Monday, October 4, 2010

Backyard Chickens, Virginia Chesapeake Bay WIP, and October 5th

October 5th is a busy evening in Northern Virginia for the environment. On the agenda for the October 5th meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, is a proposal to change to the zoning and land use regulations within the county. Currently chickens and other farm animals are allowed on 2 acres or more of agricultural land, but only if there's no house on the land. If there's a house, the property is considered residential and chickens are not allowed. County staff and Planning Commission have offered two differing recommendations for changes to the zoning regulations. The Planning Commission would allow chickens on properties under two acres within the county's rural area, whereas staff recommended that all properties should have to be at least two acres. Two emus, ostriches and similar large birds would be allowed on parcels of at least two acres, but less than 10 acres.

There are two risks that should be carefully considered by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors when making this decision, potential contamination of the drinking water supply for the area and potential for contaminated runoff to impact the Chesapeake Bay. As our area has become more suburban, density has increased, along with the utilization of groundwater for domestic purposes and the density of septic systems. This suburban development has increased the suburban runoff and nutrient contamination to our groundwater and watershed. The proposed zoning change would allow additional nutrient load in the form of backyard poultry. Unless, the county intends to regulate the micro poultry “farms” and require the implementation of and maintenance of BMPs to manage the waste and locating of coops according to the protective separation requirements of the septic regulations, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors should consider only the more conservative staff recommendation.

Also on October 5th is the Northern Virginia’s EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL public meeting. The meeting is being held on October 5th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Annandale, campus of Northern Virginia Community College. The address and building appear in the list below. There are 4 public meetings and a webinar scheduled for Virginia. The meetings are scheduled to allow EPA to have a 40-45 minutes presentation, followed by an overview of the Virginia WIP for 15-20 minutes, followed by Q&A and public comments for about 1 hour.

Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated total maximum daily load, TMDL, of contaminants to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. There is no segment of the Virginia watershed that meets the TMDL at this time, yet Prince William is considering increasing the nutrient load on properties by allowing backyard poultry.

Virginia's secretary of natural resources, Doug Domenech, submitted Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 3, 2010. 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 and development of a nutrient exchange program to encourage voluntary 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 septic systems, or even the proposed expansion of residential nutrient loads by allowing backyard poultry. EPA is mandating nutrient and sediment reductions to the EPA’s determined acceptable level on a segment by segment basis. Prince William Board of County Supervisors needs to carefully consider what steps they are going to have to take to meet the federally mandated reduction in TMDL when considering any zoning changes. 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. Increasing the waste load from backyard poultry does not fit into these reductions in nutrient runoff.

The WIP does not specify how Virginia will reduce nonpoint runoff pollution from farms, suburban and urban areas beyond allowing the local governments to make those decisions. Prince William Board of County Supervisors have the opportunity to demonstrate how communities in Virginia will rise to the occasion. The reaction by EPA to the WIP and their comments at the public meetings 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 actions of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will tell us if they can rise to the challenge of restoring and managing our natural resources.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010, in the Board Chambers of the James J. McCoart Administration Building. The zoning change is scheduled for the evening session.

EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL public meetings are being held in Virginia October 4th to 7th 2010.

October 4 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Grafton Theatre, James Madison University, 281 Warren Service Drive, Harrisonburg, VA.

October 5 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus, Ernst Community Cultural Center, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale VA

October 6 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Robins Pavilion Jepson Alumni Center, University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA

October 7, webinar 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

October 7 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel, 700 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton, VA

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