Redefining Stormwater Management

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

Stormwater management needs to be seen in terms of how it may contribute to protecting or restoring the ecological integrity of stream valleys in Fairfax County, suggests Ron Tuttle, a landscape architect recently hired by the County’s Stormwater Planning Division.

“I believe we have an opportunity to redefine stormwater management and thereby change the conventional mindset that tells us stormwater is something bad; something to get rid of,” says Tuttle. “Instead we should be able to utilize stormwater as the precious resource it can become.”

One of Tuttle’s initial tasks is to assist in developing a stormwater management design manual for the County, which will include innovative technologies such as better site design techniques, integrated low-impact development, and soil bioengineering best management practices.

“These and other emerging technologies should be part of the mainstream of what we do in the name of stormwater management,” says Tuttle. “We need to define technologies in terms of their applicability to Fairfax County and include them in our toolkit.

Tuttle began his career in the U.S. Forest Service in the 1960’s as the first landscape architect on the staff of a Pacific Northwest national forest. From there, he went to the Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). At the time, a flood protection endeavor known as the Public Law 566 program was in full operation, including dams, reservoirs, and channels. Pohick Creek Watershed, where six impoundments were constructed, was a pilot watershed for this program. These impoundments are now known as Lakes Woodglen, Royal, Braddock, Barton, Huntsman, and Mercer, all of which are currently operated and maintained by Fairfax County.

Tuttle and other landscape architects were part of the multidisciplinary approach that introduced to NRCS new technologies such as soil bioengineering, wetland restoration, stream restoration, ecologically-based conservation planning, and computer-aided visual simulation.

“We often found ourselves involved in the introduction of significant changes to the way we provided conservation assistance,” remarks Tuttle.

“By the time I left the federal government, many of these changes were becoming part of the mainstream of conservation work,” he said. “I believe Fairfax County is poised for the same thing to happen in stormwater management. Just look at the watershed planning and stream protection initiatives now taking place. It’s a matter of building trust, increasing knowledge and skill levels, and learning willingly from mistakes.”

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