Monday, July 30, 2018

Oyster Farmers Helping to Restore the Chesapeake Bay

Though I volunteer with the local conservation district, I don’t often think of aquaculture as part of the Virginia farming or the Chesapeake Bay restoration TMDL. Karen Hudson Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science spoke to the Potomac Watershed Round Table this month and showed me how much shellfish aquaculture is part of our environment and our plans to restore the Bay. The article below is based on Karen’s talk and her published work.

Today, watermen harvest both hard clams and oysters from the Commonwealth’s waters, though volumes of clams and oyster are diminished from historic levels. In 2017 the total number of shellfish from Virginia was 53.4 million: 37.5 million Hard Clams and 15.9 million Oysters. In the 1850s, more than 150 million oysters were harvested from the Bay each year; three decades later, this number jumped to 2,000 million. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Bay’s oyster fishery was one of the most important in the United States.

However over-harvesting removed huge volumes of oysters from the Bay and led to the demise of the Bay’s healthy reefs. Over the decades the reefs were scraped away by dredging, oyster beds are now often limited to flat, thin layers of dead shell and live oysters spread over the Bay’s bottom. These damaged habitats offer less surface area for reef-dwelling oysters to inhabit, and can be easily buried by sediment.

Disease also befell the oysters. In 2010 it was estimated that by age three, 80% of the oyster po[ulation in the Virginia portion of the Bay would die due to disease. But in the past few years, research from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has found that oysters are developing disease resistance, and now VIM is actively breeding greater distance resistance in native oyster strains and working with Virginia’s watermen-farmers to provide additional quantities of shellfish. VIMS created different strains by crossbreeding disease-resistant oysters from Louisiana and the Delaware Bay, then from five Virginia rivers (Rappahannock River, Great Wicomico River, Mobjack Bay, York River, and James River).

Clam and oyster farming, also known as aquaculture, is a booming, multi-million dollar industry in Virginia. Restoration is focused on oyster aquaculture and  the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Commonwealth and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are encouraging oyster farming and gardening. Oyster gardening under private piers and along the shoreline of privately owned waterfront property is becoming increasingly popular among environmentally concerned citizens. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation holds training sessions in oyster gardening.

Oysters are the Chesapeake Bay's best natural filters. A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Oysters also provide essential habitat for fish and other Bay creatures. The eastern oyster is one of the most iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay. For more than a century, oysters  made up one of the region’s most valuable commercial fisheries, and the oysters which are filter-feeders continues to clean our waters and offer food and habitat to other animals.

However, over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss have led to a severe drop in oyster populations. Scientists are working to manage harvests, establish sanctuaries, overcome the effects of disease and restore reefs with hatchery-raised seed in an effort to bring back the oyster. In 2010, Maryland and Virginia embarked on a tributary-based restoration strategy that will build, seed and monitor reefs in several Maryland and Virginia waterways. This commitment was incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay TMDL restoration plan. By 2015, six Chesapeake Ba tributaries had been selected for oyster restoration: Harris Creek and the Little Choptank and Tred Avon rivers in Maryland, and the Lafayette, Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers in Virginia.

According to a January 2018 update from Virginia Institute of Marine Science, 445 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete in the Lafayette River. Restoration targets are being developed for the Great Wicomico, York, Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers. Historically, the only method of oyster “culture” was transplanting wild harvested oyster seed to leased growing grounds. In the 21st century that has changed. There are now two primary methods of hatchery based oyster aquaculture production in Virginia, intensive culture (containerized) and extensive culture (spat-on-shell). Both typically use the selectively breed genetically improved stocks and triploid, or “spawnless” oysters from Virginia Institute of Marine Science. VIMS developed the procedures to maintain adult brood-stock, manage their life cycle by altering temperature and the amount of algae provided as food, and to manage the oysters through their planktonic stage until they settle on a hard surface (becoming "spat") and begin to grow into adult oysters. It takes two years for VIMS to grow oysters before they are sold.

Intensive culture methods use cultchless, or single seed, containerized for predator protection. Containerization varies but generally consists of off-bottom cages, racks and in some cases, floats. Intensive oyster culture requires more labor in gear and product maintenance and is generally considered more expensive. However, the end result is a consistent and high quality product that has the ability to obtain a higher price in the boxed and half shell markets.

Extensive culture is also referred to as remote setting or spat-on-shell. The primary advantage of spat-on-shell cultivation is that it requires less labor and fewer materials than single oyster cultivation. Therefore, this method is a more economically feasible option for producing large quantities of local oysters for use by Virginia’s oyster processors. Oyster eyed larvae purchased from the hatchery (often owned by the watermen farmers) are transported to setting sites, struck on containerized oyster shells and ultimately planted directly on the bottom.

Because spat-on-shell cultivation produces oysters grown in clusters (similar to wild-caught oysters), the primary product is mostly oysters for shucking rather than single oysters for half-shell consumption. The spat-on-shell process has been enhanced since its start in 2008. Improvements in the quality of eyed larvae coming out of the hatcheries and optimized remote setting methods have cut in half the number of eyed larvae required per bushel of shell. In 2017, growers reported planting 34,000 bushels (or 3,400,000) a 31% decrease from 2016, but that is forecast to increase in 2018. The industry’s expansion depends on a consistent production of large quantities of eyed larvae, which can be problematic with poor water quality. The oysters themselves and all the activities to achieve the Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals will help with that.

Over the past century, the watershed has experienced a change in land use, as urban, suburban and agricultural areas have replaced forested lands and then urban and suburban replaced agriculture. This has increased the amount of nutrients and sediment entering our rivers and streams and contributed to the poor water quality that affects the oysters and all aquatic life. Excess nutrients of nitrogen and phosphorus fuel the growth of algae blooms that create low-oxygen “dead zones” that hinder the development of oyster larvae; sediment that washes off of roads and fields can suffocate oysters and other shellfish. Stress related to poor water quality can make oysters more susceptible to disease, and yet oysters filter water and contribute to the health of the Bay

To restore the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia needs to restore the oysters. Homeowners with access to a pier or dock can become oyster gardeners and raise oyster larvae at home, through oyster gardening programs, but the essential work is being coordinated by Shellfish Aquaculture programs at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

WSSC New Rate Structure is Approved

Following year long outreach effort to engage their customers and other stakeholders, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) has adopted a new tiered rater structure. Under the new rate structure the price for water increases as customers use more water and enter higher tiers (see chart below). This complies with the Maryland Water Conservation Act of 2002 and the Maryland Department of the Environment’s regulatory guidance that specifically identifies a tiered rate structure as a pricing strategy that encourages water conservation.

Though WSSC held or participated in more than 30 public meetings or hearings in the past year, there were only approximately 1,500 customers who attended the meetings and additional 2,500 who viewed the meetings online. WSSC serves 1.8 million residents through approximately 475,000 customer accounts. Less than 1% of the customer base participated in the process.

The reason for the new rate structure: The Maryland PSC directed WSSC to develop a new rate structure after ruling the current 16-tier structure was unreasonable because it was unduly preferential to low-usage customers. Under the newly approved rate structure, customers will be charged only for the water used in each tier. Currently, customers are charged at the highest tier of water used, back to the first drop of water.

Approximately 93% of all WSSC bills are for residential customers. The typical residential household size in the WSSC service area is reported to be three people. The new rate structure is expected to lower quarterly bills for a three-person household using 55 gallons of water per person per day. WSSC reports that 55 gallons is the average per person consumption for WSSC customers.

“The new rate structure sends a clear conservation message to our customers,” said WSSC General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid. “This will allow us to comply with state law that requires public water systems to improve water conservation. The new rate structure also addresses affordability and significantly simplifies the rate structure for our customers.”

According to the WSSC, under the new rate structure, the average three member household will pay slightly less-$4.83 per quarter based on the FY18 revenue requirements. The rate structure was originally put in place to meet their pressing financial needs. The final rates adopted next year will probably be higher .

The new rate structure is intended to better align costs with rates, and to provide a more predictable revenue stream to pay for infrastructure improvements and debt service while being fair to all water users. At the end of fiscal year 2017, bonds and notes outstanding totaled $3,006.8 million, a $355.6 million increase in comparison to the previous fiscal year. During fiscal year 2017  WSSC needed to issue $382.0 million of Consolidated Public Improvement Bonds to fund new construction, rehabilitation and replacement of water and sewer infrastructure, and had to redeem $12.4 million in Notes as part of the debt service amortization. Funds from WSSC operations supplied $26.4 million as debt for repairs and improvements continues to grow.

For fiscal year 2018 WSSC has to pay $347,899,000 in principal maturities and $106,158,000 in interest less $ 3,279,000 in "Build America Debt Subsidies." The total debt service for fiscal year 2018 is $450.1 million. To meet the fiscal year 2018 debt service WSSC has sold it’s $459,250,000 Consolidated Public Improvement Bonds and it’s $299,255 Consolidated Public Improvement Refunding Bonds. With a slowdown in water use growth despite increasing population growth and increased capital investment needs to improve and repair the aging infrastructure, WSSC rates need to continue to rise for the utility maintain their systems, provide water and sewer to its customers, and pay its debts.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL

At the July meeting of the Potomac Watershed Roundtable held in Westmoreland State Park, Ann Jennings, the Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia DEQ gave the group an update on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and the process for development of the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). Ann was the former Chesapeake Bay Commission Virginia Director and a long time advocate for the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia has begun development of the Phase III WIP to meet the water quality standards mandated for the Chesapeake Bay by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This summer, Ann is appearing everywhere trying to reach out to all stakeholders. In addition other organizations are doing the same trying to reach and get input from local elected officials and groups to facilitate discussions about the challenges, successes (so far), and opportunities communities across Virginia face in protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary waterways. The idea is to foster a better understanding of the connection between local issues and priorities and the state's obligation and commitments to meeting the total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL.

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL focuses on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, and is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures necessary to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025. Each county of Virginia must meet its individual mandated reductions in the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution. The impact on the TMDL needs to become part of every discussion and decision within a locality.

During the development of the Phase III WIP, communities are looking to get more financial incentives and support from the state to guide and bolster implementation. A key goal for Phase III WIP is to create local strategies rather than focusing on statewide goals. We need to expand and increase the financial investment for and scope of cost-share programs that are operated in Virginia to reduce non-point source pollution. Overall in its final phase, connecting the WIP to local water quality is critically important.

Last year when we reached the mid-point in the pollution reduction plan, the EPA assessed our progress toward meeting the mandated nutrient and sediment pollutant load reductions. Using the Chesapeake Bay model, this midpoint assessment measured the state’s progress towards meeting the 2017 goal of having practices in place to achieve 60% of the pollution reductions from the 2009 levels.

The intent of the midpoint assessment was to allow us to make changes in our state programs and plans and develop the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) that will allow us to meet the 2025 Chesapeake Bay restoration goals. For Virginia the EPA / the Chesapeake Bay Program recommended that we target stormwater and agriculture for additional reductions to meet the 2025 goals.

In Virginia EPA recommend increased funding to the Virginia Agriculture Cost Share program (VACS) and the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP). These are cost-share programs that provide financial incentives for property owners to implement practices that reduce runoff of sediment and nutrient pollution on agricultural properties (VACS) and urban properties (VCAP).

According to Ms Jennings, Governor Northam is committed to a cleanup plan that meets the goal. So far, 84% of the reductions Virginia has achieved in these pollutants so far have come from improvements to our waste water treatment plants and 16% have come from our agriculture programs. Going forward the reductions in pollutants will have to come from a diverse list of sources. To meet its mandate TMDL targets Virginia needs to get 22% of the reductions from natural areas (forests and woodlands), 34% from agriculture, 22% from waste water treatment including septic, and 18% from stormwater in developed areas. In addition, impacts from climate change are now accounted for in the Chesapeake Bay model and the Coniwingo Dam will have its own WIP III goals.

Our local communities with help from state programs will have to determine how we are going to meet the pollution reduction goals. These goals will require lots of small actions by many stakeholders and homeowners, this is the hardest part of the TMDL. Planting of forest buffers, reducing runoff by using less fertilizer on lawns, golf courses and in agriculture, expanding stormwater management to slow rain water, increasing septic pump out frequency, expanding the reach and scope of the agricultural and urban best management practices and more. Implementation of these programs will take funding, not only for the programs and tracking to measure our success, but also for the outreach and education of the community. Everyone is going to need to participate for us to be successful.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Water, Development and the Rural Crescent

Prince William County is engaged in revising the sections of the Comprehensive Plan that pertain to the Rural Crescent and the Infrastructure and Facilities Plan. The details of the revisions being considered have not been released, but I am lead to believe that allowing significantly increased housing densities and clustered development within what is now the Rural Crescent is being proposed.

Though clustered development appears to be a solution for the Board of Supervisors, planning commission members and the planning department faced with difficult choices about how much development to allow, where the development should go and who will make money from selling land for development, how and if it is implemented will impact the future of Prince William County. There are costs associated with clustered development. Homes clustered together cannot be on well and septic, and it is believed that the county is planning on bringing public water and sewer to these areas. The cost of providing public water to this area would be borne in part by the taxpayers and rate payers of Prince William County. In addition, adding homes adds students to our schools and the need for other services.

Even if connections to existing public water and sewer infrastructure are limited to cluster development along what is being called the transition area, such expansion may exceed the capacity of the current systems and require water and sewer infrastructure expansion. Clustered properties cannot rely on well and septic- they are simply too close together, clustered development will be connected to public water supplied by Prince William Service Authority. Public water in the areas adjacent to the Rural Crescent is supplied by a combination of groundwater wells and surface water supply that is purchased from Fairfax Water and Lake Manassas. There is a cost to purchase additional capacity from Fairfax Water and to utilize groundwater wells. In addition, piping and pumps will have to carry water from its source to any new development. This would force the County to find additional sources of water at greater incremental cost to all ratepayers and such sources may not even be available. In addition, water mains and sewage piping are costly not only to build, but also to maintain.

Residents within Rural Crescent rely on private wells for water and septic systems for wastewater disposal. Increased development can have an adverse impact on surrounding private wells and septic systems. Changing the use and cover of the land with buildings, driveways, roads, walkway and other impervious surfaces will change the hydrology of the site reducing ground water recharge in the surrounding area. Once the hydrology is destroyed by development, it cannot be restored. We need to study how any proposed land use change will impact water and groundwater sustainability for existing homes. The right of existing property owners to their water is primary and valuable and should not be compromised or impaired. Because there are natural fluctuations in groundwater levels it is easy to mask or ignore signs of the beginnings of destruction of the water resources that we depend on. Fluctuations in climate or rainfall and imperfect measurements and vantage points mask trends from clear view.

For development approved outside of existing public water and sewer infrastructure or the homes that currently exist there, there is a clear risk that future loss of water to that development may force new connections to public sewer and water at costs unbearable by that development or homeowners which are then put into the rate base and paid for by all ratepayers or taxpayers as has happened before. The real costs and risks to ratepayers and taxpayers must be determined and discussed before any plan is voted on and must be made public.

Private wells draw their water from groundwater. Geology, climate, weather, land use and many other factors determine the quality and quantity of the groundwater available. Within Prince William County Virginia there are four distinct geologic provinces: (1) the Blue Ridge, (2) the Culpeper Basin, (3) the Piedmont, and (4) the Coastal Plain. The U.S. Geological Survey divides the four geologic provinces of the county into seven hydrogeologic groups based on the presence and movement of the ground water calling them groups: A, B, B1, C, D, E and F. About 27 years ago the U.S. Geological Survey studied the groundwater systems within Prince William County.

The existing published hydrology and geology work by the U.S. Geological Survey dating to 1990 and earlier can no longer be relied on to develop a theoretical groundwater budget, as the area has developed, more of the land surface has been covered with buildings and roads that have impacted the groundwater recharge as well as the existing demand for groundwater has changed significantly. In addition, no recharge rate was ever calculated for the seven hydrogeologic groups.

To develop a theoretical groundwater budget it is essential to have the geologic specific recharge rate to determine an accurate estimate of sustainable groundwater availability and use, physical testing of the aquifer will need to be done. Fauquier County did not recognize the different recharge rates in their counties and ended up with groundwater supplies that were not sustainable. They found a key factor isn’t just how much water you’re pumping out of the ground, but rather where in the watershed and in what geologic province the water is being pumped from. Different locations within the County have different water availability. The County can’t change the underlying geology or control the rate or pattern of groundwater recharge. Instead we must yield to nature and plan our development without impairing water recharge.

In developing the groundwater budget the groundwater recharge rate for existing residences needs to be determined and the impact on the existing recharge rate of additional development needs to be estimated using real data points collected from monitoring wells as is being done in Fauquier County. Not only does the geology vary across our county with different water bearing and storage potential in the different hydrogeologic groups, but additional construction can impact how much of the precipitation recharges the groundwater. Before changing zoning or population density, it is necessary to have a high level of certainty that the availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater supplying the existing private wells would not be adversely impacted. If the county comprehensive plan and zoning amendments go through it is essential that the existing homeowners are assured that their groundwater supply will remain adequate to serve their wells into the future and not be depleted slowly over time.

This past winter the Virginia Legislature amended the enabling legislation for comprehensive planning (§§ 15.2-2223 and 15.2-2224 of the Code of Virginia ) to provide for the continued availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater and surface water resources on a County level as part of the Comprehensive Plan. While state law now requires that the County Comprehensive Plan address water availability, quality and sustainability as well as transportation needs directly, as practical matter new development creates a need for schools, hospitals, and electrical capacity with associated demands and impacts on water resources which must also be addressed.

Let’s make sure the future of the Rural Crescent is planed addressing all the risks.

Monday, July 16, 2018

What Elon Musk should do for Flint Michigan

There has been quite a stir from Elon Musk’s July 11th Tweet. He said “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels. No kidding.”

I was stunned when I read this. First of all, this is a generous and kind offer. However, what was shocking to me was how ignorant Elon Musk was about the water situation in Flint Michigan and how little he knew about drinking water and who regulates it. The man is a genius and yet he did not know that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We need to teach the basics of how water, sewage, electricity and internet/ phone service are provided. So that the future decision makers will know what questions to Google or ask Suri or Alexa.

Under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water including bacteria from human waste, industrial discharge streams (of great concern back in 1974 when the SDWA was first created) and water disinfection by-products and distribution system contaminants (last revised in 1990’s). For each of these contaminants, EPA sets a legal limit, called a maximum contaminant level. EPA requires that all public water supplies be tested for this list of contaminants on a regular basis (from daily, to quarterly, to every other year or longer depending on the contaminant and water system) and meet these minimum standards on average. In addition, EPA sets secondary standards for less hazardous substances based on aesthetic characteristics of taste, smell and appearance, which public water systems and states can choose to adopt or not.

After hearing from many, Mr. Musk later understood that most Flint homes have safe water and said he would organize an effort to add filters to houses that need them. However, it was promptly pointed out by many sources that the state already offers free filters to Flint residents. So, lets back up and review what happened in Flint, and how Mr. Musk can really fix it; because this could affect many more communities. Flint Michigan was not an aberration nor was it the worst incidence of lead in drinking water supplies, but rather some combination of determined population, blatant misrepresentation by public officials, the public sentiment that allowed Flint to become the poster child for lead in drinking water.  In a 2017 examination of data, Reuters found 3,000 communities that had recently recorded lead levels at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. So what happened in Flint.

In January 2016 the Governor of Michigan and the President of the United States declared an emergency in Flint, Michigan to authorized emergency assistance to provide water, water filters, water filter cartridges, water test kits, and other necessary items to address their water crisis. By then the drinking water supply in Flint Michigan had been contaminated for more than a year. The first contaminant to appear were high levels of viruses and bacteria, and inorganic contaminants such as salts and metals which were a result of inadequate treatment of the water, then high level of lead began to appear in homes. Reportedly, the lead was the result of slightly caustic, inadequately treated water leaching lead from the old distribution system.

The problems began when Flint decided to switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) as the City’s permanent water source in a cost saving measure as wholesale water rates from the old Detroit system kept growing in an attempt to support rising maintenance, repair and operating costs in that system. KWA would supply water to the members by building a new pipeline from Lake Huron. While waiting for KWA pipeline to be completed, the City of Flint planned to use the Flint River as a temporary alternative water source.

The Flint Water Treatment staff and their consultants struggled to meet the Safe Drinking Water Act levels at the water treatment plant. Then residents noticed changes in the smell, color, and taste of the water coming out of their taps. Tests showed high levels of bacteria that forced the city to issue boil advisories. In response, the city upped its chlorine levels to kill the pathogens. This created too many disinfectant byproducts, which are carcinogens and corrosive. Then the corrosive water began leaching lead, other metals and whatever else was in the biofilm on the old pipes into the water in the homes. Flint’s water department might have been able to avert the disaster by having a corrosion management plan and using additives to diminish the corrosiveness of the water at a negligible cost, but there was an underlying problem that effects not only Flint.

For decades instead of replacing lead pipes urban water companies (especially in poor cities) have used chemicals to control lead and other chemicals from leaching into the water supply. Many at the American Water Works Association and other trade groups have questioned the wisdom of this strategy, there is always some lead leaching and many scientists believe that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.

Most existing lead pipes are over 75 years old, are in the older cities of the east coast and mid-west and should have been replaced in the normal course of preventive maintenance program. Unfortunately, that is not how we operate in the United States. A few cities, including Madison, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Michigan, have taken steps to remove all of their lead pipes. Such projects can cost tens of millions of dollars in small communities.
from NRDC on the right a lead pipe treated with Orthophosphate

It was estimated by the American Water Association that there are 6.5 million lead pipes still in service in the United States- and each would have to be replaced at an approximate cost of $15,000. In most water systems, these pipes are either partially or fully owned by the homeowner. Back in 2016 it was estimated that there were about 14,000 lead laterals (water pipes that run from the water mains in the street to the houses) that needed to be replaced for all residents to be assured that the water that reached their taps was as good quality as when it left the water treatment plant.

So, while it would be wonderful if Mr. Musk would pay for the replacement of the lead lateral pipes in Flint Michigan; there are many deserving communities in the United States and a limit to Mr. Musk's wealth. Maybe instead Mr. Musk can apply his creative genius to developing a method for removing pipes and replacing them without having to dig up every street and yard. If Mr. Musk could bring down the cost of  pipe replacement to the $1,000-$2,000 price range Flint and other communities could afford to get rid of the lead pipes. There are at least 6.5 million households  in the United States that could benefit from that invention. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 2013 Rural Crescent Study

Prince William County is engaged in revising the sections of the Comprehensive Plan that pertain to the Rural Preservation Study that was created in December 2013. At that time Prince William County Office of Planning held a series of meetings at George Mason University, to discuss the results of the County Planning Department study of the County's rural preservation policies. Dr. Tom Daniels a Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, former farmland preservation program director in Lancaster County, PA  was one of the presenters. Dr. Daniels had studied and worked with several communities that had implemented successful and not so successful Rural Preservation Programs.

According to Dr. Daniels, there is in reality a limited tool box for land preservation; most of these tools are based on partitioning land ownership rights. Owning land basically means owning a set of rights- the mineral rights, the use rights, the development rights, the water rights and the air rights. The development rights are controlled by zoning which can be changed by the county supervisors by exception or amendment to the County Comprehensive Plan. Dr. Daniels presentation focused on what tools exist for rural preservation and how likely they are to succeed.

The first land preservation option is essentially for the county or a private party like the Trust for Public Land or another to purchase or receive as a donation of a conservation easement the Development Rights to preserve as open space or farmland in perpetuity. The problem with this option is money. While the Commonwealth of Virginia has a farmland preservation program that provides some funding to counties to purchase the development rights, the funding is extremely limited. There are several federal programs that have funding available to preserve farmland, forestland and ecologically important lands, but these are matching programs and a county must have also have funding and staff expertise available to put together deals and navigate tax deductions and saleable state tax credits and work with other organizations to structure deals and pull together the funding to create a conservation easement or purchase the development rights. This takes a commitment on the part of the County to fund and support such a program.

The second preservation option is to transfer the development rights (TDR) to developments in other parts of the county that allow the developer to build a higher density than normally allowed. This was a strategy that worked incredibly well in Montgomery County where 7,000 TDR deals totaling $110,000,000 were done. Unfortunately, in Virginia the State does not allow the county to operate a “TDR” Bank and Prince William no longer has large development parcels under the current zoning that could purchase a large number of TDRs. The County Board of Supervisors essentially gave away this option. So, it’s too late for the big deals and Prince William County would have to figure out a way to match development rights with small developments. The good news is that the Virginia legislature did pass the enabling legislation for that a few years ago. According to the Lincoln Land Institute TDR programs work only when they are part of a comprehensive plan that has the commitment and political will of the community behind it. TDR programs must be tailored to the specific political, economic and geographic circumstances of their location.

The final land preservation option is to sacrifice areas of the rural crescent and cluster development along the edges with mandatory preservation of some areas of open space within the Rural Crescent. This appears to be the option that will be used in Prince William County. Cluster development is typically part of a low impact development strategy (LID). LID is the latest catch phase in ecologically friendly site development and consists of five elements: preserving open space and minimizing land disturbance; protecting natural drainage ways, soils and sensitive areas; incorporating natural site elements like wetlands, stream corridors, and woodlands as site features; reducing the size of traditional infrastructure; and decentralize and manage storm water at its source. Of the 345 farms in Prince William County (in 2007) 210 of them were 50 acres or less.

LID is by its nature a distributed design involving, ongoing maintenance of the plants, replanting after severe winters or prolonged droughts, weeding, and other land and habitat maintenance along with effective water and sewage management. There is no method of ensuring that these features are maintained appropriately and that any repairs or replacements are done with LID in mind. In addition, there is the problem of supplying water and sewage to clustered developments. Homes clustered together cannot be on well and septic, and it is believed that the county is planning on bringing public water and sewer to these areas. We need to compare the cost of extending and expanding the sewer and water supply and the impact of clustered development on the water resources in the rural crescent and consider if that money could be better spent purchasing development rights. This past winter the Virginia Legislature amended the enabling legislation for comprehensive planning to provide for the continued availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater and surface water resources on a County level as part of the comprehensive plan. Impact on water resources for existing and future users in the rural crescent must be considered and addressed by the comprehensive plan and the County Board of Supervisors.

The Rural Crescent is an extraordinary valuable resource that we need to maintain for our quality of life, the health of our watershed and the ecological services it provides. We need to protect our watershed in order to protect our water supply. If you pave and build over what was open land the groundwater recharge rate will be irreparably damaged. Without water there is no Prince William County. Any changes in the land cover, population density and use of water resources (recall that portions of the public water supply in western Prince William County come from groundwater) must be studied and considered before any changes are made to the land use, zoning and population density within the rural crescent.

Learn more and have your voice heard. On Monday, July 16th 2018 at 7 pm the Prince William Conservation Alliance is facilitating a Community Conversation with Elena Schlossberg of the Coalition to Protect PWC, Gil Trenum a member of the PWC School Board, Martin Jeter of the Mid-County Civic Association, Tim Hugo Delegate for the 40th House District and Kim Hosen as the moderator.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Shrinking the Rural Crescent

Prince William County is engaged in revising the sections of the Comprehensive Plan that pertain to the Rural Preservation Study and the Infrastructure and Facilities plan. According to the Kim Hosen Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance under consideration is changing the boundaries of the Rural Crescent to reduce its size in response to the Rural Preservation Study prepared  for the county in 2014 .

It is often believed that when you own land you can do what you want with the land, but that is not true. We have zoning and the county has a comprehensive plan to guide land use and development decisions. It is not in the public interest to allow anyone to put a hazardous waste dump in their backyard, build a manufacturing plant along the Occoquan or other publically undesirable activities.

As a matter of fact, Virginia law requires every governing body to adopt a comprehensive plan for the development of the lands within its jurisdiction. So each county and city has a comprehensive plan. By law these plans are reviewed every five years, to ensure that they continue to be responsive to current circumstances and that the citizens of the county continue to support the goals of the plan. The Rural Preservation Study and the Infrastructure and Facilities plan are two of the five sections being updated in Prince William County in 2018.

In 2012 while considering requests for exceptions to the comprehensive plan, Supervisor Martin Nohe supported by the other county Supervisors felt that it was time to reconsider some of the planning and development decisions that had been made in the past and asked for an analysis of the usefulness of the Rural Crescent in protecting rural character and open space, and whether policy adjustments or new policies would do a better job.

Preservation of the rural nature of the county has a long history in Prince William going back to a 1964 planning study that identified a significant portion of the County as "Large Estate and Agricultural." The preservation goals for this area became  formalized through designation of the Rural Area in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan that created the Rural Crescent. Since that time the Rural Crescent has been chipped away with exception requests each year.

According to official County records the Rural Crescent, encompasses almost 116,000 acres, but little of that total is still agricultural land. The Rural Crescent includes about 23,000 acres of federal land in the forest and Manassas Battlefield, 55,100 acres that are already developed including Quantico and existing developments (including all the homes built on 10 acres allowed under the A-1 zoning), about 2,600 acres that are permanently protected*(though permanently protected land can be seized for public use by eminent domain), 8,200 acres that have development plans already approved and almost 28,000 acres that are undeveloped and unprotected and could be preserved as open space and farmland.

The basic zoning that exists now in the Rural Crescent is A1- one house per 10 acres, much more money could be made by land owners and developers building at higher density on the land, but more dense suburban developments could damage the ecology of the region, increase the need for more tax revenues to provide infrastructure, utilities, and schools; and impact the quality of life of all county residents who enjoy the recreation opportunities of the Rural Crescent. In the survey that hundreds of Prince William residents took five years ago when the Rural Preservation Study was done, there was strong support for maintaining the open rural nature of the Rural Crescent.

Learn more about the issue, and have your voice heard. Join Prince William Conservation Alliance on Monday, July 16th 2018 at 7 pm at Giuseppe's Restaurant in Haymarket for a tCommunity Conversation featuring Elena Schlossberg of the Coalition to Protect PW County, Gil Trenum a member of the PW County School Board, Martin Jeter of the Mid-County Civic Association, Tim Hugo Delegate for the 40th House District and Kim Hosen of the PW Conservation Alliance as the moderator.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Planning for Sea Level Rise

Sea level is rising. The climate scientists tell us that we passed the tipping point for climate change long ago. Forty-five percent of the world’s population lives within coastal zones. In the United States over half of the population lives within cities and suburbs build within or adjacent to these estuaries. Estuaries occur in the partly enclosed coastal regions where rivers meet the sea. Estuaries are the mixing zone where the fresh water and sediments from rivers meets the seawater and tidal forces. 

In nature, estuaries and barrier islands provide protection for the mainland against flooding; but we continue to expand our coastal cities and suburbs, building within the estuaries that that were intended by nature to flood to protect the inland areas. Since the early 2000’s we have all watched on our TV’s, phones or computers as Katrina inundated New Orleans followed by Rita, Gustav, and Ike;  Sandy, Irene and Ida brought flooding to New York; and Hurricane Harvey that brought 30 inches of rain and epic flooding in Houston, Texas not to mention the damage wrought as it came up the coast. 

We need to adapt to and plan for the changing climate, rising sea levels, storm surge, flooding and land loss in the coastal region. One of the more vulnerable areas is the coastal region of Louisiana. Since 1930 Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of land to the Gulf of Mexico to these forces of nature. From 2004 through 2008 alone, more than 300 square miles of marshland were lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike which made the need to improve Louisiana’s hurricane protection systems and natural estuaries obvious.

In December 2005, meeting in a special session to address recovery issues confronting Louisiana following Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana Legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). In the subsequent years the CPRA would form partnerships to enhance its effectiveness and abilities. One of the CPRA’s partners is the Water Institute of the Gulf, a not-for-profit, non-government, independent and collaborative research center founded in 2011. In its own partnerships the Water Institute is developing tools for communities.

When storm surge and extreme rainfall events or hurricane inundate coastal areas, it’s not just homes and businesses that receive damage. Critical facilities such as fire stations, hospitals, and emergency response facilities that are crucial to a community’s ability to respond are at risk as well. Additionally, the protection of essential facilities such as government offices, banks, and schools are vital components of a community’s ability to recover, both short term or long term. The Water Institute along with federal and state agency partners, received funding in 2016 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify and evaluate the vulnerability of critical and essential facilities in south Lafourche Parish and Morgan City Louisiana to serve as pilot studies.

This study looked at forecast flood levels in both locations utilizing a model the institute developed to predict flood zones. The base case was the flooding predicted from a 100-year storm event under current environmental conditions. The impacts of flooding on critical and essential facilities under current conditions were then compared to three sea level rise scenarios included in the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan over three time periods of 10, 25, and 50 years to provide state and local officials with tool that can be used to prioritize locations and facilities requiring nonstructural protection.

By comparing these potential flood maps to current land use cover it is possible to see where the residents and facilities facing the greatest risk are located. This information is also combined with modeled storm surge data developed for Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan, record research, and on-the-ground observations, to assemble a picture of not only the flood risk that communities face now, but what they could face into the future. This is a first step in planning for climate change and sea level rise. Louisiana is to be applauded for planning for the future that is going to happen.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Final Phase of the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from waste water treatment plants, agriculture, urban and suburban runoff, septic systems, air pollution and other sources have impaired the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.

Since the 1980’s the six bay states- Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York-and Washington DC have been trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay with some, but not enough progress as inconsistent levels of effort were put into the task across all the jurisdictions. As a result, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, mandated a contamination limit called the TMDL (total maximum daily load for nutrient contamination and sediment) to restore the local waters.

The TMDL sets a total Chesapeake Bay watershed limit for the six states and Washington DC of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year which was about 25% reduction in nitrogen, 24% reduction in phosphorus and 20 % reduction in sediment from the 2011 levels. The pollution limits were then partitioned to the various states and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay computer modeling tools and monitoring data.

The six states and Washington DC were required to submit and have approved by the EPA a detailed plan of how they intended to achieve their assigned pollution reduction goals. These plans, Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), laid out a series of pollution control measures that need to be put in place by 2025, with 60% of the steps to have been completed by the mid-point assessment in 2017.

While it will take years after 2025 for the Bay and its tributaries to fully heal, EPA expects that once the required pollution control measures are in place there will be gradual and continued improvement in water quality as the nutrient and sediment run off is reduced and there is better control storm water so that the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem can heal itself.

About half of the 39,490 square mile land area of Virginia is drained by the creeks, streams and rivers that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and two-thirds of the state's population lives within the watershed. To develop a remediation plan acceptable to the EPA and likely to achieve the goals of the revised WIP, the state legislature passed a series of laws and the state implemented a series of regulations addressing among other items: nutrient management plans, septic regulations, limitations of the sale and use of lawn maintenance fertilizer, banning deicing agents containing urea, nitrogen, or phosphorus intended for application on parking lots roadways, and sidewalks, or other paved surfaces, etc.

At the mid-point assessment the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program found that overall “Virginia has made progress in wastewater and agriculture, but needs to improve stormwater cost-share programs, account for growth in poultry farming, and strengthen MS4 requirements.” Right now Virginia has begun work on the third and final iteration of their clean-up plans, known as the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). These plans will describe actions to take, between now and 2025—the deadline for full implementation.

Virginia has made substantial progress towards addressing pollution to satisfy the Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals, especially in wastewater but also in agriculture. There has also been progress reducing polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas, although any progress has been overshadowed by increased land conversion from agricultural uses and permit delays. Looking forward, Virginia must make a substantial shift toward reducing pollution from stormwater, agriculture, and septic systems. The One of the most important steps to addressing these issues is establishing strong incentives for local governments and ensuring they have all the tools and resources necessary to succeed.