• As in 2013, riverside landowners seemed willing to purchase river clean-up services based on two types of value proposition; private property enhancement via improvement of river frontage, and public service via support for job training for young adults and general environmental stewardship. Watershed supporters seemed to be motivated by job corps benefits for young adults and environmental stewardship.
• As in 2013, not all riverside landowners participated financially in the project (some allowed access but declined to provide funds). Other riverside landowners were difficult to contact due to absentee ownership or poor contact information (physical address but no phone number or email).
• Even with a much more robust early spring marketing effort, less than half of the riverside landowners participated financially in the project.
• Due principally to the high cost of riverside landowner outreach and logistics, the cost per year of the program for 2014 for 40 river miles is estimated to be ~$80,000.00, or ~$2000.00 per river mile.
River Health Assessment
• Comparing 2014 assessments to the Friends of the Rappahannock/Virginia Institute of Marine Science assessments, the health of the Rapidan and Robinson Rivers has declined in many areas, with only a few areas showing improvement.
• Forest cover is thin along the Rapidan River, with the exception of a large forested area to the east of Rt. 15 on the Orange County side of the river.
• Forest cover is notably absent along the Robinson River in the Hebron Valley and along both sides of the river west of Rt. 15.
• Forest conservation values are high in the same area of the Rapidan across from Woodberry School where there is good forest cover. Forest conservation values are also high in the Oak Park area of the Robinson River.
• Forest cover in the contributing subwatersheds varies, with some having 70% forest cover or higher, while others have significantly less. For the Rappahannock River Basin as a whole, the percent forest cover is roughly 51% (see image below). This is significantly less than the forest cover proportion of a healthy river ecosystem in the mid-atlantic region.
• Floodplain forest cover is low in both river valleys and particularly so in the Robinson River valley, with only 16%.
• Hay and conventional tillage cropland are the largest contributors of excess nutrients and sediment.
• A tremendous amount of trash, and in particular tires, was removed from the Rapidan and Robinson rivers. Tires obviously last decades if not centuries in fresh water. Tires contain lead, chromium, copper, nickel, cadmium, zinc, styrene butadiene, and other organic compounds. There is evidence that these compounds are leached and have negative effects on fish, or not inert. Inorganic materials and organic additives can leach from tires into aqueous environments (Sullivan, 2006, Vukanti, 2009). Some of these leached compounds are water soluble and toxic to fish (Wik, 2007).
• Several dump sites remain on both rivers that require overland removal. Some of these contain old rusting oil type drums.
• Trash at the remaining dump sites (see images below), requiring overland removal, needs to be completed. Plans for private cleanup, in cooperation with riverside landowners, are now being developed.
• To increase the % of riverside landowner financial support, a more focused enrollment of landowners should be considered, perhaps only undertaking a few river miles at a time, where high concentrations of supportive landowners are found. In other words, rather than the (2) 20 mile sections completed in 2014, perhaps StreamSweepers take on (10) 4 mile stretches for 2015, with each stretch having a significantly higher proportion of riverside landowner financial support.
• Communication with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) should be considered, in the contexts of state park river maintenance and removal of rusting former road culverts, respectively.
• Incentive programs to pay riverside landowners to grow trees or some type of agroforestry in the Rapidan and Robinson River floodplains need to be created. As shown in the image below, nearly all of the portions of the Rapidan and Robinson Rivers completed by StreamSweepers in 2014 are a priority for the Chesapeake Bay program. This is not surprising, considering StreamSweepers own data showing a decline from 2000 to 2014 in areas of both rivers.
• One way to help create markets to pay landowners for ecosystem friendly land cover, is through the use of bioenergy. Hundreds of boilers, fueled with heating oil, are currently used by schools, hospitals, and local government complexes in this region. Conversion of a few of these to woody and/or native perennial grass bioenergy technologies (as shown below) could help drive demand for ecosystem friendly land cover in local watersheds. Use of existing grain infrastructure for storage and processing, would help increase the potential for job creation.
• Increasing use of the Rapidan and Robinson Rivers for ecosystem friendly forms of economic development could help bring greater collective energies to the goal of enhancement of river valley health. A way to do this could be a landowner led “Blueway” pilot project with the following elements:
o Identify a stretch of the Rapidan or Robinson Rivers with riverside landowners supportive of greater use of the river (see image below showing possible access sites on Rapidan and Robinson Rivers).
o Create a riverside landowner led business plan to maintain a “put in” and “take out” as well as monitoring for appropriate use of the stretch for a summer season.
o Shop the plan to public and private entities with an interest in river health.
o Implement one year pilot project.
The economic potential of a Blueways project, assuming 30 miles of travel time, might be significant considering the population centers found around these rivers (see image below).