As Ukraine defends itself against Russian forces, it is getting unexpected help from Syrian and Syrian-American doctors, lawyers, and activists who have seen first-hand the brutality inflicted by Russian ground and air forces supporting Bashar al Assad’s regime for the last 11 years.
“We are seeing the same tactics in Ukraine now as we saw in Syria,” said Amjad Rass, a former Aleppo physician who heads the Syrian American Medical Society, which is placing doctors in Ukrainian facilities. “We can help our colleagues in Ukraine with war-related injuries, we can help them with how to deal with besiegement, massive displacement, attacks on healthcare, and how to document that.”
The Syrian Ukrainian Network was formed recently to match Syrians and Syrian-Americans with relevant skills to the humanitarian effort on the ground. Coordinator Olga Lautman, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, is using her Ukrainian connections to arrange volunteer placements and to help obtain visas as well as translators, transportation, and housing inside the country.
The network has connected Syrian lawyers experienced in investigating and documenting war crimes to lawyers in Ukraine, she said. They are also linking outside advocacy groups fighting pervasive Russian disinformation inside Ukraine and elsewhere.
“There are things that Syrians can pick up easily, especially if it involves cluster bombs or mass graves,” Lautman said, “things that Syrians have already experienced – and that Ukrainians have not yet.”
Another of those is the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield.
Dr. Mohamed Tennari, a Syrian doctor who previously treated chemical-attack-related injuries, used Lautman’s network to go to Ukraine recently to help prepare physicians for the worst. When asked if he thought Russia would use chemical weapons, Tennari’s response was grim.
“If the Russians feel themselves in a bad situation, they can do anything. There is a big chance they can use it,” Tennari said.
Lautman closely followed Russian media during the height of the Syrian conflict and saw clear indicators of the coming chemical attacks. We are now seeing those indicators in Ukraine, she said.
“They’ve been laying the groundwork,” she said, by equipping Russian troops with chemical agent antidotes and by spreading false claims that Ukraine has biological weapons.
The most obvious similarity between the two wars is the bombardment of civilian infrastructure, including schools, apartment buildings, and hospitals, say humanitarian and military experts steeped in the Syrian war. Purposefully targeting civilians is considered a war crime under international law.
Samer Attar, a Chicago orthopedic surgeon who volunteered in Syria after learning hospitals there were being bombed during the war, entered Ukraine last week on a similar mission.
Speaking over an encrypted app from Ukraine, he described a man with a mine-blast injury. The injury reminded him of a child he was treated in Syria where such high-velocity injuries were common. The child had someone else’s bone fragments lodged in his skin from an airstrike on his school.
The injury “looks exactly like the ones that you would find anywhere in Syria,” he said from a hospital in the Brovary region outside of Kiev.
Ukraine says 158 children have been killed in the war, while the United Nations says 59 have died. The World Health Organization has reported 105 Russian attacks impacting healthcare facilities in Ukraine.
“On a humanitarian level, because of what we’ve seen in Syria, we know what the Russians will do and how brutal they’re going to be,” said Shadi Martini, executive director of Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees and formerly a hospital manager in Aleppo who escaped in 2012. “Mariupol was expected for us. We know what the Russians are capable of.”
As a tactic, the bombardment is meant to bring about starvation, he said.
Based on Russian actions in Syria, Russian troops are then likely to show up with food to save the population it just bombed, said U.S. Army Col. Myles B. Caggins III, the former spokesman for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“In a few weeks, we’re likely to see Russian infantrymen carrying bags of grain and baby formula and handing it to the civilians in these eastern cities as a way to show that they are the good guys,” he said. “They want to paint the picture that the Ukrainian government has abandoned its citizens.”
As in Syria, even the agreed-to ceasefires and humanitarian corridors are part of Russia’s propaganda campaign to portray themselves as saviors, said Carsten Wieland, a German diplomat, and senior United Nations consultant.
“This whole process of corridors and so on is part of that because suddenly the core of the war is 100,000 civilians being trapped in Mariupol,” he said. “And Russia is trying to use it for their own propaganda.”
Wieland said this could include Russians “distributing their Russian-marked packages of humanitarian aid in Mariupol to starving civilians who have no other choice but to accept it or opening corridors towards the east – towards Russia – where Russian cameras are standing saying ‘look, the Ukrainians are fleeing from their own Ukrainian government.”
Portraying Russians as humanitarian liberators is a disinformation tactic the Kremlin also used in Syria, where Russian officials justified bombing cities like Homs and Aleppo by claiming to fight Islamic extremism.
“Russia would claim that there were terrorist groups throughout those urban areas,” said Caggins. “While there was a presence of some terrorists, that in no way can explain the tens of thousands of civilians killed and maimed by Russians.”
In Ukraine, Russian authorities claim to be fighting Nazis, a label that is likely to appeal to the Russian population, said Caggins.
“Now, they’ve employed social media trolls, paid agitators, fake media personalities, fake experts, and fake anti-imperialist influencers … It’s basically rinse and repeat,’ said Caggins. “They did it in Syria. They got away with it. They’re doing it in Ukraine.”
Still, there are differences.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack, the senior defense attaché at the U.S. Russian Embassy from 2012to 2014, says the Russians have mistakenly convinced themselves their success in Syria will translate to Ukraine.
In Syria, the Russian-backed Assad regime and the Russian military maintained nearly uncontested control of the skies. Ukrainian forces, however, have had considerable success downing Russian warplanes at low and medium altitudes, Zwack said.
At the root of Russia’s overconfidence, said Zwack, are incorrect, deeply-held biases.
“Russian authorities hold these core beliefs: Ukraine isn’t a real nation and they aren’t real people – they are part of us,” Zwack said. “That dismissive aspect has manifested in military planning. They thought winning a war in Ukraine would be a cakewalk.”
For recent volunteers with time in war-torn Syria, revisiting a war zone has not been easy. For Attar, who is consulting with Ukrainian physicians on the best ways to manage war casualties, the trip to Ukraine also meant revisiting the personal stress of war-torn Syria.
“I had to revisit that fear: of airstrikes, of another siege. But…there’s a strength and power of community that helped me overcome that fear. Especially when you’re in a hospital where everyone – no matter what their role – had one job: helping and saving others.”
By EVE SAMPSON
Capital News Service
Editor’s note: Eve Sampson is a former U.S. Army captain who was deployed to Syria in 2018.
Most approve of legalized sports wagering, but concerns over college games remain
When Tom McMillen discusses college sports and legalized gambling, he’s straightforward about his concern. He fears a game-fixing scandal that would shake the confidence of fans across the country.
“I would say 99 percent of the sports-betting scandals that have occurred had been in the college market,” said McMillen, a former U.S. Congressman and basketball All American at the University of Maryland.
Two of the most high-profile betting scandals in sports history have occurred at the college level. Boston College’s basketball program was ensnared in point-shaving controversy in the 1978-1979 season. In the 1950-51 season, City College of New York (CCNY) and at least six other schools were involved in a notorious incident involving players being paid to throw games.
With legal betting now an option for most fans, “I think there’s just that general fear that college kids could be exploited in this environment,” said McMillen, now CEO of LEAD1, an organization that represents athletic directors and programs of the Football Bowl Subdivision,
Sports fans generally welcome sports betting, according to a recent poll conducted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with the university’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement and The Washington Post.
However, a survey of 1,503 people found less support for betting on college sports compared to betting on professional sports. In the Povich Center-CDCE-Post survey, 66% of respondents approved of legalized betting on professional sports. Just 55% supported legal betting on college sports.
Ryan Ridgeway, a 30-year-old warehouse worker from Laurel, Maryland, supports betting on professional sports but is wary about college sports because of the varying player finances.
“At the professional level, they’re already getting paid millions of dollars, I feel like they’d be less likely to throw a game,” he said. “Since [college athletes aren’t] getting paid millions of dollars, they have more of an incentive to throw a game.”
Richael Faithful, a consultant who lives in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, DC., also expressed reservations.
“My concerns there are that betting will continue to influence how college officials and the college regulatory bodies treat student-athletes,” they said.
Of the 30 states and D.C. that have passed legalized sports betting laws, 18 have some level of restriction on gambling on college sports. Virginia does not permit in-state betting on college sports. To place a bet on the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech requires crossing a state line into Maryland or West Virginia, for instance. In Maryland, wagering on both college and pro sports is permitted is only permitted at retail locations.
The ubiquity of mobile betting is a concern of gambling-addiction experts. Dr. Deborah Haskins, the President of the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling, said that being able to place bets on a cell phone lowers the barriers for gamblers, particularly those prone to compulsive behavior.
“If they’re betting electronically, they can stay in the game longer,” she said. “You’re seeing more people who are experiencing negative harms from gambling because now they can literally stay in the game 24/7.
“Gambling beyond your means economically … you’re spending more and more beyond what your budget is,” she said, adding that compulsive gamblers sometimes resort to drastic measures like using mortgage and rent money for gambling,” Haskins added.
In the Povich Center-CDCE-Post poll, concerns about sports gambling among younger fans was evident. Sixty-eight percent of respondents supported a minimum betting age of 21, compared to just 32% that supported a minimum age of 18.
Twenty-four states set their minimum gambling age to 21, with six states and Washington D.C. dropping it to 18. In Virginia and Maryland, the minimum age to gamble is 21.
In the poll, 20% of sports fans said they had bet on pro sports in the past five years compared to 17% of all respondents, Regarding college sports, only eleven percent of sports fans said they had bet in the last five years compared to nine percent of all respondents.
By Varun Shankar
The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism
Extraordinary Registered Nurse, Kari Schwind, recognized at Fauquier Health as DAISY Award Winner
Nurses at Fauquier Health continue to be honored with The DAISY Team Award For Extraordinary Nurses. The DAISY award is part of the DAISY Foundation’s program to recognize the super-human efforts nurses perform every day.
We are proud to announce that the second quarter DAISY Team award recipient for 2022 is Registered Nurse (RN), Kari Schwind. Kari works in Outpatient Special Procedures department as an Interventional Radiology RN. She received several strong nominations from her patients. Her nominations showcased the level of dedication and compassion she provides to her patients.
One nomination from a patient commented, “Kari embraced me with her warming smile. She was so caring and compassionate and made me feel comfortable and relaxed. She touched my heart by sharing her very own private story that day when I was so scared and nervous of what was to come next.” The patient went on to comment that Kari was the best registered nurse they ever had.
Another nomination that Kari received was a true testament to her ability to care for our patients. The patient commented on how Kari exceeded expectations, “[Kari] transmits confidence and professionalism in all she does, but it was her kind heart and dedication to her patients on that day that she was able to transform a potentially negative situation (my nervousness and anxiety) into the possible best outcome.”
During the surprise presentation ceremony, the hallway in the Outpatient Special Procedures department was lined with fellow team members and leadership who came to applaud Kari and congratulate her.
The not-for-profit DAISY Foundation is based in Glen Ellen, CA, and was established by family members in memory of J. Patrick Barnes. Patrick died at the age of 33 in late 1999 from complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a little known but not uncommon auto-immune disease. The care Patrick and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired this unique means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patient families.
The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses has been adopted by healthcare facilities around the world to celebrate nurses for their extraordinary care and compassion. The DAISY Team Award is for nurse-led teams of two or more who come together to solve a specific situation by going above and beyond. Nursing teams may be nominated by patients, families, and colleagues, and they are chosen by a committee of nurses at Fauquier Health to receive The DAISY Team Award. The DAISY Team Award is presented by Nursing Leadership at a surprise presentation. The DAISY Award winner receives a certificate commending them for being an “Extraordinary Nurse.” The certificate reads: “In deep appreciation of all you do, who you are and the incredibly meaningful difference your teamwork makes in the lives of so many people.” The DAISY Award winner also receives a specially engraved plaque engraved with the name of the Team.
To honor these special nurses at Fauquier Health, a banner has been hung in the hallway for all to see. Each DAISY Nurse will have the opportunity to sign the banner recognizing them for their commitment and dedication. For a complete listing of healthcare organizations currently running the program, please go to DAISYfoundation.org.
The DAISY Award and DAISY Team Award are initiatives of The DAISY Foundation in service to the nursing profession. Additionally, DAISY offers J. Patrick Barnes Grants for Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice Projects, The DAISY Faculty Award to honor inspiring faculty members in schools and colleges of nursing, and The DAISY in Training Award for nursing students. More information is available at DAISYfoundation.org.
About Fauquier Health
Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises: Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs. Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling 540-316-5000.
Public Advised to Avoid Contact with Algal Mats in sections of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Town of Strasburg, VA
An Algal Mat Alert has been issued for the North Fork Shenandoah River for the Town of Strasburg. The alert area begins above the town at approximately Route 644 (Deep Hollow Lane), to include the Deer Rapids Road Bridge, to below the town at approximately Route 611 (Long Meadow Road), for a total of approximately 11.5 miles. Potentially toxic algae mats could be widespread or patchy in areas within this vicinity. Recreational use may continue providing those using the waterway take caution to avoid contact with the algae mats. If mats appear unavoidable in an area, the public should discontinue recreational activities there.
Algal Mat Alert signs have been posted near the boat ramp at Deer Rapids and at public access points along the North Fork Shenandoah River in Strasburg. The area of the river where algal mats have been investigated can be seen on the interactive Harmful Algal Bloom Map.
While this alert applies to this particular area, everyone is reminded to avoid areas in any natural waterway that have algal mats or discolored, scummy water. People should also avoid allowing their pets to swim in areas where mat material is observed. Contact with these mats may cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If mats are producing toxins, consumption of mats could be fatal to dogs and other animals when ingested. Sadly, animal deaths may occur suddenly following exposure. Humans should never consume water or material from a natural waterbody because this water is not treated water and is not suitable for consumption.
Although cyanotoxins were either below or just above detection in water samples tested from these locations, it is important to remember that toxin concentrations within the mats may be much more highly concentrated than those that may be in the water column. Avoiding contact with mats should avoid the release of toxins to the water, if mats are producing them.
VDH has observed no evidence of impacts to drinking water at this time. The Office of Drinking Water is working with drinking water utilities to protect drinking water sources.
The North Fork of the Shenandoah River is a popular local recreation area for boating, swimming and fishing. Please look for Algal Mat Alert signs posted along the river shoreline at public access points and observe the advisory precautions. Recreational uses may continue provided proper caution to avoid mats is observed. It is best to ensure pets, livestock and horses do not have access to this section of the river when mats are present.
Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless, however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water, scums or mat material that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.
To prevent illness, people should:
- Avoid contact with mats which may be present in North Fork Shenandoah River above and below the Town of Strasburg.
- If mats are unavoidable, do not attempt to recreate in the waterbody.
- WHEN IN DOUBT, KEEP PEOPLE AND PETS OUT! Use your best judgment before recreating in natural waterbodies.
- Do not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water or consume material in the water or along the shoreline.
- Keep small children, pets, and livestock out of the areas experiencing an Algal Mat Alert. They do not understand the risks associated with mats and may drink river water or consume mats which could cause illness.
- If you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near the area under an Algal Mat Alert, seek medical/veterinarian care. You may also contact your local poison control center.
- Additional resources for pet owners and veterinarians are available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/habs
- To ensure fish filets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin, discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.
- To view the Algal Mat Alert area, view the HAB Map online or the Algal Mat Status Report for the North Fork Shenandoah River 8.5.22.
- To report an algae bloom or fish kill, use the online report form.
- If you suspect you or your animal experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154. Please do not call this number for updates on sampling or status reports.
The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Analysis Lab, will continue to monitor mats in the river. In general, Algal Mat Alerts may be lifted following two consecutive observations where mats are not widespread and unavoidable and preferably, as resources allow, when water column cell counts and toxin concentrations are below safe swimming thresholds. An Algal Mat Alert may also be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department. For example, after one test an advisory may be lifted if results are within safe levels for swimming if other information indicates exposure or human health risk is low.
For more information about harmful algae blooms, Algal Mat Advisories and Recreational Water Advisories visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.
17-year-old charged with ‘Driving Under the Influence’ in fatal Rockingham County two-vehicle collision – speed also cited as factor in ongoing investigation
According to Virginia State Police (VSP) a 17-year-old driver has been charged with “Driving Under the Influence” in the death of a 71-year-old driver in a mid-evening two-vehicle collision Wednesday, August 3, in Rockingham County. According to the VSP press release on the accident the northbound 2008 BMW driven by the unidentified 17-year-old minor male was “traveling at a high rate of speed” when it and a 1997 Mercury Villager attempting to make a left turn onto Route 42 after stopping at a westbound stop sign on Route 765, collided. There was one passenger in each vehicle, another 17-year-old male in the BMW, and a 78-year-old female in the Mercury. The investigation into the accident continues with additional charges being a possibility.
Both occupants of the Mercury, driver Gerald L. Will (71) of Hinton, Va., and Jean E. Will (78) also of Hinton, were transported from the scene with life-threatening injuries. The State Police Press Release from the desk of VSP Public Information Officer Sgt. Brent Coffey reported that the two involved 17-year-olds suffered “minor injuries” and were also transported from the scene for treatment. Ms. Will was transported to the UVA Medical Center, the other three involved parties to the Sentara RMH Medical Center. VSP reported that all four involved people were wearing seatbelts when the accident occurred.
Below is the VSP release on the fatal collision in its entirety:
Virginia State Police Trooper J. Joseph is investigating a two-vehicle fatal crash in Rockingham County. The crash occurred Wednesday, (August 3) at 9:25 p.m. at the intersection of Route 42 (Harpine Hwy) and Route 765 (Buttermilk Creek Rd).
A 1997 Mercury Villager was traveling west on Route 765 when it stopped at a stop sign. As the Mercury attempted a left turn onto Route 42 it collided with a northbound 2008 BMW 328I. The BMW was traveling at a high rate of speed.
The driver of the Mercury, Gerald L. Will, 71, of Hinton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries due to the crash and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center, where he later succumbed to his injuries. He was wearing a seatbelt.
A passenger in the Mercury, Jean E. Will, 78, of Hinton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries due to the crash and was transported to UVA Medical Center for treatment. She was wearing a seatbelt.
The driver of the BMW, a 17-year-old male, of Harrisonburg, Va., suffered minor injuries due to the crash and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center for treatment. The male was wearing a seatbelt.
A passenger in the BMW, a 17 year-old male, of Rockingham, Va., suffered minor injuries and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center for treatment. He was wearing a seatbelt.
The driver of the BMW was charged with driving under the influence.
The crash remains under investigation.
Laurel Ridge breaks ground on skilled trades center on Fauquier Campus
Laurel Ridge Community College opened a new chapter Tuesday when it ceremonially broke ground on the Fauquier Campus Center for Skilled Trades.
The 8,000-square-foot facility will provide space specifically designed for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, heavy equipment operator, carpentry and welding programs. It will also open the door for trades academy partnerships with Fauquier County and Rappahannock County school systems, Laurel Ridge President Kim Blosser said during Tuesday’s ceremony.
The new facility is possible thanks to a donation of 62 acres of land adjacent to the campus from Fauquier County to the Laurel Ridge Educational Foundation.
“It’s humbling to see how many folks have gotten behind this program,” said Jeanian Clark, vice president of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education at the college. “These programs will finally have a home that they deserve and the noble honor of being affiliated with higher education on a community college campus.”
While Laurel Ridge’s Middletown Campus has been able to offer trades programs for decades, trades education in Fauquier has only been possible at leased locations, and – briefly – modular buildings that had been brought on campus.
“From Middletown to Northern Virginia, there were no trade schools in between,” Clark said.
As a result, students were driving very far in the evenings after work to come to Middletown for trades programs, so college officials had been on the hunt for appropriate space for quite a while.
Several years ago, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Paul McCulla asked how they could support the growth of Laurel Ridge, said Chris Coutts, vice president of communications and planning and the provost of the Fauquier Campus.
“We said this is something that is really, really important for the community and the college to be able to provide the training, the technical and workforce programs that the community needs,” said Dr. Coutts. “They saw the vision and what we wanted to create and made this possible. This is an absolute dream for us.”
About a year ago, the Educational Foundation launched a “Building the Future” campaign to invest in equipment, scholarships and instruction at the new facility, and is already more than halfway to its $1.5 million goal thanks to the generosity of community members, industry partners and the PATH Foundation.
“I stand here today giving you the commitment of the county to say yes to these types of projects, to say yes to public-private partnerships,” said McCulla. “We’re doing this for our citizens. We’re doing it for our children. We’re doing it for our grandchildren.”
Tuesday’s groundbreaking marked a new milestone for the college, said Dr. Blosser, noting the Eleanor C. and William A. Hazel Hall opens for Mountain Vista Governor’s School students next week and Laurel Ridge students on Aug. 22.
“We’re going to have more and more opportunities that we’ll be able to offer students in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties,” she said.
Three quarters of Shenandoah Waterway locations sampled unsafe for swimming because of high bacteria levels
About three quarters of Virginia’s water monitoring stations in the Shenandoah Valley found levels of fecal bacteria so high in the first half of 2022 that they exceeded EPA recommendations for warning people about the health risks of swimming or splashing in the water.
Seventy-six percent of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality sampling locations (44 of 58) in Shenandoah waterways from January 1 through July 12 of this year (the most recent available data) had levels of E. coli that were unsafe for swimming or recreation, according to an analysis of state monitoring numbers by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. In 2021, 60 percent (29 of 48) of the water monitoring stations in the Valley did not meet the standard. But those numbers are a slight improvement, if perhaps temporary, according to the independent environmental watchdog group EIP.
Both the first half of 2022, and all of 2021, had lower bacteria numbers than the average for 2015 to 2020, when almost 80 percent of samples had unhealthy levels of bacteria. Lower rainfall levels in 2021 may have temporarily reduced the runoff of manure and other pollutants that drive up bacteria levels in rivers and streams.
To examine an online map with details about Virginia’s bacteria monitoring results in locations up and down the Shenandoah Valley, and where it is safe to swim, click here.
“The bacteria levels in the Shenandoah River are still too high, and Virginia needs to do more to encourage – or require – streamside livestock fencing and prevent the chronic overapplication of manure to farm fields,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The Shenandoah Valley is a treasure that deserves better protections. We do recognize that Virginia is taking steps to increase funding for farm best management practices, including by adding streamside fencing, and that deserves praise.”
In March 2022, the Virginia General Assembly approved a record $265 million for fiscal years 2023 and 2024 for farm pollution-control “best management practices” – including streamside livestock fencing and other steps to reduce runoff into waterways.
But, despite the persistently high bacteria levels in the Shenandoah, Virginia has posted no signs warning rafters, kayakers, or swimmers about bacteria levels – as it does regularly with swimming advisories on ocean beaches with high bacteria levels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends warning swimmers when concentrations of E. coli bacteria exceed 235 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water.
Almost 160 million chickens, 16 million turkeys and 528,000 cows are raised annually in the Shenandoah Valley’s Augusta, Page, Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. Most of their manure is spread on surrounding farmland as fertilizer, but it contains far more phosphorus than crops need for growth. The excess manure leaks pollutants into groundwater and is often washed by rain into surrounding streams.
Bacteria levels in waterways are known to increase after periods of heavy rainfall because rain flushes fertilizer and sediment into rivers and streams. Total rainfall in Harrisonburg, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, was significantly lower in 2021 (about 37 inches) than the annual average from 2015 to 2020 (46 inches). That lower rainfall in 2021 could have temporarily reduced bacteria levels that year. Complete numbers are not yet available for 2022.
FECAL BACTERIA LEVELS IN SHENANDOAH WATERWAYS, 2015-2022
In April 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper released a study “Livestock Fencing in the Shenandoah Valley” that used aerial photographs of the livestock industry in to show that 81 percent of farms in the state’s two largest farming counties — Augusta and Rockingham — failed to fence their cattle out of streams, contributing to bacteria contamination.
This low fencing rate was despite a pledge by the state of Virginia to EPA that 95-percent of streams through pastures would have livestock fencing by 2025 to meet the goals of the state’s cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay.
The release of that April 2019 report spurred the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to perform its own aerial survey of livestock fencing. Virginia lawmakers then approved increased funding and reimbursement rates to encourage more farmers to install streamside livestock fencing. Legislators also passed a law that allows state officials to mandate streamside livestock fencing if the agricultural sector fails to achieve Bay pollution reduction goals by 2025.
As a result of the increased funding, an increased number of farmers in Virginia started enrolling in a state program to install livestock fencing. In Augusta and Rockingham Counties, the number of farmers signing up for the streamside fencing program grew from 26 in fiscal year 2019, to 38 in fiscal year 2020, to 55 in fiscal year 2021, and 40 in fiscal year 2022, according to data from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
For more details about bacteria monitoring in the Shenandoah Valley, click here.
In October 2019, Virginia revoked its “beach action value” for E. coli in freshwater areas, which is a trigger value for potential health risks for people swimming or recreating in waters with more than 235 counts of E. coli/100 ml of water. The Commonwealth no longer has a beach warning value for freshwater areas like the Shenandoah River and issues no warnings when fecal bacteria levels are high in these areas.
However, despite Virginia’s change, EPA continues to recommend that states warn swimmers of potential health risks when E coli counts exceed 235 counts of E. coli/100 ml of water. So the Environmental Integrity Project in its annual reporting on the issue uses this level of bacteria as a yardstick of potential threat for water contact recreation.
(From a release by the Environmental Integrity Project. EIP is a 20-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and the strengthening of policy to protect public health and the environment.)