YES - Please Pass Post Construction Stormwater Regulations
Policy, Planning, and Budget Director
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
203 Governor Street, Suite 302
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Re: Comments on Amendments to 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
Dear Mr. Dowling:
I would first like to personally thank you and your fellow employees at Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation and also the extensive list of Stakeholders who worked for more than three years to develop a scientifically based, well thought out and studied draft regulatoin to address the long term effects of development on the Commonwealth’s streams and rivers. We also openly commend Governor Kaine and his administration for initiating this regulatory action and proposing a scientifically based and even handed regulation that will likely have immense positive impact on local streams, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers as well as the Chesapeake Bay. I am writing so that I may submit comments on behalf of Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper and for consideration of the State Soil and Water Conservation Board.
The Shenandoah Riverkeeper’s mission is to “Use citizen action and enforcement to protect and restore water quality in the Shenandoah Valley for people, fish and aquatic life”. Shenandoah Riverkeeper, along with Potomac Riverkeeper (Shenandoah Riverkeeper operates under 501(c)(3) Potomac Riverkeeper Inc.) have over 2000 paid members comprised of landowners, canoers, paddlers and fishermen who join our organization so that their voices and concerns can be heard and their use of these rivers can be protected through our actions. Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper’s members are affected extensively by the effects of stormwater running off developed areas and we comment on their behalf.
I’d like to provide some on the ground observations and experience while leaving more technical comments to the groups that participated in the development of these regulations. In the ten years I spent living in Arlington I fished most of the small streams there and it Alexandria extensively including Four Mile Run, Cameron Run, Difficult Run and Accotink Creek. I can tell you first hand that there is very little of these original streams left intact. Instead of meandering clear streams with instream structure and diverse fish species these were extremely low flow streams literally choked with sand and sediment. The streams had extremely high banks, little by way of riffles and pools and most pools had very little intstream life. The last time I walked Accotink creek near the beltway there were exactly two places in nearly two miles of stream that had any life in it at all. I ran across a dead dog and a dead deer, there were more dead animals than there were turtles muskrats beaver and fish combined. When it rained all of these streams would spike four or five feet in nearly an instant and turn the color of heavily creamed coffee, then they’s subside nearly as fast as they flooded. During rainless spells they were nearly dry.
Juxtapose that to where I live now in the Shenandoah Valley which has largely avoided the push of development until early this decade. Our rural streams generally run off the mountains and come out of the ground in springs. They meander more or less as they wish through agricultural areas and enjoy a relatively rich abundance of vegetation, insects, fish and mammals. Except in rare drought these streams flow all year. Many Streams are physically effected by the footprint of agriculture and the footprint of water consumption but they remain relatively intact so that when best management practices are installed these streams return rapidly to pre-existing conditions.
Go into our cities; however, and you’ll see a different story. Now the Black’s Run’s of Harrisonburg, the Opequon Creeks of Winchester, Lewis Creeks of Stuanton and Poque Run’s of Waynesboro are genuinely displaying the same problems seen in the urban streams of Northern Virginia. It is this last crush of development in the Valley that has begun to take a real toll on our local streams. We’re literally able to see development transforming healthy vibrant streams into urban gutters. Streams are losing their natural inhabitants, they’re banks are being stripped by high flows and they are being straightened with bulldozers, filled with rip rap, it’s not pretty. Once you pave over an area and the runoff begins to cause stream damage, there is little that can be done to reverse this problem. As Riverkeeper I look to these regulations to stem the tide of damage. As a fisherman I look to these regulations to save the fish, and my life’s pursuit.
Who Needs To Be Regulated?
I have heard numerous arguments both for and against these stormwater regulations during the public comment period. However, I have not heard anyone argue that stormwater running off developed lands is not damaging local streams, our Commonwealth’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Section I of Article XI of Virginia’s Constitution reads that “it shall be the Commonwealth's policy to protect its atmosphere, lands, and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment, and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.”
So while arguments have focused on who is responsible for what share of the Chesapeake Bay’s problems, Article XI of Virginia’s Constitution would imply it is time for the state to step in and make decisions that will make meaningful improvement to all major sources of pollution. To that end, all major Sewer Treatment Plants and Industrial discharger are being required right now to upgrade their treatment to include biological nutrient reduction. Commonwealth taxpayers and the facilities themselves are contributing more than one billion dollars toward these upgrades which will reduce Nitrogen and Phosphorous discharges by about 85%. Additionally, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by taxpayers over the past decade to help pay for agricultural best management practices on farms. Finally, the Virginia has been developing and putting out to public comment-amendments to the regulation that governs poultry litter use. The poultry litter regulations are being proposed and are in public comment at the same time as these stormwater regulations and are closing what has been called the largest environmental loophole in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So it seems natural given all of these proposed and actual improvements in other industries, that development be expected to do their share.
Why Is this Fair and Why is This The Right Regulation? :
These regulation come out of a process that incorporated broad stakeholder input
over nearly four years. No only do the regulations represent broad input but they also give consideration to the latest science and technology in one of the most broadly studied environmental problems of our time. I’ve learned that the effects of these regulations have been estimated repeatedly by third party consultants and the results show a low and reasonable cost to developers and homeowners. The estimated costs for meeting the requirements of these regulations drastically pale in comparison to more relevant factors that effect housing prices such as the economy and the wholeness of our lending system. One conservative estimate showed that the cost of these regulations could be as high as $600 for a single family home when the value of that same single family home probably just dropped 50% or $200,000. Clearly the cost of these regulations pale in comparison to other factors. And what price has already been paid by our economy and our watermen for the loss of a thriving
What if We Don’t Pass These Regulations:
Not only will streams incur untold future damage if we don’t pass these regulations, but citizens can expect to be seeing a hefty bill in their mailbox for the cost of fixing these streams. In urban areas as MS-4 permits become more and more inclusive and strict, cities and their taxpayers simply won’t be able to afford to allow development set their cities back with regard to the MS-4 requirements. Without a regulation like this cities will have little that they can do to compel developers to do their share of pollution reduction in urban areas.
Why NOT HBAV Proposal? :
Finally I’d like to comment on the Alternative proposal that has been assailed by the Home Builder’s Association of Virginia. This proposal lowers the goal for the reduction of phosphorous, the keystone pollutant, to a level that will not protect local water quality or streambank integrity. I was disappointed to see the homebuilding industry in general ignore the stakeholder process and instead put all of their effort in the home stretch toward de-railing the regulation through political persuasion and by literally proposing that a “back of a napkin” alternative proposal could take the place of four years of scientifically designed requirements.
During the public hearing in Manassas the development community spent their time trying to convince the board member that agriculture was more to blame for the bay’s problems. They also spent their time telling the board how their proposal could solve the bay’s problems’ by financially funding agricultural best management practices. But they did not count on two things 1) Local urban streams will never be repaired under the HBAV proposal and thus condemns urban children to having polluted and damaged streams forever 2) they did not count on the fact that meeting the tributary strategy goals for bay reductions requires BOTH the agricultural improvement AND improvements in developed and redeveloped lands.
But despite my disappointment with the building industry I recognize one valid point that they highlighted, the potential for these regulations to incent urban sprawl. Also recognizing this potential, Southern Environmental Law Center has proposed several changes to the regulations before adoption that would resolve the unintended consequences of these regulations on re-development and I support those changes fully.
On behalf of Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper I support these post construction stormwater regulations as well as the revisions proposed by SELC to Urban Redevelopment Areas.