Occoquan Reservoir – A Rare Gem Worth Protecting

It may seem to most folks, if they think about it at all, that the Occoquan Reservoir is doing fine. It is true that major improvements were made in the 1970’s when Fairfax County down-zoned 41,000 acres and purchased 5,000 acre on the north side of the reservoir to prevent pollution. Also, the UOSA sewage treatment plant replaced the numerous polluting plants then in existence on the reservoir.

So why should we spend more effort (and money) to further improve the water quality of a reservoir that’s doing ok? Because ok is not good enough- the reservoir’s health is still far from what it could be, and what it once was.

Sedimentation input results in knee-deep mud along the bottom of the reservoir that reduces water capacity and aquatic diversity, the clarity of the water is poor, aquatic grasses grow unchecked that inhibit fish stocks and diversity, and on and on.

The reality is that more work still needs to be done. The challenges are somewhat different now, but they still need to be addressed, now more than ever.

The reservoir is impacted by sediment runoff from new development and stormwater runoff problems. Chemical pollution from treatment processes and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics, hormones and steroids flow from the sewage treatment plant into the reservoir. Nutrient pollution from improper lawn and garden treatment remains an issue. The list is long.

The Occoquan Reservoir is a rare gem in our increasingly developed area. It is already an irreplaceable drinking water source for 1.7 million people.

It can be an oasis from the cement and asphalt world that many of our children endure. It can be a green space that binds a community together, like Central Park in New York. It can be a place to swim, fish, enjoy clear water, beautiful rock formations, birds such as Herons and Eagles, and naturally diversified wildlife in the water, air and on land.

We can do better and if we do, the Occoquan Reservoir area will be an economic and environmental boon for the county.

The Occoquan Overlay District now under consideration by the county is an excellent tool to start to achieve this goal. The intent of this overlay district is to increase protection for the Occoquan Reservoir and its tributaries by promoting new and existing processes that minimize point and nonpoint source pollution and by minimizing housing density in sensitive areas. You can read more about the Overlay District as it progresses at midcopw.net and pwconserve.org.


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