Thursday, November 25, 2010

Local Stormwater Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Winter is coming and so the woods on the back seven acres of my land are easily accessible and I can walk to the stream behind my house. My intension was simply to collect the trash that accumulated in the area since spring, but I am bothered by the erosion I observe in the stream bank. It is not noticeably different from the spring, but certainly there has been some impact to the area and I can only guess it is from paving the road in my neighborhood. It is a private road about 2 miles long that is maintained by the 34 property owners who live in our neighborhood. During big storms it is clear that the stormwater runoff is inadequately controlled by the ditch that runs along side the road and terminates on the crest of the hill down to the stream. Yet, the challenge is to get a group of rugged individualists to spend money to address a problem only two homeowners see and care about.

It is my understanding the road was built by the developer of the lots in 2004. I bought my home from a bank in 2007 so I rely on information from my neighbors. Stormwater management for the development of the road and for the road itself was not regulated within the rural crescent (the area within Prince William County that requires 10 acres per home with some limitations and loopholes). On January 29, 2005 Virginia Soil & Water Conservation Board & Department of Conservation & Recreation responsible for municipal separate stormwater sewage systems, MS4s, and Construction General Permits for stormwater. The DCR did not issue regulations until December 9, 2009 when they adopted the Final Regulations Parts I, II, and III Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) Permit Regulations, but then just over a month later on January 14, 2010 the DCR suspended the regulations and convened hearings.

Though the DCR retains regulatory responsibility for the MS4 and Construction and General Permits for managing storm water, localities with MS4 permits and localities within the Chesapeake Bay Protected Area must adopt a local stormwater management programs to comply with the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Act and the US EPA mandated TMDL. These elements will have to be incorporated in to the environmental chapter for the Prince William County comprehensive plan. Part of the challenge is to have the plan or requirements reach in a reasonable manner the stormwater management of our community and other communities like us. To meet the requirements of the EPA TMDL we need to reduce nutrient pollution from all existing sources, not just ban new development and increase regulation on point source polluters. Though I do not know if it will be reasonable, the obvious solution is to tie obtaining permits to maintain and repave the road with installing stormwater best management practices, BMPs, to ameliorate the excessive flow of water during storms.

Natural systems like our land and stream respond to runoff volumes, frequencies, durations and temperatures. Even though “pollutant” is defined broadly by the EPA in the Clean Water Act to include virtually every imaginable substance added to surface waters, including heat, it does not include water volume. A more straightforward way to regulate stormwater contributions to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed impairment would be to use flow or possibly something like impervious cover, as a measure of stormwater loading and then require BMPs based on the amount of pavement. Flow of stormwater is easier to monitor, model, and even approximate rather than the complicated modeling of the loadings of individual contaminants in stormwater effluent. Using BMPs to simply reduce stormwater flow will automatically achieve reductions in pollutant loading. Moreover, flow is itself responsible for erosion and sedimentation that is damaging our streams and rivers within the watershed.

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