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Watersheds in Serious Trouble

Cub Run/Bull Run study aims to rectify local problems.

The bad news is that large portions of the Cub Run and Bull Run watersheds are in serious trouble. The good news is that Fairfax County staff and a citizens group are working hard to identify the problems and rectify them.

"A WATERSHED is a plot of land where all the water drains to a central point — and Fairfax County is one, big watershed," said Centreville's Russ Wanek of the Cub Run Citizens Advisory Committee. "The health of the watershed is directly related to the quality of your drinking water."

He and others were addressing Monday night's quarterly meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA). The group's goals include restoring and protecting the county's streams and meeting state and federal water-quality standards by developing ways to prevent and remove pollution.

But it's not going to be easy.

"Development has created a large area of impervious surfaces," said Wanek. "Unfortunately, the environmental concerns have been left in the dust. But the Citizens Advisory Committee gives the people a voice to let the county know the health of the watershed is important to us."

Trouble is, said Laura Grape, assistant project manager for the Cub Run Watershed Study, "Watersheds are not bound by jurisdictions." So improving the watershed will take the cooperation of other counties, too.

"A study done by Fairfax County's DPWES [Department of Public Works and Environmental Services] and released in 2001 concluded that 82 percent of the streams in the Cub Run and Bull Run watersheds were in fair to poor condition," she said. "And 74 percent of the sites had a greater-than state standard for fecal coliform [biological waste]."

FURTHERMORE, said Grape, "In 2002, we looked at the physical conditions and found there were about 10.3 miles of deficient buffers where the treed area was less than 100 feet." In addition, some 19.5 miles of streams have unstable banks, and approximately 56 miles of streams are actively continuing to deepen and widen.

And although today's residential communities are required to have stormwater-management plans, four neighborhoods that don't have stormwater controls, said Grape, are Greenbriar/Birch Pond, Country Club Manor, Brookfield and Pleasant Valley.

And since this part of the county still has room to grow, she said, "We're concerned about the amount of impervious surfaces in western Fairfax County." So in the last two years, attention has been focused on uncontrolled stormwater runoff, polluted runoff, trash, stream-bank erosion, sedimentation and habitat erosion.

Several solutions are proposed. Dry pond wetland retrofits would retain water for awhile and slowly release it back into a stream. That way, nutrients are slowly removed and there's not a large surge of water returning to a stream.

Some 14 regional ponds were proposed for this area and, said Grape, "We're thinking of putting two in to control stormwater quantity and quality, and they'd each control 100 acres of land." She said low-impact development would decrease the rate of runoff, and collecting rain via rain gardens, rain barrels and rain roofs on public buildings would also help.

Also important is the restoration of stream and stream bank buffers. Said Grape: "Replanting and re-vegetating the site would reduce the amount of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen reaching the stream." And bioengineering — planting more biodegradable materials — would stabilize stream banks and later become soil. In addition, replacing road culverts, eliminating some dump sites and evaluating headwater streams would help, too.

But Grape warned that implementing these solutions would require partnerships with the county Park Authority, schools, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Prince William and Loudoun counties and Dulles Airport "to control the stormwater running off their jurisdictions."

SHE SAID the Citizens Advisory Committee would continue working on solutions, and she urged area residents to see the Web site www.fairfaxcounty-watersheds.net/ for more information or contact watersheds@fairfaxcounty.gov and "consider joining us."

Then Pleasant Valley's Scott Miller, a Citizens Advisory Committee member for the past two years, gave details of some of the policy actions the group is going to recommend to the county. Some involve public education and land-management strategies, and others entail possible changes to the county code or Comprehensive Plan. And there's more.

"We should hold interjurisdictional, watershed summits periodically with all the stakeholders — the other counties, plus VDOT," said Miller. "And wetland mitigation within the watershed should be required for large, new projects — such as the new runways at Dulles."

He said the county should provide incentives to developers for low-impact development and to community organizations for doing the same thing within their neighborhoods. And he said this county should compare other jurisdictions' stormwater regulations with its own.

Developing trails to connect western Fairfax County's stream valleys is also important, said Miller, as is having "ongoing, critical discussions" about how the Dulles Airport expansion, Loudoun County's residential development and the Battlefield Bypass project are affecting this area.

For example, Miller was worried how the airport's expansion would impact the 100-year floodplain, since he lives right near it. "The airport's EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] said its development could raise the floodplain by one foot — and that's why I got involved in this study," he said.

LATER ON, said Miller, he was relieved to discover that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it will make sure there's "no downstream increase in the elevation of the 100-year floodplain" as a result of the airport's improvements.

After the presentation, WFCCA President Ted Troscianecki thanked everyone involved in the study — especially the citizen volunteers, Wanek and Miller, "who are doing this on behalf of all of us." He also said WFCCA would like to adopt a stream to take care of, and Wanek recommended the Little Rocky Run stream.

Miller noted that nearly 2,000 new homes have just been approved by Loudoun County, right across from the watershed. So Terry Spence, a member of Fairfax County's Environmental Quality Board, said there should be a "water-quality monitoring station at the county line to see what type of water quality is entering Fairfax County from Loudoun."

"Clearly, we've got a crisis here in the watershed," replied Troscianecki. "What legal authority can make Loudoun step up as we are [to combat and solve the problems]?" Wanek said what's needed are state standards and state environmental controls.

Park Authority Chairman Hal Strickland said the watershed plan will be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in a few months or so. But to make it a reality, he said, it has to be accepted by the supervisors and enforced by the state.

Any homeowners, civic or other group that would like the Citizens Advisory Committee to give them this same watershed presentation in person, along with maps and charts, should contact parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov or watersheds@fairfaxcounty.gov.