The Effects of Pollution Reduction

on a Wild Trout Stream



Study Components




Project Overview

Spring Run is a unique aquatic resource in the Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia.  Unlike many small headwater streams that tend to go dry, it is fed by the largest spring in the region, with discharge typically ranging from 3000-3500 gallons per minute.  With a temperature of ~53 F at the spring and a pH of ~8, aquatic conditions are ideal for trout and the aquatic insects they eat.  Spring Run flows about two miles from the spring source to its confluence with South Mill Creek, which is about four miles from the South Branch of the Potomac River.  Spring Run has no tributaries. Much of the stream is shallow, and does not provide the complex habitat that trout need - but that is not the case in a one mile section in the middle of the Run. 

Spring Run is fortunate to have landowners who work to protect it both for fly fishing catch and release recreation by written permit, and for future generations.  Since the early 1960’s, landowners and other interested parties have installed and maintained various structures to form hiding and feeding habitat for trout on a one mile long section of Spring Run, and managed it for catch-and-release only fly fishing.  As a result of their efforts, Spring Run is recognized as one of the best "wild" rainbow trout fisheries in West Virginia.  Friends of Springs Run’s Wild Trout, was formed in 1996 to restore stream structure to Spring Run following flooding in 1996.  Click on the trout for a slide show.

Beginning in 2000, fishermen began to notice a decline in the fishery.  Emergence of the mayfly, Ephemerellidae (sulfurs) which  once emerged in great numbers in late spring, largely disappeared in the late 1990s. Fly fishermen reported declines in other aquatic insects as well, such as the small yellow stoneflies often called “yellow sallies.”  The number of large trout (14” and above) had decreased and trout in the 11-13” range had also declined in abundance.  Algae formation is heavy in the upper reach of the catch-and-release section, much heavier than in the past, and algae reforms soon after washout by high water.  A timeline of events is provided below.

Spring Run is rich in nutrients, delivered largely in effluent from the Spring Run Trout Hatchery (SRH) which is located about one-third mile upstream from the upper end of the fly fishing section and about one-forth mile below the spring. (SRH is a rearing facility; trout are not spawned there). In recent years, however, SRH has been producing more rainbow and “golden trout” for stocking West Virginia streams, and it seems that the effluent stream now may be a problem for the health of Spring Run. WVDEP issued a citation for violation of the Spring Run Trout Hatchery NPDES permit in January 2004, specifically for discharging excess biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS).  WVDNR, which operates SRH, installed an effluent treatment system at the facility to meet their permit requirements.  It became operational in June 2007.

Study Components

The prospective installation of effluent treatment at SRH provided a unique opportunity to address a number of important questions.  For example, how will Spring Run's periphyton (attached algae), benthic invertebrates, and rainbow trout respond to changes in water quality following the hatchery upgrades?  

With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Spring Run environmental study began in 2005.  Two years of baseline data were collected, followed by nearly two years of post-treatment data. 

The project design includes an upstream & downstream component in Spring Run, and a treatment & control component comparing Spring Run and nearby Dumpling Run.  Both streams are spring fed and have their origins in the same limestone and sandstone geology.  This approach allowed both within stream and between stream comparisons.

The study parameters are: field chemistries (pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity); laboratory chemistries (total phosphorus, various species of nitrogen, TSS, and BOD5); and biological (benthic macroinvertebrates, periphyton, fish – by WVDNR and fisherman catch records by section, and stream flow.

Spring Run




               Dumpling Run


bullet Final Report (2005-2008) here.  (986 KB, PDF)
bulletJerry Burke's Spring Run Recollections 5-08
bulletCarl Rettenberger: The decline of the Spring Run fishery. 3-09
bullet2007 VA/WV Water Research Symposium Report is here.
bullet  The Effects of Pollution Reduction on a Wild Trout Stream: 2005, 2006 and 2007 Progress Report is here (pdf, 1 mb).
bullet The Effects of Pollution Reduction on a Wild Trout Stream: 2005 and 2006 Baseline Studies Report is here (pdf, 1 mb).


Friends of Spring Run’s Wild Trout, Cacapon Institute (CI), the WV Conservation Agency (WVCA), WV Department of Agriculture (WVDA), WV Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), WV Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), and the Freshwater Institute are partnering in this study. This project is funded primarily by West Virginia Conservation Agency’s participation through the Chesapeake Bay Program.  An associated erosion reduction project is funded through a Friends of Spring Run’s Wild Trout 2005 Stream Partners Grant.  Additionally, a home school group is monitoring the lower portion of Spring Run on an occasional basis.

WVDA, WVDEP and WVDNR are all contributing in-kind services to the project.  WVDA is collecting water samples, taking flow measurements, and performing field and laboratory water quality analyses.  WVDEP is participating in collections of benthic invertebrate and periphyton and helping to cover the costs of analysis.  WVDNR is performing fish surveys and Friends of Spring Run’s Wild Trout is providing information on size and location of trout caught and released by permitted fly fisherman, and supplied equipment and labor for erosion-sediment control work.

The Freshwater Institute provided guidance to WVDNR on treatment methods for their effluent and is providing technical guidance for the project.  WVCA is acting as project coordinator.  Cacapon Institute has overall technical oversight for the project, will participate in field work, and will, in cooperation with partnering organizations, be responsible for data analysis and production of annual reports. 

Note: From early 1960s until mid-1980s Spring Run was stocked  only in lower mile.


Cacapon Institute - From the Cacapon to the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay, we protect rivers and watersheds using science and education.

Cacapon Institute
PO Box 68
High View, WV 26808
304-856-1385 (tele)
304-856-1386 (fax)
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Frank Rodgers,  Executive Director

Website  made possible by funding from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation,  the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Virginia Environmental Endowment, NOAA-BWET, USEPA, The MARPAT Foundation, and our generous members.