NAVIGATE IN SECTION Up ] Cacapon Interactive Map ] RBPvsSOS ] Revisit Baseline ]

Current Studies

In recent years, West Virginia's Potomac drainage rivers and their watersheds have become threatened by development, and industrial and agricultural growth. To determine the effects of these changes in the watershed, our research program focuses on identifying and testing innovative solutions to environmental problems, as well as continuing water quality data collections in the Cacapon River. 

bullet Deer exclusion fencing experiment is designed to test an innovative and relatively low cost method to protect riparian forest plantings from destructive or even catastrophic damage from deer browsing activities.

Riparian Forest Plantings

Deer exclusion fencing experiment is testing a relatively low cost method to protect riparian forest plantings from severe damage from deer browsing.

Read about the WV PTS Forested Riparian Buffer Demonstration Project.  2nd & 3rd year results posted.


At left see slide show of a new riparian tree planting and deer fence construction project at the Prospect Hall facility near Middleway, WV.



Farmers as Producers of Clean Water: Providing Economic Incentives for Reducing Agricultural Non-point Pollution. 


The purpose of this experiment is to examine farmersí willingness and ability to respond to performance-based conservation payments.  Our experimental watershed, Cullers Run, is located in a rural area of the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, USA. 

bulletPotomac Headwaters Stream Flow Restoration Project
bulletWe began this project in September 2003 with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants Program.  The project will extend over two years and will assess a novel approach to increasing stream flow during low flow periods.  Click here to learn more.
bullet2007 VA/WV Water Research Symposium Report is here.
bulletCacapon River Monitoring Program
bulletMonitoring of the Cacapon for its full length at twelve sites is Nicole in the lab (click to enlarge photo) conducted monthly for major parameters, including temperature, turbidity (muddiness), nutrients (nitrate and phosphorus) and  fecal coliform bacteria. The aim, of course, is to detect change, especially deterioration in water quality, and determine the cause and possible solutions.  The project is funded by our membership and general support funding from The MARPAT Foundation.
bulletSpecial Studies: The Effects of Pollution Reduction on a Wild Trout Stream. This is a unique project that assessed the biological and water quality impacts of installing an treatment system on a trout rearing facility's effluent stream.  We worked with Friends of Spring Runís 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. This project is funded primarily by West Virginia Conservation Agencyís participation through the Chesapeake Bay Program.  
bulletSpecial Projects: 
bulletBetween 1999 and 2002, Cacapon Institute partnered with WV University Extension Service, the Hampshire County Feeder Calf Producers, Romney-based Gourmet Central, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and WVU Animal Sciences Department on a  project to produce premium grade "eco-friendly" beef.  The product, Petite Beef by Headwater FarmsTM, was locally produced on West Virginia family farms and sold directly to the customer, raised without antibiotics or hormones, and raised mostly on grass. 
bulletCacapon Institute served on the WV Nutrient Criteria Committee to help develop nutrient criteria for the waters of the State of West Virginia.  As a courtesy tot he group, we housed documents (minutes, backgrounders, proposed criteria, plans) developed by the committee. 

A Bit of History: Major Water Quality programs

The Institute's work builds on the groundbreaking baseline study of the Cacapon River begun in 1988.  This baseline was acknowledged at the time as the most detailed scientific picture of an entire river ever completed.


Cacapon and Greenbrier River Baseline Studies, 1989 - 1995

Goal: establish baseline conditions to enable enforcement of antidegradation regulations


Cacapon Baseline Benthic Macroinvertebrate Study

Goal: use benthic macroinvertebrates as tool to assess health of Cacapon River.


Cacapon River Monitoring Phase I, 1996-2002

Goal: develop long-term water quality trend data at 5 sites


Lost River and North River Water Quality Studies, 1997-2002

Goal: relate water quality to land use, with an emphasis on agriculture


Comparison of Save Our Streams and Professional Stream Assessment Methods, 2000

Goal: conduct quantitative comparison of volunteer and professional biological stream assessment methods.


Cacapon Monitoring Phase II, 2002 - present

Goal: continue collecting trend data with additional 7 sites from LR and NR study.


Revisit Cacapon Baseline, Summer 2005

Goal: Revisit Cacapon baseline sites to assess habitat change


Periphyton Study: proposed

Goal: increase specificity of relationship between periphyton and nutrients in support of nutrient criteria development process

Cacapon River Baseline study

The Institute's current scientific work builds on the groundbreaking baseline study of the Cacapon River, begun in 1988 by the organization's founder, George Constantz, and completed and published in Portrait of A River: The Ecological Baseline of the Cacapon River (now available on the web, 2.5 mb, PDF) in 1993.  This study was acknowledged as the most detailed scientific picture of an entire river ever completed.  It is now in its second edition and has been sent, by request, to all 50 states and four countries.  The baseline study found that the Cacapon River was relatively healthy, but burdened by pollution created by certain land uses, particularly in the Lost River headwaters region.  The Lost River, in part because of data obtained in the baseline study, has been classified as not meeting the state and federal standards for recreational rivers. 

Greenbrier River Baseline study

In 1992, at the invitation of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association, the Cacapon Institute began an intensive baseline study of the water quality and ecological health of the Greenbrier River in southeastern West Virginia.  Four years later, the results were published in "Greenbrier: A Scientific Portrait of a West Virginia River".

The study found that, overall, the Greenbrier River's water quality is very good.  It supports the river's legally- designated uses, which include swimming, fishing and as a source of drinking water.  However, at times, particularly after rainstorms, the river is burdened by non point source pollutants that wash into the river from surrounding lands.

Cacapon Baseline Benthic macroinvertebrate study

(Now available on the web.  Learning From Life on the Bottom: Streambed creatures provide clues to the Cacapon's health.  An addendum to Portrait of a River: The Ecological Baseline of the Cacapon River.  Cacapon Volume 8 No. 2 (163 KB, PDF))

As part of the Cacapon River baseline study from 1988-1992, benthic macroinvertebrates were collected.  These are the small animals without backbones (invertebrates) that live on the river bottom (benthos) and are visible without magnification (macro).  These animals are often used to provide important clues to the river's health because they are biological indicators.  An indicator species is one that, by its presence, absence or abundance relative to other organisms, indicates environmental conditions.

This study, published in 1998, found that overall the river is relatively healthy.  Diverse benthic communities were found throughout the Cacapon watershed.  In the Lost River headwaters, however, unexpectedly high species diversity suggests moderate nutrient enrichment.  This is of concern.  If the river's nutrient load increases, numerous studies suggest benthic communities will suffer.  Just as too much fertilizer on a lawn can kill grass, too many nutrients in a stream can overwhelm life. 

Lost and North Rivers Water Quality Study

The major focus of this research project was to determine the effect of land use practices and non-point source pollution on rivers and watersheds. The project focused especially, but not only, on farming practices and land development. The Lost River (headwaters of the Cacapon) contains the major study sites because of the heavy concentration of poultry houses, and hence the heavy application of nutrient-rich poultry litter as fertilizer, in those two watersheds and because there is some increase in land development in those two places. The North River (a major tributary of the Cacapon), still a relatively pristine stream, was used as a control watershed. Funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Potomac Headwaters Resource Alliance and our members.  Check out our new Interactive Maps of these study areas!

South Branch of the Potomac Water Quality Study

The South Branch of the Potomac water quality study was complementary to the Lost and North Rivers study.  The South Branch watershed, much larger than the Lost, contains municipal and industrial point sources and varying levels of agricultural intensity; it was included to determine if water quality patterns in the Lost River were typical of other Potomac Headwater streams.  Funded by USFWS and Potomac Headwaters Resource Alliance.

Comparison of Save Our Streams and Professional Stream Assessment Methods, Year 2000

In recent years, the science of using animals to assess the vitality of a river ecosystem has gone public. Volunteer monitoring programs, such as the Isaak Walton League's pioneering Save Our Streams (SOS) program, have sprouted up around the country. The SOS and other volunteer methods are similar in general design to the methods used by professionals, but tailored to the capabilities of non-professionals. 

Cacapon Institute (CI) received funding from the WVDNR Non-Game Program to compare results from WVís volunteer SOS monitoring and the more scientifically rigorous Rapid Bioassessment Protocol (RBPII) stream assessment methods used by WVís Division of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Both methods assess stream health using benthic macroinvertebrates, the small animals without backbones (invertebrates) that live on the river bottom (benthos) and are visible without magnification (macro).  This project would not have been possible without the substantial cooperation of WVDEP's Watershed Assessment Program (WAP). To learn more, click here.


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

Cacapon Institute
#10 Rock Ford Road
Great Cacapon, WV 25422
304-258-8013 (tele)

Click here to send us an email
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.