Saving the Bay Begins at Home

This past October the EPA released a report confirming the Chesapeake Bay Program’s news that “increases in pollution due to development have surpassed the gains achieved to date from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices.”

More recently, the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) 2008 dirty waters report shows that 85% of assessed waters are polluted. More than half of Virginia’s waterways drain to the Chesapeake Bay. This includes all of Prince William, where the dirty waters list includes all waterways along our Potomac River shoreline, the Occoquan Reservoir and more.

After 20 years of trying, we’re no closer to a clean Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, we seem to be backsliding. So what’s the problem? Although we hear plenty about the need to save the Bay, there’s considerably less information on exactly what we need to do to make this happen.

According to Chesapeake Bay Program Director Jeff Lape, one important thing we need to do is to “fundamentally change how we build new homes, roads and businesses.”

Here government could take a huge step forward by abandoning the “do as I say not as I do” approach. Roads, schools and ball fields that cover wetlands, floodplains and headwater streams with hardened surfaces create poor examples for developers and diminish the quality of our communities.

In addition, this type of poorly planned project adds unnecessary burdens to taxpayers. How much sense does it make to pay the fees for wetland impacts (usually transferred to areas outside Prince William)… only to pay again to mitigate the damages that result downstream? How many extra ball fields do we need to make up for those we can’t use regularly because they are periodically flooded? How do we feel about schools built on wetlands, where our children will be taught they must help save the Chesapeake Bay?

And, while the original cost to purchase the land might be cheaper, the added costs of building on sites with poor drainage, bad soils, steep slopes and wetlands can result in significant budget overruns.

Right now it appears certain that we will not have a clean Chesapeake Bay by 2010 as “promised.” But we will have a choice: give up or get serious about solving the problems.

Saving the Bay – not to mention our public drinking water supplies – won’t be easy or cheap. The best place to start is close to home, where our investments will improve the quality our communities as well as help save the Chesapeake Bay.

– Kim

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4 comments so far

  1. Matt on

    Just FYI, the “About” tab needs to be edited. Great blog!

  2. kgotthardt on

    The county seems to love golf. Nothing against golf courses, but are these on wetlands also?

  3. khosen on

    I’m not sure about which golf courses are built on wetlands, but you’re right in saying that Prince William loves golf courses.

    In 2000, there were 2060 acres of golf courses in the Occoquan watershed, and 1,080 acres of these were in Prince William County.

    The Occoquan Watershed includes Prince William, Fairfax, Fauquier and a little piece of Loudoun… Prince William makes up about 40% of the land area in the Occoquan watershed but has 52% of total number of golf course acres.

    Even without considering direct impacts to wetlands, golf courses are not good for clean water. The effect of a golf course on water quality is comparable that of an area developed with half-acre houses, which is about 25% impervious surface.

    Within a small watershed, when more than 50% of the total acres are golf courses the result is moderate to severe degradation of water quality – waterways that are not suitable for drinking, swimming or fishing.

    The quantity of fertilizers applied to turfgrass is about the same as that used on cropland, and the potential for these to leach to groundwater is high.

    The Integrated Pest Management control strategies used by many golf courses reduce pesticide use by 50%. Even so, golf courses still use three to four times the amount of pesticides as cropfields. Birds and other wildlife are frequent victims of turfgrass pesticides.

    To my knowledge, Prince William doesn’t have a requirement for Integrated Pest Management and most were built awhile ago anyway. One thing I’ve heard about is the Audubon Society’s sanctuary program for golf courses, intended to encourage preservation of the environment, more info is online here http://www.audubonintl.org/programs/acss/golf.htm One step in the right direction!

  4. kgotthardt on

    Good information! Thanks! I knew golf courses weren’t environmentally friendly, and I cringe when I hear we are getting more of them, not only because they take up acres of land that could be preserved, but because that means park money is not being invested in open space and trails.

    Furthermore, when was the last time you saw mature trees in a golf course? The way this county allows developers to mow down trees, it is a wonder we have any left at all.


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