Large coalition implores governor, state environmental agency to protect Virginia waters

Key waterways in western Virginia are at risk from lax oversight if the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fails to analyze wetland and stream crossings of the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines. (© Cameron Davis)

SELC and more than 75 other environmental, conservation, and public advocacy groups that represent tens of thousands of Virginians have signed on to a letter urging the Commonwealth to require individual review under the Clean Water Act for wetland and stream crossings in the paths of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. Currently, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality plans to rely solely on a cursory evaluation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will not ensure protection of Virginia’s water quality and aquatic environment.

It is essential that DEQ take its time to comprehensively review and assess the permanent harm that the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines could cause to Virginia rivers, streams, and wetlands.

“These projects will cross hundreds of sensitive waterways in Virginia, but the Corps’ nationwide permitting procedures won’t examine these crossings individually or in detail,” says SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “Virginia cannot afford to cede its Clean Water Act authority to the federal government at a time when the Trump administration is actively undermining environmental protections. To ensure the protection of the Cowpasture River, native trout streams, and other important Virginia waters, the Commonwealth must conduct its own analysis of waterway crossings.”

This review should include the waterway crossings themselves, many of which will require in-stream blasting or trenching. DEQ’s review will not be complete and will not ensure protection of water quality if this review is left to the Army Corps of Engineers’ blanket permit.

Among the waterways at risk from this project are:

  • Gardner Spring, which supplies five million gallons of water a day to the citizens of Staunton and Augusta County;
  • Warwick Run tributaries that are state-designated trout waters and provide essential habitat to rare and vulnerable populations of native brook trout;
  • Cowpasture River, an important tributary to the James River, which is home to an endangered species and described as “literally exceptional” and “extremely rare” by DEQ; and
  • Bottom Creek, which is one of only 30 Tier III Exceptional State Waters in Virginia, featuring the second highest waterfall in the state and containing rare species.

As DEQ moves forward in its review for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, it should not schedule any public hearings or comment periods until the pipeline developers have submitted all information necessary for a thorough review and the public has had an opportunity to examine and comment on that information.

“Over many decades of committed work, Virginians have made significant progress in restoring our streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Rebecca LePrell, Virginia Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “The Department of Environmental Quality should use its full authority under state and federal law to ensure that this massive pipeline project—reaching from the Allegheny Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay—will not jeopardize hard-won improvements in water quality.” 

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