Representatives from several local environmental groups presented new stormwater management techniques to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors at their August 6, 2008 meeting. Pollution and erosion in Albemarle streams are ongoing concerns, and stormwater runoff is at least partially responsible for the problem. The presentation laid out changes in County ordinances that could help to decrease the impact development has on local waterways.

A similar presentation was given to the Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission in May of 2008.

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Leon Szeptycki (at right), Director of the Environmental Law and Conservation Clinic at UVA, explained that development in the County impacts Albemarle streams. Because buildings and roads are generally impervious surfaces, stormwater does not stay where it falls, but follows the watershed into local streams. Not only does the stormwater absorb pollutants, such as oil or chemicals on concrete, on its way to the stream, it also increases the velocity of the stream itself, which erodes the soil on the banks of the stream. This has the effect of clogging the stream with both dirt and chemicals, creating a hazardous environment for the native wildlife, especially fish.

“If you look at our local water body, stormwater or runoff from storms…is the primary water pollution problem in this community” said Szeptycki. He explained that a program in the James River area had inspired Rivanna area environmental groups to conduct an analysis of how local building ordinances were impacting the health of local watersheds.

“This is not everything you could do about stormwater,” clarified Szeptycki. The report focuses on the building and development codes, which the groups think is the easiest and most cost-efficient manner to quickly reduce stormwater problems. “It’s not where you build, it’s how you build,” he concluded.

Robbi Savage (at left), Executive Director of the Rivanna Conservation Society, laid out the extent of the pollution currently affecting local streams. According to Savage, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has identified more than 20 stretches of streams in Albemarle that do not meet Clean Water Act standards. Albemarle staff have done in depth studies of seven of these stretches, and in all of them stormwater runoff has been determined to be either a major or primary cause of the pollution.

“We’re having problems with human and animal waste, e-coli, and fecal coliforms in the Rivanna main stream, in the North Fork Rivanna, Preddy Creek, Meadow Creek, Mechums, and Beaver Creek,” said Savage.

Morgan Butler (at right), Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charlottesville/Albemarle Project, 
detailed the specific changes to County ordinances that the groups were recommending. The recommendations cover four general topics: promoting better design and layout for new developments, encouraging low-impact development (LID) stormwater practices, limiting runoff from construction sites, and increasing protection of streams on pasture land.

Butler began by addressing the goal of limiting construction runoff. Virginia state law, referenced in County code, requires construction sites to be re-vegetated within a certain number of days after construction in the area is completed. However, according to Butler, many construction companies simply wait until the deadline is almost up, perform a small amount of possibly unnecessary work, and are able to extend the deadline almost indefinitely.

“So for example, if the 30 day or 365 day limit is about to expire, just look at your watch, go out and move some dirt around, and you basically kick the time limit in all over again,” said Butler. He cited specific cases where the County had accepted proffers, conditional on re-vegetation within a certain time period. Butler urged the County go further and incorporate such a time limit into standard erosion ordinances.

Butler then highlighted LID stormwater practices, used to keep rainfall on site, rather than simply trying to funnel it more slowly into the streams. He praised the green roof at the County Office Building, but said the County could do more to encourage LID practices. Driveways and roads made of permeable materials, such as porous driveway pavers, allow stormwater rainfall to be absorbed into the ground, rather than flowing into storm drains. Virginia code allows localities to offer property tax discounts to owners utilizing such materials, and Butler recommended that Albemarle institute such a policy.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) and

Sally Thomas

(Samuel Miller) expressed skepticism that tax assessors would be able to effectively implement such a policy, since assessments are based on fair market value of the property, but suggested that the County could distribute information on the benefits of LID practices to those seeking building permits or other approvals. Thomas mentioned that she recalled hearing from County staff that permeable driveways might not be very practical in Albemarle, due to the clay content of the soil.

Butler summarized a number of other recommendations, including requiring special use permits for developers wishing to increase parking lots beyond the maximum size allowed by ordinance. Butler argued that the current economic downturn, and the resultant lull in new construction, made this an ideal time to revise building policies.

Rooker expressed his appreciation of the efforts of the groups in coming together to issue the report: “This is an example, this kind of report, of what makes this such a great community, because we have groups that come in and at their own time and expense, put together something like this, which is exceptionally helpful.”

David Slutzky

(Rio) characterized the efforts of those who generated the report as “noble and helpful.”

The Board appeared highly supportive of the recommendations. “Many of these things that are recommended could be easily done, without a lot of administrative work,” said Rooker. “[I] sort of assume we want to do them all, and which ones can we do fastest?” said Thomas. Slutzky asked the groups to continue to help the County by assisting staff in implementing the policies, which Butler and Savage readily agreed to do.

Ben Doernberg


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