Soil & Water Candidates Weigh In on Lake Accotink

Soil & Water Candidates Weigh In on Lake Accotink

Many are attracted to the beauty of Lake Accotink Park

Many are attracted to the beauty of Lake Accotink Park

Earlier this year, continuing discussion around sediment and flooding problems, including a recommendation to let Lake Accotink fill in and become a wetland, raised concern among some area residents.

Lake Accotink Park in the Braddock District attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually with its stunning trails, picturesque picnic areas and engaging waterfront activities. The 55-acre man made reservoir, which was built by the U.S. Army, has required regular dredging due to sedimentation. However, extensive analysis by Fairfax County staff has led to the recommendation against further dredging due to the significant costs, $395 million over the next 25 years; environmental impacts; and difficulties in processing and disposing of sediment. Instead, they recommend allowing the lake to fill up with sediment and return to a wetland park environment.

The idea of restarting the Park's Master Planning process, with a focus on fostering a sustainable future for the lake area and park, was recommended by county staff, raising opposition from many residents of the area opposed to losing the lake. 

A 27-member task force, chaired by former Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova held meetings to consider the proposal through the summer. Subcommittees of the task force reviewed the value of Lake Accotink Park to the county, impacts of and issues with the staff recommendation to end dredging, and possible options to consider, other than full dredging. As Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw said, “This task force will enable community members to be at the table to ensure that options are thoroughly explored, and that questions from the public are answered.” The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for Oct. 2; with their final report due to the Board on Dec. 5.

Given the controversy of this conservation issue, The Connection asked candidates for director seats on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Board for their position on the lake’s future. Here’s what they said. Two candidates, Mell Flynn and Ed Monroe, did not respond.

Dana Barakat

“Lake Accotink is an example of why it’s important to act immediately rather than wait and see. The very high concentration of impervious surfaces in the lake watershed has created a situation where far too much sediment flows into the lake every time it rains. For those who struggle with the technical aspects: pollution, over use of household products, over use of fertilizer, not picking up our animals' feces, etc, cause these minerals to go into the lake watershed. While this may not seem catastrophic, it is to the ecosystem and the future of the lake. With that said, it is not under the purview of NVSWCD, so while formally we are not the ones to decide, we respect our partners and will continue to work with them to do our part. Moreover, the amount of funding needed is not feasible at the current moment.

Rhonda Bitterli

“Even if cost were not an issue, there are environmental impacts associated with restoration activities. Area residents would be impacted for years by the presence of dredging equipment, by the noise associated with dredging operations, and by increased traffic in the surrounding community as truckloads of sediment are removed — and by the emissions produced by the trucks. Because of this, Fairfax County staff have recommended that the lake not be dredged, that it be allowed to turn into a wetland. This is the option that seems the most viable. The park and wetland would still offer recreational opportunities and would provide a habitat for wildlife. … The Board of Supervisors will review the findings of the Task Force and will make the decision regarding how to proceed. Unless there are some major developments related to dredging, letting the lake turn into a wetland is likely to remain the most viable option. I see an educational opportunity here to let visitors to the park know about the history of Lake Accotink and the factors that are contributing to its degradation. Visitors could also learn about what Fairfax County does to help control runoff and erosion in the county as well as what we as residents can do to control runoff and erosion in our yards so that we can all play a part in protecting the streams and lakes in Fairfax County.”

Debra Maddrell

“The root cause of this crisis is a failure on the part of the county either to mitigate the effects of urban over-development, or to hold the developers accountable for making sure comprehensive storm-water controls and anti-erosion infrastructure are in place before beginning construction. Priority must be given to conserving forests, farmland, and green spaces. Letting Lake Accotink “be returned to a wetland area and park” does nothing to address the cause of the problem, and is an abdication of responsibility by the Board of Supervisors, and other government entities who have been kicking this can down the road for decades.”

Christopher Koerner 

“The extensive siltation of Lake Accotink presents a very difficult challenge, over which the lake-side landowners have little control. The extensive siltation is caused by the high percentage of impervious surfaces in the heavily urbanized (greater than 29% impervious surfaces) watershed that continually causes unmanageable amounts of upstream sediment and debris to wash into the lake with every storm event. The runoff, nutrient loading, and associated stream bank erosion is exacerbated by the higher intensity rain events that we experience due to the effects of climate change. The District leads a volunteer stream- monitoring program with 7 locations within the lake Accotink watershed; all have been rated unacceptable. The NVSWCD does not have the millions of dollars of funding or the authority to repeatedly dredge the lake or to make a decision on the future use of the Lake, but I believe that the Lake area is a valuable community and environmental habitat, and will advocate for the District to assist the County and community in any way we can to support the final decision. Some of the issues that our staff has expertise in include: Implementation of Best Management Practices, Low Impact Development, stormwater control structures, reduced nutrient loading, wetlands buffers, and community education.”

Mary Strayhorne 

“We cannot allow Lake Accotink to become a wetland and lose local control of our county and state resource. Mismanagement of Lake Accotink will exacerbate the floodplain conditions if not properly maintained. Furthermore, if we fail to show a competency in managing our own natural resources, they become wards of federal control and will remain within federal control. We should not allow our federal government to come into Fairfax County and tell our homeowners and citizens what they can and cannot do with the land and resources within our own county. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand, choose to control our own resources or lose control to federal environmental mandates. Lake Accotink is a beloved source of natural beauty, recreation, and memories for generations of Fairfax County residents. It is part of our home, it is ours – let's keep it that way. I'm confident we can find an abundance of funding and support opportunities within our community of new friends with commercial interests in the area who want to demonstrate their commitment to our community beyond the promise of limited tax revenue. After all, they came to our beautiful, prosperous state and county not only as entrepreneurs, but as neighbors and friends. Let's find a way to come together to keep Fairfax County a home of beauty and prosperity through collaborative, common sense approaches to conserving it. We're in this county together – let's make a deal that everyone can live with and sustain.”