Franklin County boasts the quintessential southwestern Virginia beauty, with the Blue Ridge Mountains on its parameters, a lush, rolling landscape, and numerous waterways coursing throughout. When highlighting the latter treasure, there is no stream more familiar than the Pigg River.
The locally famous Pigg River not only circulates through much of the county but is primarily — and symbolically — present in Franklin’s very heart, Rocky Mount, underscoring the river’s pivotal role in the community’s establishment, whose banks hopeful iron entrepreneurs settled along in the 18th century. In the present day, it serves as a principal point for community camaraderie, including leisurely recreation and the beloved Pigg River Ramble (at least in the halcyon days of when such pleasures existed). But while the river has been a staple in our community, it has also been mistreated for too long.
In spring 2021, I lab-tested the Pigg River for the presence of E. coli, a bacterial species found primarily in mammalian feces, to which I received an overwhelmingly affirmative result. The following summer, I worked with Virginia Tech to further address the water quality of my stream, and it was then that I discovered a river I cherished has been designated as impaired for fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) since 1996: a concern that is not only repulsive but warns of lurking pathogenic species, as well. In an ever-evolving world as ours, attempts to eradicate FIB from waterways are mostly done in vain; however, when levels surpass state-mandated standards, as the Pigg River has for many years, the public is increasingly imperiled for exposure to potentially fatal microorganisms.
Local government should not be expected to take the Pigg River off the impaired list on its own, but I do call for an improvement in raising public awareness of the dangers looming below the surface, such as educating stakeholders on how they contribute to this impairment and enthusing them to act. Water quality is paramount to maintaining public health, which consequently fosters community prosperity — and let us recall that if we cannot trust the government to promote our welfare, all else is lost.
Nora Shanahan, Rocky Mount