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"It's Now Time for the Tough Medicine"

Good News on the Local Clean Water Front

Buffer
Fluvanna County, a largely rural locality in Central Virginia and home to long stretches of the Rivanna and James rivers (two important Chesapeake Bay tributaries), last month adopted measures to better protect the health of county streams.

A new county law requires that all future subdivisions of six or more lots and all site plans for new commercial, industrial, and multifamily developments leave at least a 50-foot natural buffer of vegetation on either side of county stream banks (and at least 100 feet along both sides of the James, Rivanna, and Hardware rivers).

The trees, shrubs, and grass in such riparian buffers trap and filter stormwater runoff before it washes dirt and other pollutants into the waterways. The vegetation also reduces erosion and provides food and shelter for wildlife.

In addition to the buffer requirements, the county also approved regulations aimed at protecting local water quality, such as increased requirements for tree planting and encouraging low-impact development techniques, porous paving, and reduced parking requirements.

Rivanna_NFWF_MapThe Rivanna Conservation Society, a local watershed group, had long advocated for such measures. Steve Pence, one of the founders of the group, said, “We have been working on this for nearly two decades, and I’m delighted that the (Fluvanna) Board of Supervisors has recognized the importance of providing a buffer between land activities and the Rivanna and its tributaries.” 

A Rivanna Conservation Society newsletter also quoted Society Vice President Leon Szeptycki, who is the director of the University of Virginia’s Environmental Law and Conservation Clinic.

“Over the past five years, the Rivanna Conservation Society and the Clinic have been working together to develop and present a series of recommendations for the four major jurisdictions in our area (Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Greene counties),” he said. “…We have seen tremendous results, with buffer provisions adopted in Albemarle and Fluvanna; critical slopes provisions adopted in Albemarle; and Albemarle’s adoption of our recommendation the county amend its water protection ordinance to require that all erosion and sediment control plans include a time limit by which denuded terrain must be permanently re-vegetated.”

Bravo!

Of course, localities all across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are grappling with how to reduce pollution fouling local creeks and rivers. These local efforts are the upstream part of a larger downstream push to cut the amount of pollution ultimately flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, causing “dead zones,” fish kills, closed beaches, and job losses.

These local efforts will produce clean water not only in places like Fluvanna County but also Rivannaboatsdownstream in the Bay. The local cleanups are where the Chesapeake Bay clean water “blueprint” -- the federal-state plan to restore the Bay and its tributaries -– gets down to business. And the resulting clean water will stimulate local economies, boost populations of fish, crabs, oysters, and other wildlife, and enhance the quality of life for our kids and grandkids.

To help engage local leaders about the importance of clean water, the Rivanna Conservation Society, the Rivanna River Basin Commission, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation hosted several officials, including ones from Fluvanna and Albemarle counties, on a canoe tour of the Rivanna River this summer. We hoped the significance of this beautiful river and the need to protect it wasn’t lost on the local officials. And in fact, just a few weeks after the paddle trip, Fluvanna adopted its stream bank buffer ordinance.

Persistent and dedicated conservation groups can be potent forces. But often the most eloquent advocates for clean water are the streams, rivers, and bays themselves.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photos, CBF; map, Rivanna River Basin Commission.

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