By Sean Tubbs

Dexter Auction

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.


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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.






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.

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