Elizabeth River Scores a C for Healthiness. That’s Up From ‘Nearly Dead’

Elizabeth River, a six-mile-long tidal estuary at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, was almost a dead river in 1993. It was nearly killed off by industrial pollution, but it rated a C average for healthiness this year.

Elizabeth River scorecard
Map of Elizabeth River in the southern Chesapeake Bay with its 2014 scorecard

That got scientists excited. Elizabeth River is one of the three most toxic rivers on the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Elizabeth River Project, an organization working to restore the river.

“The notoriously polluted Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River shows the most improving trends,” according to this year’s report. Industrial waste has been dumped into that section since before the American Revolution and it’s been considered “devoid of life.”

Part of the problem is that it is not a freshwater river flushing out the pollutants; it’s basically a Chesapeake Bay holding-pond with five fingers where the water spreads or lowers based on the tide. During high tide, the pollution is pushed back up the fingers.

While the river is seeing improvement, some of its tributaries (fingers) are still in bad shape, with the Southern and Eastern branches getting “D’s” and the rest of the branches getting C’s. Two smaller sections, Broad Creek and Indian River, received F’s.

While more fish are being found in the river, Virginia health officials still warn against eating them due to high PCB levels. But hey, Elizabeth River is improving.

Read the entire report at elizabethriver.org.

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