As Charlottesville and Albemarle prepare to discuss the Rivanna River as an area of joint planning concern, the government entity that seeks to protect its watershed wants to raise awareness about its poor water quality.
“It is important to understand that the health of the Rivanna is not good,” wrote Marvin F. Moss, chairman of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, in a letter to the chairs of the city and county planning commissions.
“A river is the report card of how we live on the land,” Moss added.
The RRBC agreed Monday to send the letter in advance of a joint meeting on Sept. 18 at which both planning commissions will discuss how to improve access to the Rivanna and to share ideas about how it can become a common resource.
“The city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are both undergoing updates to their comprehensive plans,” noted Leslie Middleton, executive director of the RRBC.
The letter commends the decision to focus on the river, but also asks city and county government to do more to decrease the amount of stormwater that flows through the Rivanna’s watershed.
One suggestion is to ensure that all development along or near the river be sufficiently buffered.
“Site development in the river corridor needs to respect the vital ecological function of the riparian buffer in stabilizing banks and absorbing flow and pollutants that would otherwise overwhelm the river,” Moss wrote.
Since 2006, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has identified as impaired the 5.28-mile stretch of the Rivanna between the confluence of its northern and southern forks near the Bentivar neighborhood in Albemarle and the juncture with Moores Creek near Woolen Mills.
“There is excess bacteria in the water, [which increases] the risk of people getting sick at times,” said Tara Sieber, a DEQ official who coordinates pollution diets called “total maximum daily loads.”
“The aquatic life is not as healthy and diverse as it should be,” Sieber added.
The letter also sought to educate city and county planners more about the RRBC’s efforts to promote water quality in the Rivanna.
The agency is in the process of assessing the health of the Rivanna’s watershed. A series of indicators called the “Rivanna Snapshot” will be published this fall and is the first step in the development of a comprehensive watershed management plan.
“We’ve been keeping an eye out on different reports that come in and trying to think of different indicators for the Rivanna,” said Jessica Lassetter, program officer for the RRBC.
Lonnie Murray, who serves on the RRBC as an elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, suggested that the two localities investigate the possibility of creating a nutrient credit exchange to boost economic development.
“There are a lot of unattractive, undesirable properties that impair the ability to make the corridor a viable area for recreation,” Murray said. “But you could apply some nutrient credits to that area to help people actually purchase properties, rehabilitate them, and make those areas not only more stormwater compliant but also more aesthetically pleasing.”
The University of Virginia’s School of Architecture is also interested in the future of the Rivanna River. Faculty are setting up a school-wide study of the Rivanna corridor using a similar process to the Belmont Vortex, which offered up design suggestions for the Belmont Bridge replacement project.
“The dean is currently working with faculty to get the project integrated into the fall semester,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager. “There seems to be a lot of interest.”