Entry Thumbnail

Contamination Seen in Upper Potomac

Update Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The EPA has named the source of the spill as the NRG Power Plant in Dickerson, Md. The sheen has been identified as an oil used in the turbines of the power plant. Officials state that less than 150 gallons were discharged into the Potomac River. An EPA spokesperson said that the spill amount was determined by NRG’s assessment of how much oil could not be accounted for.

Current focus is on cleanup and recovery operations. The EPA has requested that NRG Power provide a team to sufficiently provide “an aggressive shoreline cleanup program from the NRG plant down to Whites Ferry” as well as additional cleanup efforts downriver where sheen was observed.

Drinking water is safe and protected. The sheen is still visible in limited areas downriver. Water utilities still affected are keeping protective booms in place to prevent the substance from entering their intakes and performing additional testing. All water utilities are reporting safe drinking water.

Update Thursday, November 1, 2016

A multi-state multi-agency team continues to look for the source of an oil-like sheen on the Potomac River downstream of the confluence with the Monocacy River. The ICPRB has been using its time-of-travel river spill model to provide information to help drinking water suppliers to protect their facilities. The model effectiveness has been of limited because of the lack of data about the spill, including its location, volume, and duration. The model also assumes a contaminant that is mixed into the water, rather than floating on the surface. Lab results due on Friday should help identify the substance. All drinking water facilities are operating, safe, and protected.

11:30am, November 29, 2016

A sheen on the water surface of the Potomac River near Point of Rocks, Md. was first reported by authorities on Sunday, November 27. State and federal agencies, water suppliers, and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin are responding to the contamination. Metropolitan water utilities are taking extra steps to protect drinking water supplies, and safe water delivery is continuing without problems.

State and federal agencies are ascertaining the exact extent of the contamination. The source and the material are unknown, as well as whether the event has stopped or is continuing. Initial samples indicate a hydrocarbon of some kind, perhaps a heavy lubricating oil. More detailed results are expected soon.

In addition to coordinating spill communications among state and federal authorities and water suppliers, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is helping track the progress of the unknown substance down the river. Staff at ICPRB are utilizing the Emergency River Spill Model to provide approximate arrival times to water intakes downstream. During a spill event, the Spill Model provides estimated time of arrival, maximum contaminant concentration, and the time the contaminant is expected to be past the water intake. The lack of information about the event makes modeling the spill difficult.

Some water suppliers such as Fairfax Water and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), have shut down some intakes during this time. Fairfax Water and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments also have issued press releases.

Visit our website to learn more about ICPRB’s role in spill response, including spill protection planning and spill emergency response.

This article will be updated as new information becomes available.

Entry Thumbnail

Next Generation Brings Watershed Stewardship to Campus

ICPRB’s Score Four Program makes headway in Prince George’s County, Md.

Maryland has more than 10,000 miles of rivers and streams—spanning from the Appalachians to the Eastern Shore—each being of vital importance to the Chesapeake Bay. Our treasured waterways range from small, unnamed creeks in our neighborhoods to the grand Potomac River. They serve as habitats for species that are important to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and provide essential natural services to our environment. We depend on our waterways to help grow our crops, feed our reservoirs, and provide food, drinking water, and recreational activities. The value they provide is of great importance. It is imperative that we keep our streams healthy because the water, life, and pollutants in them eventually flow into larger rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The quality of the Bay is dependent upon the quality of our streams.

Unfortunately, only 20 percent of Maryland streams meet the criteria for “good” condition. Most streams have eroded stream banks, are polluted and filled with sediment and litter, and lack an abundance of wildlife. With 80 percent of our streams in poor or fair condition, we should all work to protect them and to improve their water quality. This past school year, students in Prince George’s County, Md. did just that. More than 400 students removed approximately 700 square feet of turf grass and replaced it with gardens containing more than 200 native trees and plants that increase infiltration and absorption of runoff, reducing the amount of pollution that enters their local streams.

During the 2015-2016 school year, three Prince George’s County public high schools participated in ICPRB’s Score Four: Students, Schools, Streams, and the Bay program, led by ICPRB educators Rebecca Wolf and Nguyen Le. These schools included the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, and Parkdale High School in Riverdale. The Score Four program leads students through the process of exploring their watershed and assessing their school campus in order to develop a Stormwater Action Project aimed at reducing stormwater pollution to local streams.

Students began the year exploring their watershed by researching their local stream and learning about stormwater pollution sources and reduction methods. They were excited to discover that their local stream was within walking distance of campus and learned what they could do to improve its quality. During their research, they learned about the negative correlation between impervious surfaces and stream quality; the higher the amount of impervious surfaces, the lower the stream quality. Impervious surfaces do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground. Stormwater runs directly into storm drains, carrying trash and other pollutants into the stream or river, eventually making its way to Chesapeake Bay.

In the next phase of the program, the students assessed their campus by performing scientific inquiries to determine how their campus contributes to stormwater pollution. These inquiries helped students understand key concepts related to stormwater issues on their campus that would assist them in developing their project. They conducted a campus assessment to identify stormwater paths, problem areas, and possible locations for their project. They also investigated the permeability of the school grounds, as well as soil percolation and composition. With this data, the students determined their secondary project goals and project site, then selected native plants and created a design for their garden. Through this process, the students were able to tailor a project to their individual school campus.

At the Academy of Health Sciences, social studies teacher Carmen Wright and biology teacher Apollo Cordon, envisioned installing a conservation landscape on campus. A conservation landscape reduces stormwater runoff while beautifying the campus and attracting wildlife, such as beneficial insects and butterflies. After performing research, collecting data, and selecting plants, the students used their creativity and math skills to develop potential designs for their garden. Teams of students created 30 potential designs. The students presented their designs to their classmates and used a scoring rubric to judge each design, with the highest scoring design from each class entered into a design contest. Students then voted for the winning design. The final design for their garden centered on an eastern redbud tree as the focal point surrounded by butterfly milkweeds, New England asters, black-eyed Susans, and Joe-Pye weeds, totaling more than 60 plants. Bright orange blooms of butterfly milkweeds with plentiful monarch butterfly caterpillars greeted the students upon their return this fall.

Kari Rowe, an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher from Northwestern High School, also envisioned a conservation landscape on campus. In the beginning of the program, it was difficult for the students to fully understand the concepts. However, despite the language barrier, the program was able to be adapted with guidance from Ms. Rowe. By the end, the students displayed their understanding and confidence through the success of their garden. The students designed the garden in a classic “bean” shape, planting more than 60 shrubs and perennials. The garden transformed the area with beautiful blooms of blazing stars, black-eyed Susans, and vibrant purple berries on their beautyberry bush.

Environmental science teacher Malka Ostchega had different visions for her students at Parkdale High School. She envisioned installing the beginnings of a food forest on campus that would continually develop throughout the years. Her students researched edible native plants that would meet their site conditions. They planted more than 70 trees and shrubs, ranging from persimmon trees to blackberry bushes to blueberry bushes, on a large hill near the entrance of the school. By selecting to plant on the hill, the food forest is optimally placed to reduce runoff.

At the conclusion of the program, the students celebrated their efforts and their gardens, taking great pride in what they accomplished. One student described how she valued implementing a project to address the problem of stormwater pollution instead of just vaguely talking about how we can help the environment. The students became environmentally knowledgeable and felt driven to continue to make a difference in protecting the valuable assets of Maryland’s landscape.

The success of this program was dependent on the cooperation, hard work, and dedication of the students, teachers, partners, and sponsors. Thank you to the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Trust for providing funding through the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship grant program.

You can watch a VIDEO on the Parkdale High School students journey through the Score Four program.

Entry Thumbnail

Drought Monitoring Continues

IMG_4510Although the region is far from a drought, on the 1st of September, reduced flow in the river triggered daily water level monitoring by ICPRB’s CO-OP. Monitoring will continue until the flow is above 2000 cubic feet per second where the gage is located at Point of Rocks, Maryland.

The closer monitoring of river hydrology is a facet of the decades-long work that ICPRB and its partners have used to ensure that the metropolitan Washington area will have enough drinking water, even during a severe drought.

Click here to track the status of drought monitoring.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Potomac Headwaters

Potomac Headwaters

Photo by Scott Kaiser

Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is within the Monongahela National Forest, one of the of the most ecologically diverse National Forests, on the far western edge of the Potomac River watershed in West Virginia. It is 100,000 acres of outdoor adventures.

The mountain peak, Spruce Knob, sports many superlatives: the highest point in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the highest point in the Allegheny Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, the 24th highest point in the United States, and the 13th most isolated peak in the contiguous United States. As you have probably guessed by now, it is high. On top of this massive peak you will find an observation tower with 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys and mountaintops. In addition to beautiful vistas, the extreme altitude changes mean that Spruce Knob has excellent hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking opportunities.
In addition to many creeks, fishing opportunities are just down the mountainside at Spruce Knob Lake, which is regularly stocked with trout by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. A boat ramp and pier are available.
October is an excellent time to enjoy leaf-peeping in the Potomac headwaters. While exploring, stop by the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center to learn more about the site, which was used as a training facility for rock assaults during WWII. Check it out this weekend (September 4) for a cider pressing demonstration.
Too much to do in just one day? For overnight stays, campgrounds in the area offer a range of camping possibilities, from rustic walk-in sites to cabin glamping to RV hookups. Temperatures can drop fast in the mountains so remember to pack accordingly!
Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Dog Days of Summer

Today is a very important holiday. It is underappreciated and under-celebrated, but nonetheless, it is a day that deserves special recognition. It is Dog daysNational Dog Day.

Celebrate man’s (and woman’s) best friend this weekend and take your dog on an adventure. Hiking, boating, and exploring are all excellent ways to get exercise and bond with your pup.

There is an endless list of dog-friendly hiking spots in the Potomac watershed. Check out websites like Hike with Your Dog and Bring Fido for places in your area.<

Tips for hiking with your four-legged fur friend:

  • Be mindful of the trail surface. Paved trails and roads can soak up heat from the sun and hurt their paws if it gets too hot. If in doubt, test the surface with the palm of your hand. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for the paw.
  • Always keep them on a leash. Your dog may be great off leash, but other dogs might not be as friendly, which can create a dangerous situation.
  • Escapes happen, so make sure your dog has proper ID on a secure collar. Bonus points if your four-legged friend is microchipped.
  • Don’t forget to bring: doggy bags for pet waste, snacks for your pup, water with a drinking container, and a towel to clean those muddy paws.
If hiking is not your dog’s cup of tea, check out these Potomac basin parties for your pooch:
  • K9’s in the Vine at Linganore Winecellars, August 28 (Mt. Airy, Md.)
  • Dog Days of Summer, September 3 (Frederick, Md.)
  • Bichon Bash, September 11 (Centerville, Va.)
  • DogFest Walk n Roll, September 17 (Arlington, Va.)
  • Bark, Wag, and Wine, September 24 (Hume, Va.)
  • Mutt Madness at the Fairgrounds, October 9 (La Plata, Md.)
  • Pints 4 Paws Beer Festival, October 16 (Arlington, Va.)
  • Paws in the Park, every fourth Sunday of the month (Frederick, Md.)
Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: A Big Birthday


Harper’s Ferry, W. Va.

The National Park Service turns 100 years young on August 25, 2016.

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first of several areas designated “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” under control of the Department of the Interior. As the territories grew, it seemed each new park was administered by a different organization.

One hundred years ago this Thursday, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the umbrella organization that would become the caretaker of our country’s natural wonders, the National Park Service (NPS). A century later, NPS is now responsible for 83 million acres of national treasure.

NPS and other organizations are holding special events to commemorate this historic occasion. Here are a few that are happening in our little corner of the country:

  1. All 412 National Parks are offering Free Admission from August 25-28.
  2. Confluence Festival, Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., celebrates music and arts in honor of the NPS Centennial (August 20)
  3. Niagara (NAACP) Movement Pilgrimage, Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., retraces the footsteps of the civil rights pioneers of the NAACP. (August 21)
  4. Form a human arrowhead (the NPS logo) with thousands of your best friends on the National Mall (August 25)
  5. The North American Ornithological Conference in Washington, D.C., brings science and conservation together (August 16-20)
  6. NPS Centennial Family Festival at Constitutional Gardens in Washington, D.C., celebrates all things NPS (August 27)

Wallace Stegner, an American writer, notes, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” During this contentious election year, Find Your Park and cast a vote for the absolutely American, absolutely democratic, National Park Service.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin—Your Watershed Group Map

WatershedGroupsCivic engagement is the cornerstone of our country. The people and organizations that work tirelessly to improve a little piece of the world makes the whole community a better place to live.

In the Potomac River basin, we are lucky to live in an area where there is an abundance of organizations and stewardship opportunities. ICPRB has compiled a map of groups in and around the Potomac basin that work towards protecting the watershed. The list includes civic groups, regional governments, non-profits, wildlife sanctuaries, and more. It is intended to help basin residents discover local groups so that they can ask questions, volunteer, or learn more about their watershed

Click here to find the Watershed Group map.

If your environmental group is not listed or the information needs to be updated, please complete the online form or contact us.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin – Little Seneca Lake

Little Girl Fishing at Little Seneca Lake

Little Girl Fishing at Little Seneca Lake

With a surface area of 505 acres, Little Seneca Lake is anything but little. Built as an important strategic reservoir for drought management in the Potomac watershed, the lake also provides a variety of excellent recreational opportunities. Located just north of Germantown, Md., the lake boasts several boat ramps, plenty of fishing holes, calm sailing waters, a nature center, and so much more.

Activities on the lake center around Black Hill Regional Park. This nature center offers a variety of events for all ages but has a special focus on children’s programs. Art, yoga, campfires and scavenger hunts, all geared towards the littlest family members. Monarch Fiesta Day, held every September, celebrates the exalted butterflies migration to Mexico.

Rent a kayak or take a ride on their pontoon boat Kingfisher to explore the many nooks and crannies of the lake. Fishing kayaks, SUP boards and sail boats are a common weekend sight. A water trail map offers an ecological and historical take on the area.

This bucolic jewel in northern Montgomery County, Md. maintains many miles of paved and natural surface hiking trails. A trail connector project is in the works on the western side of the lake that will soon add 6 miles of scenic hiking opportunities.

Little Seneca Lake is close to the busy cities of the Washington metropolitan area but it feels a world away. Why not take a break and check out all that it has to offer this weekend?

Entry Thumbnail

Four Facts About the Potomac

U.S. Geographic Board Decision Card

U.S. Geographic Board Decision Card

1. Thought by some to mean “something brought”, the Potomac owes its name to the Native American Algonquian village, the Patowmeck. The river’s name went through many iterations until the United States Geographic Board settled on the final spelling and pronunciation in 1931.

2. It is a common myth that Lyndon B. Johnson called the river a “national disgrace.” However, the actual quote is not far off. During the Water Emergency Conference in 1965, President Johnson spoke to governors and other state officials about the water crisis faced by the northeastern states. He talked of the water crisis as both a national problem and a regional problem, summoning the state of the Potomac river as an example: “It is disgraceful. I was out on it last night and you can hardly go down the river without reflecting and wondering why we have been so shortsighted these years. And it has got to stop. We have got to do something about it. And good men, and great men, and wise men, and good Americans, like you, can do something about it.”

3. The Potomac river has 6.11 million people within its watershed and covers almost 15,000 square miles. It reaches into West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Coordinating a reliable supply of drinking water among many jurisdictions is a big challenge. To work cooperatively and efficiently, almost two dozen water suppliers and government agencies have come together to form the Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (DWSPP). Through strategy building, work groups, educational meetings, and more, the members of DWSPP work toward a comprehensive approach to protecting drinking water supplies.

4. The non-native fish in the Potomac, the northern snakehead fish and blue catfish, are commonly written about in the media and well known by the public. But did you know that the bastions of Potomac fishing, the Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, are also not a native species to the Potomac river? Back in 1854, General William Shriver carted a number of Black Bass (a name given the group of fish of which these two species are included) in the water tank of a B&O railroad train from the Ohio river, intending to release them in the C&O Canal. The fish quickly spread. As an 1874 article in the Baltimore American stated, “From this small beginning, sprang a noble race of fish which now swarm the river.” The rest, as they say, is history.