|Action||Amend Parts I, II, and III of the Virginia Stormwater Management Program Permit Regulations to address water quality and quantity and local stormwater management program criteria.|
|Comment Period||Ends 8/21/2009|
Each summer, over 20 miles of the deep water habitat in the lower Rappahannock River becomes devoid of oxygen. This is but one symptom of an ecosystem in distress due to excess nutrient loads. In the Rappahannock basin as in many tributaries of the Bay, the fastest growing source of nutrient loads is stormwater runoff.
For near four years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has engaged in an unprecedented effort to develop new regulations that address the serious problem that urban/suburban stormwater runoff presents to the health of our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) has participated in this process as a member of the technical advisory committee (TAC) and we would like to provide the following comments on the proposed regulations.
We feel that the proposed reduction in phosphorous load from 0.45 to 0.28lb/ac/yr is the appropriate action to bring urban/suburan runoff into compliance with Tributary Strategy goals. Chesapeake Bay Program data show that while we have made substantial progress in every other area of nutrient load reduction (eg agriculture, municipal wastewater), nutrient loads from developed lands have increased. In fact, in many of our river basins this increase has been sufficient to negate the progress made in other areas. With Virginia having recently spent $1billion in upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, without decisive action on stormwater we face the specter of this investment being lost to preventable nutrient loads from future development.
We offer our strong support to the runoff reduction approach in the proposed regulations. By focusing on removal of water from the runoff stream, the approach addresses multiple aspects of stormwater impacts. The approach removes nutrients, recharges groundwater, reduces thermal impacts to streams, and tends to promote BMPs that are more aesthetically pleasing and which reduce the urban head island effect. Perhaps most importantly, the runoff reduction approach creates an incentive to reduce impervious cover from the outset.
The central Rappahannock basin counties of Stafford and Spotsylvania have in recent year been listed as some of the fastest growing localities in the nation. Despite the use of conventional BMPs, we routinely see streams that are “reamed out” downstream of new developments due to excess overall volume. This is why we feel that the proposed volume control component of the regulation is so important. The approach is simple, yet offers flexibility in the method to control overall erosive energy entering the stream.
Based on analysis performed by DCR and by Williamsburg Environmental Group, costs for implementation of these new regulations will increase. However, they will not be in excess of what is already being done in some localities that have voluntarily adopted low impact development measures. For example, the County of Stafford adopted Low Impact Development eight years ago and continues to use it today. Interviews with elected officials and staff overwhelmingly indicate that LID has not impacted the economic development climate in the county in the least. In fact, Stafford County has become a national model for stormwater management and their staff are routinely visited by representatives from other local governments and states to learn about their approach.
The issue of cost is further mitigated by the allowance for offsite compliance within the proposed regulations. Additionally, the Commonwealth’s new Nutrient Offset program provides a ready mechanism for developers to achieve lower costs through a structured trading program with the agricultural community.
Just over a month ago, the City of Fredericksburg stepped forward with its own regulations that require infiltration of runoff, largely because the Commonwealth’s regulations were insufficient. These local actions create a patchwork of inconsistent regulations. The new regulations by the Commonwealth will create a standard for all localities which in the long run will help reduce development costs.
Some have expressed concern that the cost differential for stormwater compliance between urban and rural lands will drive sprawl. There are many infrastructure costs like fire codes and wastewater treatment that make urban development more expensive than rural development. It is simply the nature of urban development. However, we do not compromise fire code or wastewater treatment simply because they cost more in an urban environment, and we do not consider those codes as drivers of sprawl. We see no merit to this argument. However, we are not opposed to minor alterations of the language the give local governments some flexibility with the regulations for promoting redevelopment in UDAs.
In conclusion, we fully support the proposed regulations and encourage their timely passage. I want to thank the Department of Conservation and Recreation for leading a high quality process for both technical review and public involvement.
John P. Tippett
Friends of the Rappahannock