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Arguments Inundate Watershed Plan

Last Wednesday, at a public presentation of the Reston Association’s recently released watershed plan, the main topic was money.

The watershed plan, which proposes a series of improvements to reduce water runoff in Reston, would be implemented over the next 10 years at a cost of $3.1 million. But Reston Association will not be able to pay the entire $3.1 million sum, and completion of the watershed plan will depend largely on the amount of money secured through grants and other donations. At last week’s meeting several attendees offered funding ideas, while a few questioned the necessity of the project.

Carissa Lee, watershed field coordinator for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the state is currently offering $400,000 in grant money for water quality projects within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Four of those grants will be for $30,000 and above while 10 to 20 will be for below $30,000. Grant proposals are due by Sept. 13.

“The grant money is not guaranteed, but when you have watershed planning you’re given higher marks,” Lee said. “Your opportunities to receive grant money are pretty high. Watershed management is a hot thing right now.”

RESTON ASSOCIATION has $75,000 in their budget each year for the next two years, to be used for watershed improvement. Stuart Stein, a consultant who helped prepare the Reston watershed plan, also helped draw up a plan for the Lake Barcroft community in Falls Church. He said Lake Barcroft has received $150,000 in grants over the last couple of years.

Richard Speiers, a resident of Hickory cluster, suggested that Reston Association design a matching grant program with Reston’s cluster neighborhoods. Hickory cluster's 90 residents recently raised $1 million to remove an aging parking garage.

“If you say, ‘You raise $25,000, then we’ll raise $25,000,’ it works like lightning,” Speiers said.

Diana Saccone, watershed manager with Reston Association, said she is eyeing a few grants, but that the homeowners association hasn’t sent out any grant applications yet.

“One reason we haven’t done too much is that we want to make sure we have community support first,” Saccone said.

Lake Barcroft instated a tax district to help pay for their watershed improvements. Some people at the meeting thought a tax district might work in Reston, to generate money above what Reston Association dues will be able to provide.

BUT SOME at the meeting were more skeptical. Donn Dears, former vice president of the Reston Association board of directors, asked if the Reston Association had done any kind of cost-benefit analysis to determine the value of the watershed management project. One rationale for the project is that the cost to dredge, to remove excess sediment, from Reston’s lakes has shot up in recent years. By reducing runoff water Reston streams will not flow as quickly and less silt will wind up in the lakes.

“After you spend $3 to 4 million, how much can you reduce dredging costs?” Dears asked.

Saccone said that wasn’t a “quantifiable figure,” but that “we will certainly have to do less than we would otherwise.”

Dears also asked how much it would cost to maintain the watershed improvements, such as check dams. And he asked how long the improvements would last. Stein said there would be maintenance costs involved with the project, but couldn’t give any figures.

“[The watershed structures] will last as long as you are maintaining them well,” Stein said.

“So we don’t know how much money this will save us, we don’t know how long it will last and we don’t know how much it will cost to maintain. OK,” Dears said.

DEARS ALSO suggested that for the project to be put into motion, a referendum vote will have to be taken. Reston Association by-laws state that the homeowners association must hold a referendum on any new capital improvement of over $300,000. Some of the individual projects within the watershed plan exceed $300,000.

But Ray Leonhard, chief financial officer with the homeowners association, said a referendum will not be needed because stream restoration represents neither a new improvement or a capital improvement. A capital improvement is paid over time, with an interest rate. The watershed improvements would each be paid all at once. And a stream restoration would not be considered a new improvement, but would fall under maintenance.

“We don’t have any new streams on our land,” Leonhard said, “But we have to maintain the ones we already have ... Let’s say we have to put a new roof on a building. It’s not a new facility, we’re just repairing what we have. When we replace a pool it may cost $750,000, but we don’t have to go through a referendum because it is an existing pool.”

RESTON FOUNDER Robert Simon voiced annoyance at those at the meeting who questioned the watershed proposal.

“The image I have right now is somebody in a Porsche, driving up with a tin cup trying to raise money,” Simon said. “We are one of the most affluent areas in America ... Get this project done for heaven’s sake. I don’t know what’s wrong with this community that we listen to the naysayers. We shouldn’t.”

One of Reston Association’s goals is to present the watershed project to at least six clusters annually, in order to build support and recruit volunteer help. The Reston Association Design Review Board is currently reviewing some rain barrels, which staff would like to have approved for use by individual homeowners. By using barrels instead of down spouts, residents can help reduce water runoff.

To view the Reston Watershed Management Plan, visit the Reston Association Web site at www.reston.org.