Nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Community College’s Weyer’s Cave campus is 150 miles and a four-hour drive from the Chesapeake Bay. But this week it was ground zero for Chesapeake Bay restoration.
On Tuesday, local officials from five counties and cities comprising the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission gathered on the campus for a workshop on implementing Virginia’s Bay cleanup plan in their local communities. Translation: they got down into the weeds of reducing pollution and saving the Bay.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established how much pollution must be cut to restore these waterways to good health (the TMDL, or Bay “pollution diet”). Virginia and the other Bay states have created general implementation plans to get the job done over the next 14 years.
Now the focus shifts squarely to localities to figure out where local pollution is coming from, what the most cost-effective strategies are to reduce it, and how to implement those strategies. For small, rural communities like those in the Shenandoah Valley, and for larger, more urban localities closer to the Bay, questions abound.
Fielding those questions at the workshop was James Davis-Martin, TMDL implementation coordinator with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Davis-Martin works closely with EPA and understands much of the behind-the-scenes computer work that generates the Bay restoration numbers. And he created an online worksheet of state-specific data to help guide Virginia localities through the complex but critical task of accounting for their local pollution.
Using the Virginia worksheet and a soon-to-be-completed online reporting tool allows, for example, Rockingham County to calculate how much pollution it can reduce from streets, parking lots, farms, and other areas by applying a suite of pollution-reduction practices. Planting rain gardens or sweeping streets achieves a certain amount of pollution reductions; fencing farm livestock from streams or planting winter cover crops achieves still others. The challenge is to apply the most cost-effective practices to as much of the countryside as possible to achieve each locality’s specific pollution-reduction targets.
And while ultimately aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the effort will produce equally beneficial results in places like Rockingham County, which will enjoy cleaner drinking water, healthier creeks and streams, and greater recreation, tourism, and economic development opportunities stemming from clean water.
In fact, one reality that has clearly emerged over the years is that dirty water kills local commerce and jobs. Just ask any out-of-work Chesapeake Bay waterman, or the fishing guides and tackle stores in the Shenandoah Valley who lost $700,000 in revenues because of area fish kills.
During the workshop, Davis-Martin answered questions, guided participants through the online work sheet and reporting tool, discussed state expectations and deadlines, and offered resources for further help.
Not all questions were answered nor were all problems solved at the workshop. It was clear that some cleanup issues remain unresolved and that implementing local plans will be an evolving, learning process.
But it was also clear that local Shenandoah Valley officials are interested, engaged, and committed to trying to make it work. By all accounts, the workshop was helpful.
“I still have many questions, but I know more now,” said one participant in an anonymous evaluation. “Still more information is needed -- definitely,” said another. A common theme: the local officials appreciated having an opportunity to ask questions and get direct feedback, often discovering that their concerns were shared by those in neighboring communities.
The workshop, one of seven around the state to assist planning districts and localities, was co-hosted by the planning district, DCR, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Conservation Network, and the James River Association.
Is your locality engaged in Bay cleanup? Are your local officials working to reduce pollution? If you’re not sure, call and ask them. Tell them you want your locality to do its part to restore clean water. You, all of us, are a part of the problem; let’s work together to be a part of the solution.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Photos courtesy of Jacob Powell/Virginia Conservation Network