Greg Harper addressing Albemarle Supervisors

Albemarle County has two years to tell the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality how it will meet stringent pollution reduction targets designed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“We’re going to be held accountable in a way that we haven’t been in the past,” said County Executive Thomas C. Foley.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors began a discussion of how to pay for infrastructure to achieve new goals that stem from new state regulations.

“All of these new mandates are going to require additional resources and cost some money,” said Greg Harper, the county’s water resources manager.

However, Harper said he does not yet know how much it will cost to install more detention basins, rain gardens and other best management practices to reduce and filter stormwater.

“Before we talk about funding and money, we really have to talk about the programs that funding is going to actually provide,” Harper said.

Earlier this year, the city of Charlottesville adopted a stormwater utility fee to provide revenue to pay for its expanded program. Property owners will pay an amount based on the amount of impervious surface on their land.

Supervisors have differing opinions on whether to pursue that option for Albemarle.

“I am not in favor of and have not been in favor of a dedicated revenue source for stormwater management,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.

However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the utility fee could be reduced for property owners who install their own stormwater mitigations.

“If you’re doing your job to reduce your impact, you shouldn’t have to pay out of the general tax fund,” said Mallek. “The element of the user fee is an element of fairness.”

A decision on how to pay for stormwater mitigations will not be made until after three more work sessions on the topic.

Harper said the county has had a commitment to protecting streams since it adopted its first Comprehensive Plan in 1971. In 1975, the county adopted a soil erosion and sedimentation control ordinance, and enacted a runoff control ordinance in 1977.

“They were brought about by citizen activism,” said Glenn Brooks, county engineer.

A 2010 report from the DEQ established that 40 miles of streams are healthy, 89 miles are considered impaired, and there is insufficient data on 270 miles. The information is based on data collected by the nonprofit StreamWatch.

“Most of the streams in the county are impaired, but luckily most of the impaired streams are impaired to the degree that can be repaired,” Harper said.

Some supervisors questioned whether there was enough information to make that conclusion, given that not all streams are directly monitored.

“Ten percent is healthy, 23 percent is impaired, and we have 60 percent that we don’t have enough data on, but yet we say most of our streams are impaired,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said the assessment process is based on scientific  principles.

“They pick representative streams of different kinds throughout the county so when you get the results you get a picture that’s reasonably accurate,” Rooker said. “They don’t have enough funds to monitor all the streams in the county.”

The DEQ is requiring tougher goals because it is under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address pollution in the bay.

Albemarle, like many other urban jurisdictions, must receive a permit from the DEQ to manage its stormwater. Before the permit is next renewed, Harper said the DEQ wants specifics on how pollution will be reduced.

“They’re getting a bit more strict and they’re tightening the screws a bit,” Harper said. “That’s the lever they’re using to get to us.”

At the next work session, supervisors will be asked to provide staff direction on specific water protection goals.

“The minimum goals are to clean up the impaired streams,” Harper said. “The state is saying that if your streams are impaired, you have to clean them up.”

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