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Getting More Bang for Clean Water Bucks

DSC_0019They say all politics is local. The same thing could be said about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

After all, common sense and lots of science tell us that to restore the Bay itself, we need to restore the hundreds of local creeks and streams that drain into the rivers that empty into the Bay. Or said another way, take care of the small stuff, and the big stuff will take care of itself.

And now comes a study from the James River Association (JRA) in Virginia highlighting this and providing good news for local governments and their budgets.

The study, conducted for JRA by the Center for Watershed Protection, looked at local pollution reduction plans aimed at cleaning up streams in three localities – Lynchburg, James City County, and Richmond. The idea was to determine how much pollution these local plans also would reduce toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. In other words, how much would doing the small stuff help in doing the big stuff?

According to the study, a heckava lot.

“Overall, the study shows that with careful planning, James River watershed localities can fully meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals through implementation of local cleanup plans,” the study concluded.

The chief pollution issue in the three study localities was bacteria, much of it stemming from polluted PatapscoAfterSandy10.30.12runoff washing pet waste, sewage overflows, septic tank seeps, and other filth into waterways. In fact, Virginia reports more than 9,000 miles of streams statewide are “impaired” or polluted because of excess bacteria. The dirty water closes swimming beaches, restricts shellfish harvests, and poses risks to human health.

Affected localities like Lynchburg, James City County, and Richmond have localized plans to deal with their bacteria problems, but such localities are also charged with reducing different pollutants causing big problems for the Chesapeake Bay -- excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment.

“Yet the framework developed to address these different pollutants makes it difficult for local governments to address these water quality challenges holistically,” the JRA study says, “and presents a significant financial challenge – with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup potentially costing $10.5 billion for stormwater alone.”

DSC_0013So the study looked at the practices employed to reduce bacteria in the local plans to see whether those same practices could also help reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. There was indeed much overlap.

• In Richmond, bacteria reduction practices could also achieve 160 percent of the city’s Bay nitrogen reduction goal, 122 percent of its phosphorus goal, and 136 percent of its sediment goal.

• In James City County, bacteria reduction could also achieve 60 percent of the city’s nitrogen goal, 94 percent of its phosphorus goal, and 139 percent of its sediment goal.

• In Lynchburg, results were not as dramatic but still significant: bacteria reduction practices could achieve 48 percent of the city’s nitrogen goal, 6 percent of its phosphorus goal, and 4 percent of its sediment goal.

While the study looked only at three localities within one rivershed, it seems reasonable to assume that Watershed.streams localities across the region could make local pollution reduction efforts do double duty to address Bay pollution, too. They certainly should try, as integrating local plans with Bay cleanup plans can save localities heartburn and money.

“Given the significant cost savings that could be achieved by simultaneously addressing local water quality goals and Chesapeake Bay goals, local governments should strongly consider these benefits when undertaking water quality planning exercises,” JRA concludes.

No one ever said restoring the Bay will be easy or cheap. But to mix clichés, if we can kill many birds with the same stones and get more bang for our bucks, success becomes much more achievable.

Chuck Epes

Chesapeake Bay Foundation


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Thanks. It is good to know that we are making some progress. I live and work (land development) in James City County.

That's good encouragement! thanks for sharing the "simple" science behind the "master plan". this is a great way to share with others who need to know.
Thank s Chuck

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