New County Stormwater Regulations to be Adopted
Why are we doing this?
This December, the Board of Supervisors must pass a County wide-comprehensive stormwater ordinance. This ordinance could affect not only new development and commercial revitalization, but existing residents as well. No action taken by the Board this year is likely to have a greater impact on home owners.
Fairfax County has regulated stormwater runoff for many years. However, Fairfax is one of over 150 “Tidewater” counties, cities, and towns across Virginia that are now required by state law to adopt a new Stormwater Ordinance based on a Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP) for Virginia that was mandated and approved the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011. This plan commits the Commonwealth to specific targets for reducing pollutants, particularly nitrogen and phosphorous, that are being released into the Chesapeake Bay. The heart of these new rules at federal, state and local levels is a belief that land can be used and developed in a way that can minimize negative impacts on water quality.
Fairfax County must have a revised ordinance in place that has been both reviewed and approved by the State by July 1, 2014. County approval is required by December to provide for State review. It must also revise its Public Facilities Manual. The County will be responsible for all plans previously reviewed by the state under this ordinance. County staff has been working with a large Stakeholder group for the last year, including Braddock residents, to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors about what this ordinance should include. While the State has set minimum requirements in order to meet federal requirements, Fairfax can elect to establish more stringent guidelines.
What does this mean for you?
During rain events, water that falls in forests or fields will soak into the undisturbed ground, but water that falls on paved and other hard surfaces cannot be absorbed. The water “sheetflows” across those surfaces picking up pollutants and carrying them to local streams, rivers, and the Bay. Unmanaged runoff can also significantly increase erosion of stream banks and cause localized flooding.
The stormwater management ordinance as proposed would generally regulate construction activities that disturb more than 2,500 square feet of a lot. However, as part of adopting the ordinance, the Board of Supervisors will consider some sort of exemption for individual residential property owners to make improvements such as additions or a detached garage. Such an exemption would fall between 2,500 square feet and one acre, which is the maximum allowed by the State. In considering such an exemption, the Board would weigh the impact of different levels of land disturbance, and the impervious area on a property after construction. The County has attempted to keep the total impervious area on a lot to less than 18 percent in the draft ordinance.
How would I know if my project will disturb more than 2,500 square feet?
In general, the disturbed area would include the dimensions of the new addition or structure, a way for equipment to get to the construction site via a temporary “access road,” a stockpile area and a ten foot buffer strip around the entire project. Staff has calculated that about 90 percent of typical homeowner projects could be built without triggering the requirements of this Ordinance. However, a teardown/rebuild of an existing home would probably trigger the ordinance. Homeowners planning a project could bring in plans to the Engineer of the Day at the County and get a quick analysis of whether a project would be covered or exempt.
What if my Property is not exempt?
Projects that do not meet this exemption may require construction of a stormwater “Best Management Practice” commonly referred to as a BMP. A stormwater BMP is a means of capturing and treating stormwater before it flows off of a property. They prevent pollution at the source, but are not designed to primarily control the volume of water that ultimately leaves a site. Rain gardens, cisterns, bioswales and infiltration trenches are several examples of BMPs that can be installed on a residential lot. Other options are currently being considered, and will be approved through a State Clearinghouse.
Who would maintain a BMP on my lot?
BMPs on individual lots would normally be maintained by the homeowner. However the Board of Supervisors will consider whether or not the County should assume maintenance responsibility for some of these BMP’s. This would be an expensive new cost for the County and would require that homeowners grant an easement that provides for access to the facility. Staff has estimated the initial cost at $3.5 million with another $600,000 being added each year. Even privately maintained BMPs would require a document called a Private Maintenance Agreement between the land owner and the county. Homeowners would be required to get a BMP inspected and verify that it remains in working condition. The results of that inspection would be provided to the County.
How can I learn more and what is the schedule?
The proposed ordinance will be the subject of public hearings on October 9 before the Planning Commission and before the Board of Supervisors on December 3. To review the draft ordinance, read about the stakeholder meeting and the issues that were discussed, go to the following website: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/stormwaterordinance.htm
Northern Virginia Watershed Workshop
Saturday, October 5 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Location: Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus, Ernst community Center
The watersheds of Northern Virginia are home to a diverse community of flora and fauna and over two million people! As a densely populated area, cooperation between communities, businesses, and individuals is necessary to improve and preserve the health of our watersheds as well as promote sustainable practices. This Fall, NOVA will be hosting a workshop to bring together our diverse community of stakeholders to discuss watershed issues. Breakout sessions will include rain garden tours, a discussion of development patterns, local government’s role in water quality, the latest research on urban watershed science, sustainable landscaping, and how to engage citizens in the movement for clean water. The workshop is free and open to the public. More information can be found online. Rain barrels may also be picked up at the workshop. Barrel orders must be placed online in advance.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater
Stormwater runoff is one of the most important (and the fastest growing) source of water pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay. Much of this runoff comes from our own roofs, yards, and driveways. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has put together a website full of informative hints on how this homegrown pollution threat can be controlled. There are suggestions for every ability level, so there will be techniques that you will be able to accomplish at your home: http://stormwater.allianceforthebay.org.
The Stormwater Calculator Makes it Easy to Measure the Runoff from Your Property. Have you ever wondered how many gallons of stormwater runoff flow from your property when it rains? The EPA’s Stormwater Calculator makes it easy to find out. This easy to use and free program will estimate the frequency and annual volume of runoff originating from your property. More importantly, it will also quantify the reductions in runoff you will see if you adapt a variety of control techniques, ranging from the simple to the more complex. Download it at: http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/wswrd/wq/models/swc/ and take it for a spin today!