With Stormwater Pollution, We are the Downstream

With Stormwater Pollution, We are the Downstream

Opinion: West Montgomery County Citizens Association President's Letter

Geographically, the Potomac Subregion is the terminus of several stream watersheds that empty into the Potomac River. These include: Cabin John, Rock Run, Watts Branch, Muddy Branch and Seneca Creek. Watts Branch is a large watershed which includes many smaller streams. The Kilgour, Piney, Sandy and Greenbriar Branches empty into Watts Branch before it reaches the Potomac and enters the River at the intake pipe for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) Water Filtration Plant on River Road. Watts Branch is the major contributor to the public drinking water supply for both Montgomery and Prince George's County. The environmental foundation of our Master Plan, including our zoning and restricted sewer service is based on protecting this source of drinking water, the C&O Canal and the other watersheds that lead to the Potomac.

Some six years back, when Fairfax County applied for a permit to construct a new water intake that reached into the center of the Potomac River, the state of Maryland was enraged. We accused Northern Virginia of greed and careless development that had so fouled their shoreline with sediment the water could no longer be adequately treated for drinking. A battle ensued over whether Maryland could claim jurisdiction of Potomac waters. The case reached the Supreme Court, whose ruling led to permitting Virginia to withdraw water from the center of the river. For many months thereafter, construction of the Fairfax mid-river intake could be painfully seen and heard from the C&O Canal at Seneca.

Now, the WSSC has proposed a mid-river intake of their own, citing the sediment laden condition of Watts Branch as justification.  If you read their proposal, you think it is the Watts Branch's own fault it became too polluted to drink instead of Montgomery County pushing growth and development at the expense of the public water supply. The WSSC, while dutifully providing sewer and water for increased development, has done little to warn or defend the drinking water it is also charged with treating. Unlike Fairfax County, WSSC seeks to tunnel their intake pipe rather than dig a channel but wants to use an adjacent, unnamed, forested island for staging, a parking lot and permanent boat launch. This will impact Federal Parkland, require significant deforestation and cause environmental damage to the shoreline and the island. It all comes with a $126 million price tag. District 15 Del. Jean Cryor likens the process to strip mining. You make a mess and then you move on. This is the cost of not preventing stormwater pollution on our side of the Potomac River.

We come full circle to the upcoming NPDES Permit renewal which provides the means to strengthen water quality goals and requirements that prevent  pollution instead of avoiding it. If we are serious about restoring the Chesapeake Bay, reaching into the middle of the Potomac for cleaner water is not the answer. Besides, if this intake proposal is approved, if we keep growing and creating more sediment pollution, where is there left to go for clean water when our children are adults?

WMCCA is working with our state legislators to set up a public meeting in Potomac with WSSC on their proposed mid-river intake.

<mh>Environmental Report - Sewer Policy — Susanne Lee

<bt>Four Potomac requests for new sewer extensions are currently undergoing review before Montgomery County agencies. Our concern with all requests is ensuring consistency with the Potomac Master Plan. WMCCA testified jointly with the Glen Hills Citizens Association at a Planning Board hearing on Jan. 26. We plan to continue our efforts as the County Council considers the cases at a hearing on March 14th with full Council vote expected March 31st.

Our Master Plan requires a study of the Glen Hills area in order to “develop a policy outlining the measures needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of septic service for new home construction and existing home renovations, minimizing the need for future sewer service extensions.” Because of negative impacts on the Watts Branch and Piney Branch that would be caused by the further extension of public sewer, the Master Plan requires this unique, more thoughtful approach to meeting wastewater needs in this area. It also requires that the study be “conducted in conjunction with the citizens of this area.” WMCCA is requesting active participation with the County Department of Environmental Protection in the design and implementation of the study.

<mh>Planning and Zoning — George Barnes

<bt>* Seven Locks Elementary School — The Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General has issued a report which states that the School Board concealed cost data, misrepresented the wishes of the Seven Locks community and followed inadequate procedures in the appointment of an architect for the proposed Kendale replacement school. The report bears out the claims of the Seven Locks community that the School Board has railroaded the proposal for a replacement school on the Kendale site.  Comparisons to the Clarksburg situation have been made and it will be interesting to see how the Council responds to the issue in upcoming budget approval hearings.

* Chapel Road — An application has been filed to amend a settlement agreement for a Forest Conservation Law violation for the property on the corner of Chapel and River.  The property owner seeks to amend the settlement agreement, which has not been completely complied with, in order to build on the property.

* Sutton property — This is the first subdivision plan based solely on sand mounds as a septic alternative and serves as a precedent we are watching closely. Ten lots have been requested on 25 acres. Sand mounds require significant space (approx. 3,500 sq. ft.) and proper siting. We are awaiting the perc tests required by the county to determine the number of lots feasible.

* Variance case, Rogers property — The Board of Appeals denied a request for a 10-foot fence at the front of the property while granting other variances requested by the property owner.  WMCCA had testified in opposition to the fence as we have in many similar cases.

* Belvedere — an application has been filed to subdivide a four-acre lot in the Belvedere subdivision which lies between Glen Road, Travilah Road and Turkey Foot Road. The existing house would remain on one lot and a new house constructed on the other.