The kiss of death to any community is contamination of its water supply. Lynchburg is blessed with a pure water source in Pedlar Reservoir. So what could possibly go wrong? As reported by Shannon Brennan in recent weeks, enter the U.S. Forest Service’s Pedlar River North Vegetation Project, designed to “manage” over 10,000 acres of national forest in Amherst County by clear cutting over 40 different sections of forest and initiating controlled burns across over 4,400 acres. The impacted area encompasses both sides of Pedlar River and surrounds Pedlar Reservoir.
While Ms. Brennan has reported on concerns related to burning and logging, what many Lynchburg residents don’t know is that the USFS also intends to use herbicide treatments during this project, which may span five years. The herbicides of choice appear to be glyphosate and triclopyr. Both chemicals are suspected of causing cancers and other diseases. Both have median half-lives in water of about 45 to over 90 days, depending on climate and sunlight. Herbicides released into the environment contribute to contamination of water resources as they are transported through leaching and runoff into the neighboring watershed. Therefore, this project puts Pedlar Reservoir at risk of contamination.
Page 74 of the April 2021 Environmental Assessment prepared by the Pedlar Forest Ranger District for George Washington and Jefferson national forests barely mentions their analysis of herbicide treatments, and concludes no significant hazard or impact will result from the project. The EA states a 30 linear foot buffer between herbicide application areas and streams will be maintained, and references a 2010 USFS study that analyzed the effects of herbicides on land. It does not state the study analyzed chemical effects on water quality.
Clearly, this project presents risk to Pedlar Reservoir water quality. Real health concerns would arise should Pedlar Reservoir be contaminated by the USFS deforestation project. Local economic growth and opportunity would immediately evaporate. Once contamination occurs, it would be expensive and difficult to reverse, if reversal could be accomplished at all. A common rule that estimates impact of decaying substances allows seven half-lives to reach de-minimis contamination; this translates to one or two years for the noted chemicals; but the USFS may apply these herbicides over a five-year period, which could extend the contamination period to over ten years.
Concerned citizens may wish to request Senators [Mark] Warner and [Tim] Kaine, and Representative [Ben] Cline to intervene and object to USFS use of herbicides near Pedlar River and Pedlar Reservoir. As a minimum, the buffer zone should be substantially increased to reduce contamination risks. Ms. Brennan has previously reached out to the senators for comment, but thus far no responses have been forthcoming. Citizens may also wish to encourage Water Resources and City Council to advocate more strenuously for risk reduction measures.
Brian Delano lives in Lynchburg.