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County Watershed Study Underway

Before it was Mount Vernon, it was the Little Hunting Creek Plantation. Now its namesake is under attack.

But, the counterattack began last week at the Carl Sandburg Middle School where more than 100 involved citizens attended the Little Hunting Creek Community Watershed Forum. It is the first of four public workshops that will develop watershed management plans for all 30 Fairfax County watersheds.

"I'm thrilled that the first forum we are holding on this matter is here in Mount Vernon District. We are very fortunate to have these people who work to do the right thing for the environment," said Gerald W. Hyland, Mount Vernon District Supervisor.

Hyland was joined in his support by State Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) who pointed out, "The creek was much cleaner and better before they built Beacon Mall." Paved land cover is one of the high priority causes of watershed pollution, according to the Forum fact sheet.

In order to carry out the multi-year study, Fairfax County has hired Woolpert Engineering and Karen Firehock, a senior associate with The Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) which is affiliated with the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture, University of Virginia. As part of the project, Firehock will also develop the public involvement plan for all watersheds in the county.

"This forum challenges us to roll up our sleeves and find solutions for today and for future generations, said Hyland. "The present plan is 25 years old. This new effort is an attempt to pull together all the elements to meet the goals of the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement."

IN MAKING THE initial presentation of the forum, Firehock said, "You're probably used to getting a plan and being asked whether you like it or not. We are not going to do that. The first draft is now in process and you are part of that process."

Paul Shirey, watershed planning program manager, Stormwater Planning Division, Fairfax County, explained, "The watershed forum is a key opportunity for the community to participate in the watershed planning process and to help shape the outcome of the plan."

The Little Hunting Creek watershed planning process began in December 2002, and will be completed by the spring of 2004, according to projections. Community involvement includes a steering committee comprised of 16 community representatives from neighborhoods, businesses, conservation groups, and other local interests.

Little Hunting Creek originates in Huntley Meadows Park and flows into the Potomac River at Mount Vernon. With its primary tributaries, North Branch and Paul Springs, it drains an 11.25 square mile watershed that is primarily residential and commercial, including the Route 1 corridor.

DURING THE first two hours of the forum a variety of topics were covered which concentrated on the five reasons for the County watershed plan. They are:

* Seventy percent of the County's streams are in fair to very poor condition. The plan's goal is to restore and protect them.

* Identify strategies to prevent and remove stream pollution to meet state and federal water quality standards.

* To support the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.

* The existing 25 year old plan does not meet new water quality standards which utilize innovative technologies.

* A comprehensive way to meet community environmental needs.

WITHIN THE LHC watershed there are 24 watershed neighborhoods. Those attending the forum were asked to identify their neighborhood by placing a yellow dot on a map. Following the formal presentations the audience was broken into smaller discussion groups to get their input to the process.

They discussed and provided insights to issues such as which of the watershed issues are most important to address and why; what are other issues you would like to see addressed by the plan; what approaches would work best to address and solve these issues; and identify problem areas and sites which would be good candidates for restoration, retrofitting or new stormwater or planning controls.

Those items of significance in the LHC study due to their high priority ranking as problems are sedimentation, riparian buffer loss, paved land cover, wetland loss, and polluted runoff.

As Firehock noted, "The group is to develop what is important or not."

The first draft of the report is scheduled for release in October to be followed by a second in the Spring of 2004.

Additional information is available on the website: www.fairfaxcounty-watersheds.net.