New Controls expected for site development, septic systems

By Susan Gibbs

Construction along Greene County’s US 29 and 33 corridors may be subject to additional controls in site development and stormwater management.

In addition, all new alternative onsite wastewater septic systems may have to provide for nutrient removal, while existing sysems may be subject to retrofitting – at a cost to property owners of between $6,000 and $12,000 per system.

These warnings — and others — were delivered to the Greene County Board of Supervisors at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, January 24.

The Environmental Protection Agency “is now required to do whatever is necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” Leslie Middleton, executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, told the Board.

The effort will cost the state somewhere between $7 billion and $10 billion by 2025, according to a Virginia Senate Finance committee report dated November 18, 2011.

The cost to Greene County, its construction industry, and its property owners, is yet to be determined.

“Voluntary efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been underway since the 1980s, but goals were not met, and now the clean up is mandatory,” explained  Greene County Planning Director Bart Svoboda, who was reached by phone after the meeting.

Specifically: In 1987 EPA entered into the Chesapeake Bay Agreement with the District of Columbia and the six states in the watershed to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

When those goals were not met, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other advocacy groups sued, according to a memo Middleton delivered to the Board Jan. 24. That suit was settled earlier this year, and as a result, EPA was required to establish a TMDL for the Bay.

TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load, which establishes limits for the amount of nutrients and sediment allowed to flow into the Bay. It was issued in December 2010.

“There’s too much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment coming in the Bay,” Middleton told the Board January 24.

After the TMDL was issued in late 2010,  Greene County Extension Agent Cathryn Kloetzli explained the damage done by too much nitrogen and phosphorous in water.

“While nitrates and phosphates are necessary for plant growth, in large amounts they cause excessive algae growth in water,” Kloetzli said. “Too much algae means the bacteria that break it down use up too much of the oxygen in the water necessary to sustain plant and animal life.”

In addition, Kloetzli continued, “High nitrogen levels in water can lead to the ingestion of nitrogen in its nitrate form, which can cause health problems in humans and livestock.” She further explained that the main sources of nitrates and phosphates in water come from fertilizer, sewage pollution and animal waste.

Nicknamed the “pollution diet,” the TMDL establishes limits for the amount of nutrients and sediment allowed to flow into the Bay. It calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, and a 20 percent reduction in sediment in the Bay area by 2025.

According to Middleton’s memo, the TMDL will be realized through the development and execution of Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). These WIPs  include pollution limits for wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, stormwater, and forest, mining and agricultural lands.

The WIP development process has been divided into three phases. The overall process includes two-year implementation milestones through 2025 and will be strictly enforced by EPA.

Phase I was completed in December. It provided information to EPA about wasteload and load allocations, which  included  a description of the authorities, actions, and control measures that will be implemented to achieve these TMDL allocations.

The Phase II WIP is to describe in more detail how Virginia will achieve the required reductions by implementing agricultural, foresty, and mining best mamagement practices (BMPs), septic improvements, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and stormwater management improvements.

The state is in the process of preparing the Phase II plan and, because most of the necessary actions will need to be taken by local governments, has requested information from localities. The information requested includes data about current land use, current level of best management paractices (BMPs) for agriculture, urban and other sectors, planned implementation of BMPs by 2025, and strategies and resources needed to meet 2025 impementation goals.

According to Middleton’s memo, development along the county’s US 29 and U.S. 33 corridors may require additional controls in site development and stormwater management because Greene “is situated at the headwaters of both the Rivanna and the Rapidan rivers, with growth areas defined along the roads (US 29 and 33) that divide the watershed.”

The additional controls are necessary, according to the memo, “In order to protect the health of these streams and thereby eliminate costly cleanup activities in the future.”

Already, the state has revised stormwater management regulations (effective September 2011), according to the Senate Finance Committee report. The cost of complying with new regulations will be incurred in new construction, but costs can be mitigated by building compliance into initial site design.

The Senate Finance Committee report goes on to say that retrofitting of existing stormwater systems “will be costly and will likely be borne by local governments.”

According to the same report it is proposed Virginia Department of Health regulations will require all new alternative systems to provide for nutrient removal, and the retrofitting of existing systems.

Middleton’s memo notes that since October county staff has been working with “the Rivanna River Basin Commission, Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, and Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to compile the requested information, to evaluate strategies that are being or could be employed by the county, and to identify the resources that will be necessary to meet water quality goals.”

“We are making sure our numbers are fair,” said Svoboda.

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