River Health and Environmental Threats

Our beloved Cacapon River is unique among rivers. It is a clean, healthy local and state treasure that is
mostly free of threats. But in recent years, environmental threats to our river’s health and recreational
qualities have continued to arise. Unfortunately, various forms of pollution, including runoff and
erosion, can interfere with the health of the river and watershed. Therefore, it is important to protect
the quality of our watersheds.

Here, you can find the most recent, up-to-date information on the river threats that the Friends of the
Cacapon River are monitoring closely.

Wastewater Treatment Plants

Three municipal wastewater treatment plants empty into the Cacapon River — in the towns of
Wardensville, Capon Bridge and Great Cacapon. The Friends of the Cacapon monitors the regulation of
these facilities by the WVDEP.

Thanks to the work of local activists, Cacapon River watershed groups, WVDEP and the Capon Bridge
Town Council, past sewage violations have been remedied. The Town of Capon Bridge has been
diligently working to improve its wastewater treatment plant performance for the past several years.
The facility has been in regular compliance with its permit for over two years.

The Town of Capon Bridge is well underway in a comprehensive process to overhaul and update the
facility. The planned upgrades to the collection system and plant will cost in excess of $3,000,000 and
have been approved by WVDEP. The Town is currently working through the regulatory process and it is
anticipated that construction of all the new upgrades will be completed in 2021.

The Friends of the Cacapon River plans to provide independent monitoring through periodic effluent
tests on all three of these municipal facilities in 2021.

Massive Algae Bloom Impairs River Recreation

A massive green algae bloom is plaguing the Cacapon River near Yellow Spring in Hampshire County.
This overgrowth of stringy algae, known as filamentous algae, stretches for several river miles. In the
summer months, the largest patch is 3 miles long and covers up to 80 percent of the river, making
swimming, fishing, and paddling nearly impossible.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) recently deemed this algae-
affected portion of the Cacapon River to be “recreationally impaired.” For the first time ever, our
notoriously healthy river has made WVDEP’s list of impaired streams in the state. Thankfully, unlike
other varieties of algae, filamentous green algae are not toxic to our river’s waters. It’s considered more
of a nuisance than a toxin.

Sediment and bank erosion

The banks along the Cacapon River are vital to keeping our beloved river clean. Healthy, intact
riverbanks that are lined with trees, shrubs, and grasses create an underground network of deep root
systems that hold soil in place and prevent riverbank erosion after heavy rains and flooding. When the
Cacapon River’s clear waters turn brown and muddy after rains it’s because loose soil has washed away
from riverbanks and buffers. The official name for these muddy waters is sedimentation, and it’s one of
the worst problems for the Cacapon River. When the loose dirt settles on the bottom of the river, it
smothers and kills the aquatic plants and bugs that support life within and along the river. It also buries
the eggs of spawning fish, which reduces our healthy fish populations.

Helping reduce erosion and sedimentation depends on each local landowner maintaining a healthy river
buffer of native plants along the banks.

Nonpoint Sources Pollute the Cacapon

When it comes to pollution, the Cacapon appears to be degraded by nonpoint sources. Unlike point
source pollution, which comes from an easily identifiable source, such as a pipe from a factory, nonpoint
source pollution comes from a broad array of hard-to-control sources. These sources include storm
runoff from farm fields, streets and highways, construction sites, and logging areas.

Another source of nonpoint pollution is malfunctioning septic systems that leach pollutants to the
surface. The pollutants from these sources come in many forms. They may be bacteria, nutrients,
sediment, or ammonia. In other cases, such as runoff from farm fields treated with pesticides or
herbicides, the pollution may include toxic chemicals.

Of all current land uses, farming practices—particularly allowing cattle unrestricted access to the
river and plowing too close to the riverbank — appear to be the major causes of nonpoint source
pollution Cattle degrade water quality in at least two ways:

  • their manure — deposited directly in or washed into the river — increase fecal contamination
    and
  • their grazing and trampling kill riparian plants — vegetation that prevents sediment and other
    pollutants from entering the water