Monday, September 13, 2010

Virginia’s Watershed Implementation Plan

Virginia's secretary of natural resources, Doug Domenech, submitted Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 3, 2010, two days later than requested. There may be some political message in that action beyond a tendency to procrastinate, who knows, maybe his dog ate it. The plan begins with the simple acknowledgement that:
“The Chesapeake Bay is truly a national treasure and an ecological wonder. As Virginians, we have an obligation to protect this incredible resource, and we are all committed to ensuring a clean and vibrant Chesapeake Bay for future generations to enjoy and cherish.”

In his cover letter, Secretary Domenech said: “Having only received our nitrogen and phosphorous allocations July 1, and sediment allocation August 13, it is difficult to develop a comprehensive plan such as this that may have an impact through 2025.” In addition, to meet reductions in non-point source pollution, pollution from agriculture, urban and suburban run off and septic systems, will require changes in regulations and laws and funding for implementation and enforcement. These changes could have tremendous economic and autonomy impacts on business and individuals in Virginia and need to be addressed by the state legislature and impacted communities.

According to the US EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation suburban and urban spread is the fastest growing land use and that suburban and urban storm water run off and septic waste water are the only major source of pollution in the watershed that continue to increase. The experts believe that this has been caused by the increase in impervious cover (pavement, buildings and roadways) that is associated with development and increased density of septic systems as population increases and lots become smaller.

For the urban and suburban storm water to meet the federal mandated pollution diet, new developments will be subject to storm water management, urban nutrient management and erosion and sediment controls that have recently be implemented. In addition, a nutrient exchange program will be developed to encourage implementation of BMPs (best management practices). However, the new storm water regulations will not address the sediment and nutrient loads associated with existing development and the mandated TMDL (total maximum daily load of pollutants) will require reductions from the existing pollution load. EPA is mandating the acceptable nutrient and sediment reductions, not on a statewide basis but on a segment by segment basis. Virginia is proposing that the Commonwealth meet the goals on a statewide basis. Simply looking at an aerial map of northern Virginia demonstrates the problem. The predominant form of development is existing housing, neighborhoods, and roads. Without having to create storm water management for every existing neighborhood, there are few options. Even with statewide compliance and the new storm water management regulation the WIP talks of restrictions on lawn and turf fertilizers, increasing regulation on both traditional and alternative septic systems.

The preliminary response from the Chesapeake Bay Foundations was: “Upon initial examination, we have serious concerns about the WIPs lack of details. Absent dramatic changes, we ask EPA to consider, now, what actions it must take to ensure Virginia will accomplish its share of needed pollution reductions…While there are some good proposals in the WIP—to offset pollution from future growth, to offer tax incentives to farmers to use conservation practices—the document is stunningly deficient on how the Commonwealth will implement many of these proposals. In particular, the WIP does not specify how Virginia will reduce non-point runoff pollution from farms and urban areas.” The reaction by EPA to these comments and the WIP in general will tell us if the federal regulators intend to regulate down to the suburban backyard or if they will allow the Commonwealth to have the local communities address how to reduce their contributions to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The EPA will be having a series of public meetings and webinars. The Virginia meetings are: October 4th from 6-8 p.m. at the Grafton Theatre, James Madison University, 281 Warren Service Drive, Harrisonburg, VA.
October 5th - from 6-8 p.m. Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus, Ernst Community Cultural Center, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale VA
October 7th from 6-8 p.m. Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel, 700 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton, VA. There is also a webinar on October 7th from 1-3 pm

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