Monday, January 13, 2014

Raindrops on roses

One of Maria Von Trapp’s favorite things has been declared an environmental threat by the federal and state government. Those pesky raindrops wash fungicides, pesticides, and even fertilizers into the Chesapeake Bay imperiling its complicated and fragile ecosystem.

The feds have been putting measures to clean up the Bay into place for decades; apparently more work needs to be done. As the raindrops on roses eventually trickle to the Bay, clean up measures also trickle down and are coming to Goochland County in the form of cumbersome regulations.

On January 7, Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors continued a workshop on looming storm water control regulations. Currently, the new protocols must be enacted by July 1, 2014. Some jurisdictions have asked the Virginia General Assembly to move the implementation deadlines back one year, but no decision has yet been reached.

No one wants the Chesapeake Bay to die. It is a lot cleaner and healthier today than it’s been in decades. It’s near death was caused by many actions, including misuse by the military-industrial complex, which dumped hazardous substances not good for children and other living things into the water for a very long time.

Storm water runoff has been cited as a source of Bay pollution. Raindrops that fall on fields and forests are far more likely to soak into the soil—which filters out the bad stuff—than those that fall on roofs and paved surfaces. Undisciplined rainwater can carry pollutants and harmful pathogens into water sources that eventually empty into the Bay.

Holding ponds to collect storm water runoff and allow it to seep back into the ground near its point of impact will soon be mandated for all construction on more than one acre in Virginia. They’re already in use, one sits between Essex Bank and Board Street Road in Centerville. The Commonwealth is passing enforcement of these rules to localities. This mandate includes adoption of a county ordinance governing the matter and policies and procedures to ensure that the ponds are properly built and maintained. A new employee and additional training will be needed for the community development staff to handle the task. The cost of local compliance could be as high as $50,000 going forward, depending on fees that the county could charge to offset the regulation cost.

While setting fees commensurate with the cost of enforcement may seem like a no brainer, there are larger consequences. Neighboring jurisdictions may not charge fees for this. Goochland must keep the cost of coming here competitive. The new regulations will also lengthen the time for plan approval. As “time is money” for developers, Goochland could be placed at a competitive disadvantage with larger jurisdictions.

The supervisors are not enthusiastically embracing this “clean water” initiative even though grants from the departments of environmental quality and conservation and recreation will help offset startup costs. (See part B of the January 7 board packet on the county website for details.)

Ned Creasey, District 3 wanted to know if storm water runoff had actually been tested to gauge the amount and severity of contamination, if any.

County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the mandate addresses the entire state. Agricultural runoff, which includes excess fertilizer and animal manure, the biggest cause of increased nutrient levels in the Bay, has been set aside for later discussion by those who impose clean up measures and impose fines for non-compliance.

Susan Lascolette, District 1 contended that the biggest source of Bay pollution is excess ammunition dumped by the military. She said that the cost to get the last few percent of pollution causes—storm water runoff—is a huge drain on the economy. She also pointed out that there is pending legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to delay implementation by one year. (Lascolette serves as a legislative assistant to Senator Tom Garrett, whose 22nd District includes Goochland.)

Board chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2 said ideally, pollution would be controlled voluntarily by responsible farmers like Ronny Nuckols, who was recognized at the start of the board meeting for being selected as an outstanding conservation farmer by the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District.

Nuckols stated that he believes that his actions--having a written nutrient management and implementation plan; fencing three miles of stream bank to keep cattle (and polluting manure) out of the water; creating 28 acres of riparian buffers to naturally filter runoff; and practicing good grazing and planting practices--are good for his business as well as good for the environment.

Barring a legislative delay in deadlines for the storm water management program to take effect, the Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance governing the mandate at its February meeting.

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