|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|
The methodology used for determining the degree of phosphorus removal from proposed development causes some concern in the proposed regulation. Both the current and proposed regulation calls for the impervious cover to be determined.
According to the USGS Publication “Sources of Phosphorus in Stormwater and Street Dirt from Two Urban Residential Basins in Madison, Wisconsin, 1994-1995”, over 50% of the total and dissolved phosphorus comes from lawns, approximately 30% from streets, 10% from driveways, 3% from parking lots, 5% from roofs, and 2% from parks.
Since the vast majority of phosphorus runoff in urban areas comes from lawn areas, it would appear that instead of basing degree of removal proportional to impervious area, it would be better to make it proportional to pervious areas. In other words, it appears that if we are going to remove phosphorus, we need to go the major sources and not spend scarce resources where there is little pollutant.
The USGS notes in The Impact of Sediment on the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed dated June 3, 2005 that “Sediment loads (the amount of sediment) to the Bay were highest from the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers (the locations of these basins are shown below). Also the highest sediment loads for the entire watershed were detected at sites within these two River Basins. In the Susquehanna River some of the highest yields (the amount from a square mile of land) were highest in the Conestoga River Basin, where agricultural is the dominant land use. In the Potomac Basin, some of the highest sediment yields were in streams draining the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, and these high yields are possibly related to urbanization.” There are then two areas of concern, agriculture and urbanization.
This is born out by the following data:
sq. mi. Population per sq. mi.
Susquehanna 27,501 3,960,500 144
Potomac 14,670 5,799,617 395
James 10,432 2,500,000 240
Rappahannock 2,715 228,402 84
York 2,661 328,261 123
According to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River basin, the Washington Metropolitan Area has ¾ of the Potomac’s 5.8 million census. They also report that urban areas account for 81% of the population. Note that the Susquehanna basin is 47% of the total of the basins noted.
Noting that 75% of the Potomac’s population lies in the Washington Metropolitan Area and that the Chesapeake Bay Program’s website indicates that the most impaired waters in the bay lie between the mouth of the Susquehanna to the mouth of the Potomac. Under the proposed regulation existing urban runoff, a major source of nutrients, is going to be largely untreated while major treatment efforts are directed at new facilities that have high percentages of impervious surfaces. The likely result may be very little improvement in water quality for the many, at a very high cost to a few. This does not appear to be an equitable solution to the problem since the problem is with the existing who bear no direct cost to the solution, but the solution will be born by the new who will bear all the cost.
In conjunction with this, we take note of recent news that a thriving population of oysters and other marine life has been established on the Wicomico River once the oyster reef reached sufficient size and depth. The issue is not entirely water quality, there are other aquatic habitat issues that are of concern.
Before there is final adoption of the proposed regulation, further research is needed to determine if resources would be better used to establish proper habitat.
Consideration should also be given to providing stricter controls for fertilizers in urban areas. One way to do this would be to restrict fertilizer sales to those who have been educated in proper use and application. The model for this has been established in the regulation of restricted pesticides and herbicides by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The addition of fertilizers to those herbicides and pesticides would not add another governmental agency and would promote proper use of fertilizers in the urban environment.
The generous proposal of the Virginia State Homebuilders Association should be considered as well, since it seeks to put resources where they could best be used such as agricultural areas (the other major source of nutrient runoff) to limit nutrients reaching the Chesapeake Bay.
I recently visited Tangier Island. While there I was told that silt primarily from the Susquehanna settles on oyster beds following precipitation events and effectively smothers the oysters because the watermen are restricted by state regulations from raking silt from the beds and lifting oysters from the silt. Obviously, this portion of the shellfish industry regulations should be reconsidered.
There are many measures that are being taken to promote a healthy Chesapeake Bay and there are signs that these are working. Governor Kaine said that the problem did not occur in a short period of time and the solution will not occur in a short period of time. The water quality effects of the current regulations have not had sufficient time to be fully evaluated and the problems due to existing urbanization have not been adequately addressed.
There are sufficient issues with zoning, transportation, utilities and existing stormwater regulations for proposed development that makes it a daunting and expensive challenge to businesses, especially small businesses, without adoption of even more stringent regulations that may not result in lowering phosphorus levels in the Bay.
I am certain that all stakeholders want to see continued improvement of the Chesapeake Bay’s health and a sustainable aquatic habitat re-established. In light of the above, imposition of new regulations needs to be delayed while they are evaluated to determine if the desired environmental impact can be realistically achieved.