Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Protect Floodplains

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Protect Floodplains

This spring along the George Washington Parkway, I was heartbroken to see huge old growth, healthy trees fall down under their own weight in soil too saturated to support their roots. My family enjoys walking the path along the river, marveling in the history and nature all around us.

My children asked me why a seemingly healthy tree falls to the ground and I explained that the soil is too saturated with water to provide a strong anchor for the old growth tree roots. I can answer the why question, but I can’t answer the “what can we do now” question alone.

If this spring is an indication of what we can except for rainfall from now on, we need to do more to maintain floodplains, explore alternatives to the impervious surfaces that come along with every new development and develop plans for stormwater management.

The proposed comprehensive plan amendment to build a residential space in the 100-year floodplain of Dogue Creek is a dangerous proposition. Floodplains are a necessary part of the ecosystem, providing a place for floodwaters to absorb into the soil and return to surface or groundwater. Filling in and building on floodplains means you will reduce its storage capacity thereby removing the ecosystem’s natural process for handling floodwater. Filling in this land to build upon along with the increased impervious surface from the development will increase the risk of downstream flooding of communities with no little or no flood protections in place.

Maintaining and preserving floodplains provides many ecosystem benefits and can improve property values due to natural aesthetics and access to recreational opportunities. Maintaining floodplains can reduce flood damage and cleanup costs as well as ensure fast recovery from flood events because water has a place to go.

In many areas of the country, flood losses are rising annually along with an increase of environmental degradation surrounding water-related resources. The anticipated changes in climate further affect the frequency of flood events and rising coastal waters.

Floodplains have been viewed as suitable sites for human development provided the structures are elevated to minimize flood damage. This ignores the ecosystem benefit of leaving floodplains undeveloped to ensure floodwaters have a place to expand. Floods alone do not cause damage or suffering, but our decisions to live, work, and play in floodplains do. Accounting for the flooding process and avoiding developments in floodplains can effect positive change in communities.

I urge the Planning Commission to refuse this change. The Planning Commission should continue to set a strong precedent to protect floodplains to avoid further development along Dogue Creek, Little Hunting Creek and elsewhere in the county. The proposed development is within an area designated by Fairfax County as an Environmental Quality Corridor (EQC) and part of a Resource Protected Area (RPA). Fairfax County guidelines advise to avoid disturbances in such areas except “in extraordinary circumstances.” Development in this parcel will subject Dogue Creek to additional polluted runoff which subjects the Potomac Estuary and greater Chesapeake Bay watershed to increased pollution. I support the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning’s recommendation to reject the proposed plan.

Kathleen Turk


The writer is pursuing her master’s degree in environmental management at UMUC.