Thornton River watershed gets funding to reduce E. Coli bacteria

E. Coli levels above acceptable standards

The Thornton River watershed will receive state funding targeted at further reducing the levels of E. Coli bacteria in the Thornton River and its associated tributaries.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) grant was announced by Stephanie DeNicola-Turner, education and information coordinator for the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, which had submitted the grant proposal.

The grant funded project increases the levels of reimbursement payments that are available to both agriculture producers and homeowners for implementing selected practices known to reduce E. Coli levels in local streams.

The grant funded project increases the levels of reimbursements available to both agriculture producers and homeowners for implementing selected practices known to reduce E. Coli levels in local streams. By John McCaslin

The Thornton River, including the tributary Rush River and tributary Covington River, is a sub watershed area of the Upper Hazel TMDL project area, a project that has been receiving enhanced funding from DEQ for nearly eight years, according to DeNicola-Turner.

The entire Upper Hazel project area has long been known for not meeting state water quality expectations (standards) for E. Coli bacteria, she says.

The Culpeper District has had this as one of their priority watershed areas since 2007, when the district and Rappahannock County, along with Virginia Department of Health and RappFLOW, commenced a multi-faceted project known as the Clean Streams Initiative.

That initiative, among many other things accomplished in Rappahannock County by that grant, was the beginning of what has grown to be a five county wide septic system cost share program at the district and also enhanced payments for stream livestock exclusion.

Since that time E Coli levels in some local Rappahannock streams have been lowered although they continue to be above the accepted standards, says DeNicola-Turner. The same is true elsewhere in the district. The district will be conducting some additional stream monitoring for E. Coli in the hopes of reaching levels that support the removal of the Thornton from the state list of impaired waters.

The new grant provides up to 85 percent reimbursement payments for selected livestock management practices for livestock stream exclusion and grazing management/water development, and 50 to 80 percent reimbursement for residential septic system cleanouts, repairs and replacements.

All these practices have been proven to help reduce E. Coli levels in local waters. The district also notes that the same practices help with Chesapeake Bay concerns by reducing nutrients into the bay watershed.

In 2016, several streams in Madison County were removed from the same list of E. Coli impaired streams as a result of accomplishments made under a similar district sponsored water quality grant from DEQ. The district, according to its spokeswoman, hopes to repeat those accomplishments in Rappahannock County.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at

1 Comment

  1. Great program! It is so discouraging to see cattle standing in ponds and streams knowing they directly contribute to the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. Because of the costs many farmers are reluctant to invest the funds to keep livestock out of waterways; however, studies have shown that veterinary bills are reduced significantly. And failing septic systems have historically been a major problem to the over-all health of the waterways. Hopefully, the program will incentivize those on the fence.

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