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Mid-Atlantic Highland Streams Assessment

Contact: Bonnie Lomax
(215) 814-5542
July 30, 2001

Ecological Restoration Needed to Revive Highlands
Says First Appalachian-wide Water Quality Scorecard

PHILADELPHIA - A newly issued report, The Mid-Atlantic Streams Assessment, is the first step in a comprehensive plan for stream restoration in the Appalachian Highlands.

One in four stream miles in the mid-Atlantic mountains is in good condition, according to the new survey of Appalachia's streams. This means three in four streams are in fair or poor condition. The most harmful pressures come from habitat loss and acidification, in the form of acid mine drainage and acid rain.

"The heart of this survey is a scorecard. On one page, citizens can compare the effects of environmental stressors in the entire mid-Atlantic highlands and choose where best to undertake cleanup, restoration and smart-growth efforts. Moving forward with such plans can bring new life to streams and create new in jobs in ecological restoration in Appalachia," said Acting Regional Administrator Thomas Voltaggio.

The streams report is one of a series that identifies stressors in the mid-Atlantic environment. A previous report last year showed that both cities, suburbs and rural areas alike attract mostly robins, sparrows, crows, and starlings - birds that live in a degraded environment.

To make the streams report an effective planning tool, researchers used an innovative statistical survey method, similar to polling methods, to profile stream conditions. The report discusses water quality in a 79,000 square mile area that is home to 11.5 million people. This includes all of West Virginia, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia west to the Ohio River and from the Catskills south to North Carolina and Tennessee.

Most management practices focus on large streams. But, not surprisingly, small streams are the most polluted. Small streams are actually the warning lights for an entire watershed. The smaller the stream, the greater the chance it will be affected by pollution because it has less water to dilute the pollution. This study showed that 63 percent - more than 51,000 miles - of the highlands streams are small. The assessment looked at all three types of streams - from the smallest to the largest.

This scorecard emphasizes the biological condition of streams. It answers the question -- how healthy are the fish and other living organisms? By using living indicators, often called biological indicators, citizens get a more complete picture. In fact, the previous study of songbirds shows that the birds, fish, and bugs are all saying the same things about the environmental conditions of the highlands - - they are in environmental jeopardy.

Overall, 31 percent of stream miles were in poor condition based on a fish health and 27 per cent were in poor condition based on an aquatic insect health. On the positive side, stream miles were in good condition 17 percent of the time using the fish index and 25 percent of the time using the aquatic insect index.

Although researchers have not yet established the exact statistical relationship between the biological conditions and environmental stressors, it is essential to look at both the potential causes and effects. Most people are familiar with what causes acid rain and acid mine drainage, but may be less familiar with why researchers are seeing so much habitat degradation. The degradation is most frequently associated with removing forests, agricultural practices reaching into streambanks, and development too near to streams.

The survey is the work of scientists from EPA's Office of Research and Development, EPA Region III, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, and multiple universities. This report is a part of series of long-term studies of natural resources, conditions, stressors, and trends called MAIA (Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment).

In combination with restoration, monitoring is needed to further assess the water quality progress and determine if management practices are effective and to continue to successfully improve Appalachian stream conditions. Partnerships with state, and other agencies, along with universities and the private sector are all essential to connect the results of the research into successful long-term plans for restoration and growth.

The full scientific report, is available in hard copy at 1-800-490-9198 or 513-490-8190. Ask for EPA/903/R-00/015.

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