Water quality improvements in southwestern Virginia’s Guest River watershed provide an excellent example of a successful rural watershed partnership between grassroots community groups and government agencies. Draining approximately 100 square miles of Appalachian Plateau in Wise County, Virginia, the Guest River watershed is a tributary of the Clinch River, which is in turn part of the larger Tennessee River basin. Environmental, economic, and social issues in the watershed are typical of those affecting many rural, coal-mining-impacted communities in the central Appalachians. Although the watershed’s rugged terrain, coalfield history, and rural Appalachian folk life offer potential for tourism and recreation development, contamination of the watershed’s streams, as well as inadequate water and sewage service, creates barriers to attracting new economic development.
In 1995 several groups of watershed residents and more than 15 local, state, and federal government agencies formed the Guest River Group, an informal coalition dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Guest River watershed. Efforts of this group have led to the development of the Guest River Restoration Project, an integrated program of multiple projects to address a variety of pollution sources for the entire watershed. Projects have included septic system pumpouts and inspections, repairs, and replacements; illegal solid waste dump cleanups; stream bank restoration and slope revegetation; porous paving projects; abandoned mine cleanups; and outdoor classrooms for the school system. Financial support for the Guest River Restoration Project has come from Clean Water Act Section 319 grants; Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund grants; EPA’s National Onsite Demonstration Project (NODP); and other local, state, and federal sources.
Elimination of sewage problems is a major part of the Guest River Restoration Project. Typical of many small communities in the central Appalachian coalfields, the former coal camp of Imboden had community sewers leading to two “community straight pipes” on a small tributary stream and limited land available for conventional septic systems. Because of its rugged topography and relative remoteness from other communities, Imboden had no realistic possibility of connecting to any existing municipal sewage systems. With a combination of NODP funds, local funds, and in-kind contributions, the community has completed a “cluster system” consisting of new septic tanks (two households per 1,500 gallon tank), small-diameter sewers, and a central treatment system consisting of a recirculating textile filter and a community drainfield. Approximate cost (including in-kind worth) per household was $7,000. The municipal sewer utility in the town of Appalachia will provide system management for operation and maintenance. For further information, see Clean Water Action Plan Partners (2000).
SOURCE: EPA, 2003a.