Regarding "Va. Looks at Shenandoah's Troubled Waters" [Metro, July 20]: I traveled to Luray for the July Fourth holiday to fish and enjoy the outdoors, and I never caught a smallmouth bass larger than my hand. In three days my friends and I spent some $3,000 in Luray on lodging, food, drink and other goods. Because of the poor fishing, we won't return. How many other anglers will take their money elsewhere?
We were told by a number of the locals -- from the guy at the sporting goods desk at Wal-Mart to our host, an outfitter -- that fertilizer and waste runoff in the spring killed all of the adult fish. The people living along the Shenandoah River need to muster the will to make certain that their beautiful part of the world is more than just a chicken farm, or they can say goodbye to tourism.
The article on the Shenandoah River fish kill came out just days before my annual trip down the river. I have taken friends and family down the river in canoes for a daily fishing trip for about 12 years now. It is beautiful and relaxing. When the river is at normal levels, the water is clear and in most places shallow enough for wading, and the scenery is magnificent.
However, I have watched with growing alarm as the water quality has been degraded during the past decade. Originally, it was not unusual for a party of four to catch (and release) more than 100 smallmouth bass during the eight-mile drift down river. In the past three or four years, we've caught one-fifth that number.
I realize temporary conditions can affect fishing, but it does not take a scientist to recognize a river in distress. In summer, when the water is low and slow, the river becomes flooded with slimy green algae -- an indicator of excess nitrogen. I am also astounded that local farmers allow cattle to graze right to the river bank and do not prevent the animals from entering the stream. These dated practices allow the cows to defecate and urinate into the stream and cause severe erosion along the riverbank, which leads to excess sediment flowing into the water.
The river is affected by local communities and recent development as well, but the valley still is primarily agricultural. Stringent controls on farming practices would go a long way toward correcting the runoff problems the Shenandoah and the rest of the Chesapeake watershed face. Sadly, I have little faith in local or regional government to address the problem. The political will to make the hard decisions that will go against the interest of farmers and developers seems to be lacking. The river will pay the price.