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It's Not Flooding — It's Runoff

Group evaluates environmental policy, strategy.

There are 30 watersheds in Fairfax County. All eventually feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, over the past year and a half most of the environmental impact emphasis has been focused on the Little Hunting Creek Watershed. Why?

Part of the answer to that question was offered by James Davis, chairman, Mount Vernon Council Environmental and Recreation Committee, last Friday night during a meeting of his committee at Mount Vernon High School.

"This watershed is going to set the precedent. This is the first study. What happens here will impact everything else," he said.

"The object is to make us [Fairfax County] sea/bay compliant. The plan was finished June 30. We have asked that the public comment period be extended to at least July 20," Davis told members of the committee.

The greatest challenge is to control water runoff into the streams caused by excess paving due to urbanization. "Forty eight percent of the flow to the streams is from residential properties," said Paul Phelps, Mount Vernon Council representative, Little Hunting Creek Steering Committee.

"We have identified flooding and erosion as the biggest problems. What really does the damage is the velocity of the water. It's not the 100 year flood that cause the damage. It's the one and three year floods," Phelps said. "A 45 minute hard rain at Beacon Mall will cause flooding at the lower end of Route 1 every time."

The group agreed "The biggest problem is going to get homeowners to put in the necessary controls to moderate the runoff. We need to encourage the installation of rain barrels and the use of rain gardens," the group noted.

Davis emphasized, "Environmental policy is not the driving force as to why we are here. It's development. And that's zoning."

ONE OF THE MAJOR topics for discussion was the institution of a Stormwater Utility Fee paid by homeowners. Such a fee is presently in effect in North Carolina and Prince William County in Virginia. The rate is based on the amount of impervious surface to the overall lot size, according to Davis.

"If we can slow down the flow of water into the streams we can change a lot of the factors impacting the watershed," Davis noted. "But it's very, very difficult to retrofit older areas."

Phelps acknowledged, "Staff [county] is working on a potential plan for the institution of a Stormwater Utility Fee. They are looking at the plan that is operating in Virginia Beach."

Some other suggestions included:

*Get 10 percent homeowner participation in a water runoff control program.

*Where there is no homeowners association the county should encourage a loose knit-type organization to oversee water runoff controls.

*When a commercial lot is developed or redeveloped runoff must be reduced by at least five percent through a variety of construction techniques.

*Encourage the use of 55 gallon rain barrels by homeowners. The number would be determined by the size of the home.

THE VIRGINIA Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations require that jurisdictions adopt provisions to protect water quality and habitats of the Chesapeake Bay from sources of pollution generated from land use and other development.

At the most recent public hearing of the LHC Watershed Plan, Fred Rose, chief, Stormwater Planning Division, Fairfax County said, "The vision is to integrate the environmental plan so that everyone benefits."

In order to accomplish that goal, the LHC Watershed Management Plan provides an array of strategies. They include:

*Reduce stormwater impacts on the watershed from impervious areas to help restore and protect streams.

*Preserve, maintain, and improve watershed habitats to support native flora and fauna.

*Preserve, maintain, and improve the water quality of streams to benefit human and aquatic life.

*Provide a means for increasing community involvement for long-term watershed stewardship.

Recommendations of this committee, a standing committee of the Mount Vernon Council, will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in the fall, according to Davis.

"We want this study to have some big legs," Davis said.