By Sean Tubbs
Friday, April 23, 2010
New federal and state regulations are putting pressure on local governments to get tougher on preventing pollutants from entering the state’s largest watershed.
Last week, Jack Frye, director of the
Division of Soil and Water
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
, updated members of the
Rivanna River Basin Commission
on a mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that reach the Chesapeake Bay.
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“In 1985, we were over 100 million pounds [of nitrogen] in Virginia,” Frye said. “The ultimate goal is to get down to under 60 million a year by 2025.”
The passage of the federal Clean Water Act established a new definition called a Total Maximum Daily Load, which refers to the total amount of pollutants allowed to enter into a body of water before water quality becomes impaired.
In order to hasten efforts to clean up the Chesapeake, these figures are being revised in order to reduce even further the amount allowed into the bay. Virginia is required to come up with a TMDL for several pollutants by May 1, 2011.
A new set of stormwater regulations was expected to be approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell earlier this year, but the General Assembly suspended them in March for another round of review.
Many in the development community were concerned they would have too much of an impact. Frye said the new regulations will address how much stormwater can leave a piece of developed land. That will require site plans to include ways to capture water rather than let it flow straight into the watershed.
The amendments to the stormwater regulations will also require all localities in Virginia to either create a stormwater management program or pay DCR to do the work instead.
“Our hope would be that we would have some incentive packages, and that in an ideal world we would never have to run a single program,” Frye said.
Localities already have the ability to impose a stormwater fee to pay for infrastructure improvements, but neither
nor Albemarle County has done so.
The regulation amendments also will encourage localities and developers to work to reduce sediment that enters the watershed. The DCR will offer guidance on best management practices for stormwater, on how existing developments will be affected and how inspections will be conducted.
There will be a new way in which impervious surfaces will be calculated in order to encourage developers to consider how stormwater is handled at the beginning of the site plan process.
“The new one is more about not designing the site first and trying to shoehorn things in, but looking at the site to try to minimize impervious surfaces,” Frye said. “You’ll also get credit for not allowing runoff by capturing rainwater.”
Frye compared the possibilities of readjusting water management to the evolution of the local food movement.
“I think things like rainwater reuse and harvesting is critically important in Virginia, where all localities are doing these water plans,” Frye said. “Looking at the 36 to 43 inches of rain we typically get in a year … [this] creates some real opportunities for us here in Virginia to change our paradigm about how we do local water management.”
One way by which levels of nitrogen and phosphorous will be reduced is through upgrades of wastewater treatment plants. Virginia and individual localities will spend nearly $1.5 billion to improve water quality, including the
$40.3 million in improvements at the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
The Draft TMDL plan for the entire Chesapeake Bay will be completed by Aug. 1, after which the public review process will begin. The EPA is expected to release its final Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan in December.
The EPA is
holding a webinar on the topic
for interested parties on May 4.
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