Water Quality Report – 2019

Water Quality Report – October 2019

Our water monitoring efforts over the years have primarily focused on assessment of water in Leesville Lake (LVL), the results of which led to the conclusion that LVL is a healthy and maturing lake.
The lake was tested during the 2017 season, when water quality degraded following destruction of the Pigg River dam (Power Dam Road) in the fall of 2016. Although the issues we encountered have lessened, the events that were precipitated brought increased focus on the quality of water entering our lake from the Pigg River. Our previous water monitoring had shown that the sediment, nutrient content and bacterial levels of the Pigg River has been trending upward. Dam removal certainly exacerbated these issues in 2017. Therefore, we expanded our water monitoring efforts to include multiple sites on the Pigg River during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Our expanded monitoring of the Pigg River in 2018 showed that nutrients in the river were high, oxygen levels low, and 85% of samples collected in the Pigg River exceeded Virginia’s safety standards for E.coli content in surface waters for recreational use. This has not degraded the overall health of LVL, but has impacted water quality near the mouth of the Pigg River.

Our efforts in 2019 seem to be in line with those obtained in 2018. What we have incorporated into our water quality efforts in 2019 is an analysis of the bacterial content of water from various sites in the Pigg River to enable identification of the source of the bacteria. That is, whether the bacteria is from cattle, deer, water fowl or human.

This determination of bacterial hosts is based upon sophisticated analysis of marker genes in bacterial DNA. This is accomplished by shipping water samples to a commercial laboratory in Florida for analysis. The identification of hot spots in the river and the host species of the bacteria should provide us with information needed to target remediation efforts and enlist others in this effort.

The mission of our water quality team is to protect LVL and to enhance its health and productivity. This can be fostered by improving the health of the Pigg River. Although construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the Pigg River watershed is currently on hold, as it proceeds it is particularly important that we keep on top of this issue.

Specifically, What Do We Do?

Water quality monitoring is accomplished through collaboration between volunteers on our Association’s Water Quality Committee and Dr. Thomas Shahady, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Lynchburg.

Leesville Lake Monitoring

The Water Quality Committee’s activities on LVL are restricted to the months of June – August. Once per month, we monitor 7 sites on LVL from the LVL dam to the mouth of the Pigg River. At each site, we assess water clarity by determining the depth to which an 8 inch disk with black and white quadrants can be visualized. When the quadrants can no longer be visualized, the depth (Secchi depth) is recorded. Additionally, water is collected into sterile containers for assessment of the E. coli content and into other bottles for determination of the nitrogen and phosphorous content of the water. These analyses are performed in Dr. Shahady’s laboratory.

Dr. Shahady’s lab monitors water quality on the lake from the LVL dam to the tail water of Smith Mountain Lake once per month from April to October. They also evaluate the Secchi depth, nitrogen and phosphorous and E. coli content. But their analyses include other detailed data. They determine water pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, oxygen-reduction potential, turbidity, conductivity and chlorophyll content at 0.5 meter increments of water depth. Thus, they obtain a depth profile of water quality parameters at the multiple sites from the LVL dam to the Smith Mountain Lake tail waters.

Together, data collected by volunteers and Dr. Shahady are used to assess overall water quality, productivity and health of the lake and to identify trends across years. If an issue is encountered, additional water monitoring may be performed.

Pigg River Monitoring

The Water Quality Committee and Dr. Shahady combine efforts to monitor water quality on the Pigg River. Our sampling involves collecting water samples at 12 road overpasses along the Pigg River from LVL to Rocky Mount, on three occasions from June – August. Travel to these sites is by truck and does not typically entail boat access to the river for sample collection. Typically water is collected by suspending a water sampling container from an overpass into the river, without disturbing the underlying river sediment. At each site, we monitor water temperature, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. Samples from each site are taken to the lab for analysis of total phosphorous and E. coli content.

As mentioned earlier, this season we will obtain water samples to determine the biological hosts of the bacteria in the river (human, cow, deer, waterfowl) – a process known as bacterial source tracking. We have identified 4 sites in the Rocky Mount area that appear to be areas of concern.

We will obtain samples from each of these sites at three times (once in September and twice in October) for bacterial source tracking. These samples will be shipped to a lab in Florida for analysis. The sites we have chosen for these analyses are in the Rocky Mount area and span the distance from Waid Park to Chestnut Hill Rd. The sites include the Rocky Mount municipal area, the Rocky Mount water treatment plant, a region where there is a dairy and a beef farm, and a region where there has been some recent clear cutting. At the times we collect samples for bacterial source tracking we will also evaluate other parameters that we routinely access. We hope this will shed light on some of the issues we are facing.

For those interested in more detailed information, this can be obtained from annual reports and other descriptions on the Leesville Association’s website. Results from our water monitoring efforts for 2018 have been summarized in the annual report that is posted on our Association Website https://www.leesvillelake.org/water-quality-committee.

Tony Capuco


Photo: Above is a photograph of the bridge at the site of the former Pigg River dam (Power Dam Rd). During our water monitoring efforts on the Pigg River, we evaluate areas for potential sediment runoff and debris accumulation. You can see the huge accumulation of debris that has lodged against the bridge abutments, but also runs under the bridge. For scale, please note the presence of workers on the debris field. Our Association’s Debris Committee has reported this issue, and the debris is being removed by VDOT subcontractors.

Photo: Tony Capuco and Water Quality Committee member, Dave Waterman diligently take water samples from Leesville Lake and the Pigg River
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Tom Shahady, Lynchburg College)