Urban Stream Health
Urban Stream Health, Water Quality Monitoring, and Bacterial Contamination
Streams in urban areas often experience water quality problems due to the developed nature of the lands that drain into them. This is the case with many of the streams in Charlottesville, including the Rivanna River, Meadow Creek, Moores Creek, Schenks Branch, and Lodge Creek. These streams have been identified by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as not meeting water quality standards due to excessive levels of sediment and/or bacteria. Other streams in Charlottesville face similar challenges, although they have not been officially evaluated by DEQ.
The City partners with the Rivanna Conservation Alliance (RCA), a volunteer-supported nonprofit that performs certified biological and bacteria monitoring of streams throughout the Rivanna River watershed, including at the following streams in Charlottesville: Pollocks Branch, Meade Creek, Schenks Branch, Lodge Creek, Rock Creek, Moores Creek, Meadow Creek, and the Rivanna River.
ALERT: MEADE CREEK IN THE VICINITY OF MEADE PARK IS CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING HIGH BACTERIA LEVELS. AVOID CONTACT WITH THE CREEK.
Bacteria monitoring measures the amount of E. coli bacteria in streams. E. coli is bacteria found in the intestines and fecal matter of warm-blooded animals. Bacteria levels are one indicator used to determine if water is safe for human contact, swimming, and other water-based recreation. Elevated levels of bacteria indicate that there is a higher risk of illness from exposure to pathogenic organisms in the water. Bacteria levels naturally fluctuate but tend to be elevated following rain events.
RCA monitoring has found persistently elevated bacteria levels in Meade Creek. The City and RCA are working together to identify and address the sources of the elevated bacteria levels. Until further notice, the public is advised to avoid direct contact with Meade Creek. Meade Creek is a local waterway that begins below Garden Street and Walnut Street in the Belmont neighborhood. It then flows north in an underground pipe below the Buckingham Branch/CSX railroad tracks and East Market Street before resurfacing east of 12th Street NE and flowing down through Meade Park before entering the Rivanna River.
View the results of recent and past RCA bacteria monitoring: https://www.rivannariver.org/bacteria/
Biological monitoring measures a stream’s ability to support aquatic life. Benthic macro-invertebrates (bottom-dwelling spineless organisms) are responsive to environmental changes and are excellent indicators of overall stream health. RCA's assessment protocols measure a stream's health in relation to natural streams and are designed to detect human-caused impairment.
View the results of recent and past RCA biological monitoring: https://www.rivannariver.org/long-term-monitoring-program/
Even when bacteria levels are not elevated, it is advisable to follow some practical guidelines when interacting with urban streams:
- Do not come in contact with a stream during or soon after a rain event. Levels of pollutants in streams are higher at these times because they are carried into streams by rainwater via the stormwater drainage system. Muddy looking water is often an indicator of elevated pollutant levels.
- Do not come in contact with a stream if you have any open cuts, wounds, or sores on your body. This can lead to an infection.
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer after being in contact with a stream and especially before eating.
- Do not ingest any stream water or sediment; avoid getting stream water in your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.
- Wear shoes to protect your feet.
Everyone in Charlottesville can play a part in helping to protect the health of our urban streams and the Rivanna River. Here are a few things you can do:
- Educate yourself – check out the Charlottesville Area Stream Health website to learn about the Rivanna River watershed, the health of its streams, and ways you can help
- Never dump anything in a storm drain – these drains go directly to our local waterways!
- Pick up after your pet – pet waste can be a source of bacterial contamination in our streams
- Employ environmentally friendly yard care practices – use native plants, reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides, apply fertilizer based on a soil test and at the proper time of year
- Report suspected water pollution and pollution sources through the City’s Pollution Prevention Hotline
For additional information on safely interacting with natural waterways, see the Virginia Department of Health’s “Safely Enjoy Virginia's Natural Waters” brochure.
For additional information on water quality, DEQ’s role in evaluating waterways, the process by which waterways are listed as impaired, and the resulting cleanup process, visit DEQ’s website.