Will the supervisors imitate ostriches? Will the pavers pay, or will the taxpayers get stuck with the bill?

The Federal Clean Water Act limits pollution from”point sources” such as sewage plants and factories.   The 19 point sources in Prince William County with Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, including the wastewater treatment plants and the Possum Point Power Station, meet the requirements of the law.

In addition to point sources, the law limits pollution from “non-point” sources – primarily stormwater runoff from agricultural fields and the impervious surfaces of cities and suburbs. The remaining farmers and the horse owners in Prince William are using state/Federal grants to fence pastures away from creeks, moving animals and their manure away from the water.

Soon, it will be time to control the stormwater from development, old and new.

The EPA and a Federal court have mandated that polluters of the Chesapeake Bay must clean up their act.  Now it’s time for Prince William officials to demonstrate if they are ostriches with their head in the sand, or are looking down the road to minimize future taxes on local voters.

EPA has released the schedule for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.  County officials know now that the Potomac River exceeds the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen and phosphorous.  No one needs to wait for the EPA calculations to recognize that we also exceed the levels for sediment pollution.

Prince William must reduce current levels of stormwater pollution, yet we expect to add 120,000 new residents by 2025.  New residents = new development = new pollution.

So… will Prince William officials take any action, using the “stitch in time” approach?

The Board of County Supervisors could do nothing until detailed Watershed Implementation Plans are provided in November, 2011.  Those plans, part of Phase II of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, will define local pollution limits.  State agencies will define how much nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment can flow from Prince William County into the Potomac River.  “Do Nothing” will not be an option; the limits will be backed up by EPA and a Federal court overseeing the consent decree to finally Save the Bay.

Check your calendars – on November 8, 2011, Prince William voters will be electing a new Board of County Supervisors.   Some current supervisors, or potential candidates, might choose to be proactive in seeking solutions now, rather than waiting until the last minute.

Current zoning and site plan approvals are lax in protecting streams from stormwater.  For example, unless a stream scores 25 points in a Perennial Flow Determination and is defined as “perennial,” developers can pave over it, piping the water into a stormwater pond that controls the speed of runoff but not the quality of the water.

Take a look at the road or parking lot, next time you get out of your car – think that’s clean?  We’re pouring pollution from pavement into our creeks, and the developers that create the impervious surfaces are increasing future costs to someone (taxpayers, maybe?) to clean up their mess.

The “do nothing until the last minute” option is really a “soak the local taxpayers by perpetuating stormwater subsidies for developers” option.  If the developers who make a profit converting fields/forests to roofs/roads don’t have to eliminate the additional pollution created by that development… well, there’s no Fairy Godmother about to write the check.  If developers keep getting a subsidized/free ride, then taxpayers will get stuck with the bill.

Remember, EPA is no longer asleep at the switch.  Someone will have to pay.

We’re not alone.  All Northern Virginia jurisdictions will have to reduce pollution levels below our current amounts to Save the Bay by 2025, and all Northern Virginia jurisdictions expect significant population growth.  Some of those jurisdictions will act early to modify existing development standards.  Some jurisdictions will minimize nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment runoff, reducing the total that will be created by new houses, new roads, new commercial centers.

Other jurisdictions will be laggards, and some supervisors may pretend nothing needs to be done until late in 2011.  We’ll know soon enough in Prince William, when the supervisors approve new chapters for the Comprehensive Plan, if some (or even all) of our officials should be classified as large flightless birds.


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