riverkeeper takes Coors & DEQ to task

Brent Finnegan -- February 16th, 2007

Most of us are aware that fish in our local waterways have been dying off in record numbers over the past few years. In 2005, 80 percent of the smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River died of bacterial lesions.

A few weeks ago the DNR ran a short piece stating, “Officials at Coors Shenandoah Brewery in Elkton hope to renew a permit that allows 6 million gallons a day of treated industrial wastewater to be released into the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.”

According to Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble, what is being passed off as a license “renewal” is actually an expansion, which falls under a totally different license category. Since Coors is planning to start actually brewing beer at the Elkton plant (instead of simply rebottling it) output will jump from 2 million gallons to 6 million gallons of industrial waste being dumped into the South Fork per day (according to Keith Fowler). As he points out on the Shenandoah Riverkeeper blog, “Coors discharge Outfall 001 is located on a segment of the South Fork of the Shenandoah that the DEQ has determined to be impaired for its designated use of aquatic life,” and “[No permit may be issued] to a new source or a new discharger, if the discharge from its construction or operation will cause or contribute to the violation of water quality standards” under current law.

The point-by-point statement on the blog is quite detailed and technical (perhaps Thanh could shed more light on it) but the gist of it is that the DEQ is letting some standards and regulations slide in the case of this permit.

Kelble emailed the DEQ requesting a public hearing on the matter.

So, the question is: should this permit be granted as-is?


8 Responses to “riverkeeper takes Coors & DEQ to task”

  1. Thanh says:

    I found the letters in Jeff Kelble’s blog to be very detailed and thorough. Not sure what technical issues you would like more light to be shed upon. If there are specific points that any hburgnews readers are curious about, please post a question and and I’ll try to explain – better yet, post a comment in Jeff Kelble’s blog and he will likely provide a better answer than I could. Personally, I think that it is important for the community to understand why there is such high concern over the additional volume of discharge. Reese Voshel, from Virginia Tech’s aquatic entemology department, provides an good explaination (posted in Jeff’s blog)… Essentially, discharge of waters from industrial processes adds total suspended solids (TSS) and sediment to bodies of water. With no place to hide, to cling onto, or to live between, macroinvertebrates (critters in the bottom part of the food chain) cannot survive. With them dead/gone, there will be no critters for the larger creatures, e.g. fish, to feast upon thus disrupting an entire food web and community. Sediment can also clog the gills of macroinvertebrates, fish, etc. On a side note, I think Jeff Kelble and the Potomac/Shenandoah Riverkeeper organization is doing a great service for our communities. Anyone who spends time in the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and its tributaries should consider volunteering to be Riverwatcher (http://www.potomacriverkeeper.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=5&id=15&Itemid=30).

  2. finnegan says:

    I spoke with Jeff on the phone today about this. He’ll keep me updated on the status, and I’ll post about it when I hear something.

    Jeff said someone from the DNR had contacted him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a story in the DNR tomorrow or Wednesday about it.

  3. finnegan says:

    By the way, thanks for the comment, Thanh.

    Jeff said one of the reasons that a lot of people don’t get involved is because they don’t understand the technical stuff. It’s always good to have someone help explain it to the rest of us.

  4. Public hearing on the Coors Permit is today, Friday May 18th, at 2:30 at the Valley Regional Office of DEQ in Harrisonburg.

    Please feel free to attend.
    Jeff Kelble

  5. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the update, Jeff. Although I doubt I’ll be able to make it out at 2:30 on a weekday. Why doesn’t the DEQ have public hearings when the public can actually attend?

  6. Next Wednesday June 27th at 9:30 AM the state’s Water Control Board will review the arguments on the Coors Permit and decide on how to issue the final permit. I’m happy to announce that of the 11 items we requested DEQ change in the permit, DEQ elected to immediately change four of them for increased protection of the Shenandoah River. The remaining seven…. nothing yet… including our most resounding arguments. The last time I thought I’d made good substantive legal arguments in the case of Merck’s permit, after DEQ again changed several provisions of the permit, the water control board went ahead with the new permit as DEQ had recommended. I hope we don’t get a repeat, and if we do, I have to sit down with my council at UVA’s Environmental Law Clinic and decide whether we’ll appeal to the courts. Lot’s to consider, thanks HBurg news for covering


  7. finnegan says:

    Thanks, Jeff. I’ll post this up top.

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