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Petersburg, Virginia, Moves Forward to Reduce Runoff

 

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Photo by Neil Dampier Photography.
Petersburg, Va., is taking a comprehensive look at the city's urban/suburban polluted runoff in order to improve local water quality.

The effort includes developing a master plan that will prioritize needed projects, such as best management projects and low-impact development, all funded with proceeds from a new runoff utility fee. 

Petersburg's City Council adopted the fee in April to fund the city's runoff management program, which is intended to meet Virginia's commitments to clean up local streams and the Bay. Petersburg property owners will pay a monthly amount based on the impervious surface on their property. The fee for residential units will be $3.75 per month, a value generated by the average impervious surface of each residential property.

Property owners looking to reduce the fee will have the option to receive credits for implementing best management practices, such as rain barrels and buffer systems that cut down on water rushing across impervious surfaces.

Steven Hicks, Petersburg director of Transit, Utilities, and Public Works, said that revenue generated by the fee will create sustainable funds that the city can use to repair existing drainage structures and properly manage erosion and sediment runoff. The funds will also be used to devise new projects to improve water quality, such as low-impact development and runoff management best practices.

Petersburg has hired Timmons Group, an engineering firm based in Chesterfield County, Va., to help the city design and develop a runoff master plan that will organize the city's future water quality improvement projects.

"This stormwater master plan is really going to make a big difference in protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed," said Hicks. "We have partnered with Timmons Group as an extension of our staff to assist us in prioritizing projects, [from] small projects that we know will make a big difference quickly to large-scale projects that will require significant design and capital investment."

Petersburg has plans for several new runoff projects, including storm sewer replacement projects in Western Hills and along Forest Lane, North Park Drive, and Walnut Boulevard. In addition, the city plans to incorporate environmentally friendly development processes such as Low Impact Development (LID) that involve altering site planning, design, and construction practices. These will reduce the impact of polluted runoff on the surrounding land.

Hicks estimates that the annual runoff management program will cost approximately $1.5 million and will be funded entirely by revenue from the fee and grant money. The city was recently awarded a $150,000 grant by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for research on improving runoff management.

"They [the foundation] are instrumental and wonderful people to work with [and] have helped us fund our geographic information system to provide an accurate and easily accessible repository for physical data so that we can improve our watershed. Without the foundation's support, we would not have been successful in establishing our stormwater management program and utility fee," Hicks said.

Petersburg is also applying for state funding to assist the city with its runoff management. The 2013 Virginia General Assembly appropriated $35 million to help localities with polluted runoff projects.

While some citizens may be uncomfortable with another user fee required by the city, Hicks said, the public has been open to discussion and understanding of the need for the utility fee.

"The City Council had a series of work sessions to gain input from the citizens," Hicks said. "I think that by and large citizens realize that they have a duty and environmental responsibility to protect our natural resources and our streams and rivers and our Bay for future generations."

The fee took effect July 1 and billing started in September.

—Natalie Rainer

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