Category Archive: Industry News

The Team Effort to Delist the Jackson River

Freshwater fish are flourishing in the Jackson River, a major tributary of the James. After two years of exhaustive data collection, an 11.36-mile stretch of the river is on its way to being delisted from EPA’s list of impaired waterways.

As rewarding as this is from an environmental perspective, the unique effort that made it happen reflects the beneficial results that occur when public and private sector entities partner together for a cause.

“It was a team effort between an industrial facility and a state agency working together,” said Kerry McAvoy, Principal at ONE Environmental Group. “This work involved three different organizations collaborating toward the same collective goal. I really enjoyed seeing that happen.”

This portion of the river south of Covington was listed on Virginia’s 303(d) list for not supporting the Aquatic Life Use standard due to dissolved oxygen levels. The low dissolved oxygen levels impacted fish and subaquatic vegetation, both of which were unable to thrive due to the conditions.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, in conjunction with an industrial facility, took a proactive approach for this project.  ONE came aboard to provide assistance with water quality monitoring and the ensuing data analysis to ensure that oxygen levels had improved enough to request the river be removed from the list of impaired waterways.  That meant ONE consultants Jamison Clarke and Amanda Leonard visited the site in the western part of Virginia three times a week for roughly three months during the fall seasons of 2019 and 2020.

While collecting samples from the banks would have been easier, they plunged knee deep into the river for optimum results along with McAvoy.

“We suspended our monitoring equipment off the sides of bridges in areas where wading was not possible,” McAvoy said. “To get the best sample, you have to be in the middle third of the river where water is flowing properly.”

Water tends to be more stagnant and pools in areas along the riverbank, which would not provide a representative sample.

The stunning scenery made for a good day at the office.

“The river is absolutely beautiful,” McAvoy said. “It’s gorgeous and offers some of the best flyfishing in the country.” 

Clarke, can attest to the improvements that have been made in the river’s ecosystem based on the number of fish he caught and the countless sightings of beavers and river otters while sampling on the river.

It takes years to officially delist an impaired waterway, but McAvoy said that in the next few years, she hopes this stretch of the Jackson River will no longer be on the 303(d) list for dissolved oxygen impairment.

Protecting the Fish Communities in the James River

Many of the nation’s industrial systems rely on surface water to cool their equipment — a process that results in billions of gallons of cooling water per day being withdrawn from waterbodies, the James River included.

A provision of the Clean Water Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate these cooling water intake structures (CWISs) to minimize fish impingement and entrainment.

ONE Environmental Group Principal Kerry McAvoy collaborated on a fish impingement study on the lower part of the James River over a six-month period.

It’s critical for industry to be in compliance with the EPA requirements in place to protect the fish communities and the waterbody.

“We researched which fish are expected to be in the area, what their swim speeds are, where they spawn, and other ecological parameters to determine the risk of impingement,” she says.

Notably in the James River, the Atlantic sturgeon, a federally endangered species, was a primary concern. Fortunately, due to the size and power of these fish, the likelihood of them succumbing to the velocity from the intake structure is unlikely.

The process fascinated McAvoy, excited to examine fish behavior using underwater acoustic cameras that operate similar to sonar. Essentially, the state-of-the-art technology offered a firsthand glimpse of fish activity around the CWIS to determine if fish were actually being impacted or impinged and if so, how frequently. McAvoy also investigated the benthic habitat of the area, taking note of any biological and ecological stressors.

“The facility we were studying had an abundance of fish activity in the area and very little impingement which shows that there is minimal impact to the fish community from the facility’s surface water withdraw” McAvoy says.

McAvoy was able to witness some intriguing moments throughout the study—including a compelling interaction between fish in which a juvenile fish outsmarted a larger predatory fish.

To determine impingement rates, ONE employee, Jamison Clarke was on site twice a week for a 6-month period to observe and record debris and organisms that are impinged on the traveling screens and the corresponding water quality parameters.  While field work never gets old for the ONE team, it did get hot for this project. The team baked in the Virginia heat on the river during the height of the summer.  “The river is stressed during the hottest part of the year,” she says. “That is also when facilities have to draw the highest volumes of water to cool their industrial processes.”

For two full July days when temperatures soared on the James, the team completed benthic sampling to identify the macroinvertebrate and vegetative communities in the area. They coupled that with a site-specific bathymetric survey and velocity profiling to generate images displaying the topographical features of the river bottom and the spatial velocity profiles in the area of influence of the CWIS.

McAvoy looks forward to more impingement and fisheries biology projects.

“This work is important because these regulations are protective of the water and the fish communities that live there,” she says. “It’s important for facilities that use our natural resources use them responsibly.”