The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality introduced its Watershed Improvement Plan for four area watersheds during a panel discussion last week.
Experts from the Rivanna River Basin Commission, the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and the University of Virginia helped to introduce the plan.
“We know we have a problem,” said Tara Sieber, a regional coordinator with the DEQ. “We know that there is … work that we can do … so that the aquatic population is healthier and can support a better and more dynamic community. The goal is to bring back the healthy bugs.”
The Watershed Improvement Plan comes as a result of studies that found high sediment loads to be the major stressor for Lodge Creek, Meadow Creek, Moores Creek and Schenks Branch.
High loads of sediment — dirt and mud in the water — negatively affect the aquatic community, which is one way scientists determine the overall health of streams. The DEQ’s plan recommends reducing sediment by 13 percent to 19.3 percent in these streams.
The plan recommends reducing sediment loads to area watersheds in four ways: limiting the amount of pavement and other impervious surfaces; encouraging stormwater to infiltrate back into the ground; restoring stream banks and planting trees; and removing existing sediment from impervious surfaces, such as roadways.
“When we’re in a highly impervious environment, like an urbanized area … the rain falls and it goes immediately into the creeks and rivers,” Sieber said.
This increases the amount of water a creek or stream can handle naturally, which leads to erosion, and then sedimentation problems.
Additionally, Sieber suggested developers and property owners incorporate vegetated roofs, rain gardens and bio-retention filters into their properties, as well as harvest rainwater by using rain barrels or cisterns.
Currently, local entities are employing stormwater management practices and conducting restoration projects that will ultimately help water quality.
“We’ve been reducing stream bank and bed erosion that’s the result of development for decades and decades before stormwater management was something a lot of people thought about,” said Dan Frisbee, the city’s stormwater program coordinator.
“This project aims to address some of those issues by grading back … steep, vertical stream banks into gentle, gradual banks that are then protected with rock … creating areas where the water can actually get up and safely access its floodplain,” Frisbee added.
“Since 2003, we’ve had a number of different projects to try to educate … certain sectors like the automobile maintenance and repair industry,” said Martin Johnson, the soil and water district’s urban conservationist. “One of our education incentives was to get posters out to them and to make site visits and to talk to them about the types of practices they could be doing to prevent water pollution.”
Audience members at the presentation, held Thursday at the Albemarle County Office Building, asked panelists about how new construction might impact stormwater management efforts.
“We try the best we can to make the contractor stick to the sediment and erosion control plan,” said Greg Harper, the county’s water resources manager. “I’d like to think in the next five years we can ramp up the resources that go to that plan, but it depends on the supervisors.”
“We’re out at our sites within 48 hours of any rainfall event,” added Jeff Sitler, director of UVa’s environmental compliance program. “We have a lot of contractors who say, ‘no one else makes me do this, so why are you?’”
With respect to the total price tag of the DEQ’s plan, the estimated cost of all money spent on this project, which includes both public and private monies, totals approximately $13 million.
The project’s timeline moves in two-year increments over the next 13 years, with all area watersheds meeting sediment reduction goals by 2022-23. Some watersheds will meet standards before others.
“Moores Creek will meet standards in the next one to two years,” Sieber said. “It just takes time for the work that’s done on the land to help the streams. It’s not an immediate … relationship.”
“[The plan] is a tool for getting more money,” said Leslie Middleton, executive director of the river basin commission. “Once that plan is in place, it helps route money to this community.”