PWCA Comments on Virginia’s Phase II Chesapeake Bay Water Improvement Plan
Over the last 300 years, Prince William County has damaged its streams and polluted its waters. We have removed the natural forest cover, used creeks as sewers for sewage wastes, and piped excessive runoff from our roads directly into our waterways.
Not surprisingly, many of our lakes and streams are classified as “impaired” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
The Clean Water Act requires us to restore our natural streams to “fishable and swimmable” status. If we clean up the local waterways, then Prince William also will do its part to restore the Chesapeake Bay. After all, polluted water from Prince William flows downstream via the Potomac River to the bay. The solution to Save the Bay is for every jurisdiction upstream, even in West Virginia and New York, to clean up their local waterways.
The legal deadline to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay is now the year 2025, so we have about a dozen years to finish the job that we started when Virginia signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 1983.
That’s a reasonable requirement. Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans, with assessments (report cards) on progress every two years, is a logical way to gradually clean up our act. Local citizens want our creeks to be safe for both our children and our wildlife, and over 40 years to meet the original promise is plenty of time.
Prince William officials described in a January 31, 2012 letter how the county will meet the requirements of the legal mandate to reduce the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollution that our creeks can absorb. The county will implement and monitor Best Management Practices, including low impact development techniques and stormwater infrastructure improvements to mitigate polluted runoff from roads/development.
Other jurisdictions are making the same claim. If everyone meets their commitments, then we will see improvements in water quality in Northern Virginia and ultimately downstream in the Chesapeake Bay.
Of course, cleaning up our act will require new funding. Prince William is raising its stormwater fee, but no one enjoys paying higher fees. It will not be easy to maintain funding and momentum for another dozen years, in order to meet the 2025 requirement.
There is always the potential for that funding to be diverted away from the clean water projects, to be used for whatever local supervisors might judge to be higher priority. If Prince William and other jurisdictions gamble they will not be caught delaying Best Management Practices and redirect stormwater fees to other purposes, then we will not save the Bay as promised.
The state has a legal obligation to reduce current levels of water pollution, even as population in the watershed increases. To complete the cleanup, Virginia must oversee all jurisdictions in the state and ensure compliance with the TMDL plan for the bay. Expanding the water quality section of the Virginia Performs website (http://vaperforms.virginia.gov/) to include the details of each jurisdiction’s progress would be a constructive way to ensure everyone stays on course, and achievements can be measured through the year 2025.