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Water Quality Monitoring in the Vicinity of Lake Laura (2010-2013)

Below please find a link to our full report on the water quality monitoring carried out in the vicinity of Lake Laura, at Bryce Resort in Basye, Virginia. This project began in 2010, when concerns with water quality in Lake Laura were brought to the attention of the Friends of the North Fork. Lake Laura is part of the North Fork watershed. It is fed by and discharges into Stoney Creek, which flows into the North Fork.

A project to collect and analyze water samples was developed and a grant was received from the YSI Foundation. The goal of the project was to characterize the quality of the water in Lake Laura and the tributaries in the vicinity; to use those data to determine what level of pollution is present; and to gain insights into the sources of contamination. Water quality monitoring began in April of 2010 and was concluded in September of 2013. The water samples were analyzed by the certified laboratory operated by the Friends of the Shenandoah River.

The sampling and analysis of water quality above, in and below Lake Laura between 2010 and 2013 indicates the following:

  • Nutrients (ammonia, nitrates and phosphates) were at their highest concentrations at the beginning of the study period in an unnamed tributary feeding into Stoney Creek above the lake. In 2012, the Orkney Spring sewage treatment plant that discharged into that tributary was shut down and the wastewater was rerouted to a larger, more advanced treatment facility downstream of Lake Laura. The removal of that discharge had a significant positive impact on the quality of water in the Orkney Springs tributary. The nutrient reduction that occurred should have a favorable effect on algae growth downstream in Stoney Creek and in Lake Laura.
  • There is no evidence that the removal of the Orkney Springs wastewater discharge has reduced bacteria (E. coli) levels on the tributary or at locations downstream. In fact, average and maximum E. coli levels are higher at all points sampled in 2013 than in 2010-2011. However, it is unclear whether this demonstrates a worsening of water quality or simply reflects the inherent variability of E. coli levels (because of the many factors influencing E. coli levels), and the number of samples that were taken during 2013.
  • The data indicate that the high levels of E. coli are correlated with rain events and storm runoff, suggesting that animal and human waste (flushed into the creeks and the lake in stormwater runoff) are an important contributing factor.
  • The data for E. coli indicate that the waters above the lake and in the lake periodically exceed the state standard for recreational use and the exceedances are frequent enough to have these waterways classified as “impaired”.

The data from this study are being provided to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Periodically the DEQ determines which water bodies in the state are officially impaired. Once an area is designated as impaired, actions are taken to reduce the contaminant in question to acceptable levels. The process takes years. In the meantime, users of the lake and the tributaries above the lake should be aware that E. coli levels are high from time to time, especially following rain events.