By Sean Tubbs
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Charlottesville officials are preparing for extensive stormwater improvements that could be mandated if Virginia does not submit a Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan that meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s expectations.
“This will have a major impact on our budget,” said acting city manager Maurice Jones during a City Council briefing Monday night.
“We are trying to do everything we can to make sure that folks who represent Charlottesville on the state and federal level have an understanding of the impact this is going to have on localities,” Jones said.
In September, Virginia submitted its draft clean-up plan, but the EPA determined it had “serious deficiencies” in its ability to reduce the total maximum daily load, or TMDL, of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that will be permitted to enter the bay’s watershed.
If Virginia does not alter its plan to meet federal expectations, the EPA has the power to require localities to invest in stormwater treatment systems to accomplish some of the goal. The city’s existing permit to operate its municipal storm system expires in 2013, at which time the EPA might insist upon tougher controls.
Under one of these “backstop” measures, the EPA could require 50 percent of urban land to meet “aggressive performance standards.” For Charlottesville, that translates to 690 acres of land upon which stormwater would need to be treated or impounded.
Currently only 20 acres of city land are treated according to the best management practices called for in the TMDL.
Jim Tolbert, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services, said the Timmons Group has estimated it could cost as much as $50,000 an acre to retrofit or redevelop land to reduce pollution, with an ultimate cost in the tens of millions of dollars.
Councilor David Brown suggested that council rethink its support for a stormwater utility fee to help cover the costs of treating impervious surfaces. Council was presented with the idea in November 2008, but declined to pursue that option at the time.
“What we talked about a few years ago … was creating a situation that would give people specific incentives to have green roofs or creative paving in their homes and businesses,” Brown said.
In the city’s official public comment on Virginia’s draft plan, Tolbert pointed out that the impact on the bay from the James River is substantially less than that in other areas of the six-state region that comprises the bay’s watershed.
“Requiring the City of Charlottesville to implement aggressive and costly urban stormwater retrofits when the result will have little impact on the bay is unnecessary and unfair,” reads the letter written by Tolbert.
The issue faces other localities across the state as well. The Virginia Municipal Stormwater Association has said it will cost each household in the state between $700 to $1,800 per household per year on stormwater and other infrastructure upgrades.