Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed

Fall Intern Report
By: Helen Hutcheson

This past semester I interned with a local organization called RappFlow. They were formed about ten years ago by locals of Rappahannock County Virginia. Many of the founders are Master Naturalists, high school teachers, and even local farmers, all with one purpose to conserve the beauty of the County. Between the years of 2003 and 2008 the organization did many projects that dealt with the local rivers of Rappahannock County and even Culpeper County, all of these rivers are a part of the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In 2008 RappFlow began working on the Avon Hall Pond project, located in Washington Virginia. The members of the project met and talked about the future goals of the pond; Pond sustainability. They did an initial report of the pond that included things like wildlife observation, water quality measurements and the quality of the Riparian buffer. It took the organization about five years to get the funding needed to begin the project; a lot of the funding came through grants from the town. In 2013 the project began in full force.

The first herbicide on the Riparian buffer was done in the spring of 2013; this was done to get rid of any non-native plant species, so that they could re-seed the area with native grasses. In June of 2013 I got started with the project. My initial assignment was to begin getting all of the observations of the pond, wildlife, human traffic, weather, etc. That same month we re-seeded the buffer area with local/native grasses along with wildflowers. My biggest observation of this month was the number of geese (around 2 dozen; 3 families), all of them eating the seeds that had just been put in place for the new buffer. In July I mad an observation chart that was to help get the public also involved in the project, this chart included all the observations that I had been working on over the past month. Unfortunately, this was not very successful. I took the first water quality sample of the year as well. The sample was taken to the Warrenton Waste Water Treatment Plant, their a friend of mine took Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels, Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Ammonia (NH₃), pH, Alkalinity, and Suspended Solids (SS). These first initial readings showed that the pond had no oxygen in it, extremely low alkalinity (for the time of year) and very high NH₃ (which was confirmed also by the number of snails in the pond).

In August we began working with the high school interns, who would meet with us every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the semester. With their help we began to clean out the outflow of the pond, the reason for this was to take measurements of how fast the water was outflowing of the pond (in the future we will also get inflow measurements). In September the second herbicide on the buffer was done, observations were taken in that area and other areas around the pond. These observations were taken with 2ft X 2ft PVC squares; there were a total of 12 observations taken for the different places around the pond. The observations and outflow readings went on to the end of the semester where the high school students took the information and made a chart for their projects. In October we did our first Escherichia coli (E. coli) testing of the year. The results came back extremely high, almost 1500 times higher than the legal swimming limit (126 colonies/ 100 mL). This was also much higher than the readings done in 2008. Emergent plants were put in around the pond (not in the area where the herbicide was sprayed). These were planted to help get the Riparian buffer started; some woody shrubs were also planted along one side of the pond to help keep erosion from happening.

At the end of this semester some of things that were discussed about the future of the pond were the goose control, and the relationship between the geese and the high E. coli. Some ways to figure this out is to go to other local ponds and test their water for E. coli and take note of the number of geese in their ponds. Other plans are to figure out how to control the goose population and how to bring down the E. coli counts. Next semester the new interns will work on the organization website so that the public can get a full reading on what we have been doing with the pond and the goals for it. I will also begin working on the board for the organization either in the spring or in the summer. More planting on the Riparian buffer will hopefully be done in the spring of 2014 as well.