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Group keeps close eye on Jefferson County stream

November 10, 2008|By DAVE MCMILLION

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. -- Elks Run is considered to be a vital part of Jefferson County's environment, winding through farmland and woodlands in the center of the county and delivering drinking water for the towns of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar.

While the health of the stream is regarded as good near the Harpers Ferry water treatment plant along Bakerton Road, parts of the stream are "impaired" by fecal coliform, which points to possible contamination from animal or human waste, said Dan Riss, a member of the Elks Run Study Group.

The group is keeping a close eye on the run because members want to make sure the water quality in the stream is not declining.

"It's like good news, bad news. We're not sure what the trend is," Riss said Sunday.

To help educate the community about the stream, Elks Run Study Group members sponsored a walk along the stream Sunday afternoon.

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The group, traveling in cars, stopped at several points along the stream, including where it passes under Flowing Springs Road near the intersection with Job Corps Road south of Jefferson High School. The next stop was where a northern tributary of the stream, known as Elk Branch, runs parallel to the railroad tracks at the Duffields train stop along Flowing Springs Road.

The third stop was along the Elk Branch at Engle Switch and Engle Molers roads.

At the stop near Job Corps Road, Riss showed the group of about 25 people how the stream passes through farmland. Riss said threats to such streams can be pollutants such as pesticides that wash into it.

"Why don't we do something about it?" Laura Clark of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said from the crowd.

Clark said one of the reasons she went on the walk is because water is one of the most important resources and she wants to know more about how chemical use can affect it.

At the Duffields train stop, Elk Branch flowed slowly along railroad tracks, then under them near the Flowing Springs Road railroad crossing. The stream continues west toward Harpers Ferry.

It's usually a bucolic scene at Duffields, but train traffic could pose problems, said Jim Cummins, who spoke during the walk.

If there is a train derailment and a chemical spill, the Harpers Ferry water treatment plant would have to shut down its intake system to make sure its customers do not drink tainted water, said Cummins, a member of the board of directors of the Jefferson County Public Service District, a county sewer service provider.

The Elks Run Study Group was formed about two years ago and its missions range from the basic, including making people more aware of the stream's location, to the technical, like keeping tabs on its water quality.

To let people know where the stream is, an Elks Run sign was erected near the Job Corps Road intersection about a week ago, Riss said.

It is unclear what could be causing fecal coliform impairments in the stream, Riss said. Animals walk in the stream but it could also be caused by leaking residential sewer pipes, Riss said.

To further explore potential threats to the stream, Riss said he would like his group to partner with Shepherd University students to do regular testing on the stream, perhaps as part of the school's biology curriculum.

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