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USGS Scientists Tracking Environmental Damage From Floyd...Heavy Flooding Caused Heavy Pollution
Released: 9/23/1999

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Butch Kinerney 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4732 | FAX: 703-648-4466

While much of eastern North Carolina remains under water, U.S. Geological Survey scientists and hydrologic technicians are boating over rooftops, submerged cars, and bridges and roads topped by deep water to collect data and determine the amount of environmental damage done by Hurricane Floyd’s heavy rains.

USGS scientists from South Carolina to New York are sampling water from flooded areas, streams and rivers looking for bacteria, sediments, heavy metals, chemicals and other contaminants.

South Carolina With floodwaters inundating wastewater lagoons on animal feedlot operations in North Carolina, malfunctioning municipal wastewater lift stations, and overflowing wastewater treatment lagoons in the Conway area, there is great concern that the decline of dissolved-oxygen concentration will be greater than with past storms.

USGS scientists are looking at dissolved oxygen concentrations in floodwaters from Floyd. After hurricanes Hugo, Fran, Bonnie and Bertha, the USGS documented large drops in dissolved-oxygen in the Waccamaw River and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It took as long as four or five weeks before those waterways began recovery. This drop often occurs with the natural flushing of the extensive tidal marshes without additional nutrient loads.

To better document and understand the water chemistry of this type of event, USGS scientists will be collecting water-quality samples on a weekly or semi-weekly basis and analyze them for nutrients, bacteria, pesticides and metals. North Carolina The USGS is collecting water-quality samples at more than a dozen sites in the Tar and Neuse River Basins. The samples will be analyzed for bacteria, nutrients, metals, pesticides, dissolved oxygen and pH levels.

Contaminated water is one of the primary worries in the flooded eastern North Carolina. Wastewater-treatment plants have been flooded, as have septic systems and animal-waste lagoons. Rotting animal carcasses, chemical spills, and other contaminants add to this concern. Some reports put the animal death tolls as high as 100,000 dead hogs, 500,000 dead turkeys, and more than 2 million dead chickens in the eastern part of the state.

Scientists there are also grappling with washed out roads and flooded areas making their data collection efforts difficult and dangerous in some places. Already, USGS crews have made several rescues of stranded citizens during their streamflow and water quality data collection efforts.

Virginia USGS scientists are tracking bacteria sources and other contaminants in Accotink Creek in Fairfax County and Blacks Run in Rockingham County where high levels of bacteria washed into streams from sources such as animal manure and overflowing sewage-treatment systems. The data collected will be put into a model so future storm effects and the potential for a public health risk can be more accurately predicted.

Chesapeake Bay Region USGS scientists from Maryland and Virginia are studying nutrients and other non-point source pollution which runs off the land into rivers feeding the Chesapeake Bay. Streams and rivers flow into the Bay flow from as far away as New York and West Virginia. Samples were collected during and immediately after the storm at sites on the Pocomoke River, Nassawango, Choptank River, and Chesterville Branch, in Maryland and the James, Appomattox, Pamunkey, and Mattaponi Rivers, among others in Virginia. Samples are being collected this week from the Susquehanna Rivers and other regularly sampled rivers, where the flood peak occurs later than in the smaller streams. Samples will be analyzed to evaluate possible storm-related increases in nutrient and sediment loads to Chesapeake Bay from increased storm runoff.

Scientists, managers, and planners are concerned that the runoff from Floyd’s rain may have offset recent nutrient and sediment reductions resulting from increased efforts by farmers and others to manage runoff and from low streamflows during the recent drought.

Maryland USGS crews are conducting a study of small watersheds in the Pocomoke River to look at the effects of animal feeding operations and storm runoff. Samples collected will be analyzed for presence and concentration of nutrients, pesticides, antibiotics, metals, and suspended sediment.

New Jersey USGS scientists in the Delaware River Basin have already sampled eight sites including Raccoon Creek, the Cooper River, the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, the Lehigh River at Glendon, Pa., and the Delaware River at Trenton.

In other parts of New Jersey, USGS scientists collected samples on the Passiac River at Little Falls and Two Bridges. Samples collected by an automatic sampler on the Raritan River at Queens Bridge were lost when floodwaters inundated the gage house. Additional sampling is being done there now. Again, scientists are looking for sediments, pesticides, chemicals, metals, bacteria and other contaminants which may have washed into waterways during Floyd’s rains.

New York The USGS has collected samples for pesticides at several sites including a small agricultural basin and a large river site. These are part of the statewide pesticide- monitoring program. In the Hudson River Basin, USGS researchers are looking for sediments, organic compounds and other contaminants which will eventually flow into the New York-New Jersey Harbor. In the upper Hudson, PCBs are the focus of research to see if that compound, which usually attach to sediments, was stirred by Floyd’s heavy rains in New York. These efforts are funded in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

USGS scientists are also collecting samples from New York City’s West-of-Hudson water-supply-reservoir watersheds. In the same area, scientists are researching the impact of different timbering methods and developing a better understanding of nutrient cycling. These are funded in cooperation with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

And finally, USGS scientists are looking at samples from Floyd’s rainfall to monitor atmospheric deposition - looking for chemicals and other airborne particles that were washed from the sky when rains fell.

Below are websites from USGS offices in Atlantic coast states that have more real-time information about Floyd’s effects:

New Jersey

New York

Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Maryland, Delaware, D.C.


North Carolina

South Carolina

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