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CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SHENANDOAH.

It's not surprising that the rocks in the riverbed of Stony Creek, a stocked trout stream popular with fishermen, look like fuzzy brown fur balls. Rocco Industries, Virginia's second-largest poultry producer, uses 1.2 million gallons of water per day to wash the chickens and turkeys it slaughters in its Woodstock, Virginia plant. That water, which is treated in Rocco's own sewage plant, is dumped directly into Stony Creek. From there, the water flows into the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, and then into the Chesapeake Bay.

Three other processing plants owned by Rocco also dump their wastewater into tributaries of the North Fork. The company's waste adds high levels of nitrogen and phosphates to a river whose oxygen levels are already compromised by the heavy nutrient load from poultry manure and heavily fertilized fields in the Shenandoah Valley.

Enter Friends of the North Fork (FONF), a 400-member, citizen-based watchdog group. The permit for the Woodstock rendering plant is up for renewal, but FONF is standing in the way. "We want the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to renew Rocco's permit only if its phosphate and nitrogen emissions are reduced," says Lou Giusto, president of FONF. "According to a study conducted by Virginia Tech in 1997, Stony Creek is one of the most nutrient-rich streams in the state. But the technology is there to reduce the loads."

Giusto has reason to be concerned about the health of the river and its tributaries -- he is a full-time fishing guide. "It's all connected," he says. "High levels of nutrients promote rapid vegetation growth, including algae. Aquatic insects are killed and the fish are stressed."

Virginia's DEQ sets no maximum nutrient discharge standards to hold its corporations accountable, and most corporations are charged with monitoring their own pollution. Although the original operating permit granted to Rocco requires the company to monitor its Woodstock wastewater discharge, there is no limit to the amount of nutrients that can be dumped into the river.

"While it's true there are no discharge standards," says Don Cain, a DEQ water compliance manager, "we are confident that Rocco does a satisfactory job of monitoring its effluent." Cain compares DEQ'S monitoring program to an unannounced IRS visit. "We evaluate their sampling methods and examine their records over a several-month period" he says.

That's not enough, contends Friends of the North Fork, which is petitioning the DEQ to classify Stony Creek a "nutrient-rich watershed." That would force Rocco to clean up its water treatment plant and, ultimately, reduce its nutrient load on Shenandoah's waterways. CONTACT: Friends of the North Fork, PO Box 746, Woodstock, VA 22664/(540)459-8550.
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Title Annotation:poultry producer waste in Shenandoah River
Author:Hart, David
Publication:E
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:439
Previous Article:Fair Game.
Next Article:Culture of Fire.
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