Upper Potomac RIVERKEEPER® Brent Walls first joined Potomac Riverkeeper Network in 2009. (Upper Potomac Riverkeeper is one of three Riverkeepers at Potomac Riverkeeper Network.) He received his Riverkeeper license in 2014 and is responsible for defending the public trust of the rivers and streams in the Upper Potomac by advocating for clean water and ensuring that the Clean Water Act is enforced. His region begins at the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry, WV.
Brent Walls has been an advocate for clean water for over a decade. With an Environmental Science background in fresh water ecology, Brent has a valuable scientific perspective. His experience in water quality sampling has ensured defensible enforcement actions and has been a unique advising asset with local watershed groups. Brent's love of maps and proficiency with Geographical Information Systems has inspired the development of Water Trail maps in the Upper Potomac and has produced valuable interactive web maps and the creation of a mobile application to report water pollution. Brent’s past experiences include being the Watershed Coordinator and Acting Riverkeeper at Chester River Association for 5 years and serving 7 years in the U.S. Navy.
We work to protect the public's right to clean water in our rivers and streams. We stop pollution to promote safe drinking water, protect healthy river habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment.
We are dedicated to monitoring the condition of the rivers through regular on-the-water patrols, volunteer Riverwatchers, and citizen reports through our website and the new mobile phone app, the Water Reporter. In addition, we work with university law clinics, nonprofit legal groups and corporate law firms that provide pro bono legal services and conduct compliance reviews of pollution permits. Staff and legal interns also provide legal research on pollution permit compliance.
The evidence of pollution that we observe during monitoring includes polluted runoff from construction sites and farm land, fish kills and fish with lesions, algae blooms, illicit discharges from pipes and many other signs of compromised water quality. Some of problems are old and ongoing, but others are new. We notify government oversight agencies, contact the polluter, and if needed, take legal action if other actions do not result in improvements.
- Riverwatchers -- Our volunteer Riverwatchers Program monitor and report pollution on the Potomac River, the Shenandoah River, the Upper Potomac, and all the tributaries. We train volunteers what to look out for while out on the river, which pollution issues are prevalent for our watershed and how you can report pollution. Our Riverwatchers are often the first to detect problems such as early spring fish kills.
- The Water Reporter, a mobile reporting app -- We have made it easier to find and report pollution -- and to report the fun things you see and do on the river. Working with Chesapeake Commons, Brent helped develop a mobile app, which is a Bay-wide initiative, to gather critical data on the waterways you love! The Water Reporter App for iPhone and iPad is now available for download for free! If you’re out and about and see debris flowing from a construction site, cows in your stream, or a pipe discharging questionable water, use the app to report it. Or if you are on a hike, bike or paddling trip let us know. If your organization or group is planning a stream cleanup, tree planting, or any water related activity, please report those on the app as well! We will try to advertise far and wide. Once your report is submitted it will be sent to your local Waterkeeper and to a live map available on the Water Reporter Website. The Water Reporter app is not only for the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. There are 18 local Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay region waiting for your reports. Reports will go to your local Waterkeeper.
Enforcement & Advocacy Program
We take information from our monitoring and community activity and take actions to create positive change. At any given time, we are working on roughly two dozen active enforcement and advocacy matters, including commenting on pollution permits when they are up for renewal, pushing government regulators to recognize major pollution problems and act on them, and filing lawsuits against polluters and government agencies that are allowing pollution to continue unchecked.
Our priority issue areas are:
The Clean Water Act and other environmental laws allow residents to improve their local rivers and streams through "citizen suits." On behalf of our members and the residents throughout the watershed, Potomac Riverkeeper and its attorneys routinely monitor known polluters. When we find that a facility is violating its pollution permit, we consider factors, such as the impact of the violations on public health, and the size and scope of the violations, before taking action.
After our review, in most cases, we contact the worst polluters to tell them to stop polluting our water supply and to clean up existing pollution. If they do not, we begin legal actions by filing a mandatory 60-day "letter of intent" to sue under the Clean Water Act. As a last resort, we will take a polluter to court to stop the pollution.
Current Upper Potomac Riverkeeper actions include:
- Deer Park Mobile Home Park (Hargerstown, MD) – lawsuit filed for failing septic system that for over two decades was in violation of Clean Water Act resulted in cleanup
- WV wastewater treatment plants – Several West Virginia wastewater treatment plants discharge in to the Potomac, which is under the jurisdiction of Maryland. Permits require water quality testing, but West Virginia’s requirements are less stringent than Maryland’s. We challenged the permit of one facility, which resulted in a requirement that WV increase the frequency of testing.
- Berkeley Public Service Sewer District – Upper Potomac Riverkeeper sent a 60 day Notice of Intent to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit for discharge violations from three facilities that have had discharge violations of fecal coliform, ammonia, total suspended solids and biological oxygen demand (BOD) for several years.
- North Mountain Shale Quarry, Gerrardstown, WV – worked with community groups to organize opposition and challenged a permit to allow quarrying on North Mountain.
We track, comment on and challenge Clean Water Act permits for stormwater from construction sites, industrial sites, and municipal stormwater systems. Stormwater runs off the land and picks up sediment, fertilizer, trash, chemicals, and other pollutants and carries them into our creeks and rivers directly or through storm sewer systems.
Current actions include:
- General stormwater permits – We are mounting court challenges to multiple stormwater general permits – blanket permits issued by states that apply to a large number of similar sources of discharge. These include:
- Virginia’s Construction Stormwater General Permit
- Maryland’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit
- Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permits
Fracking & Mining
George Washington National Forest In 2011, the US Forest Service rewrote the George Washington National Forest management plan and rightfully excluded industrial horizontal fracking and gas development from the public areas of the forest. It drew tremendous local support. Ten local governments submitted comments expressing concerns over fracking in the forest and many passed resolutions against horizontal drilling in the National Forest. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and three major metropolitan water suppliers filed comments supporting the Forest Service’s proposed prohibition. More than 53,000 comments were submitted during the comment period on the Forest Service’s draft plan, with more than 95 percent supporting the proposed restrictions. Now, the US Forest Service is under intense pressure from the oil and gas industry to abandon its proposal. We circulated an action alert and are working with other groups to bring attention to this issue while awaiting the Forest Service’s final management plan.
Cove Point Fracked Gas Export Facility Potomac Riverkeeper and Shenandoah Riverkeeper joined a coalition of environmental groups to oppose this facility. The coalition has intervened in the proceedings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) calling on the agency to conduct a thorough environmental review and economic and risk assessment (an Environmental Impact Statement). Demands for natural gas exports will mean more dangerous fracking in our local communities, as well as more pipelines and compressor stations, more water and air pollution, and destruction of land. A broader coalition of local, regional and national groups has been formed, the Cove Point Emergency Coalition, to oppose this facility. There have been several actions taken in the months leading up to FERC’s release of the final Environmental Assessment, anticipated to be in September 2014.
Water Body Standards
Emerging Contaminants: For several years, we have worked with research partners at the USGS and other agencies on further understanding the health effects of endocrine disruptors in our rivers, vigilantly monitoring the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers for further fish kills, and are building community awareness. There are 80,000 chemicals in the US marketplace. Our government only tests our water for 1 out of every 400. Many of these chemicals that are not regulated or tested for are endocrine distruptors, a type of chemical pollution believed to be the cause of fish kills and intersex fish in the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers. Our Federal, state, and local governments are mandated to provide basic services like safe, clean drinking water. In order to guarantee that our water is safe, we must stop these pollutants from entering our waterways in the first place, and we must study, test for, and--if necessary--remove endocrine disruptors in our water supply.
Our Riverkeeper programs undertake a number of activities and projects that enhance the use and enjoyment of our rivers, with the ultimate goal of increasing public awareness of and participation in protection of the rivers. The Riverkeeper programs also work on some policy and legislative issues related to our work protecting the rivers.
River Access Projects
Blue Trail Maps in the Upper Potomac
The West Virginia portion of the Potomac Watershed has several small stream systems that are great for paddling and fishing, but are not known by the general public. Information such as water safety, where to put boats in, what water level is good for paddling, and good fishing spots are sometimes hard to find. We plan to develop maps for these small streams and connect families and paddlers to the water. Patterson Creek is the first of several maps.
Patterson Creek, a tributary of the North Branch of the Potomac River, is a 51 mile long stretch of beautiful water flowing through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.The map covers a large part of this creek, mapping 26 miles, and is available for free upon request, or print at home directly off our webpage. In addition, we collaborated with other local organizations and businesses, to lead improvement work at access sites along Patterson Creek.
Upper Potomac Riverkeeper has been designing the Opequon Creek Water Trail Map with assistance from the Opequon Creek Project Team and the Cacapon Institute. In addition to encouraging recreation on the creek, the map has been requested for the use in search and rescue operations.
Special Outreach Projects
Upper Potomac Priority Areas: Patterson Creek & Conococheague Creek
Brent will be focusing on two priority areas: Patterson Creek and Conococheague Creek. The Patterson Creek project is described above. For Conococheague Creek, we are pursuing legal action to clean up the two decade old problem of sewage leaching into the waterway from a failing septic system at a mobile home park. In addition, Brent is exploring with other organizations a possible float down the creek to help the county identify pollution sources. One possible project would be locating drainage culverts found in the small rural developments that are outside urban drainage systems and placing stencils on them to identify that they flow into the Conococheague.