County mulling stormwater ordinance

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CHARLES TOWN – New commercial and residential developments would be required to control the runoff of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment under a stormwater management ordinance that is the subject of a Jefferson County Commission public hearing this week.

The ordinance, which is meant to respond to “pollution diets” imposed by the Chesapeake Bay Initiative, has been in development for two years and led by the county’s engineering department. It attempts, using “best management practices” established by the state, to begin controlling not only the quantity but the quality of runoff from new developments.

“We already have stormwater regulations but they were all in the subdivision ordinance,” said Chief Engineer Roger Goodwin. “What you’ve had so far was quantity control. So you were controlling the peak-flow runoff from the site so that neighboring properties wouldn’t get flooded.”

The new quality control requirements are aimed at getting 90 percent of the first inch of rain in a storm to be retained on the property.

Goodwin said the vast majority of pollutants are swept out in the first inch of rain, making it critical to prevent early runoff.

“When we had to implement quality control, or pollution reduction, under the Chesapeake Bay Initiative, we had to put in the techniques that were required to meet it.”

If the ordinance is enacted, it will be the first time that Jefferson County has had a separate, defined stormwater ordinance. There are already stormwater regulations on the books, but they are dispersed throughout the county’s subdivision ordinance.

“We decided to pull out the regulations into a separate ordinance,” Goodwin says. “If somewhere down the road we have to make changes to it, it makes it easier to amend it as a standalone ordinance.”

New developers already have to submit stormwater management plans and studies for most kinds of major development, like a new housing subdivision or a new commercial building. The proposed ordinance leaves this system essentially unchanged, but adds new requirements.

“They already have to submit a stormwater management plan and report, but it is only for quantity control,” Goodwin says. “They will be adding new quality control measures in their designs.”

The ordinance asks developers to implement measures like rain gardens, grass swales and infiltration basins to help reduce the nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment content of runoff.

“You’re giving it a chance to get absorbed into the site, stay on site and infiltrate into the ground rather than running off,” Goodwin explains. “Plants uptake the pollutants from the water.”

The measure is meant to fend off the possibility that the Department of Environmental Protection may eventually push for Jefferson County to be classified as an MS4 community, a designation that comes with much more rigorous requirements for municipal sewer and water treatment systems, Goodwin said.

The MS4 is a special designation given to many urban stormwater systems that causes those systems to be more tightly regulated by the EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and often requires water treatment plant upgrades.

“It is voluntary for Jefferson County to do this,” he said. “We are not an MS4 community like Martinsburg or Berkeley County. My understanding is that, if EPA needs to, they were going to pass additional rules and regulations that would have given the state DEP power to classify us as an MS4. Then we would have to do all the things that requires, which is pretty stringent.

“By implementing voluntary quality controls, we get out of some of the other things, which is a lot of record keeping and public outreach – stuff that costs you a lot of money administratively.”

Goodwin said the ordinance will not require any new fees or new spending in the engineering department.

“We’re trying to keep this hassle-free to the applicants and low cost to the taxpayers,” he says. “There is no separate stormwater permit fee. There is no ongoing periodic post-construction inspections by us. Once the project is done, it is up to the commercial project or the HOA to maintain those stormwater facilities.”

Rhonda Lehman, president of the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition, said that many of the measures contained in the ordinance will help the county meet its Chesapeake Bay Initiative pollution diet.

“It is a great step for the county to take,” Lehman said. “In light of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative implementation, it is very important.”

The Watershed Coalition has constructed a major demonstration project to limit runoff from a large building in the Blue Ridge Mountains using measures similar to those required under the new ordinance.

“That is what we did on our project on the Mountain Community Center on Mission Road,” Lehman said. “A large amount of water came off the roof of that building, so we implemented the rain barrel system and put in a rain garden, and we completely eliminated that hydroplaning issue that was always there at the intersection of (W.Va.) 9 and Mission Road.”

Lehman said the county could benefit from more support for educational measures aimed at teaching homeowners how to implement inexpensive runoff reduction measures.

“I hope that there will be some focus on teaching best management practices to the public, because all of us can do little things on our properties to affect the quality of the runoff or to keep the runoff on our properties,” she said.

The Watershed Coalition has recently begun a systematic water quality monitoring program, which is meant to uncover the major contributors to nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment runoff.

Lehman said it is too early for her to draw conclusions based on the four months of data they have collected, but noted that the data is available for the public to review at blueridgewatershed.org.

 

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