Why Is Neabsco Creek “Impaired,” Not Safe For Human Contact?

Since 2002, Neabsco Creek has been on the dirty water list maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) according to Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.  Neabsco Creek is officially listed as “impaired” because it fails to meet minimum standards for human contact under the Clean Water Act.  Fecal coliform bacteria (E. coli) concentrations are excessive.

In 2008, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) completed the “so what do we do to fix the problem” report.  The state agency’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study included Biological Source Tracking research, which found bacteria from humans, pets, lifestock, and wildlife – but wildlife was clearly the dominant polluter.

Question: Why are wildlife putting so much waste into Neabsco Creek?   Can we just blame the ducks for polluting the stream, and ignore the problem because the excessive bacteria come from a natural source?

Answer:  Suburban development in Dale City has eliminated most of the natural habitat.  We have crowded wildlife into a thin corridor of vegetation remaining along the stream.  New development must comply with the Chesapeake Bay regulations, leaving an undisturbed buffer 100 feet wide on either side of a perennial stream, but those regulations were issued long after the first “dales” were developed.

Ducks, squirrels, raccons, and other wildlife are concentrated in an un-natural way (see image of how development has altered the landscape, below).  Normally, animals would spread out more.  Normally, forested land would intercept much of the rainfall, causing it to sink slowly into the ground.  Nornally, waste products would be absorbed into the soil, becoming nutrients that fuel growth of plants on land rather than pollution in streams.

Now, we have paved most of the forests and fields in the Neabsco Creek watershed.  Raindops become stormwater that races downhill, rather than soaks into the ground.  Fast-moving stormwater carries wildlife waste, fertilizer from lawns, oil/grease from roads, and other pollutants directly into Neabsco Creek.

The TMDL study completed for Neabsco Creek in 2008 identified a need to reduce bacteria by 75% in order to meet Clean Water Act requirements.  Bacteria is not the only problem, however.  An additional TMDL study, being completed now for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, will establish limits for how much sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous Prince William can dump into its creeks.

Can the county fail to meet Clean Water Act requirements?   Can we just reclassify a natural stream as a sewer, and just walk away from the problem at Neabsco Creek?  No, the state requires compliance through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit VA0088595 for stormwater… and a Federal judge is requiring compliance with the Clean Water Act for saving the Chesapeake Bay.

And no, exterminating the remaining wildlife between Hoadly and Route 1, so there’s no more wildlife-created waste, is not an acceptable “final solution” either.


1 comment so far

  1. JG on

    I wonder how accurate DEQ’s assessment is that wildlife is the main culprit. Sewage lines run parallel to the creek for a good portion of it sometimes within a couple feet of the creek. Don’t think it would be out of the realm of possibility that sewage is leaking into the creek.

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