Keeping the New pure

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — A new group will work to clean up the New River and protect the future drinking water source for most Carroll County utility customers, the Public Service Authority learned Nov. 16.

That's when Nancy Carr, a representative of the Virginia Rural Water Association, appeared before the authority members to tell them of her efforts for the New River Regional Water Authority, in which Carroll has partnered with Wythe County and Wytheville on a major water supply project.

She explained she works as a source water protection specialist, and her aim is "to protect that water before it reaches the treatment plant."

Carr continues working with the regional water authority to form a local action committee to plan steps to keep pollution and contamination out of the water five miles upstream from the treatment plant at Austinville.

The plan should be complete by the end of the year, but the work to improve the water will continue for another two to three years.

Upstream of the plant, the New River passes through a national forest, where there isn't much to worry about, Carr said. But there are some needs along the river's tributaries.

The concerns start with the geology of the area, which is known as karst, she said. "The limestone bedrock with sink holes and the fractured rock and the shallow soil, which allows surface water to quickly go down into aquifer without being filtered, or without much filtration, so groundwater is easily contaminated there."

What affects the groundwater there can affect the New, because springs empty into the river.

The thin soil means regular septic system maintenance and repair is important.

"The septic systems, if they are not pumped out every three to five years, they leach out into the shallow soil, potentially contaminating the groundwater," she said. "Septic systems are the no. 1 cause of groundwater pollution in Virginia."

Carr's research shows there are also pollution issues with water runoff carrying erosion with nitrates and phosphates from fields, bacteria from manure, household chemicals and pesticides into the water.

Antidotes exist, including public education on the importance of septic system maintenance, riparian buffers to filter runoff for streams, reductions in erosion and development and residential runoff.

"It all sounds like a lot of stuff to change behavior and educate people, but it's been done," Carr said.

The first meeting of the local action committee is Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. at the Wythe County Administration Building, and she invited the Carroll officials to attend.

If the committee is successful in curbing some of the sediment and bacteria, that could also mean reduced water treatment costs at the New River water plant, Carr said.