With Albemarle County’s many streams impaired, stormwater utility fees loom

The Rivanna River. Photo: Stacey Evans The Rivanna River. Photo: Stacey Evans

Albemarle officials say that a majority of the county’s streams would likely be deemed impaired by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and requirements to address those impairments are at the forefront of the county’s agenda. To comply with federal and state mandates coming down the pike, Albemarle will have to consider a stormwater utility fee similar to the controversial one the City of Charlottesville recently implemented.

At last week’s Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting, staff members Mark Graham and Greg Harper led a work session on the water resources program development to discuss the county’s stream health goals and potential funding options. The county has two issues to address: complying with the state-mandated stormwater management program by July 2014, and implementing a plan to reduce the amount of pollutants going into local waterways over the next two years as part of a regional effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by 2025.

“First and foremost we need to understand the mandates,” Graham said. “But let’s not get so wrapped up in the mandates that we forget about our own goals.”

Virginia localities are required to develop a plan to address impaired streams with the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) system, which is a calculation of the amount of pollutant a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards. Albemarle has already put an “incredible emphasis” on protection and preservation of natural resources, Graham said, especially county streams.

“We could argue about the fairness, whether it’s fair that the county basically has a starting point from things it’s already done,” Graham said. “Other localities that may not have as aggressively pursued water resource protection have a lower starting point. We’re both being asked to put the same amount of effort into it.”

From a financial standpoint, county officials are wondering how they’re going to pull it off.

“Unfortunately, it’s going to cost a lot of money in order to meet those mandates,” said County Supervisor Ken Boyd. “It’s another one of those things that gets pushed down to the local level, and we have to spend tax dollars or raise the money ourselves.”

At a March Board meeting, Boyd voted against funding two additional water resource positions in the county for the upcoming year. He said it would require a fee structure that was too much like the City of Charlottesville’s new stormwater utility, which will bill property owners twice yearly on a monthly charge of $1.50 per 500 square feet of impervious surface on a site.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker agreed that the financial burden will be significant, and said he’s concerned that the mandated programs aren’t specific enough to ensure the desired outcome of a healthier Chesapeake Bay. The county closely monitors construction sites and their stormwater runoff, and Rooker said implementing a program to retain an even greater percentage of silt will be both vague and unfair.

“There’s no certainty that what all the communities are doing is going to actually achieve the measured reduction at the Chesapeake Bay that is desired,” Rooker said. “We’re trying to reduce pollutants by some percentage from a starting point with imprecise methods of doing so, while at the same time, having to mitigate the effects of growth.”

County staff plan to hold two more work sessions with the Board, and a stormwater management program must be approved and sent to the state by the end of December.