PWC’s New Pollution Diet to Save the Bay

Guest post by Amy Wilson

I attended PWCA’s November 4 talk about how Prince William County residents will be affected by efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia’s promises to help “Save the Bay” have been around as long as I can remember, and believe me, I’m not that young.  But over the decades of promises, I have not seen much change, and it’s been pretty discouraging.

I have picked up the tips for homeowners and residents on how we can help save the Bay, and put them into practice. I don’t use fertilizer or pesticides on my lawn or garden, unless absolutely necessary, and when I use them, I follow the label instructions carefully. I participate in stream cleanups and properly dispose of used motor oil and pet waste.

It’s clear to me that these actions, while definitely necessary, are not sufficient. I am glad to do my bit, but even if we all do what we can at home, we can’t make up for what we are doing collectively as a community.

The meeting helped me understand what needs to happen, and what more I can do. Marc Aveni, Prince William County Watershed Management Division Chief, and Charlie Grymes, Chairman of PWCA, made it clear that at this point, it’s come down to money.

In a Nutshell

Basically, Virginia and its neighbors who share the Bay’s watershed have not done enough and now, after decades of voluntary efforts (or at least lip service), the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is stepping in to mandate improvements, primarily via the institution of “Total Maximum Daily Loads” (TMDLs) for the primary “culprits” that degrade the Bay’s water quality: nitrogen, phosphorous and sediments. A TMDL is basically a guideline for a “pollution diet” – the total number of “pollution calories,” if you will, that are allotted over a given region.

In Prince William County, two significant areas of water pollution are already being addressed: wastewater treatment plants have installed the best available technology, and incentive programs are in place to improve agricultural practices that contribute to runoff (such as fences to keep livestock out of streams).

Promises – easy to make, hard to deliver

We’ve promised to go on a pollution diet for decades, and the Bay’s health has suffered while we’ve made one excuse after another.  But now EPA has taken the role of the family doctor, sitting us down for the bad news: we’ve reached the point where we have to get serious about our diet program, or else we’ll have to pay the piper.

The biggest area where we have the opportunity – and the need – to improve is in stormwater runoff. This includes all the runoff from impervious surfaces, such as the roads, parking lots and rooftops we are increasing so quickly with residential and commercial development. Rain that falls on these surfaces picks up pollutants and sediments on its way to gutters, culverts, constructed stormwater management ponds and surface streams, and then from all of these places it ultimately flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

Despite the slowdown in development as a result of the recent economic downturn, growth is still our biggest challenge. As our population increases and we build schools and homes, widen existing roads and build new ones, and construct drugstores, shopping centers and office buildings, we create more runoff. To go back to the “diet” metaphor, we’re already over our “calorie budget,” and the future looks like one long holiday season of never-ending treats to tempt us to overindulge even more.

Choices for Prince William Communities

What this means for our local government and for us as individual citizens is that have no choice anymore: we must come up with a plan to live within our means, pollution-wise. If we don’t figure out how to meet our TMDLs, we’ll end up paying enforcement fines and/or no longer be issued the environmental permits that are needed for future development. We can choose now, or have the choices made for us.

There are many options available to us:

  • We could require developers to pay more to offset stormwater management inspections and maintenance for the lifetime of their projects
  • Require property owners to maintain and upgrade existing stormwater technology
  • Increase the fees that property owners pay to fund stormwater management (homeowners in Prince William County currently pay just over $26.00 annually, as part of our property tax schedule – these fees are much higher in some other Virginia jurisdictions)
  • Reduce development
  • Start using “green” building approaches, such as green roofs and parking lots, to reduce runoff
  • Explore other options.

What this week’s program made clear to me is that the future will not be more of the same. We will not be able to continue putting this problem off to solve in the future.

If we, the citizens, care about how our government approaches this issue, we need to provide some input to our local representatives on the Board of Supervisors and keep an eye on the plans that are made. One way or another, we will be the ones paying for this, so we should decide what is the smartest way to use our money. Some “diets” are smarter than others.

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1 comment so far

  1. Elizabeth Ward on

    Prince William County is holding public hearings on the environmental chapter of the PWC Comprehensive Plan on December 7th at 7:30 pm at the PWC offices at the McCoart Building at One County Complex Ct., Woodbridge, VA. If you have an interest and are local you should be there.
    How the Commonwealth and the county meet Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL water quality standards is important to all residents. If nonpoint sources do not accomplish the loading reductions identified to EPA’s satisfaction or “reasonable assurances” then, more stringent effluent limits will be applied to CWA permits for point sources. Prince William County is already installing the latest technology at our HL Mooney Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant and we need to look elsewhere for nutrient pollution reductions.
    The final TMDL are scheduled to be met by December 31, 2011 and according to comments submitted to the EPA by Prince William County everything from construction site runoff to individual lawn fertilization, limitations on backyard chickens, and horse ownership could be under the microscope in order to meet the new TMDL within the framework of the EPA Chesapeake Bay pollution models. The federal TMDL could eventually mean more monitoring, reporting and possibly even more staff at the county level, though Prince William County Public Works believes they can meet the demands by fully staffing the two vacant FTEs.


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