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. 

In 2011, expect local/state officials to:
– claim it is an “unfunded mandate” for a Federal judge to require each city/county to clean up the excessive stormwater pollution (even though the pollution was created by urban/suburban development approved by officials in those political jurisdictions)
– demand that taxpayers from other parts of the US provide Federal subsidies to finance the BMP’s (which are required to correct the problems created by inappropriate developments that were approved by local/state officials)
– create fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding the science used by EPA to determine how much pollution the bay can absorb
– claim sprawl, particularly developments such as Avendale, is not a problem… and push for higher taxes/fees/tolls/borrowing that will fund even more roads

Waaaaay back in 1983, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and EPA signed a Chesapeake Bay Agreement to meet Clean Water Act standards by the year 2000.  We missed that deadline, and another one set for 2010.  Voluntary measures did a lot of good, but failed to reduce pollution enough.

A Federal judge determined that 27 years of voluntary measures was enough, and finally ordered EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.  To reduce  excessive pollution another 20-25%, Virginia has produced a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) identifying pollution control measures to be implemented by 2025.

Sometime after 2025, perhaps by 2050 (assuming everything is implemented and works as anticipated by EPA’s computer model), maybe the bay finally will meet water quality standards… assuming Prince William and other jurisdictions do more than whine, and actually correct the pollution that they generate.

4 comments so far

  1. Al Alborn on


    Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) has been fulfilling many of the requirements of the EPA mandate on a state and County level for years. In Prince William County, Master Gardener volunteers are trained in techniques to help businesses manage stormwater and benefit from tax breaks for doing so. They also have been working with homeowners for years to take soil samples from homeowner’s yards and gardens, send them to Virginia Tech for evaluation, and then make research based recommendations for lawn nutrients and amendments. Master Gardeners are also trained to advise homeowners on research based pest control best practices (once again, from Virginia Tech). VCE offers the most comprehensive set of Community training on a variety of lawn and garden best management practices in a number of areas. The community based volunteer nature of these services makes them a cost effective component of any strategy for reducing Prince William County’s TMDL. I would strongly suggest that now is a good time for Prince William County to take advantage of Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Master Gardener Volunteer program to broaden the scope of its program for the benefit of Prince William County and Virginia.


  2. cgrymes on

    Farmers have been implementing Best Management Practices for years now. Homeowners can do the same, such as:
    – planting shrubs/trees around edges of lawns to replace turfgrass
    – fertilizing only in the Fall, when it strengthens the roots of our lawn grass
    – capturing a little stormwater by placing rain barrels on our downspouts

    Cooperative Extension can help homeowners reduce stormwwater runoff from their property. County agencies, especially the school system, could use some technical assistance to implement nutrient management plans for their properties that would minimize stormwater-generated pollution.

    Realistically, however, this fast-growing county will not reduce pollution another 20-25% without changing the way we develop.

    Prince William County’s population is predicted to increase by over 30% in the next 20 years. Yes, we will be paving more acres. So how can we make room for over 100,000 more people, but lower pollution below existing levels?

    “More of the same” is not the right answer. If we keep repeating the same ol’ pattern followed since the Shirley Highway spurred development of Marumsco Woods, we’ll increase stormwater pollution. The Avendale development approved by the supervisors this year is a classic example of what *not* to do. Doing more of the same – but expecting different results – is a sign of insanity.

    One part of the answer: steer new growth to redevelop existing paved areas, especially along Route 1 highway, rather than approve projects in the Rural Area such as Avendale.

  3. Al Alborn on

    Changing the “culture” of the requirement ton surround homes with environtal “dead zones” is (IMHO) part of the solution. Focusing on less grass (reducing the requirement for chemicals and lawnmowers) and more native species and allowing more “wild places” on private property (particularly in the rural crescent and SRR) helps. While smart development is part of the answer, working with existing homeowners and businesses to implement research based best practices to manage storm water and reduce pollution is an important component of any solution. I would love to see the math (everything is a math problem) regarding the impact of focusing resources on different paths. I’m interested in the math regarding the impact of simply helping businesses and property owners make educated decisions regarding these issues. This is something we can do today… with a high probability of success.

  4. Janet Doyle on

    Hello. I anybody out there listening? Non-point source pollution in PWC is NOT the fault of the farmers. Farming has been conducted in this state since the settlers arrived in Jamestown.

    The reason that we are seeing so much non-point source pollution is because the Board is in the pockets of the greedy developers. It is the construction of houses at least 4 per acre that is pushing the nitrogen onto the lands of the neighbors and right dowm into the tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. It is covering over intermittent stream channels that are located 1.3 miles from the Occoquan and placing 3 houses on it as if it never existed. Not only did it exist, it will return and destroy the foundations of those homes. The removal of the intermittent stream channel function by the County is tantamount to fraud. People have a right to know what type of land their house is built on and the potential dangers.

    Further, what would possess a developer to place a stormwater management facility on the opposite end of the street as the natural flow of water from the aquifer into the private wells of homeowners. It is part of the big plan by the Board to systematically dry up people’s private wells and force them to pay to tie into pipeline for County water.

    There in a nutshell boys and girls, you have the disasterous outcomes in a county that relies on engineers to retrofit anything. There is no such word as retrofit in pure science because the word retrofit automatically implies that a mistake has been made. Pure scientists, i.e. biologists, chemists and physicists do it right the first time. They take ALL initial conditions of an area into consideration before they make a plan. Proffers be darned!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: