Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Volunteers Needed!

photo from PWSWC 

On-River volunteers with canoes, kayaks or jon boats are needed for the annual Occoquan River clean up. On Saturday September 11, 2021 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (rain date September 18, 2021), is the 12th annual clean-up of the upper Occoquan River, from nine different sites along 25+ miles of the Occoquan River. The clean-up ranges from Cedar Run/Broad Run, through Lake Jackson, and from the base of Lake Jackson Dam to Hooes Run (south of Lake Ridge Marina). This cleanup is part of the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s ( Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

During last year’s clean-up (2020), Over 109 Volunteers (57 on-water) (56 on-land) collected 130 trash bags, 7 tires and other items.   Over 3,140 pounds of trash was collected. Volunteers cleaned up debris on the water, one storm water retention pond, and other land sites.  

This Occoquan River cleanup happens every year and is the combined effort of the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, Trash Free Potomac Watershed, Penguin Paddling, Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department and the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District . Come on out and help our community. Trash bags, gloves, water and refreshments will be provided to all participants. This is a true on the river cleanup and is done primarily by boat.

Experienced kayakers, canoeists, jon boaters, and pontoon boaters are needed. To sign up for this major on-the-water conservation effort. Some kayaks and canoes will be available for loan provided by Penguin Paddling (at Hooes Run) and the Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department (at Lake Ridge Marina). As in previous years, the cleanup will be staged from multiple sites along the river, from the canoe/kayak launch area below Lake Jackson dam, down to Lake Ridge / Hooes Run.

Please visit for more information and to register for this event or contact Bill McCarty at or Veronica Tangiri at (571-379-7514) . The signup has all the launch and take-out locations. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Health of the Chesapeake Bay Back to a C


from ttps://

Last week the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science released their 14th annual report card on the health of the Chesapeake Bay for 2020. Overall, Chesapeake Bay scored 45% in 2020 up from a 44% in 2019 and down from the all time high of 55% in 2002. As you can see below, overall Chesapeake Bay Health Scores have been variable in the past and bounced around a bit.

UM Center for Environmental Science

From 2015-2017 the, Chesapeake Bay Health Scores were in the high C range (53, 54, 54). At that time the consecutive scores contributed to an overall positive trajectory and it appeared that we were making progress. More time only served to show that the Health Index broke out of its historical range to the down side.

Bay Health | EcoHealth Report Cards (

As you can see in the graphs above from the University of Maryland Bay Health | EcoHealth Report Cards (, water clarity has been decreasing while nitrogen, phosphorus and aquatic grasses score have shown an improving trend. 

This is pretty discouraging considering all the effort and money that has gone into the Watershed Implementation Plans to meet the goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to meet the pollution reductions mandated by the U.S. EPA in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 that was supposed to lead to the "fishable, swimmable" waters.

from University of Maryland 

To end on a bright note, the University of Maryland analysis of Chesapeake Watershed health  scored a 64%, a B-. This analysis uses both ecological and social indicators in its score. This was slightly above the 60% from last year, but there were four new watershed health indicators were assessed this year: Stewardship Index, Protected Lands, Heat Vulnerability Index, and Walkability. The Stewardship Index looks at actions that residents are taking to support the Bay, volunteerism, and civic engagement. The Protected Lands indicator measures the valuable lands protected in the watershed that maintain water quality and habitat; sustain forests, farms, and communities; and support cultural, indigenous, and community values. The Heat Vulnerability Index focuses on climate safe neighborhoods throughout the watershed and includes data on tree canopy, impervious surface, temperature, and poverty. Walkability describes how many people can walk to a park in 10 minutes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Regional Chlorine Shortage

There is a chlorine shortage in the northwest of the West Coast.  On Friday, June 11, Westlake, a chlorine manufacturer in Longview, WA notified customers that their manufacturing was down due to an unexpected failure of a critical piece of electrical equipment- a transformer. 

This has caused a disruption to the available supply of chlorine, a key chemical in water treatment process. Chlorine products are essential for treating drinking water and processing wastewater. Disinfection kills or inactivates harmful microorganisms which can cause illnesses such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and giardiasis. Sometimes, water systems use chlorination for taste and odor control, iron and manganese removal, and to stop nuisance growths in wells, water pipes, storage facilities and conduits. Chlorine remaining in the water supply, or added after disinfection is available to fight against potential contamination in water distribution and storage systems that might enter through leaks and pipe breakages. This is called secondary disinfection. 

By last Wednesday it became apparent that supply chain interruptions were more extensive than previously thought and much of the West Coast had been impacted including water utilities in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.  Westlake hopes to have the equipment repaired by the end of the month and start up the manufacturing plant after that. In the meantime, water utilities, especially the smaller ones, are asking customers to conserve water and limit outdoor use such as filling pools, washing cars or watering lawns to stretch the supply of chlorine they have on hand.

The electrical failure at Westlake follows a fire that destroyed BioLab in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in August 2020, rendering that plant inoperable to this day. That facility was responsible for a significant portion of chlorine tablets produced for the U.S. market. In addition, national production and shipping were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a nationwide chlorine shortage so that the northwest water utilities are having difficulty obtaining other sources of chlorine.

As you recall, we as a nation woke up in April 2020 to discover that not only toilet paper and paper towels were in short supply, but therapeutic and diagnostic pharmaceuticals, ventilators, other medical devices, personal protective equipment, certain foods and computer equipment were also in short supply. The U.S. found itself strategically vulnerable in a time of crisis, realizing that we had sacrificed supply chain reliance for lower costs.

At the time and in response to congress the  manufacturer and engineering trade associations and the RAPID Manufacturing Institute outlined several strategies for strengthening U.S. supply chains that included moving from large centralized manufacturing to smaller geographically distributed production facilities; data integration along the supply chain, and maintaining and adequately tracked and rotated “just-in-case” levels of inventory. It was recommended that companies  map and analyze their supply chains to identify the weak links in domestic supplies of strategically important products and resolve them. It appears that the water utilities in the northwest (and probably elsewhere) had only a two week supply or less of disinfection products on hand.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

End of the Rural Area

Two proposals that potentially will eliminate the Rural Area are winding their way though the system towards a Board of County Supervisors vote. The first proposal is the revival of the Bi-County parkway, this time called the Va. 234 Bypass. The second proposal is from Maryanne Gahaban and Page Snyder. The two Rural Area large landowners are pushing a proposal to convert almost 800 acres of agriculture zoned land (in which they each have significant ownership) to industrial data centers. They are calling their proposal the PWC Digital Gateway and would add up to an additional 20 million square feet of data center space to Prince William’s existing 5 million square feet. In this rezoning the value of the land would go from about $20-$40 million to $800 million to $1.3 billion dollars.

The Board of County Supervisors or at least the Democratic block on the Board seem inclined to go along with both proposals. The three Republicans (Candland, Lawson and Vega) have already come out against the Bypass and development of data centers in the Rural Area.  If these proposals pass, this will eliminate the protections that the Rural Crescent provides to our regional water resources and the protection from increasing rates the Rural Crescent provides to the Prince William County  water and electricity rate payer from the expense of building the infrastructure to deliver water, sewage and power to the rural area so that data centers can have cheap water and electricity and the specific property owner can get a billion dollar windfall.

Though, it is often believed that when you own land you can do what you want with the land, but that is not true. Zoning determines use and value of land. 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, mine uranium next to the water supply for the county or other undesirable activities. Is it in the public interest to build 20 million square feet of data centers in the rural area where just a few landowners make hundreds of millions of dollars?

To evaluate the Rural Crescent you must consider its impact on water resources and water ecology. While the Rural Crescent may have been the wrong policy to preserve our agricultural heritage, it has been a success at preserving water resources, protecting our groundwater and supporting the ecosystem of our county. In addition, continued redevelopment of areas with preexisting infrastructure would allow Prince William County to improve storm water management in those areas and reduce sediment and nutrient pollution under the EPA mandated TMDL as well as revitalize older areas of the county and support of sustainable development. The Rural Crescent is about water, and the costs to build out the infrastructure to support the rural area and replace the groundwater resources diminished by development.

Prince William Service Authority, PWSA, obtains most of the drinking water they distribute in the county wholesale from Fairfax Water. Besides purchased water from Fairfax Water, PWSA operates the Evergreen water wells that draw water directly from the Culpeper Basin and thousands of home owners have private wells that also draw from the aquifer. The Virginia-American Water Company also distributes water purchased from Fairfax Water. Any changes in land use have the potential to negatively impact groundwater, the watershed and the Occoquan Reservoir and significantly increase demand for water.

Back in 2009 Amazon estimated that a 15 megawatt data center can require up to 360,000 gallons of water a day- that is equivalent to more than 1,000 households. In addition, their power usage is a 24/7 load- a base load not easily replaced by renewable power sources and this proposal is to quadruple the data centers currently existing in the county. Northern Virginia reportedly has 166 data centers. This represents 1,027 megawatts of power capacity-more than anywhere in the nation. Sixty percent of the currently planned data centers nationally are to be built in Northern Virginia. That represents a tremendous ongoing demand for power and water. By the way, despite the PWC Digital Gateway proposed site being near to the existing transmission lines, the existing infrastructure is inadequate to supply the power need of 20 million square feet of data center-which is equal to all the data centers (including those under construction) in Loudoun County.  Based on estimates from the PEC and Greenpeace that would require between 4.5 to 6 gigawatts of power. That is the power for 1-1.5 million households. Prince William County has fewer than 150,000 households currently.

While I would prefer to see the Rural Area left open space, I do not know if that is even possible with our current elected Board of Supervisors. Another proposal under consideration by the Board of Supervisors is a TDR program. In a TDR program a landowner sells his or her development rights to a developer leaving the land behind that can only be used for open space or agriculture. The TDR program identifies sending areas, the Rural Area where the rights can be purchased, and receiving areas where the rights can be used. Rationally, receiving areas would be within or adjacent to well developed areas with roads, power connections, water and sewer infrastructure as well as fiber optic cable connections.  Normally, these programs are only used to increase the density of housing in receiving areas and preserve open space.

Optimizing the “demand” for development rights in the receiving areas was found in practice to be tricky. For the TDR market to thrive and accomplish the locality’s policy goals, demand for development in receiving areas must exceed the supply of “exported” development rights from sending areas and they must be have adequate economic valuable to justify the effort to accumulate and consolidate development rights.

The solution for Prince William County is obvious. All TDRs in the Rural Area should be banked by the county for convenience of the purchasers. The TDRs must grant the right to develop additional data centers outside the current data center overlay district, and preferably also outside of the Rural Area where infrastructure would need to be built. However, whatever land is used should already have water, sewer and power infrastructure available at the property edge to save the county residents the expense of building miles of infrastructure. In addition, it is essential that only the Transferred Rural Area Development Rights can grant that zone change to targeted properties.  In this way all the rural property owners with available development rights can sell those rights and share in the tremendous windfall that rezoning land to data center grants and the Data Center developers would be forced to buy them.

In this way all the development rights in the Rural Area can be used up. All large parcel property owners can share in the wealth generated by developing data centers and leave the citizens of Prince William County to deal with the negative impacts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Cicadas

The cicadas emerged about a month ago in Northern Virginia. They have peaked and are beginning to die off. Brood X has been pretty much a bust here in the northwest corner of Prince William County. I have not seen a single cicada in my yard. However, I when I drove to Fairfax and Loudoun last week, it was a very different story. As I drove along Route 50 I began to hear the sound of the cicadas mating call which sounds to me like the alien crafts from the original War of the Worlds. When I parked, I saw them. Cicadas were everywhere! I was overjoyed to see them.

From Cicada Safari developed at St. Joseph University and the University of Connecticut we are told “Brood X is the largest of the 17-year cicada broods, occurring in parts of 15 states. Periodical cicadas emerge in large numbers when the soil temperature reached 64ยบ F and often after a soaking rain.” Citizen scientists have been using the Cicada Safari app to map and record (using 11 second video) the cicada distribution and population density. Over 150,000 citizen scientists had participated in this project by June.

It appears from the data that the Brood X cicada population that I experienced on Long Island in 1970 has pretty much been extinguished along with the population in Connecticut. Below you can see the distribution of cicadas recorded so far. In the detail of our region below confirmed presence (cicada symbols) and the negative (absence) records are indicated by a black “X”.
This is the extent of Brood X observed so far this year- from Cicada Safari

Detail from Cicada Safari. The X'x are negative observations

As you can see above, the cicadas essentially stop at route 50 along 15. I had a lunch on the outdoor patio of a restaurant in Old Towne Manassas and Wine at Le Grange Winery in Haymarket. Not a cicada in sight, but a lovely time. You may want to keep that in mind as the dying cicadas decay and stink. You might want to plan outdoor activity this weekend in western Prince William County.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

This is the New California Normal

This is not a short term emergency. This is how California will operate until they take action to actually fix the underlying problems and adapt to their resource limitations and changing climate. 

  • Water restriction
  • Intermittent power during windy weather
  • Wildfires

Nearly 95% of California is experiencing extreme drought, and a drought state of emergency with restrictions on water use covers 42 counties, representing nearly a third of the state’s population. The East Bay counties, still without restrictions (yea senior water rights) will probably follow their neighbors as no rain is expected until at least October.  California’s wet season is finished, and the first six months of the water year rank as the fourth driest on record. There is no longer enough rain, snow and enough stored water to reliably supply all the water demand in California. 

from Drought Monitor

The first wildfires of the season are beginning to pop up. The Farm Fire from last week is under control as I write this, but over the weekend the Goose, Beale and the Flats fire broke out. So far twice as many acres have burned in California this year compared to last year at this time. Not a good sign. PG&E has already warned of more frequent (but hopefully shorter) Public Safety Power Shutoffs during this fire season as they institute new shut-off criteria under court oversight.

Though a natural part of California’s landscape, wildfire conditions across California have intensified due to increasing temperatures and dryness that we are told is the result of climate change. The fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year. The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of wildfires across the state.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created by the World Meteorological Organization) considers some additional warming of the planet to be irreversible. According to the IPPC, “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. ” The expected impacts are continued warming of the planet, rainfall pattern changes and significant rising of sea level. 

While the threat of wildfires continues to grow,  the electrical grid has not been hardened against the threat or even appropriately maintained. Much of California’s grid is uninsulated wire. The combination of uninsulated power lines with dry vegetation and high winds can uproot trees and branches, blow branches onto power lines or create sparks if power lines contact one another. Now, when high winds occur in at risk areas (see map below) these conditions call for Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) where the power  to the at risk power lines is turned off to prevent sparks. 

from CA PUC

These intentional power outages occur across the state to prevent wildfires and keep communities safe. The Public Safety Power Shutoffs have been more sever in Northern and Central California where PG&E has lagged behind schedule (and Southern California Edison) in tree trimming and hardening of the electrical grid with insulated wire.

Southern California Edison anticipates fewer Public Safety Power Shutoffs because they have been working to strengthen their infrastructure for many years and now have installed insulated wire in about 25% of the service territory at highest risk of wildfire. Still that is only a quarter of the high risk areas and they are ahead of PG&E in installing technology to limit the scope of power shutoffs.

I am picking on California because a crisis is building quickly and it was my home for so long. But we all need to prepare for how climate change will impact our communities. We can no longer stop climate change, that time is long gone. As time goes on and China and the emerging economies continue to grow we become less relevant. Now we need to prepare. It is inexcusable what happened to the Texas grid during the unexpected freeze and the PMJ seems to be "Texasfing" their grid. 

Data for my pie is from: Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) - "CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions". Published online at


Friday, June 11, 2021

Dying and Dead Birds Seen throughout DMV

When I found two dead birds it broke my heart. There has been a large number of birds found dying or dead. From a USGS news release:

This bird was found in the Washington, D.C. metro region with swollen eyes and crusty discharge, a sign observed on most birds affected by a May/June 2021 mortality event in the area.
from USGS

In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. No definitive cause of death is identified at this time.

The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and District agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or District wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Water Restrictions Spread in California

In May Governor Gavin Newsom expanded his April 21 drought emergency proclamation to include 41 counties under a drought state of emergency, representing 30 % of the state’s population. On Wednesday Santa Clara County voted to declare a water supply emergency and institute mandatory water use restrictions. California’s wet season is almost finished, and the first six months of the water year rank as the fourth driest on record.

From Drought Monitor

Warm temperatures and extremely dry soils attributed to climate change have further depleted the Sierra-Cascade snowpack, and resulted in historic and unanticipated (at least by California) reductions in the amount of water flowing to their major reservoirs, especially in Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed counties.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Governor Newsom. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”

In April, Governor Newsom declared a State of Emergency in Mendocino and Sonoma counties due to severe drought conditions in the Russian River Watershed. In May the Governor expanded the state of emergency to address acute drought impacts to the following 39 counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties adding them to Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others in the California record. California experienced an accelerated rate of snow melt in the Sacramento, Feather and American River watersheds, which normally feed the major reservoirs of the state and federal water projects. This year, however;  the small snowpack was sitting on very dry ground and seeped into the earth rather than flowing into their rivers and streams that feed the reservoirs.

Warming temperatures and lack of rain also prompted water diverters below the dams to withdraw their by right water much earlier and in greater volumes than typical even in other recent critically dry years. These factors reduced expected water supplies by more than 500,000 acre feet, enough to supply up to one million households with water for a year. Thfe drastic reduction in water supplies means these reservoirs are extremely low in the counties the drought proclamation covers.

The Governor’s proclamation directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases and diversion limitations to conserve water upstream for later in the year to maintain water supply, improve water quality and protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead. The state of emergency also directs state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water from one water right holder to another, enabling available water to flow where it is needed most.

The Governor has directed state agencies to partner with local water suppliers to promote conservation through the Save Our Water campaign, a critical resources for Californians during the 2012-2016 drought. Some municipalities have already adopted mandatory local water-saving requirements, and many more have called for voluntary water use reductions.

“It’s time for Californians to pull together once again to save water,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “All of us need to find every opportunity to save water where we can: limit outdoor watering, take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Homeowners, municipalities, and water diverters can help by addressing leaks and other types of water loss, which can account for over 30 percent of water use in some areas.”

However, even herculean action on the part of suburban and urban residents is not going to salvage the situation for long. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume I and II the impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future. The control of global greenhouse gas emissions is not in our hands. The United States represents about 15% of global emissions. In order to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees C of warming, the recent The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says carbon pollution must be cut almost in half by 2030, and then reach "net zero" by mid-century. China and India carbon emissions are still growing even as our emissions have fallen.

California water problems fundamentally result from having a vibrant economy and society in an arid climate that is becoming dryer. The demand for cheap water exceeds supply. In previous years and hopefully also in the future, the Pacific storm track leave tremendous accumulations of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Sierra Snowpack melted in the early warm weather and was absorbed into the dry earth rather than flowing into the rivers and reservoirs this year. 

California has 1,200 miles of canals and nearly 50 reservoirs. In an “average” year the system captures enough water to irrigate about four million acres and provide water to 30 million people. Without this extensive management system that moves water from the north to the south and delivers water from the Colorado and Klamath Rivers, California’s limited rainfall and diminishing groundwater reserves could not meet as much of the demand for water. California has the largest water storage and transportation system in the world, but without rain there is nothing to store. 

Californians pride themselves on being environmentally conscious and mindful of conserving natural resources. California local water agencies have invested in water recycling, conservation, groundwater storage and other strategies to stretch supplies. Nonetheless, water demand within the state has never been greater and the available water resources have decreased as our climate changes. Year-round agriculture has been made possible by water used for irrigation. California produces nearly half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables. Fruit and nut trees must be watered all year they cannot lie dormant for several years during a drought. The limit to California’s agricultural bounty is water availability.

Irrigated agricultural consumes over 75% of the delivered water in California, which produces about half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Californians have stretched their annual rainfall about as far as it could go; yes there are still some inefficiencies in the systems, but it is the new climate normal tell us that precipitation in California has decreased. While population has increased. 

To change the fundamental water equation in the state the Pacific Institute recommends that of 1.3 million acres of impaired lands in the Central Valley be removed from irrigation and agricultural use. Though this land represents less than 5% of the agricultural land in California it would save 3.9 million acre-feet of water per year,  9% of the water used in California and is equal to two thirds of the total water used for urban residential use. 

Meanwhile, drought is not their only problem. Wildfire season has already begun with portions of California currently under a Red Flag Warning. Fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year. Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend. Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons that increase moisture stress on vegetation and make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire. The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of forest fires across the state. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Wells of Virginia in 2019

Private drinking water wells serve more than a fifth of Virginia’s population or 1.7 million residents.   Virginia created the Virginia Household Water Quality Program (VAHWQP) to provide affordable water testing and education about private water wells to those residents of the Commonwealth. Extension Offices hold drinking water clinics and provide information to assist private well owners in understanding and maintaining their wells. 

The quality and safety of private wells are not regulated under Federal nor, in most cases, state law. In Virginia regulations control only construction and the absence of bacteria at the time of a well’s completion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate individual households. As a result, individual homeowners are solely responsible for maintaining their domestic well systems and for any routine water-quality monitoring that may take place.

The Virginia Household Water Quality Program was, originally created in 1989, was relaunched in 2007 with a USDA grant. In 2011 the program was expanded under another USDA grant to subsidize testing, quantify bacteria, add metals, and begin research out of Virginia Tech. Now the program is self-sustaining with clinics held in 88 counties in 2019. The analysis is done by the Virginia Tech laboratory and research utilizing the data is being pursued by graduate students.

In all the Virginia Household Water Quality Program clinics the water samples are analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria, and last year cost $65 in Prince William County. These are mostly naturally occurring contaminants and common sources of contamination: a poorly sealed well or a nearby leaking septic system, or indications of plumbing system corrosion. Though not an exhaustive list of potential contaminants, these are the most common contaminants that effect drinking water wells.

from VA Tech

Though about 600,000 of Virginia households with 1,700,000 residents or 22% of the Virginia population have private wells, only around 2,294 households chose to participate in the Virginia Household Water Quality Program clinic in 2019 and may not be representative of all private drinking water wells in the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, the data collected over the past 13 years is the one of the largest databases on private drinking water wells available. Well water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of contamination, and, within the home, water treatment devices and composition of plumbing materials.  

Well water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of contamination, and, within the home, water treatment devices and composition of plumbing materials.  

Overall, the statewide sampling last year found that over 40% of the wells have coliform bacteria, and 6% have E. coli bacteria. Though 25% of wells were found to have acidic water (low pH) only about 5% of homes have first flush lead levels above the EPA safe drinking water standard maximum contaminant level for lead and copper. Lead and copper leach into water primarily because of corrosion of plumbing and well components but can also result from flaking of scale from brass fittings and well components unrelated to corrosion. Copper and lead do not naturally appear in groundwater and lead in drinking water is predominately coming from the pipes. Over time older pipes and fixtures corrode or simply wear away and the lead and other corrosion material (like rust) is carried to the drinking water. Time and water do cause corrosion, but this can be aggravated by the pH of the water or other changes in water chemistry. The amount of lead corroded from metal plumbing including faucets with brass interiors generally increases with increasing water corrosiveness.

Almost 30% of households have elevated sodium exceeding the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act limit. This could be a result saltwater infiltration from natural or man-made sources (like road salt) or could indicate that water softeners are adding too much sodium to the water. Of the 2,294 participants in 2019, 41% report that they NEVER tested their water before. About 21% of participants have participated in the VAHWQP clinic before.  Annual testing of well water is recommended to make sure it is safe to drink, and you have the appropriate treatment system.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Making A TDR Program Work

Prince William County is on the verge of instituting a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program is the Rural Area of the County. The first pass of the program was sent back to the Planning Department for reconsideration since the program was based on a “stale” consultant’s study from 2013.

In 2006 the General Assembly adopted enabling legislation for TDRs then amended the TDR law to allow for transfers across county-city lines and to remove a requirement that the transferred or severed rights from the sending area be immediately attached to another property to allow for “banking” of property credits.  In 2010, a model ordinance was created in Virginia, and though many localities explored creating TDR programs, as of 2016, only Frederick, Stafford, and Arlington counties had one.

In 2016 Jessica Lung, J.D and Michael Killius, J.D. of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William & Mary Law School did a study on TDR programs. Their report was titled “Tools for a Resilient Virginia Coast:Designing a Successful TDR Program for Virginia’s Middle Peninsula.” The Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at the College of William & Mary Law School provides “science based legal and policy analysis of ecological issues affecting the state's coastal resources, providing education and advice to a host of Virginia’s decision-makers, from government officials and legal scholars to non-profit and business leaders.” What follows is a summary of their finding from their research and excerpts from their report.

It was found that many citizens viewed a TDR program as government interference with private property rights and the private market. Even though TDRs are often transacted through the private marketplace, local government serves as a third party to the transaction by enabling the program, determining the sending and receiving areas, and establishing the zoning law framework. Interestingly, a PDR program (already approved in Prince William County) involves more government entanglement with private property rights than TDRs: With TDRs, the government is merely a party enabling the private market transaction while with PDRs the government is the buyer. Moreover, funding for PDRs is often obtained through real estate tax levies on all landowners whereas funding for TDRs is obtained through a transaction involving a willing buyer and seller.

Having a significant portion of residential or any development in rural areas creates challenges for localities because rural areas lack the same level of infrastructure present in more urban and suburban communities. Construction in rural areas places a heavier burden on local governments to provide additional schools, transportation, and public water and sewer, among other services.

The TDR plan is designed to increase growth in specified urban areas of the county, often called the Urban Development Areas (UDAs). When development increases, so does the county's tax base. However, developers of homes or commercial operations in the rural areas of the county do not pay proffers or provide transportation improvements. The county must fund these expenses, making development in rural areas more costly to the county. UDAs can accommodate a higher density and more residential commercial growth than rural areas. When residential and commercial density increases within the UDA, and development shifts from rural areas to urban areas, the additional cost of services decreases, which alleviates financial stress on local government.

The research found that TDR program success depends on the existence of the following factors:

  1. Strict sending-area regulations
  2. Market incentives
  3. Few alternatives to TDR
  4. Demand for “bonus” development

They note that customized receiving areas are also a critical factor for success. According to their research, the most successful TDR programs exhibit at least three of these four factors. In other words it is essential that you craft a TDR where there is a demand and significant value to the bonus development rights and you do NOT give away those rights to other projects.

Successful TDR programs customize their receiving areas to their individual communities. Context is key and necessitates a “boots on the ground” approach accordin to the authors. Community stakeholders must buy into the TDR program, so the areas of the community receiving additional density should target the locality’s development goals.

Strict sending-area development regulations inherently increase the supply of TDRs. Several problems arise when a locality fails to strictly regulate its sending areas. Without strict sending area regulations, the development value of the property may exceed the value of the transferable development rights. As a result, the property owner can either charge more for the right (which could deter developers) or simply develop the property (against the goals of the TDR program). In either scenario, demand for TDRs decreases. To make the program work all development in the Rural Area beyond the 10 acre lots already approved and A-1 compliant use must be forbidden with no exceptions.

To combat this type of resultant market failure, Montgomery County, a poster child success story for a TDR program,  downzoned their sending areas from one unit per five acres to one unit per twenty-five acres. By downzoning, Montgomery County increased demand for TDRs amongst the development community. Montgomery County’s TDR program is now among the most successful TDR programs in the nation. However,  downzoning sending areas, much like downzoning receiving areas, can incite political backlash, depending on the political climate of the locality. Many opponents to such a downzoning may assert that it is a form of a government taking under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Demand Optimizing the “demand” side – the receiving areas and those seeking to develop within them was found to be trickier. For the TDR market to thrive and accomplish the locality’s policy goals, demand for development in receiving areas must exceed the supply of “exported” development rights from sending areas and they must be have adequate economic valuable to justify the effort to accumulate and consolidate development rights. The solution for Prince William County is obvious. All TDRs should be banked by the county for convenience of the purchasers. The TDRs must grant the right to develop additional data centers outside the data center overlay district, but outside of the Rural Area. In addition, TDR’s can be used to grant high density development near transportation hubs.