Localities get bigger role in cleaning up stormwater
Stormwater runoff is a big source of pollution in streams and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and for some area localities, it’s looming as a major expense linked to new efforts to clean up the bay.
For example, Stafford County’s proposed budget includes the creation of a countywide stormwater service district, with a cost projected at $42 million over the next 15 years. Local tax dollars would go toward improvements to reduce runoff to streams, thereby lessening impacts on aquatic life and water quality.
“This problem is not going away,” Aquia District Supervisor Paul Milde said during a meeting on Tuesday night.
The service district would levy a 1-cent tax on the real estate tax rate and generate $1.4 million per year. If enacted, the tax would be effective in June. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 15.
“We saw this coming a couple of years ago,” Milde said Wednesday, noting that the costs associated with stormwater handling are projected to grow sharply.
With fees and a tax district in place, “the next couple of years, it’s not devastating,” he said.
The expected costs for improvements are coming in at under $1 million annually. After a couple years, that cost could grow to several million dollars per year.
Even if the board doesn’t raise taxes for such a program now, he said, “The idea of making a separate service district is so that people can see what it is costing.”
For now, Fredericksburg is covering its costs out of its drainage, facilities and other stormwater funding sources, said Kevin Utt, site development manager for the city’s Building and Services Department.
“We haven’t really toyed around with utility fees yet,” Utt said. City Council would have to approve such changes.
He said it’s unclear how much it will cost in the long run. Stormwater-related work can be expensive.
The city spent more than $300,000 in 2005 on a flood-control project to keep stormwater from flooding a portion of Kenmore Avenue.
Stafford and Fredericksburg are among 91 counties and cities in Virginia that operate municipal separate storm sewer systems, known as MS4s. Discharges from those are regulated by the Virginia Stormwater Management Act and the federal Clean Water Act under programs dating back to the 1990s.
Another initiative, the Virginia Stormwater Management Program or VSMP—in the works for over two years and scheduled to be implemented on July 1—affects Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline counties and the remaining non-MS4 jurisdictions.
The VSMP localities had been on track to adopt local stormwater-management ordinances and fee schedules by May 15, to go into effect in July. The local program is intended to ensure that land-disturbing activities comply with the local ordinance.
But a chorus of concerns about deadlines, costs and other details from localities prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation in January changing the rules. In effect, it places oversight of the program with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a number of local jurisdictions. Bills passed by the House and Senate await Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature.
Under the legislation, enacted as an emergency measure near the end of the session, the DEQ would establish a stormwater management program for any non-MS4 locality that decides not to take on the job itself.
Spotsylvania officials are examining their response to the law.
“The quick summary is that we have gone through DEQ, the Planning Commission and the [Board of] Supervisors,” Richard Street, senior environmental engineer for Spotsylvania County, said in an email.
Supervisors delayed a decision for further consideration.
“Once they have the work session to understand the new regulations, and their potential impacts, they will make a decision,” Street said.
Spotsylvania can opt to have the DEQ handle the stormwater program.
“We still have to have a stormwater ordinance that meets the state code because of the Chesapeake Bay designation,” Street said. The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act requires localities generally to the east of Interstate 95 to have stepped up monitoring and handling of stormwater.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
Street said Thursday that Spotsylvania has been working on VSMP-related tasks for the better part of two years, and that it has been a time-consuming and confusing process.
He said county staffers attended one meeting, “and we’d go to another one and the presentation was different.”
A regional meeting on the topic is scheduled for next month in Spotsylvania.
“We’ll be asking DEQ what’s going on and what we need to know July 1,” Street said.
King George County’s staff recently asked the Board of Supervisors to schedule a public hearing on a draft ordinance.
Localities across Virginia for have been grappling with the details for months.
A story in the (Petersburg) Progress–Index in December said county supervisors were leery about imposing a $200 fee for commercial sites and $50 for a residential lot to cover the costs of the program.
In a report released in January, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said localities and lawmakers must do more to keep polluted runoff from fouling Virginia’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The foundation also opposed the legislation tweaking the stormwater rules and deadlines.
The report said untreated runoff—from parking lots, rooftops, developed areas, highways and other surfaces—contains trash, fecal bacteria, oil, pesticides, fertilizers and ingredients that can kill aquatic life, pollute swimming beaches and flood homes.
It called for state lawmakers to appropriate another $50 million for local runoff-control projects through the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, beginning July 1, and to support the implementation of the new runoff laws.
Larry Land, director of policy development for the Virginia Association of Counties, which supported the latest legislation, said local governments have two main issues with the stormwater program.
“They are related to financial resources, and the need to hire more people, especially in rural areas” where the pace of development wouldn’t bring in the needed revenue, he said.
Melanie Davenport, director of the DEQ’s water division in Richmond, said that, as of mid-January, 144 localities had submitted their VSMP plans for review. Two jurisdictions—Hanover and Campbell counties—have enacted them, so far.
The overall goal is to protect water quality, she said, adding that she’s been on a speaking circuit to help explain the requirements for months now.
“It is complicated. It started out complicated, and the notion of all these changes” in the legislation, she said, makes it even more so.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Several bills were combined to require the state Department of Environmental Quality to establish stormwater management programs for certain localities, and deferring the requirement for some others.
The bills, passed by the House and Senate and awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature, alter the permit appeals process and how permits for subdivisions and single-family homes are handled, among other provisions.
The George Washington Regional Commission—the region’s planning agency—is hosting a meeting on the new stormwater program and its requirements for local utility engineers and developers. It will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on April 2 at 8020 River Stone Drive, across from Massaponax High School in Spotsylvania County.