One of the Chesapeake Bay region’s biggest water pollution problems – and one that is getting worse, not better – is stormwater runoff. That’s the water that rushes off buildings, streets, parking lots, and lawns after a rainfall, washing dirt, chemicals, fertilizer, and bacteria into our waterways.
This polluted runoff causes all sorts of problems for streams, critters, and people – erosion, silting, litter, oxygen-depleted “dead zones,” fish and shellfish kills, flooding, human health threats, to name a few.
Some timely examples:
• On Monday this week, the Virginia Health Department’s Shellfish Sanitation Division closed the entire upper part of the York River to all commercial harvests of shellfish (clams and oysters) because of the threat of disease.
“Approximately 175,000 gallons of rainwater and sewage overflowed into the Mattaponi River, a tributary of the York River,” after rain from Tropical Storm Andrea, the division said. “Due to potential microbiological hazards, shellfish taken from these areas are currently unacceptable for direct marketing. Ingesting shellfish taken from the upper York River at this time could cause gastrointestinal illnesses including Norovirus, Hepatitis A and Shigellosis.” The shellfishing ban is in force through the end of June.
Again, not only can the polluted water make shellfish dangerous to eat; it will result in thousands of lost seafood dollars.
• On Tuesday this week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality held a public open house in Roanoke, Va., to discuss how best to clean up the Upper Roanoke River, which is polluted by excessive bacteria and other runoff problems.
So widespread and serious are runoff problems that EPA, Virginia and the other Bay states, local governments, businesses, conservation groups, universities, private consultants, and individual citizens are working hard to find cost-effective solutions. And by facing the challenges head-on and working cooperatively, cost-effective solutions can be found.
For example, the City of Roanoke, like localities across Virginia, is considering charging property owners a new stormwater runoff fee. The modest fee would be based on the amount of impervious (hard) surface on people's property. The city would use the revenue to help implement necessary fixes to its local dirty-water problems, estimated to cost $74 million.
As the Roanoke Times newspaper editorialized, “An owner of a small home without a concrete driveway would pay less than a McMansion owner with a tennis court in the back yard. It’s an equitable system that also will be applied to commercial, industrial, nonprofit and church properties. All developed properties contribute to the problem, requiring owners to pay their proportionate share to mitigate the damage to the ecosystem.”
Norfolk, an older city with miles of shoreline, aging infrastructure, and low-lying neighborhoods that often flood, is especially interested in finding solutions to costly runoff issues. The city applied to the Rockerfeller Foundation and recently was named one of eight cities nationally to participate in the RE.invest Initiative and receive free technical and legal assistance to help find sustainable solutions to its stormwater runoff problems. Among the city's goals: reducing storwater while improving water quality.
“Resilient stormwater systems can make the difference between a clean or a toxic water supply,” Judith Rodin, the Rockefeller Foundation’s president, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “We cannot prevent every future catastrophe, but we can prevent systems from failing catastrophically.”
Fixing our stormwater runoff problems is crucial to clean water, the success of Chesapeake Bay restoration, local budgets, and healthy streams, regardless of where you live. To learn more, click here.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Photos (top to bottom): Krista Schlyer/iLCP; Andrea Moran/CBF; Krista Schlyer/iLCP; Wetlands Watch.