Keeping the Potomac, The Politics of Water


“More than six million people live in the Potomac Watershed. Whether they know it or not, some of the very infrastructure that supports their modern lifestyle is poisoning the Potomac River.”

Keeping the Potomac: The Politics of Water tells the stories of Mark Frondorf, Brent Walls, and Dean Najouks; who are dedicating their lives to protecting the river from polluters. The film is divided into three parts based on each area of the river the Riverkeeper protects.

Mark Frondorf explains his efforts to stem agricultural nutrient pollution along the Shenandoah River in Virginia and West Virginia, a major tributary to the Potomac. Farmers that allow cattle to enter and defecate in the river put a high bacteria load into the water and this is a major problem for the Chesapeake Bay. Mark works with farmers to help them adapt best management practices which are cheap and effective at preventing this pollution. Since the film’s release, the U.S. Forest Service has revised its Grazing Management Plan along the Shenandoah River to no longer allow cattle herds to directly access the river; thanks to efforts by Mark and colleagues.

Brent Walls has been battling a pipeline in Allegany County, Maryland that pumps effluent from a Westernport paper mill and wastewater treatment plant into the upper Potomac River. Each day the pipe discharges 20 million gallons of industrial paper waste from an outdated filtration system; exposing the river to high temperatures, sediments, high nutrient load, chemicals, and tannens that create a mile-long discoloration visible from space. The treatment plant has a permit from the Maryland Government allowing it to violate the Clean Water Act; which lawsuits by the Riverkeepers Network have been attempting to reduce discharge limits for years.

Brent’s latest comments:

“We have yet to hear from the State Appeals board on our challenge of the UPRC discharge permit. It has been over 2 years in waiting. However, I do have good news. Our organization along with Trout Unlimited will be working with MDE and other state agencies on a Cold water advisory committee. We will be reviewing the stream classifications for the State to develop better protections for streams that have trout species, but do not maintain the cold water temperatures for the full 12 months of the year. This will help us to classify the North branch based on the water temperature data collected by MD DNR. That data shows that the North Branch maintains cold temperatures pass the UPRC discharge accept during two months out of the year. This will help us to require UPRC to maintain a lower temperature through the year so that the Trout species can thrive.

Our pending appeal gets at the nutrients and sediment impacts of the UPRC discharge on the North Branch.”

Another problem has forced itself upon the Upper Potomac; the Potomac Pipeline, a Columbia Gas project. Read about the Potomac Pipeline Permit Approval by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and educate yourself as a citizen and member of the six million whose drinking water will be at risk. Brent will be aggressively monitoring this project if it goes forward.

Dean Najouks has been working relentlessly to decrease the impact of coal ash disposal ponds at Possum Point Power Plant in Dumfries, Virginia, on the lower Potomac. Dominion Power asserts that their containment ponds do not leak toxic contaminants into the groundwater; but accumulating evidence shows it does; and into nearby wells causing health problems in residents. On March 2, 2018, Dominion issued its federally required report describing levels of groundwater contamination from leaking coal ash ponds at Possum Point and three other Virginia sites. Potomac Riverkeepers Network led a successful fight in the Virginia House of Delegates to pass SB 807; which establishes a moratorium on any closure using the discredited cap-in-place approach, and moves us a big step closer to using recycling and landfill disposal to permanently remove this toxic waste from our riverbanks.
But the Danger of Scott Pruitt’s EPA lurks on the horizon. EPA is proposing to amend the regulations for the disposal of coal combustion residuals. Essentially these amendments will “weaken or eliminate the first ever federal safeguards and protections against the dangers posed by coal ash, in response to requests from an industry that wants to maximize its profits,” says Dean.
As a concerned citizen you can speak in the public hearing on Tuesday, April 24 (9AM–12PM; 1–4PM; 5–8PM,) register HERE.

Mark, Brent, and Dean continue to fight valiantly for our river to be enjoyed for recreation and well-being; for the citizens of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC, as well as the fish, birds, crustaceans, and diverse array of wildlife that call it their home. But they can’t do it alone! If you want to stay updated and take part in their efforts, visit and subscribe to their newsletter.

Keeping the Potomac; the Politics of Water has been broadcasted during 2017’s Chesapeake Bay Weak on Maryland Public Television, and on PBS WORLD Channel. The film received many accolades, including the Student Film Award at the American Conservation Film Festival, the ACFF’s Best of the Fest in Frederick, MD, and was screened at the Skyline Indie Film Fest and the DC Environmental Film Festival.

Please share to keep these river health issues fresh in our communities mind. A healthy river means a healthy community!


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