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Protecting Providence

Fifth annual county-sponsored workshop aims to educate citizens about protecting the environment.

With more housing and commercial developments and parking lots looking like the future of Fairfax County, the area for rainwater to be absorbed into the earth is becoming less and less. Although citizens may have few options in stemming the tide of development, they can do their part to lessen the flow of water into the county’s storm-water drainage system by making rain gardens or washing their car on the lawn or taking it to the car wash.

Several dozen citizens learned about these storm-water-management tips and more at the fifth annual Providence District Environmental Workshop, which took place Saturday morning, March 20, at Luther Jackson Middle School in Fairfax. From mosquitoes and the West Nile virus, to watersheds and solid waste management, citizens heard from county staff and various environmental organizations on how they can make their home and neighborhood more environmentally friendly.

“What we’re trying to do here is give people more information about the environment and what they can do to help,” said Linda Smyth (D-Providence). “People can bring information back to their neighborhoods.”

The workshops came at a time when the county is developing a plan for each of the county’s 30 watersheds, whose streams eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay by way of the Potomac River. That plan would address storm-water management, which is the management of water runoff generated by development, as well as stream and bank health and habitat preservation.

AT ANOTHER WORKSHOP, county staff members also described their progress in creating a 20-year solid-waste-management plan that would determine how the county should dispose of trash and recyclable material as the population increases and technology advances.

Citizens drifted from one workshop to another, or talked with staff members attending environmental booth displays. One citizen, Jonathan Daw of Falls Church, came because his neighborhood had been debating with Fairfax County whether to install a surface water drainage retention pond behind his house. He and more than 35 other homeowners are concerned about what effect the retention pond would have on their property values.

Daw attended a workshop on watersheds and storm-water management before stopping to talk with a county staffer on the status of the proposed retention pond.

“The whole issue is very complicated. I never realized how complicated,” said Daw, after hearing that excess runoff water also erodes the stream banks of many county streams.

Another citizen heard physician Dudley Rochester discuss the impact of air pollution on lung health. Rochester referred to data linking air pollution to visits to the emergency room.

“It confirmed things I had suspected but hadn’t ever seen,” said Doug Spengel of Fairfax, who had heard Rochester's talk.

The county staff and environmental organizations facilitating the workshops hoped citizens would take the information and apply it to their households and daily routines.

“Education is essential to correcting the problems of our environment,” said Jeanette Stewart of Fairfax-based EcoStewards Alliance. By addressing people’s behavior, education “will filter into issues for public officials and the environment.”