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Votes

A Pond In Every Yard — Stormwater Management Or Not

Does a report entitled "The Role of Regional Ponds In Fairfax County's Watershed Management" sound boring?

If so, how about: "What's It Worth to Prevent Home Flooding, Sewer Backup, and Inundation By Potential West Nile Virus Bearing Mosquitos?"

At a public hearing on the subject of stormwater management held at the South County Government Center last week, Carl E. Bouchard, director of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental services, laid out a comprehensive plan for improving the county's stormwater management. It addressed ecological and economic impact to the need for interjurisdictional cooperation.

The study, which began in February 2002, at the direction of the County Board of Supervisors, is based on the findings of a multi-agency committee charged to develop a unified position on the use of regional ponds as well as other alternative types of stormwater controls as watershed management tools. In doing so, they arrived at 61 recommendations entitled, "The Unified Position."

AT LAST WEEK'S meeting, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland, said, "I'm very happy that the staff has brought to us a plan about regional water management. If you look at what's been happening to water quality and the impact on both new and existing development, it's essential.

"In the Mount Vernon District we take everybody's garbage, sewage, and a lot of their run-off water. But, it comes down to money — to have enough to do the right thing to fix the problem. I don't know where the money is going to come from. It's a very important subject. But, the challenge is how do we do it?"

Bouchard said, "In our case [Fairfax County], the watershed brings water to the Potomac and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.

Of the existing regional ponds throughout the county, there are basically two types, those that hold water all the time and those that retain water for only a short period of time when there is a heavy rainfall."

Many regional ponds were built before the explosion in subdivisions, according to Bouchard. "We were told to study regional ponds and how they impact water quality. We realized we could not just look at regional ponds. We had to look at stormwater management for the entire county.

"The old idea of stormwater management was to put it in a pipe and shoot it out to a stream as soon as possible. That is no longer feasible."

IN ORDER TO address the dilemma, the county's Environmental Coordinating Committee (ECC) created a Regional Pond Subcommittee composed of 15 members. It included the Environmental Coordinator and representatives from: Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Department of Planning and Zoning, Fairfax County Park Authority, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and Environmental Quality Advisory Council.

According to the report's executive summary, "The subcommittee studied both facts and perceptions about the positive and negative aspects of regional ponds." It's ultimate conclusion is "regional ponds should not be considered the preferred alternative, but just one of many tools considered for stormwater management." That gave birth to the 61 recommendation of the "unified position."

Those recommendations are based on the following broad concepts:

* Ensuring that stormwater management approaches support the protection and restoration of the ecological integrity of stream valley ecosystems.

* Revising policies, regulations, and procedures to allow and encourage the best solutions.

* Adopting flexible policies that conform to watershed management plans by considering all available tools.

* Stakeholder participation, at the beginning and during the stormwater and watershed planning processes, and as a part of community stewardship initiatives.

* Adequate and timely funding.

IN LINE WITH the last item, the report takes note, "an estimate for installing any proposed measures is not available." But, it does recognize, "The recommendations... are consistent with the Capital Improvement Program, both for the near term (next five years) and the long term (beyond five years)."

One of the big fears expressed by several at the meeting was that large regional ponds are the perfect place for mosquito breeding. As one participant stated, "We have to have clean water and we need to stop excessive water runoff, but the citizens have to be protected from mosquitos. This is a major problem."

Most of the existing regional ponds are in the western part of the county, according to the study. The reason being that is where most of the recent development has taken place, Bouchard pointed out. A regional pond is one "that receives runoff from an area of 100 to 300 acres."

County plans call for approximately 150 such ponds. However, as Bouchard noted, only about one third of these have been constructed. Hyland pointed out, "We are really depending on developers to put in the ponds."

But, as another meeting participant emphasized, "The one thing we have not discussed is maintenance. How many landowners are going to be willing to pay these maintenance bills?"

Hyland summarized the meeting by saying, "The mere fact that staff is doing this is a big step forward. But, what we really need is for the citizens to get to their supervisor to support a total stormwater management plan. And, we need the Board of Supervisors committed to a Stormwater Management Fee of some type."