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. Read more…
Jake Hosen, University of Maryland, gave a great talk on streams and what keeps them healthy on Thursday night (4/4), and followed it up Saturday morning with a guided walk through the flood plain of Cedar Run on Merrimac Farm to view the streams there.
Streams that flow year-round are known as perennial streams, while temporary streams have no water flow during some portion of the year.
There are two types of temporary streams. The first are intermittent streams which do not flow year round but are fed by groundwater during some portion of the year. The second type, ephemeral streams, receive water only from rain and never from groundwater so they usually flow less often than intermittent streams.
It turns out that streams are not only lovely to look at, they have many interesting characteristics. Streams are ubiquitous – there are approximately 1.6 million miles of 1st order streams, which are the smallest streams in a river network. Overall, in the continental United States and Hawaii a remarkable 59% of stream length is estimated to be temporary. Read more…
by Terry Reardon
Last Sunday (3/25), the Prince William Conservation Alliance’s first session of the Stream Stewards program kicked off with an eye-opening tour of two badly damaged streams, one in Hylbrook Park and the other half a mile away off Route 1 (view photos here). Both streams are high priority restoration candidates that illustrate the opportunities and challenges for Prince William County to protect local water quality and help save the Chesapeake Bay.
After remarks by County Supervisor Mike May about the challenges the county faces in restoring already damaged water resources and working to prevent future damage, County Environmental Engineer Clay Morris began by pointing out the Hylbrook Park stream’s precarious location in a heavily developed section of Woodbridge.
Morris pointed out several factors that would hinder the restoration of the stream that may not be immediately obvious to the lay conservationist. For example, there is only a narrow strip of ground on either side of the stream in which to work, leaving no space for the necessary easements, or an area for staging the restoration work. Most importantly, there is no room for the engineering of the stream bed to allow it to properly channel the large volume of water that rushes between its banks during a storm. Read more…
After 27 Years, EPA Defines Pollution Limits for Chesapeake Bay “TMDL” (Anticipated Cost in Prince William: Perhaps $300-350 Million)
Chesapeake Bay water quality is impaired because water flowing off urban/suburban areas and farmland is carrying too much nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment downstream. The bay is not healthy; we have dramatically damaged the populations of blue crabs, oysters, striped bass…
The sediment smothers oysters and clouds the water, killing underwater grasses and reducing food/habitat for aquatic life. The nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) cause damage by triggering excessive growth of algae. When the algae finally decays underwater, oxygen is depleted and everything dies in “dead zones.”
The Chesapeake Bay can absorb some pollution, but we have overloaded its capacity to handle the three major pollutants. To solve the problem (and bring the bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that each state can send downstream to the bay.
The TMDL limits issued by EPA today establish a “pollution diet” that will require a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. In Prince William County, the main source of that pollution comes from stormwater than runs off our roads, parking lots, rooftops, and over-fertilized lawns.
According to Wetland Studies and Solutions, a local firm with expertise in stormwater management, Prince William County may have to spend roughly $20-25 million/year, perhaps $300-350 million over the next 15 years to implement Best Management Practices (BMP’s) that control excessive locally-generated stormwater pollution.
Current and future residents will pay a high price now for three decades of county officials who approved blast-the-landscape developments that destroyed small intermittent streams, damaged larger perennial streams, and replaced forests with pavement without requiring streamside buffers to minimize pollution running into our creeks. Read more…
The majority of Supervisors approved developers 11th hour changes to the County’s new environmental policies… signaling their support for higher taxes this spring (and removing any doubt about who’s really in charge here).
Only two Supervisors disagreed – Mike May (Occoquan) and Frank Principi (Woodbridge) both supported the staff recommendation, which would have (1) discouraged development on slopes prone to landslides, (2) protected many intermittent streams, (3) raised the bar for stormwater runoff and (4) help save the Chesapeake Bay.
The standards recommended by staff would have helped reduce tax increases this spring for both the County budget and the Stormwater Fee. Stay tuned for more information…
Name: Swan’s Creek
Impacts: Flooding of downstream properties as well as damages to Quantico Creek, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Source of impacts: Uncontrolled stormwater runoff from the construction of the road at Harbor Station development (Cherry Hill Peninsula)
Estimated costs to taxpayers to mitigate flooding of downstream properties: $1,000,000 (Upper Swan’s Creek Stabilization Project)
It was December 7 (Pearl Harbor day), so a last-minute surprise proposal to alter the Environment Chapter should have been expected after 18 months of public debate.
However, four county supervisors questioned the legitimacy of voting on a back room “compromise” that had been crafted in secret with just the developers.
The proposed changes to the draft chapter were revealed only after the public hearing was closed, ensuring no public review or comment – except the developers were given a special opportunity to speak after the public hearing was closed. That’s fair and balanced, right?
The Board ended up deferring action on the last-minute changes, including the definition of significant non-RPA streams and the identification of areas with steep slopes, until December 14.
Do a little math in advance of that meeting:
- Prince William needs to reduce existing stormwater pollution to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards for sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous
- Prince William’s population is projected to grow by 33% over the next 20 years, adding even more pollution
- a Federal judge is requiring EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act standards (27 years after Virginia committed to Save the Bay)
And we should do… nothing?
Prince William Can Lead On Immigration, But On Environmental Policy… We Gotta Wait For the Feds to Fix It?
The Board of County Supervisors has had no problem asserting its perspective on social issues that involve state/Federal responsibilities, including immigration and abortion. County officials have already rejected the “wait for the Feds to fix it” philosophy.
However, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (NVBIA) is proposing in a November 29 letter that the county postpone a decision on the Environment Chapter. The NVBIA recommends that the Board of County Supervisors abdicate its responsibility to set policy for new development. NVBIA proposes that Prince William do nothing until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies tell us exactly how to reduce locally-generated stormwater that pollutes our drinking water supplies and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
The supervisors know that the Comprehensive Plan is a big-picture policy document. Why should the BOCS delay saying the Prince William values clean water, and that new development should protect our existing streams? If we delay delay delay until the Feds finally impose mandatory controls so Prince William complies with the Clean Water Act, local officials will lose flexibility in making future land use decisions.
Developers benefit from the current “build anything, anywhere” policy. However, if supervisors wait for that interest group to give the green light for environmental protection, they probably think people in Hades need ice skates.
The Environment Chapter update proposed by the Planning Commission encourages implementation of policies that were adopted in 2003, but then ignored. For example, in 2003 the Environment Chapter recommended 50’ buffers for all intermittent streams. It’s time to re-affirm and then implement that guidance.
Just last week, Beazer Homes agreed to pay nearly $1 million after the EPA found Clean Water Act violations at their development sites in Prince William and elsewhere. Local government is supposed to be enforcing the rules and shares responsibility for protecting streams. Let’s start with clear policy guidance in the Comprehensive Plan.
There are no immediate, direct fiscal impacts associated with adopting the updated Environment Chapter – but we all know that new EPA pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay and new Virginia stormwater standards will require Prince William to pollute less, despite predicted population growth. That won’t be easy or free – but EPA is not going to give Prince William the option of polluting more.
Supervisors face a clear choice when they vote on the Environment Chapter update. Will we shape our future through local decisions or abdicate responsibility for local land use, allow business-as-usual development and stand on the sidelines until EPA imposes penalties for noncompliance with the Clean Water Act? Read more…
Guest post by Henry Bibber
The Board of County Supervisors will hold a public hearing on December 7, at 7:30 p.m. County residents who favor increased protections for our environment should urge their Supervisors to adopt this Update.
The Update recommended by the Planning Commission is a good compromise between the views of environmental activists on one side and of developers on the other.
It recommends incrementally stronger controls on development in order to protect our natural environment, but nothing radically new – all of the concepts advocated for protecting our natural environment are in use in nearby jurisdictions or are on the verge of being required by state and Federal regulations. Read more…
As part of a settlement agreement applauded by all, including Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Beazer Homes has agreed to pay a $925,000 fine to settle Clean Water Act violations identified by the EPA at 362 development sites in 21 states.
Certainly the number and extent of the violations at Beazer Homes development sites points to a nationwide pattern of noncompliance and widespread damages to waterways. Expensive clean ups will be needed and these are likely to exceed the amount of the fine. Virginia receives only $10,193 as part of the settlement, which won’t cover much, leaving taxpayers holding the bag once again.
Considering this, it could seem like Beazer Homes got off lightly. However, and more importantly, Beazer Homes has also agreed to implement a company-wide stormwater program that meets the EPA standards outlined in the settlement agreement.
This should cause some changes to business-as-usual at Beezer Homes (or at least improve their record for securing permits) and help avoid future needs for costly taxpayer-funded fixes after the damage is done.
Violations at two Prince William developments were included in the Consent Decree – New Bristow Village in Bristow and Market Center in Haymarket. We had several calls today from people wondering why the EPA was needed to address violations in Prince William. Doesn’t the County have enforcement authority? Did they drop the ball? Read more…