December 2023

December 2023

Save Our Streams Reports on 2023 Results

Thank You SOS Volunteers!

When we measure the water quality of Smith Mountain Lake, we are actually evaluating water that comes into the lake not only from the Roanoke and Blackwater rivers, but also from many other tributaries. Monitoring the health of these numerous streams is critical to understanding the quality of water that ends up in our lake. SMLA collaborates with the local Virginia Save Our Streams Program (VA SOS) and the Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes (BRFAL) Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program to conduct water quality monitoring on these small streams that eventually feed into the lake. Certified volunteer monitors collect and identify fresh water aquatic macroinvertebrates that live on stream bottoms twice yearly.
A survey of the diversity and number of specimens we find is used to assign a water quality rating to the streams and to monitor that rating over time. Data collected is then entered into the VA SOS database, which is used by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in assessing the overall quality of Virginia’s streams and rivers and in identifying specific problems that may need to be addressed.
The SMLA Save our Streams data complements the water quality measurements from our Water Quality Monitoring Program with Ferrum College – a program that has set the standard for a volunteer lake monitoring program for nearly four decades.
SMLA’s Save our Streams (SOS) program reports that 19 streams in our watershed were surveyed during 2023. Three and four-person teams of certified monitors, who base their findings on a count of macroinvertebrates, conducted a total of 38 monitoring events. The ratings assigned are based on the relative numbers of pollution-tolerant and pollution-intolerant species identified. Scores range from 0 to 12 (low to high), with a score of 7 and below considered unacceptable; 8 in the gray area; and 9 and above acceptable. This year’s average score was an 8.9, the same as in the previous year, with 12 of the streams (63%) testing as fully acceptable, while the state-wide stream average is generally around 55%.

To obtain a more comprehensive view of stream quality, three streams were added to our monitoring list in 2023. All three streams are on the Bedford side of the Lake, filling in a coverage gap near the dam.

For the first time this year, our program awarded a SML Clean Stream Award. The purpose of the award is to recognize landowners or managers whose actions have improved water quality in a stream monitored regularly by the Save our Streams staff. Nominees have implemented significant environmental efforts to upgrade riparian conditions supporting clean water and have made a major contribution, often including unremunerated costs, to the overall water quality of the lake. We want to encourage other land owners and managers to increase their efforts to enhance stream water quality, and also to make the public aware of the positive outcomes of SMLA’s overall water quality program.

Clean Stream Award
2023 Winner: David Hurt

The winner of the 2023 award is David Hurt of Truman Hill Farm in Franklin County, where he raises cattle and sells grass-fed beef. David has been the host landowner of our Gills Creek Save our Streams monitoring site at Truman Hill Farm since the inception of our program. The stream regularly receives clean water scores between 10 and 12 on the SOS 12-point scale, and for 2022, the scores averaged 11.5.
Over the past fifteen years, David has installed fencing to keep cattle out of the stream and established a buffer zone along the stream to prevent erosion and ensure that manure and nutrients do not seep into the waterway. His pasture management focuses on rotational grazing to maintain fertility without commercial fertilizer applications, and he manages weeds without spraying pastures with herbicides.
Truman Hill Farm is also protected by a permanent conservation easement, and, in 2012, David was given the Outstanding Forest Steward award by Virginia Department of Forestry for his conservation-minded management of family timber land. In addition to farming, David is a realtor operating as Land Matters, LLC with a focus on land, farms, and conservation properties. He has been a model landowner for our streams program whose diligent and environmentally sound practices are a major benefit to SMLA’s efforts to keep Gills Creek and Smith Mountain Lake clean and healthy.

Truman Hill Farm
In his words, “The Save Our Streams folks are always welcome guests on my farm and have been friendly, knowledgeable, and reliable volunteers. They’ve brought other volunteers to train and even taught my children how their inventories of tiny creatures in the steam correlates with water quality. Their work provides critical data to see trends over time in stream health and they can be the early warning if water quality starts to drop. So a big Shout Out and thank you to SOS!
“Before I installed stream exclusion fencing 15 years ago, my cattle had not been kind to the stream banks. It was cool place for them to loaf in the summer and they had contributed to bank erosion and I’m sure added nutrients to the stream. Simply adding a fresh drinking water fountain for them and getting them out of the stream led to dramatic changes in the creek banks. And it also made my herd management much easier. The Blue Ridge Soil and Water District helped me through cost share programs to install fencing along the creek, build cross fencing to help rotate the cattle grazing, install a freeze-proof waterer, and plant trees along a stream buffer.
“All the practices are still in place and made my farm easier to manage, improved my pasture productivity, and have kept the stream shaded with far more stable banks. It even saved me some land as I used to battle collapsing banks that would eat into my field and now all the vegetation on the banks has minimized that problem. Every farm is different so there is no one-size-fits-all fix for every water quality issue. Farmers want clean water. On my farm, the stream fencing, tree planting, cross fencing, and a new water source were a win-win for my farm business and the environment.”

Over 30 certified Save Our Streams volunteers make this program successful. New volunteers are always welcome to join our effort. Prospective volunteers can send a brief note indicating their interest to to get started in the program.

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