a problem, but it is not the only threat to our Nation’s River and it is certainly not linked with any specific group of people. Nutrients, sediment, and the medical and industrial chemicals placed in the river each day also contribute to the pollution problem. But even with these threats, the resilience of the river and its people is evident. Each day, the river provides clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat to those who are lucky enough to live within its watershed.

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ICPRB Activates Drought Monitoring

Most of the drinking water consumed in the metropolitan area comes from the Potomac River, which is now in its driest part of the year. Low river flows caused the ICPRB Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) to begin daily monitoring of river conditions this week. Decreased river flow at the Point of Rocks gage on the Potomac (upstream from drinking water intakes) triggers the first stage of CO-OP drought monitoring, where river flow and, drinking water withdrawals are collected and assessed daily. If conditions continue to worsen, estimates of future demands will be included in the daily assessment. Currently, Point of Rocks gage shows a flow of about 1.16 billion gallons per day. Current water withdrawals for the metropolitan area total about 443 million gallons per day.

The current low river conditions are not unusual for this time of year, and the increased monitoring by CO-OP occurs in many years. The probability that releases of stored water from upstream reservoirs is still small. The enhanced monitoring is a part of a robust system employed by water suppliers, state water managers, and ICPRB to ensure that the region has a reliable source of drinking water even during drought conditions.

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About the Basin: Michaux State Forest

The southern half of the 85,000+ acres known as Michaux State Forest is on the top edge of the Potomac River watershed near Gettysburg, Pa. The contiguous forestland encompasses several state parks and natural areas.

Michaux State Forest is part of Pennsylvania’s 1.2 million-acres of state forests, but it boasts a variety of “firsts” for forestry in the Keystone State, including the first tree nursery, the first forestry academy, the first wooden fire tower, the first steel fire tower.

Year-round recreation opportunities abound in Pennsylvania’s “cradle of forestry”. Areas for ATVs, hiking, fishing, boating, horse riding, mountain biking, and camping can be found throughout the park. During the colder months, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing are popular activities. Maps for most of these activities, plus an auto tour of the forest, are available online.

Michaux State Forest has 60 miles of nicely maintained trails, this includes 36 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Several lakes and reservoirs offer a tranquil destination for anglers and boaters, including the Long Pine Run Reservoir. Several stocked trout streams offer the chance for excellent cold-water fishing.

Always check with the local authorities regarding permits for recreational activities.

 

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About the Basin: Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

Waterfalls, boulder hopping, and rare flowers can be found right off the beltway — you just need to know where to look.

A small waterfall in the background leads to stream pools in the foreground.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (Photo: MostlyDross, 20131122_7739)

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is a choose your own hiking adventure type of place. Want a short, meandering walk with the kids? There’s a trail for that. Want to jump boulders while clambering up steep, rocky trails? There’s a trail for that. Want breathtaking views of waterfalls and the Potomac River? Yep, there’s that (but for safety reasons, swimming and wading are not allowed).

The trails are not blazed, but the park is small enough that there is little chance of getting lost. The park’s 384 acres is bordered by I-495, Georgetown Pike, the Potomac River, and a subdivision. The Fairfax County Park Authority provides a detailed topographic map online as well as at kiosks throughout the park.

The only blazed trail is the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT), which runs through the park. The PHT is a network of trails that run from the tidal Potomac to the upper Youghiogheny river basin.

Spring is a popular time to visit the park due to the carpets of wildflowers found amongst the trees.

The park truly is an oasis amongst the traffic, noise, and hubbub of city life. That was by design. The land was bought in the 1920s by a D.C. attorney, Edward Burling, as an escape from the city. Mr. Burling would visit his cabin well into his 90s and yet refused to let trees be cut down to install a phone line. When Mr. Burling passed in 1966, the parcel of land became the poster child for the nascent environmental movement when the local community fought developers from turning it into a subdivision. The story even made it into the New York Times (The Making of a Park, 1970).

Study the topography of the map before heading to the park. This will help decide which of the two parking lots to use and which adventure to choose.

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About the Basin: Birding in the Basin

This is a busy time for many species of birds. The northern migration is ramping up and they are moving out of their summer homes. For us less-feathery folk, it is a great time to get outside and discover our avian friends.

Do you find it hard to believe there are other birds besides the ubiquitous pigeons and Canadian geese throughout the Potomac River basin? In fact, there is a wide variety of beautiful bird species in the region.

A bluebird sitting on a wire.

Right outside of the District and smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River is Theodore Roosevelt Island. In this oasis outside the city, you will see species that are commonly found in swampy and marshy areas, such as green herons and wood ducks. Bald eagles have also been known to nest on the island. For those fans of the movie “The Big Year”, the National Park Service provides a brochure to keep track of your finds.

The Audubon Society of Central Maryland maintains two large wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Frederick County, Maryland. Explore the flora and fauna on your own or join the organization on the third Saturday of every month for an informative nature walk.

At an unexpected haven in the southeast area of Fairfax County, Va., known as Huntley Meadows Park, you will find such striking birds as Eastern Bluebirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Northern Flickers. The land, which was once owned by Mr. George Mason IV, is now a 1,500-acre park with trails and watchtowers for your bird-watching pleasure. This park is known for being a prime birdwatching location with more than 200 different bird species spotted over the years. There is a Monday Morning Birdwalk that has been held, rain or shine, for the past 30 years.

With as many as 430 bird species in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for birding. Other local areas known for excellent birding include the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, Yankauer Nature Preserve along the Potomac River in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Lorton, Virginia.

Can’t get out to see birds this weekend? Explore a live migration map and other birding-geekery on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, BirdCast, or check out one of the many live bird-cams located throughout the basin.

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Algal Blooms in the Basin

The ICPRB is fielding calls about the blue-green algae that can create toxins that harm people and pets who come in contact with blooms. News stories about dogs dying after swimming in contaminated ponds and lakes are getting heavy circulation. Lakes Needwood and Frank in Montgomery County, Md., have annual blue-green algae blooms and people and pets should avoid contact with the water. Blue-green algae lives in the Potomac, but large blooms are not currently common.

Blue-green algae is capable of producing toxins that could be harmful, but does not always do so. Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia all monitor these blooms and welcome reports from the public. The Environmental Protection Agency  works on harmful algae blooms as well. Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is just one type of algae. Many other kinds of algae, such as filamentous types that look like hair attached to rocks, do not produce toxins, although any blooms of algae indicate an imbalanced system usually high in nutrients. Algal populations are an important part of aquatic systems, but can cause problems when they grow rapidly out of control.

As a general rule, humans and pets should avoid water that is discolored, has a layer of algal scum on the surface, or has a strong odor.

While instances of blue-green algae seem to be growing with hotter, wetter summers, it has been much worse. Into the 1970s, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers in the District were covered by florescent green mats of blue-green algae every summer. The blooms greatly decreased as Potomac restoration efforts took hold.

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About the Basin: Occoquan Regional Park

The Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, Virginia, provides a steady dose of history, waterfront views, and a relaxed pace.

A path surrounded by trees. A building can be seen at the end of the path.

Photo courtesy of NOVA Parks

Before it was a public park, the Occoquan Regional Park was home to a plethora of brickmaking kilns run by prisoners housed at the nearby Lorton Work House Prison. The ovens were known as beehive kilns for their rounded form, a shape that has been used since the Middle Ages. The bricks from this area were used to build public buildings in Washington, D.C. and throughout northern Virginia. Visitors can explore the last remaining beehive kiln at the park.

The park has baseball fields and a boat launch (for carried craft only) and beautiful views of the Potomac River. The highlight of this park is the recently renovated trail. The paved, easy trail was expanded to a 5k-length in 2018. This park is ideal for families with strollers or kids learning to ride a bike.

Just downstream of the Occoquan Reserve, the river is an important source of drinking water for the region. The Occoquan Regional Park sits at the intersection of hiking and history, where water resources meet water demand.

Want to learn more? Join ICPRB’s Executive Director, Mike Nardolilli, as we explore the interplay of water demand, politics, zoning, water quality, and the challenges they present during an easy 3-mile walk. We will learn about the triumphs and challenges of relying on Occoquan Reservoir as a source of drinking of water for the region. The hike is free and open to the public. We will meet at the Brickmaker’s Café (9751 Ox Rd, Lorton, VA) at 10:00 am on Sunday, September 15.

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About the Basin: Potomac State Forest

Archery, hiking, hunting, fishing, equestrian trails, mountain biking are popular in the Potomac State Forest. Winter sports like cross country skiing and snowmobiling are also a possibility.

Don’t expect to see many people enjoying these opportunities as this rural state forest competes with many state parks in the region for outdoor entertainment opportunities. Even in the height of summer, you will feel like the trails and creeks exist only for you.

The cool, shaded streams make for excellent trout fishing. The majority of the forest is a Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing Area (Group II) which means an angler can possess up to 5 trout during the summer months (check local licensing restrictions).

A 3-D archery range offers the opportunity to practice your aim at 30 life-size 3-dimensional targets.

Potomac State Forest’s claim to fame is that it has one of the highest elevations of any Maryland state forest. At 3,200 feet, Backbone Mountain reigns over this small state forest in the headwaters of the Potomac River in Western Maryland. It also provides for challenging, and rewarding, hiking trails.

One such trail is the Lostland Run Trail. It is a challenging hike with varied terrain and many stream crossings. With appropriate preparation, this trail will reward you with beautiful views, wildlife sightings, waterfalls, and fun swimming holes. Keep your eye on the trail blazes though, as they are easy to miss.

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About the Basin: Monocacy Aqueduct

The Monocacy Aqueduct on the right. Trees on the left. Green grass in the foreground. The Monocacy Aqueduct has a storied past. In its long history, it was used as an important transportation route for goods, goods, animals, and arsenals. Placed at the mouth of the Monocacy River, it was a vital passageway during times of peace and war. Thanks to a recent stabilization and reconstruction effort by the National Park Service, you can still see the structure as it was originally constructed almost two centuries ago.

The aqueduct spans 560 feet across the Monocacy River, connecting the 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal towpath from Cumberland, MD to Washington, D.C. The trail on the canal is flat and easy, making it especially nice for families with bikes, strollers, and bike trailers.

A boat ramp at the Monocacy side of the aqueduct is the final exit point for boaters on the Monocacy Scenic Water Trail and a popular entrance point for anglers.

There is ample parking and a restroom available should you need it.