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July 23, 2011

Environmental groups meet with DEQ to lobby for water plan

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 23, 2011

Representatives from four local environmental groups met Friday with the head of the Department of Environmental Quality to make their case for the water supply plan approved in February by Albemarle and Charlottesville.

Last week, the same groups held a news conference to share new information, which they said proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for both human and environmental needs.

“Our message to [DEQ] was that our five environmental groups strongly support the approved city-county water supply plan,” said Robbi Savage, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society. “It provides water for people, protects our rivers and costs less than the dredge-only plan, which does none of these.”

Savage was joined at the meeting by representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the League of Women Voters. The fifth environmental organization in the pro-water plan coalition is the Piedmont Environmental Council.

The organizations said they remain fully committed to the goal of increasing stream flows in the Moormans and Rivanna rivers, a benefit they said state regulators also will insist be addressed in any water plan.

“What we learned from DEQ today was that they want to see the same level of river protection in the permit modification as what we have right now [in the approved water plan],” said Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia and a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors.

“State law requires that in developing local water supply plans, that they be designed to meet human needs for water while protecting the river and the aquatic wildlife,” added Rick Parrish, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, confirmed his participation in the meeting, which took place at DEQ Director David K. Paylor’s office in Richmond.

The DEQ has previously informed the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority that the water plan, which now features an earthen dam built in phases, is a major change to the plan DEQ first authorized in 2008. In an interview, Kudlas said the meeting Friday focused on the process for reviewing the permit modifications, but not the merits of the current request from the RWSA.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the RWSA, said his staff had been responding to “minor questions” from DEQ about the permit changes.

“The DEQ will schedule a public hearing and a time for public comments,” Frederick said. “I don’t know the dates yet, but I know there is interest on both the part of the RWSA and the DEQ to resolve this issue by the end of the year.”

The lobbying comes in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary battle for the City Council. With construction on the new earthen dam delayed by the DEQ’s ongoing review, the fall election will shape the city’s position on the future of dredging, the dam and the entire water supply.

Parrish said he left the meeting with the impression it would take four to six months before the DEQ’s review would be completed. On that schedule, the water plan still will be in flux until after a new majority of the City Council has been elected in November.

The water plan has become a major issue separating the candidates running for three seats on the council. At a Democratic candidate forum last week, Dede Smith, Collette Blount, Brevy Cannon and James Halfaday all indicated they favor dredging and conservation as the primary approach for the water plan.

Incumbent Councilor Satyendra Huja and challengers Kathy Galvin and Paul Beyer indicated a preference for the earthen dam.

Cost estimates for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir from Gannett Fleming in 2004 and 2008, and from HDR Engineering in 2010, indicate that dredging will be more expensive than the construction of the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain and produce much less water supply storage.

HDR Engineering said a one-time, seven-year dredging project could be done at South Fork for about $34 million to $40 million. With continued sedimentation at South Fork, the environmental groups said Friday that any effort to continuously dredge and maintain the original volume of the 1966 reservoir for the entire 50-year period of the water plan would be two to three times as expensive.

The RWSA continues to work with HDR to explore maintenance dredging of South Fork as a project separate from the water plan, last month budgeting $3.5 million for dredging at least a small portion of the reservoir.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has endorsed three of the four candidates who favor dredging — Smith, Blount and Cannon. In February, Norris was on the losing end of the 3-2 council vote that approved the water plan negotiated with the county. Supporting the plan at the time were Huja, along with David Brown and Kristin Szakos. Brown is not running for re-election and Szakos and Norris are only midway through their four-year terms.

At the candidate forum, Galvin asked Smith to explain how a water plan without a new dam for water storage would impact the stream flow goals included in the approved plan.

“Those requirements were determined by scientists throughout Virginia examining the needs of aquatic wildlife, and the state DEQ has to consider those environmental needs, along with human needs, when issuing or denying permits,” Galvin said. “Aren’t you just claiming that the facts about environmental needs should be ignored just because those facts show that a dredging-only water plan won’t work?”

“I feel that … improved stream flows at the Moormons River should be addressed separately from the water plan,” Smith responded. “I do not feel that it is necessary to tie them to the water plan, but when they are, that means that city rate payers … are basically paying for a river restoration project.”

“I absolutely support restoring and improving stream flows in the Moormons River,” she said, “just not under the scenario that they have it now.”

March 25, 2011

City acquires more land for park and trails along Meadow Creek

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, March 25, 2011

The city of Charlottesville announced Thursday that it has purchased 3.3 acres along Meadow Creek off Hydraulic Road. The property connects to another 18.3-acre parcel that was donated to the city in late 2009.

Charlottesville paid $20,000 to the Region Ten Community Services Board from the city’s trails development fund to acquire the land, which is located on both sides of Meadow Creek between Brandywine Drive and Michie Drive. The city has been acquiring land and negotiating easements along the creek to establish a multi-use crushed stone trail from Hydraulic Road to Pen Park.

20110324-MeadowCreek-land “Now there is a linear park for all of Meadow Creek that is almost all publicly owned,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s park and trail planner. “We are continuing to pursue other park land acquisitions around the city and we hope to have more good news soon.”

“The city approached us some time ago about the possibility of acquiring the land to complete some trails,” said Caruso Brown, deputy director at Region Ten. “Our only concern was whether it would impact our existing or future programs.”

“The board met and agreed it was a worthwhile project,” Brown added. “It’s an excellent opportunity to partner with the city to help them carry out something they felt was important to the community.”

The land will now also be included in the Meadow Creek Restoration Project. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has designated Meadow Creek as impaired. The restoration project is aimed at reducing erosion of the stream banks, improving water quality and aquatic habitat, and improving the aesthetics of the surrounding natural areas.

“The initial conversation with Region Ten was to get a trail easement, and they asked themselves why they even owned the land on the other side of the creek behind their building,” Gensic said. “We noticed if we got land on both sides of the creek it would allow us to do stream restoration work even farther upstream, and it also allows us to protect some more forest land.”

Gensic noted that the Rivanna Trail runs parallel to Meadow Creek in this area. The city, he said, wants to build a multi-use trail farther from the stream that would accommodate strollers and bicyclists.

“The Rivanna Trail is a little more adventurous as a single track and you can’t always walk side by side,” Gensic said. “A multi-use trail is several feet wide, at a minimum, where you can use strollers and walk side by side. It opens up usage to a wider audience that might not walk on a nature trail.”

Brown noted that once the more gently sloped multi-use trail is in place, Region Ten’s clients might also be able to get better access to the park.

“We have a day support program located there where we provide training and rehabilitation services to people with intellectual disabilities,” Brown said. “We have had to be careful with the slopes to ensure safety. We would see the [multi-use trail] as a wonderful activity for our consumers as well.”

Gensic said the city would begin a master planning process later this year to gather more public input.

“With this acquisition in hand, we hope to open a public discussion about all the park land we have acquired,” he said. “We wanted to wait to get them all in place, then start a master planning process for all the natural areas and trails.”

February 24, 2011

Local TMDL planning continues despite challenges

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Local officials are preparing to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Administration mandate to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, even as challenges to the plan are mounted in both Congress and the courts.

In January, the American Farm Bureau Federation filed a suit against the EPA to stop implementation of a plan to restrict the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enter the watershed. The federation argues the EPA overstepped its authority in establishing a “total maximum daily load” for the bay.

Download Download Farm Bureau's lawsuit against the EPA

“The EPA, with support of the Department of Justice, plans to move right ahead with the TMDL and the development of the implementation plans,” said Rick Parrish, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Parrish was one of several speakers at a League of Women Voters forum on the topic Tuesday.

Another threat to the plan is a budget amendment introduced by Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, to prevent any federal funds from being used to implement the TMDL. The House of Representatives approved the measure this past weekend, which must also be passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

20110222-Parrish
Rick Parrish of the SELC

Parrish said the agricultural community, which feels it will bear a disproportionate share of the efforts to reduce pollution, is driving both efforts.

“In truth, the responsibility is going to be placed on all of us,” said Parrish.

The EPA approved Virginia’s watershed implementation plan in December. The next phase is the development of local plans that will spell out precisely what steps will be taken to reduce pollution.

If targets are not eventually met, the EPA could have many enforcement options, including denying permit renewals for wastewater treatment plants and municipal stormwater systems.

Many in the agricultural community have said it is not up to the government to tell them to install fences to keep livestock out of streams.

“Farmers and ranchers already are taking real, on-the-ground actions every day to improve water quality,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in a press release issued when the suit was filed.

“Agriculture feels they’re being unfairly treated, wastewater treatment plants feel they’re being asked to do a lot,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development. “I’m local government and I feel like I’m being unfairly treated.”

Graham said there are many questions that need to be answered as local plans are developed.

“For example, in Albemarle County, we have a large number of regional stormwater basins that are already treating stormwater,” Graham said. “None of that has been captured at this point and nobody’s recognized that those measures are in place.”

Leslie Middleton, the executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, said individuals can play a role by voluntarily making choices to have a smaller footprint.

“Our choice of fertilizers, our choice of how much lawn to have, our choice of how to build our driveways, all of those kinds of things are very important,” Middleton said.

Parrish said efforts to reduce pollution have been working. In 1985, 102 million pounds of nitrogen made its way into the bay. By 2008, that number had fallen to 72.8 million pounds.

“The bad news is that we have to make almost that much of a reduction again to get to where we need to be for the bay to be restored,” Parrish said. “What we’re talking about is restoring it to an acceptable level where people can swim in the bay and not get sick, and where fish and oysters and crabs can thrive and not be threatened with elimination.”

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit and Goodlatte’s budget amendment, other steps are being taken to achieve the general goal of reducing pollution. A bill (HB1831) that outlaws the use of phosphorous in fertilizers sold for home use has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

February 04, 2011

Council meets with planning commission to discuss critical slopes

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 4, 2011

The Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission spent two hours Thursday vigorously debating the intricate details of an ongoing review of the city’s critical slopes ordinance, but left several questions unanswered.

The ordinance is under review because of concerns it is too broad and the criteria for waivers are too ambiguous.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: 20110203-CPC-CC-Slopes.mp3 

20110203-cpc-cc-norris
Planning Commissioners Michael Osteen, Kurt Keesecker and Dan Rosensweig listen to Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris (left to right)

“Applicants cannot be confident of a consistent public process, and the commission frequently is frustrated by discussion that focus more on the intent of the ordinance than on the application at hand,” wrote Commission Chairman Jason Pearson in a memo to councilors before the meeting.

The ordinance has been under review for well over a year, and Pearson said the meeting was a chance to get feedback from Council before going further. While a majority of commissioners have agreed on elements of a new ordinance, there is still a split vote on other proposals.

“The commission doesn’t [want to] steer the ordinance into a place Council doesn’t want to go,” Pearson said.

The critical slopes ordinance was passed by council in 2005 in response to a public outcry that the Brookwood and Carter’s View developments were destructive to the environment, acccording to city planner Brian Haluska.  Both were by-right developments, and the ordinance was intended to give the city some ability to regulate development on hillsides.

The current ordinance does not permit development on slopes in excess of a 25% grade, but applicants can apply for a waiver based on one of four criteria.

In the past year, the commission has made many decisions, including the creation of a single waiver which would be granted if the applicant demonstrated whether the project would have a great enough public purpose to justify disturbing the slope.

20110203-Pearson
Jason Pearson

“We’re proposing there’s only one basis on which there will be a waiver, and that is, is the public purpose going to be better served by granting the waiver rather than not granting the waiver,” Pearson said.  “The question is, do we have to find that public purpose in the comprehensive plan?”

As one example of a public benefit, Pearson raised the possibility of a pedestrian bridge across the Rivanna River to connect the Woolen Mills neighborhood with Pantops in Albemarle County.

“You’d have to disturb slopes and would probably have to build in the river so you’re definitely going to disturb slopes,” Pearson said. “But you might be doing so for the purpose of pedestrian  connectivity.”

City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he felt the comprehensive plan was broad enough to encompass all possible reasons why a waiver could be granted for a public purpose.

But Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she felt there were other documents, such as the City Council vision, which could also provide public reasons.

Another question was whether there should be a “safety valve” which would allow the commission to grant a waiver even if the applicant had not met all the criteria.

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig was concerned this would introduce more ambiguity into the process, and would make it less likely that developers would purchase land to develop.

“There’s a broad consensus that we should identify what we want to preserve, but the question is whether the critical slopes ordinance is the way to do it,” Rosensweig said. He suggested that the upcoming revision of the city’s comprehensive plan would be the more appropriate venue for the discussion.

“My sense is that if the applicant is not complying with the law, then deny the application,” Norris said. “I don’t know why we have to create some fuzziness here.”

“We have achieved the objective of getting council’s feedback,” Pearson said. “Council may have not answered all the questions, but we have input.”

Rosensweig said he felt it was important to get more feedback from the public before moving ahead with the ordinance. Pearson said the public will have their say at a joint public hearing later this spring.

Commissioner John Santoski said he was ready for the ordinance to move forward, rather than be written to satisfy every single councilor and commissioner.

“I’d rather see us make our best efforts to put our best ordinance forward rather than drag our feet because we can’t do it perfectly,” Santoski said.



January 31, 2011

Landowners concerned about dumping of D.C. sewage in Albemarle

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 31, 2011

On Jan. 12, trucks carrying sewage from Washington’s main wastewater treatment plant arrived at Agnes Fotta’s farm on Reas Ford Road, less than half a mile from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

20110131-Sludge-application2
Sludge being applied on a field in Campbell County (Daily Progress file photo)

They began spraying treated human waste, also known as biosolids or sludge, as a way to both fertilize land and dispose of the waste.

Since 2001, Recyc Systems of Culpeper has held a permit to apply the material on land in Albemarle County. Last October, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit modification allowing the firm to apply sludge to an additional 590 acres, bringing the total in Albemarle to 6,438 acres.

No money is exchanged between the landowner and Recyc Systems. Recyc is paid by the wastewater treatment plant to haul the material away, and the landowner benefits by getting free fertilizer.
Some county landowners are growing concerned about the use of biosolids and the growth of its application.

“Sewage sludge was previously dumped in the ocean but this practice was banned in 1988,” said Earlysville resident Vincent Lytle. “Now that same sludge is being dumped in our backyards.”

Lytle first learned about sludge when he received a notification from the DEQ about the permit modification that was sent to the Loftlands Glen Homeowners’ Association. He contends biosolids are filled with heavy metals, pathogens and pharmaceutical waste.

He is seeking a public forum to evaluate whether the practice is safe.

However, Lytle was told a public hearing was not needed because DEQ rules only require one if the permit holder seeks to double the amount of land.

At least one member of the Board of Supervisors is concerned about the issue.

“We’re starting to see more and more problems with biosolids being directly delivered onto the fields,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “It’s starting to creep up against neighborhoods now and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

An industry spokesman defends the practice as environmentally sound.

“We hear those concerns expressed and they are legitimate, but they have been addressed in research and in the regulatory process,” said Ned Beecher, executive director of the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association.

Beecher acknowledged that heavy metals are present in biosolids, but only in trace amounts that pose no threat if applications are controlled.

“Research continues but the risk is not considered to be significant,” Beecher said.

Officials with Recyc Systems declined a request for an interview, but the company’s website claims the practice is safe.

“The good news about biosolids is that they are totally recyclable,” states the website. “Because they are organic, they can (and should) be returned to the earth as fertilizer for plants. … Field research has shown that biosolid nutrients work better than chemical fertilizers for plants, and increase crop yields.”

In a section on safety, Recyc’s website points to a 1992 EPA study that claimed there had been no documentation of biosolids causing illness or disease.

But since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted more research to better understand the chemical composition of treated human waste.

In January 2009, the EPA released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. Research is ongoing, but not fast enough, according to one critic of sludge.

“What has not been determined is what the safe limit is for the contaminants in the environment,” said Ed Kondis, a retired landowner from Fauquier County who became involved in the campaign to stop sludge after he learned a nearby farmer had agreed to accept it.

Kondis said the government’s approach has been to approve permits before demonstrating that the application of sludge is safe. Instead, he said they should have sought to do no harm.

“There have been no scientific studies done that prove it is safe for public health,” Kondis said.
In 2007, the General Assembly commissioned an expert panel to review the application of biosolids to see if they are safe and if they affect property values.

“The panel uncovered no evidence or literature verifying a causal link between biosolids and illness, recognizing current gaps in the science and knowledge surrounding this issue,” states the executive summary.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-and-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts.”

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority takes no position on the practice, according to Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick. He said the RWSA pays McGill Environmental Systems $43 per ton shipped to their facility in Waverly.

Until recently, biosolids were regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, but the General Assembly handed the approval process to the Department of Environmental Quality in 2007.

“I would say that biosolids are probably the most regulated organic material, tighter than fertilizer and animal residuals,” said Gary Flory, water compliance officer for the DEQ’s Shenandoah Valley office, and the man responsible for granting the permit.

Download Download DEQ's October 2010 permit modification for Recyc Systems in Albemarle County

The terms of the permit require Recyc to notify localities 100 days before application.

The firm must notify the DEQ 14 days before application, but Flory said it often happens that they are notified on the day of application.

The permit restricts what agricultural activities can occur on the land after application. For instance, livestock are not allowed to graze for 30 days after application to ensure that any pathogens that are present will have died.

To be granted a permit, operators must develop a plan to ensure nitrogen and phosphorous do not enter the watershed and buffer zones must be established.

Flory said Recyc Systems has never been cited for improperly discharging sludge in Albemarle.

“We have a field presence to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Flory said. “We do some inspections to make sure they’re flagging the buffers so you don’t have impact to groundwater.”

However, he said Recyc is currently being cited for two applications of sludge that occurred before the 100-day notification period to the county was up. Neither was on Fotta’s land.

Recyc’s permit has an expiration date of June 30, 2019, but Flory said it can be revoked “if there is a change in the science or current knowledge.”

It is unclear what, if anything, the county can do to regulate the practice.

“The county has limited authority related to the land application of sewage sludge under state law,” said Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner in an e-mail to Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who asked for the information in response to a request from Lytle.

In Blanton v. Amelia County, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local zoning regulations banning the practice are pre-empted by state law, according to Kamptner.

“DEQ finds out about a planned application of sewage sludge the day before a land application will occur and if it can free up an inspector, it does so,” Kamptner said.

Sludge has not yet been applied to Lytle’s neighbor’s land, and he remains concerned about the possibility of his family’s health being affected after it is.

“Why should I be subjected to the risk that my neighbors are willing to take?” Lytle asked.
Mallek sounds the same note.

20110131-Sludge-application
Daily Progress file photo showing sludge being applied in Albemarle County

“The unknowns in the biosolids are what alarms me,” Mallek said. “I predict that in another decade a decision will be made that these are not healthy behaviors and we should stop.”

However, Beecher said he does not think alternatives to using sludge as fertilizer are as attractive.

“The other options are to incinerate or put it in a landfill, both of which do not take advantage of the nutrients,” Beecher said. “However, it should be done with the understanding of the community.”

He said the benefits of returning organic material to soil outweighed the risks.

“Our soils have been depleted of organic matter,” Beecher said. “Nutrients provide additional support for better plant growth than can be attained with commercial fertilizer.”

January 08, 2011

DEQ begins public process to clean up Charlottesville’s impaired streams

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, January 8, 2011

20110106-DEQ-Slide1
Streams marked in red are considered by the DEQ to be impaired (Source: DEQ)

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has begun a planning process to clean up watersheds that feed four streams within Charlottesville’s city limits.

The health of a waterway is gauged by a metric called the composite stream index. A stream with a score higher than 60 is considered healthy, but none of Charlottesville’s streams comes even close. That means that no swimming or fishing is allowed in any of Charlottesville’s streams.

“It’s not a huge surprise to many of us that some of our local waterways, including Meadow Creek, Schenks Branch, Moores Creek and Lodge Creek don’t meet water quality standards,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator.

The local cleanup process, which began with a public meeting Thursday, mirrors and complements an ongoing process by which the federal, state and local governments are attempting to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110106-DEQ-TMDL

Download Download presentation from January 6, 2011 DEQ public meeting


In both cases, a pollution diet is being drafted that will put a total maximum daily load (TMDL) on pollutants that can enter the waterway before it can be classified as impaired.

“A TMDL has two meanings,” said Tara Dieber with DEQ. “One, it’s the exact quantifiable amount of pollution that a stream can take in and still maintain water quality standards. But it’s also the process of … going about identifying that amount.”

The local TMDL will focus on reducing bacteria and sediment, whereas the bay TMDL also seeks to reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorous. The DEQ and a volunteer advisory group will take the next six months to evaluate conditions in each stream’s watershed before a cleanup plan is written later this year.

“That’s where we get into the detail and the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to clean this up,” Sieber said. “What exact practices can we put into place to make sure that this pollutant is reduced from these sources.”

Sieber said a large reason for decreased water quality is impervious surface, which reduces the ground’s ability to absorb rain. Instead, rainwater accelerates, increasing the likelihood sediment will be carried into streams. For instance, 36.2 percent of land in the Schenks Branch watershed is covered with impervious surfaces.

Sediment presents a problem for aquatic life because the smaller particles of soil fill in around gravel and pebbles that provide a place for creatures to live.

20110106-DEG-Slide2
Source: DEQ

“When there’s too much sediment, the bugs aren’t able to have a good community. It’s like living in a house full of junk,” Sieber said. Poor aquatic life leads to a less healthy food chain.
Impervious surfaces can be mitigated in a variety of ways, including by planting trees along streambanks to serve as buffers to filter out water. Tree roots help prevent sediment from entering streams.

The city is restoring the banks of the Meadow Creek, and the city, Albemarle County and Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority are all working to tighten up and expand sewer pipes to prevent leakage and provide additional capacity.

Another reason water quality has deteriorated is erosion caused by stormwater systems. Riddervold said changing long-held practices could go a long way to restoring streams.

“The mindset was, ‘Let’s get the water out of here as fast as possible and as quick as possible and send it through a chute,’” Riddervold said.

While the DEQ and local officials work on a TMDL for Charlottesville, groups are working concurrently on action steps to comply with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

“The cleanup plan that’s happening locally is coming in right at the time when Charlottesville is going to be dealing also with its target loads because of the bay TMDL,” said Leslie Middleton, the executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission. “Everything we do to clean up these local streams is going to help with the bay cleanup plan. Charlottesville will get credit for activities that clean up the streams.”

Written comments on the local TMDL can be submitted to the DEQ by Feb. 7. A second public meeting will be held in the summer as the written plan begins to take shape.

Sieber said it is unlikely any additional money will come from the state to help pay for implementation of the local plan. However, she said having a written plan would help the community obtain grants to help pay for mitigation projects.

January 05, 2011

Localities have leeway in bay cleanup plan

DailyProgress

 By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted a plan that describes how Virginia will reduce the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants that enter the Chesapeake Bay.

“The EPA thinks Virginia has enough specifics in its watershed implementation plan to have a solid basis for moving forward to meet the goals of the TMDL,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

TMDLSignaturePageLarge
The EPA  published the TMDL in the final week of 2010

The acceptance also means that Albemarle County, Charlottesville and other localities in the state will be able to determine for themselves what steps they will take to ensure that significantly lower levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment enter the bay’s watershed from within their borders.

The TMDL is being implemented in part because the Chesapeake Bay Foundation won a lawsuit that claimed the EPA had failed to take enough action to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. That resulted in a consent decree granting the EPA the authority to enforce the act.

In September, the EPA deemed a draft version of Virginia’s plan to be insufficient. Federal officials had warned that if the final plan was not sufficient, they would mandate pollution reductions by requiring tougher standards on wastewater treatments plants, stormwater facilities and other sources of pollution for which an EPA discharge permit is required.

In response, the Department of Environmental Quality submitted a plan that relied on further reductions at wastewater treatment plants to meet the goal. The changes satisfied EPA regulators

By contrast, the final plans submitted by Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia were not deemed sufficient, and so the EPA will mandate “backstop” measures to ensure those states meet their goals.

“This probably provides local governments and the state of Virginia with more flexibility about how they’re going to meet the requirements of the TMDL,” Williams said. “But it also says that the EPA is going to be watching to make sure we do meet the requirements.”

Now that the EPA has accepted Virginia’s plan, localities, soil and water conservation districts and other groups have until Nov. 1 to develop a more detailed set of implementation plans that will demonstrate to the EPA what will happen at the local level. In this region, that work is being coordinated by the TJPDC and the Rivanna River Basin Commission.

The threat of a backstop measure still looms if the EPA is not confident that this second phase will reduce stormwater runoff outside of major cities, a step the EPA has taken into consideration in the development of the final TMDL.

Williams said consensus is needed between the many sectors that contribute to pollution in the bay.

“Eventually the [Virginia] Department of Conservation and Recreation is going to set targets for pollutant discharges for smaller areas below the watershed level,” Williams said. “At that point, local governments and other dischargers such as farmers and builders are all going to have to get together and figure out how to make this work out in the region.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, initially had been alarmed that wastewater treatment plants would bear too much of the burden of attaining the TMDL targets. A $40.5 million upgrade is currently under way at the Moores Creek plant to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Rivanna River. However, this week Frederick said that he was less concerned.

“Under the final version of EPA’s TMDL, the initial allocation to the Moores Creek plant will be achievable through the plant upgrade currently under construction,” Frederick wrote in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. However, he warned further upgrades could be necessary if the EPA is not convinced Virginia will meet its goals.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a statement he continues to have concerns on the computer model that the EPA used to calculate the TMDL, but that his administration remains committed to cleaning up the bay.

“While we maintain our concern about aspects of the EPA watershed model and enforcement authority, as well as the significant additional public and private sector costs associated with plan implementation, we believe Virginia’s plan will make a significant contribution to improving water quality in the bay,” the governor wrote.
 

November 29, 2010

Commission seeks advice from City Council before slopes hearing

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 29, 2010

The Charlottesville Planning Commission’s review of the city’s critical slopes ordinance will not proceed until City Council has a chance to weigh in on the revised ordinance’s ‘purpose and intent’ section.

“We’d like to get some feedback from them prior to giving them the draft ordinance,” said commission chairman Jason Pearson.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101123-CPC-Slopes

The ordinance has been under review for over a year following concerns from the Southern Environmental Law Center that waivers are granted too frequently.

“The current ordinance says any slope over 25% would be subject to a waiver request in order to disturb that slope,” Pearson said. “What we’ve done instead is to try to focus down from that very broad current ordinance.”

City planner Brian Haluska has written a revised ordinance after commissioners went through it line by line on specific provisions and definitions of when a request to disturb a critical slope.

 

Download Download draft critical slopes ordinance

The new purpose and intent section adds at least two criteria to what slopes would be covered. One would define a slope as critical if its disturbance would cause “loss of significant, natural, or topographic features that contribute to the natural beauty and visual quality of the community.”

 However, this language has attracted the concern of the Housing Advisory Committee, a group charged by City Council with exploring ways to increase the stock of affordable living choices within city limits.

“The [HAC] is very clear that it appreciates all the efforts to clarify, quantify and make the ordinance objective as much as possible,” said outgoing chair Charlie Armstrong, who is also with Southern Development.

However, he added that the draft ordinance does not meet that goal, and claimed that use of the language “significant and natural features” is too ambiguous and subjective.

“There [is] a predominant feeling that nobody would really feel like they had a good grasp on whether they could or could not get a waiver for any given project at any given time… It’s been the general feeling of housing providers that a waiver, as long as it’s not egregious or disrespectful to the land and engineered well, would probably get approved,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said if the revised ordinance reduces the supply of developable land in the city, land prices and housing prices would increase.

Commissioner Lisa Green asked if there was any sense of how many undeveloped parcels the ordinance would affect.

“We don’t have an exact count,” Haluska said. “Based on the ordinance, there could be parcels out there that have critical slopes on them but [they still] have a sufficient building site to accommodate the development that needs to be there.”

Commissioner John Santoski said he favored an ordinance that gives the commission flexibility to adjust over time how it defines subjective terms.

“Community values change over time, so what may be important to us today  may not be important to us ten years from now,” Santoski said. “We should allow [future] planning commissions the flexibility to determine what those significant features should be.”

The commission’s public hearing will not be scheduled until after Council has provided its input, according to Haluska. That agenda item has not yet been scheduled before Council. 

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said that even if council decides to keep the existing ordinance in place, the experience of revising the ordinance had educated the current commission.

“I wouldn’t think that…so many waivers would be granted, because I think we’ve learned a lot about this,” Keller said.
 

November 08, 2010

Localities concerned about cost of implementing Bay plan

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
 
Charlottesville and Albemarle could be mandated to spend as much as $25 million a year on enhanced stormwater facilities to further reduce pollution if Virginia does not submit a Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan that meets the expectations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials in Virginia’s urban areas think the clean-up requirements should be shared more with rural localities.

“This will be costly and difficult no matter what, but if the Virginia plan is adequately written, then the burden will be shared by everybody,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “As it is written now, the burden will be [bourne] by local government and it will be very costly.”

Both the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors were briefed last week on the progress of the EPA’s requirement to sharply reduce the total maximum daily load of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enters the Chesapeake Bay.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101109-TMDL

Earlier this year, Virginia submitted a watershed implementation plan that the EPA said would not be sufficient to meet its pollution reduction goals. The EPA has the authority to implement tougher guidelines, called backstops, if the states do not adequately describe what steps they will take to meet the goals of the TMDL by 2025.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is authorized to regulate “point-source” pollution that directly enters the watershed.

TMDL-chart1
Each watershed is divided into segments of river, each of which will be given an allocation of how much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment can be discharged

“[These] are things like our wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater systems, small industrial plants,” said Leslie Middleton, executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission. She added that would create little incentive for non-point source polluters such as farmers and construction sites to change their practices.

“The key concern here is that the backstop allocations will fall exclusively on permit holders because those are the only sources that EPA directly regulates,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

If that happens, cities with regulated stormwater systems such as Charlottesville would need to meet more aggressive standards. Localities would also be required to develop and monitor nutrient management plans for publicly owned lands such as schools and golf courses, as well as public roads.

A study by the Timmons Group claims that the city’s cost to retrofit its stormwater system could be between $7 million and $15 million a year.

Mark Graham, Albemarle’s director of community development, estimated it could cost the county between $5 million and $10 million, most of which would be spent on efforts to slow and capture stormwater.

“There are a lot of estimates out there on urban retrofit costs in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 [per acre],” Graham said.

Additional costs could be borne by the water and sewer ratepayers.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is currently upgrading the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to increase its ability to strip nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Rivanna River.

“The plant was not designed to meet the criteria that EPA has said they might put in as a backstop,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of fear it’s not going to be adequate and that the RWSA is going to be asked to do more in the 2015 to 2020 timeframe, but we don’t know that for sure.”

RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. said in an e-mail that the plant can meet the goals for phosphorous under the backstop, but would not meet the target for nitrogen.

“We are still addressing with our engineering consultant and have not yet determined a price for further reduction of nitrogen from 5 milligrams per liter to 4 milligrams per liter,” Frederick said.

“The most important story, in my view, about the backstops is that it would punish urban citizens with higher costs because federal and state governments are not willing to make the political decisions to equitably reduce non-point sources of pollution, much of which comes from more rural areas,” Frederick added. 

Graham said there were other questions waiting to be answered.

“For Albemarle County, the largest source of impervious cover in the county is state right of way,” Graham said. “Who is going to be responsible for providing stormwater management for all of [those roads]? No one can answer that question today.”

Supervisor Duane Snow said he did not think the community would be able to afford complying with the TMDL, especially given Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“There’s not any money out there coming to any locality from any direction,” Snow said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the community should keep in mind that any improvements, even if mandated by the federal government, would restore oxygen to area streams and would restore wildlife habitat.

“If we try to train ourselves to look at what we’re doing to benefit our locality and our local residents, then it’s a little easier to swallow,” Mallek said.

Virginia will submit a final watershed plan later this month. The City Council sent a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell last week urging him to direct the state Department of Environmental Quality to submit a more detailed plan.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:45 - Leslie Middleton begins her briefing to City Council
  • 13:30 - Steve Williams of the TJPDC begins his briefing to City Council
  • 18:30 - Jim Tolbert begins his presentation to City Council
  • 21:10 - Council discussion period
  • 27:30 - County Board of Supervisor's briefing begins with Mark Graham
  • 29:15 - Sally Thomas offers her perspective
  • 33:15 - Leslie Middleton briefs the Board of Supervisors
  • 49:33 - Stephen Williams briefs the Board
  • 51:00 - Duane Snow asks if Moores Creek WWTP upgrades will be sufficient
  • 56:45 - Boyd questions the value of a nutrient exchange market
  • 1:06:30 - Boyd asks what county will have to do to comply with aggressive stormwater standards
  • 1:28:30  Sally Thomas addresses the fairness issue

 

November 01, 2010

City’s environmental administrator gives briefing on water resources protection

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 1, 2010

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has received a briefing from city environmental staff on the multitude of efforts planned to protect the city’s water resources.

“Within our own Charlottesville watersheds [we] have a lot of challenges and opportunities that are driven by local water quality goals, and development and redevelopment challenges,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101026-CPC-Water-Briefing

 

Greenleaf-before
This section of Greenleaf Park originally looked like what you see above...

Greenleaf-after
...but was converted into a rain garden to help reduce the velocity of stormwater

“We have impaired streams and our short term goal really should be to prevent further deterioration of those streams,” Riddervold said. “And then the longer term goal should be towards the improvement of the water quality and trying to see what places we can actually enhance and protect those resources.”

 

One of the new tools at staff’s disposal is a new layer in the city’s geographical information database that maps the location of all streams that pass through Charlottesville. This gives developers additional information about the location of streams that is not available by solely using data from the U.S. Geologic Survey. 

One of the challenges faced by municipalities is handling stormwater runoff. The city owns and operates over 50 miles of pipes that convey rainwater within the district. About 25% of that amount needs to be replaced.

“As a result of that you start seeing sink holes and collapses in roadways,” said Dan Frisbee, the city’s stormwater coordinator. 

In November 2008, city council opted not to institute a stormwater fee to help pay for a $2.5 million a year program to replace and maintain the pipes. For now, that money comes out of the city’s capital improvement program. Riddervold said that could change as the city takes steps to implement the Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandates.

“If and when we to back and revisit the comprehensive stormwater program and the fee, the new environment of 2011 is going to inform that discussion because there will be significant requirements that have increased,” Riddervold said. 

New construction projects undertaken by the city have given the opportunity to impound stormwater for other uses.

“We’ve got a 40,000 gallon tank at the high school,’ Riddervold said. “We’ve put in a 50,000 gallon system out at the transit maintenance complex. That water is being used to wash buses, because why would you use drinking water? It’s a way to manage and use on an ongoing basis the rainwater and keep it on site.”