RRBC puts finishing touches on watershed snapshot

The 13 members present at the Rivanna River Basin Commission meeting Monday zipped around the room playing a form of bingo.

The game didn’t signal that the holidays had come early; it was a fill-in-the-blank quiz guiding them through the final draft of the Rivanna Watershed Snapshot, a 12-page summary of the watershed’s current conditions.

“I didn’t realize how Albemarle County-centric I was,” said Liz Palmer, a citizen representative on the Commission and member of the Albemarle County Service Authority. “If I hadn’t taken the test, I never would have thought about that.”

The snapshot, which will soon go to print, is replete with environmental analysis, recreational information and strategies for managing resources throughout the entire 768-square mile watershed.

The RRBC is a quasi-governmental organization created to enhance water quality in the Rivanna River watershed, which is part of the 64,000 square mile watershed for the Chesapeake Bay.

“We need to get people talking, and we need to get people focusing on the whole watershed,” said RRBC executive director Leslie Middleton.

“We want to encourage the City and County to continue to think of the river as it flows through the urban area as the same water that flows downstream to Fluvanna and then on into the James River,” Middleton added in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Following the short quiz, commission members offered critiques of the document.

City Councilor Dede Smith thought the snapshot could include more information about other factors that impact the “water budget,” such as water conservation, unpermitted groundwater withdrawals and laws mandating water efficiency.

The snapshot describes a water budget as “the relationship between water withdrawals, water discharges, and streamflow.”

“It might also be helpful to use the Weldon Cooper Center’s population estimates in the watershed, because that will have a direct effect on the water budget,” said commission chairman Marvin Moss.

Greene County supervisor and commission vice chair Jim Frydl praised the document’s abundance of information about the watershed, but wondered if there were additional areas for which the commission had no data and could move forward.

“There’s a lack of good baseline information,” Middleton said. “We want to establish the existing conditions so over time we can track progress.”

Lonnie Murray, who serves on the commission as an elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, saw the lack of data in specific areas as an opportunity.

“By documenting what you don’t know, you might be able to leverage that into grant funding,” Murray said.

The commission’s work, however, does not end with the snapshot. In 2013, they plan to produce a web-based, practice-oriented tool to serve the planning, development and agriculture communities.

“This will provide all the technical information you’ll need in order to follow Chesapeake Bay regulations, as well as best management practices and planning decisions,” said Moss.

The snapshot’s release also coincides with the city and county’s comprehensive planning process.

Currently, the Charlottesville and Albemarle planning commissions are working jointly to establish goal language for possible adoption in each locality’s comprehensive plan.

The environment is one those goals, and whether or not to develop along the river is one of the questions being discussed.

“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,” Middleton said in an Aug. 14 letter to the joint planning commissions. “Restoration coupled with permanent protection on both sides [of the river] could be a cost effective and revenue-generating strategy.”

“There will eventually be a conflict between using the river for future growth and improving its health,” said Smith. “The snapshot should inform the comprehensive plans with respect to the need to consider the health of the river while we’re making plans.”

“There’s a lot of good information in here,” said Albemarle Supervisor Duane E. Snow, “and that’s valuable to the planning commission, the Board of Supervisors, and the City Council.”

In addition to distributing the snapshot to the approximately 130 elected and appointed officials in the Rivanna Watershed, the RRBC plans to take the snapshot on the road.

“We’re working to set-up open houses, and we want to dovetail with other events so we can reach populations that we don’t usually reach,” Middleton said. “It will be our calling card for a while.”