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News from Around the Basin – August 3, 2023

Studying harmful algal blooms, lots of conservation efforts and projects, dumping incident in Arlington, and more, in this week’s Potomac News Reservoir.

The Wrong Kind of Summer Blooms

Algal blooms can be unsightly and impede recreation on rivers and lakes. After all, who wants to paddle through mats of algae? But they can also be dangerous. Some algal blooms can produce toxins, known as cyanobacteria, that can sicken people and pets. These are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

Algal blooms can be a common sight during the hot, dry months of late summer. Unfortunately, there is evidence that they will become more common due to climate change. Even with all the science behind them, their bloom patterns in the Potomac basin are not fully understood. ICPRB and our partners are working to fix that.

ICPRB aquatic biologists have been busy the past few weeks exploring the blooms of the North Branch and South Branch Potomac. They are working to figure out where the blooms are, why they are showing up where they are, and which species are present. Scientists at George Mason University’s Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) then identify the species to learn more about them.

The collaboration doesn’t end there. In addition to monitoring the blooms, we are conducting drone flyovers with Virginia Commonwealth University to help identify cyanobacteria (also known as blue green algae) hot spots and working with the Virginia Department of Health to develop a rapid field test for the presence of HABs.

“Over the course of these projects, we’ll make large strides in understanding why these blooms are occurring,” explains Mike Selckmann, ICPRB’s aquatic biologist.

In addition to working in the western part of the Potomac watershed, ICPRB staff are supporting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to develop a watershed management plan to address HABs in Lake Anna, Virginia.

ICPRB staff recently met with the Lake Anna Civic Association to discuss the project. The lake is not in the Potomac watershed, however, ICPRB is providing support due to our previous experience and expertise. Learn more about the projects mentioned above on Virginia DEQ’s Harmful Algal Bloom website.

Worried about blooms in your favorite swimming spot? According to the U.S. EPA, the signs of a possible toxic bloom include:

👃 A bad smell

🌊 Discoloration

🟩 Foam, scum, algal mats, or paint-like streaks on the surface

🐟 Dead fish or other animals washed up on its shore or beach

Some states provide algal bloom warnings, but if you are unsure of the water’s safety, it is best just to stay out of the water altogether (that includes your furry friends, too!).

Potomac River Conditions

If you only learn one thing from this newsletter, we hope it is that river flows are low and very little rain is in the forecast. Okay, that’s two things…but two important things. Much of the Potomac watershed is in moderate or severe drought.

It’s a good time to start thinking about wise water use (find more ideas at 100+ Water-Savings Tips):

🚽 Fix leaks

🧼 Only run the dishwasher/laundry with full loads

🏡 Take stock of water used for landscaping

As predicted in last week’s newsletter, ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply on the Potomac (CO-OP) has started daily drought monitoring due to the river’s flow at Point of Rocks dipping (and continuing to fall) below 2,000 cubic feet per second. Each morning CO-OP staff coordinate with water suppliers to provide an email to water utilities and government agencies with river flow, weather, and water demand. Having informed stakeholders helps everyone make good decisions about our water supply. In the case of a serious drought, the DC metro area is well protected thanks to decades of planning and preparation.

Current flow: 1700 cfs

Median flow: 2770 cfs

90 day precipitation: – 3.2 inches below average

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ICPRB Continues Drought Monitoring

Low river flows are not uncommon during the dry months of late summer. So when the river flow at the USGS Point of Rocks gage dipped below 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) last Friday, ICPRB staff weren’t surprised, but they did kick into high gear. That level of flow is the threshold for active drought monitoring. Every day during active drought monitoring, staff of ICPRB’s Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) coordinates with our partners to send daily reports to stakeholders summarizing flow, weather, and demand conditions. This type of coordinated collaboration ensures we are prepared for whatever the future holds.

Even if drought conditions persist, the water supply of the DC Metro area is protected due to decades of planning by ICPRB and its partners. One strategy to remediate drought is to engage upstream drinking water reservoirs which can provide supplemental water during low flows to ensure sufficient water downstream.

Find the current flow at Point of Rocks in the gage below:

USGS Point of Rocks Gage

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Registration is open for the 2023 Potomac River Conference

We are excited to announce registration is open for ICPRB’s 2023 Potomac River Conference: One River’s Perspective on a Changing Climate. It will be held on September 21 in Lorton, Va. The event will highlight climate change in the Potomac River basin, including trends, regional resilience, government innovations, and implementation. In addition to informative speakers and panel discussions, a poster session will share the latest research on the Potomac River basin.

Click here to see the full agenda and register >>>

Title image for the 2023 Potomac River Conference: One River's Perspective on a Changing Climate.

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News from Around the Basin – July 27, 2023

Climate change in the basin, Christmas in July, boat ramp upgrades, free boat rides, and much more in this week’s Potomac News Reservoir.

Potomac River Conference: One River’s Perspective on a Changing Climate

We are excited to announce registration is open for ICPRB’s 2023 Potomac River Conference on September 21 in Lorton, Va. The event will highlight climate change in the Potomac River basin, including trends, regional resilience, government innovations, and implementation. In addition to informative speakers and panel discussions, a poster session will share the latest research on the Potomac River basin.

Click here to see the full agenda and register >>>

Christmas in July

As if in sync

ICPRB and our partners all think

of the holiday season to come

Not with visions of sugarplums

Or jolly fellows dressed in red

But with thoughts of needless piles of winter salt being spread

We admit we are better scientists than poets. We know the science is clear: our rivers and streams are becoming saltier. This has negative impacts for our health, aquatic life, and infrastructure.

There are ways to ensure public safety while still reducing our winter salt use and protecting our waterways. The Izaac Walton League of America is offering Smart Salt Applicator trainings for folks in Gaithersburg, MD, on August 22, and Montgomery County, MD, on August 30. Both trainings are free, virtual, and run from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. The events are geared towards winter maintenance professionals, HOAs, business owners, and property managers, so please share the opportunity with your friends and colleagues. Participating organizations have been able to reduce their salt use by 30-70 percent, helping both the environment and their bottom line.

Potomac River Conditions

Last week, we were dead even for our 30 day precipitation average. This week, we creeped down to 0.4 inches below average.

The Potomac River’s flashiness (the tendency for flow to quickly go from high highs to low lows), may be on full display in the following few weeks as dry conditions are tempered by storms blowing through the region.

The National Weather Service Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center predicts less than an inch of rain in most of the Potomac watershed over the next few days, with very little predicted in the headwaters.

As is typical for this time of year, the river flow may soon be flirting with drought monitoring levels of 2,000 cubic feet per second at the Point of Rocks gage. If it falls below that number, ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply on the Potomac (CO-OP) will start coordinating with our partners to send daily reports to stakeholders summarizing flow, weather, and demand conditions.

Current flow: 2370 cfs

Median flow: 3070 cfs

90 day precipitation: -1.4 inches

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News from Around the Basin – July 20, 2023

River restrictions lifted but pet safety alerts announced, retirement of a Potomac advocate, river flow is looking up, and more in this week’s Potomac News Reservoir.

Five Years of Implementing the Comprehensive Plan

Our Potomac River Basin Comprehensive Water Resources Plan describes a shared vision for the basin, identifies water resources issues of interstate and/or basin wide significance, and recommends actions for achieving the shared vision. ICPRB recently released the 5-year progress report on the plan’s implementation. The report includes project highlights, such as the webinar series and Chessie BIBI, as well as ongoing activities, such as planning for the 2023 Potomac River Conference.

This year, ICPRB has assembled an advisory committee once more to evaluate current progress and update the plan for the next 5-year planning cycle.

Learn about the plan and the projects on the One Basin, One Future StoryMap.

Potomac River Conditions

River levels were heading south last week, but have since changed trajectory. As our director of CO-OP operations Cherie Schultz, exclaimed, “We are in the black!” as our 30 day precipitation is 23% above average. The 90 day average is still in the negative, but that speaks to how dry our spring was.

Current flow: 3910 cfs

Median flow: 3090 cfs

90 day precipitation: -1.6 inches

Groundwater levels are still low, causing some areas of Maryland and Virginia to remain under drought watch.

Thank you, Penny

A stalwart supporter and champion of ICPRB, Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross, is retiring. We would like to take a moment to acknowledge her decades of taking a comprehensive and collaborative approach to water resources in the region. She’s featured in two pieces linked below, both as a well-deserved recipient of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Fran Flanigan Award and as a subject of MWCOG’s podcast highlighting her expansive work on their board of directors.

Penny, from all of us at ICPRB, thank you and we hope you have a happy and healthy retirement!

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Exploring Groundwater in the Chesapeake Bay

As the saying goes, “We can’t manage what we can’t measure.” ICPRB’s water resources scientist, Dr. Alimatou Seck, recently published a paper in Hydrogeology Journal that demonstrated the successful use of a large-scale integrated hydrologic model to evaluate groundwater storage dynamics in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Understanding groundwater dynamics is an important piece of the Bay restoration puzzle.

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News from Around the Basin – July 12, 2023

Finding the source of pollution and those working to fix it, learning to fish, understanding groundwater, and more, in this week’s Potomac News Reservoir.

Exploring Groundwater in the Chesapeake Bay

As the saying goes, “We can’t manage what we can’t measure.” ICPRB’s water resources scientist, Dr. Alimatou Seck, recently published a paper in Hydrogeology Journal that demonstrated the successful use of a large-scale integrated hydrologic model to evaluate groundwater storage dynamics in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Understanding groundwater dynamics is an important piece of the Bay restoration puzzle.

Potomac River Conditions

The USGS graph showing the current flow flush with the median flow at Point of Rocks is only telling part of the story. The northern half of Maryland has been placed under a Drought Watch due to low groundwater levels. The gap between current precipitation and the average precipitation is shrinking, but not very quickly. Much of the basin continues to be in moderate or severe drought status, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Current flow: 3410 cfs

Median flow: 3410 cfs

90 day precipitation: -2.0 inches

Fishing is the new Pickleball

Maybe it is only a coincidence that a bass rod is 6 feet long, but in 2020, the 6-feet social distancing recommendations led many people to try their hand at fishing. That year found a record number of anglers on the water.

The trend continues. According to the recent Special Report on Fishing from the Outdoor Foundation and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, 54.5 million people cast a rod in 2022. Last year saw a record number of female anglers, especially new participants. Additionally, over the last decade, Hispanic participation has increased by 45%.

If you want your kids or grandkids to enjoy the sport, start them young. According to the report, 86% of current anglers started fishing before they were 12 years old.

So, maybe you’re ready to put down that pickleball paddle and pick up a fishing pole? Here are some options to learn the craft in the Potomac watershed:

If you are just looking for a new place to catch the “BIG FISH” 🐟, takemefishing.org offers a map of local places to fish and boat.

Don’t forget to check out our weekly Fishing News from Around the Basin at the bottom of the newsletter for the latest news and information about fishing in the Potomac River watershed.

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News from Around the Basin – July 6, 2023

Click here to see the full Potomac News Reservoir – July 6. 2023.

July’s Water Supply Outlook

The July Water Supply Outlook by ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) takes a look at the DC Metro area’s summer water supply.

In the Washington metropolitan area, we anticipate a higher likelihood of water releases from the backup reservoirs during the summer and fall of 2023. Despite receiving some relief from heavy rains, the Potomac basin has experienced unusual dryness over the past few months, resulting in ongoing challenges with low stream flows, groundwater, and soil moisture.

Notably, July 4th marked the hottest day ever recorded on Earth, underscoring the necessity of regular reassessment of the current conditions.

Although the water flow in the Potomac River currently satisfies the region’s demands, comprehensive contingency plans have been established to prevent shortages in the event of low-flow conditions.

Click here to see the most recent Water Supply Outlook.

Potomac River Conditions

The current river flow is similar to the median. However, as we saw in the July Water Supply Outlook, we are still experiencing the impact of a dry winter and spring. The 90 day precipitation remains low at 2.7 inches below average.

Current flow: 3910 cfs

Median flow: 3640 cfs

Even when the river flow is low, there are areas that can look calm but are still treacherous. Unfortunately, drownings happen every year in the Potomac. Stay smart and safe by wearing a personal flotation device.

Fishing News on the Fly

If we lured you in with interesting articles, then cast your attention to the end of the newsletter where we’ll hook you in with the latest fishing news to help you tackle the weekend.

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July Water Supply Outlook Released

The monthly Water Supply Outlook by ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) has been released.

In the Washington metropolitan area, we anticipate a higher likelihood of water releases from the backup reservoirs during the summer and fall of 2023. Despite receiving some relief from heavy rains, the Potomac basin has experienced unusual dryness over the past few months, resulting in ongoing challenges with low stream flows, groundwater, and soil moisture.

Notably, July 4th marked the hottest day ever recorded on Earth, underscoring the necessity of regular reassessment of the current conditions.

Although the water flow in the Potomac River currently satisfies the region’s demands, comprehensive contingency plans have been established to prevent shortages in the event of low-flow conditions.

Click here to see the most recent Water Supply Outlook.

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News from Around the Basin – June 29, 2023

Click here to see the full Potomac News Reservoir – June 29, 2023.

Celebrating Safely

Many people will grab their boat, kayak, or paddleboard during this long weekend to spend time relaxing on the water. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

⛈️ Check water levels and the weather before heading out.

📢 Let someone know your plans.

🦺 Wear a lifejacket.

👀 Avoid suspect water.

Safety is important both on and off the water. Drought conditions and elevated fire risks throughout the basin have officials urging everyone to think twice about their pyrotechnics display. Fireworks start over 19,000 fires each year. To keep from being part of the 2023 statistics, please leave the fireworks to the professionals.

From all of us at ICPRB, we hope you have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Potomac River Conditions

When it rains, it pours. Literally. The Potomac watershed received an average of 1.8 inches of rain since last week’s newsletter, with the most rain seen in the southern reaches of the watershed. The river flow at Point or Rocks quickly surpassed the median flow. The river’s flashiness is on display once again, as the yellow peak heads south.

Even with all the rain, the Potomac watershed is still 3.1 inches below the 3-month average. As the NWS Mid Atlantic River Forecast Center map shows, precipitation averages are low across the Chesapeake Bay. At least there was a perk to our dry spring, a smaller dead zone in the Bay. (Graph: USGS Gage at Point of Rocks)

Current flow: 6440 cfs

Median flow: 4460 cfs

90 Day Precipitation: 3.1 inches below average

Reminder: We’re Hiring!

Applications are due tomorrow for the Outreach Program Manager position, so get those resumes in soon!