The Hazel River has been identified as one of about 30 streams in Virginia that are “exceptionally healthy.”
As reported in Virginia Wildlife, the Hazel is considered “ecologically and biologically robust.” Said Greg Garman, director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), streams such as the Hazel “represent a significant natural legacy for the Commonwealth and should be conserved using every tool at our disposal.”
The assessment is part of Virginia’s new “Healthy Waters” initiative, managed by the VCU Center and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
Some Rappahannock residents have pointed out that this assessment seems in contradiction to the oft-cited “impairment” of the upper Hazel — which has prompted signficant growth in programs that assist landowners in creation of riparian buffers and fencing to keep livestock out of the streams. But Greg Wichelns, district manager for the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, said the impairment is based on one condition only – the presence of fecal coliform, especial e-coli bacteria – in the river. The VCU healthy water assessment is based on a combination of all conditions.
Coordination of the healthy waters initiative is provided by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program.
Assessing stream health is based on a database of fish communities, aquatic insects, in-stream habitat and vegetation along stream banks.
According to Rick Hill, DCR planning and policy manager, protecting healthy steams requires a holistic approach that addresses in-stream habitat, stormwater runoff, invasive species and natural stream flow.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also established a national “Healthy Watersheds” program and has encouraged and funded some of Virginia’s pilot efforts. For more information, visit www.dcr.virginia..gov/healthywaters.