Low river levels leading to concerns with potential for bacteria growth

Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 7:11 PM EDT

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Drought conditions can have negative effects on rivers in different ways.

Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah River Keeper, said the lower waters that often result from a drought makes it harder for wells to draw ground water from the river.

“Current conditions on the north fork of the Shenandoah, where Harrisonburg sits alongside, the river gauge is at 74 cubic feet per second, which is a measurement of volume,” said Frondorf.

He said normally this time of year the gauge should be close to 200 Cubic feet per second.

“We are at about 30% of where we should be at this time,” said Frondorf.

The lower water levels also means nutrients like Nitrogen and Phosphorous become more concentrated. That makes Algal blooms more common and bacteria levels higher, according to Frondorf.

Frondorf said if the water does not look good and there is a strong smell. Trust your gut and do not go swimming in that water way.

”So if you are floating down the river at your favorite swimming and you see large mats of algae there I would strongly encourage people to find another location or go up or down stream until you find clear water,” said Frondorf.

Frondorf said if it has just rained wait at least three days before going into the river, to allow the increased bacteria to pass.

Even if an algal mat or algal bloom is not toxic or “harmful” it still has potential to be dangerous to the ecosystem.

“It can consume a tremendous amount of oxygen in the river and it creates a condition of hypoxia or lack of oxygen,” said Frondorf.