Difficult Run Difficulties

Difficult Run Difficulties

Fairfax County's largest watershed is under review.

Fairfax County is in the process of developing watershed plans for each of its 30 watersheds. Currently, the county is asking for citizen participation in developing the plan for the Difficult Run Watershed.

The watershed plans for the county’s 30 watersheds are being developed for five reasons, according to a document released by the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular body of water. The county must meet state and federal water quality standards, and the plans will identify strategies to prevent and remove stream pollution. As a part of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, Virginia signed into an agreement with other states that drain into the Chesapeake Bay to develop watershed plans in order to restore the bay, the county is committed to develop watershed management plans. The 25-year old watershed plans in Fairfax County are out of date, and need replacing in order to address county population and industry growth, according to Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

An evaluation of county streams in 2001 found that 70 percent of them were in fair, poor, or very poor condition, and watershed plans are necessary to restore and protect those streams. In the 1980s, the county planned to build 64 facilities in the Difficult Run Watershed, of which nine were built, and the plan will look at alternatives to the never-built facilities.

Difficult Run flows from Fairfax, near the Fairfax County Government Center, to Great Falls, where it empties into the Potomac River. Its watershed is the largest in Fairfax County, encompassing the area between Great Falls and the City of Fairfax, and Tysons Corner and Herndon. It is home to Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, and a part of the Great Falls National Park. There are four large impoundments on Difficult Run — Lake Anne, Lake Fairfax, Lake Thoreau, and Audubon — all in the Reston area. Ten large, named, streams flow into Difficult Run, and a number of smaller streams flow into them.

The county formed the Difficult Run Steering Committee to develop the plan. It is made up of approximately 40 residents, who investigate the issues facing Difficult Run and its residents. The committee will, with input from other residents, propose a comprehensive plan identifying the issues, and solutions to them, affecting the watershed. Members of the committee include environmental groups, conservation groups, homeowners associations, businesses, and state and local governments.

The county's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2006 shows a significant increase in resources to tackle the issues facing watersheds in Fairfax County, said Fred Rose, chief of the Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division. The increase in the funds demonstrates that the watershed issues have been elevated to a higher importance in the county.

SPEAKING AT A DIFFICULT Run Forum, on Saturday, March 5, supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said the issues facing the county’s watersheds are both county and community issues. She said the county executive’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2006 sets aside $17.9 million to watershed planning. “The county executive has done the right thing,” she said.

Hudgins said she hoped the county could make a financial commitment in the area in years to come, so that a reliable funding stream could develop.

Accompanying Hudgins to the forum was Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence). Smyth is leading watershed cleaning efforts by example. “This is a ‘in your backyard’ issue,” she said. Smyth plans on building a rain garden at her office in Merrifield, putting up a green roof of grass on one of the sheds behind it, and building permeable pavers, as a demonstration of low impact development. It is meant to show homeowners and developers that projects can be done to help protect the environment. The project will improve the water quality in the stream running in the office’s backyard, by retaining a significant amount of stormwater, which flows over impervious surfaces.

Kathy Harrigan, of SAIC and a member of the steering committee, explained how the stream in the backyard is connected to the Chesapeake Bay. “Sometimes we don’t associate ourselves with the Chesapeake Bay,” she said, but protecting and restoring local streams helps restore the bay. Harrigan said people could help reduce the pollution in the watershed by reducing the amount of fertilizer on lawns, planting native plants in gardens, and picking up after pets. She urges the whole community to come out to the next forum on Difficult Run Watershed and its issues, which will talke place sometime in June. “Your participation as a taxpayer, as a resident, is really important,” she said.