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2007-01-10 / Front Page

A developing problem

Phosphorous increases in reservoir
By Greg Pearson
STAFF WRITER

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Increased development could threaten the viability of the Swift Creek Reservoir as a source of drinking water.
When build-out of the Upper Swift Creek Watershed occurs, it will create more phosphorous than the Swift Creek Reservoir can handle, threatening the long-term survivability of the reservoir as a source of drinking water.

That is the unofficial conclusion from consultant CH2MHill, according to Water Quality Analyst Scott Flanigan. CH2MHill is scheduled to update the Chesterfield Planning Commission on its latest findings during a work session on Jan. 16.

Flanigan said to protect the reservoir as a drinking source, the total amount of phosphorous should not exceed 25,000-26,000 pounds annually. For 2006, the phosphorous was about 15,000 pounds, but at build-out, the annual load is projected to be 42,784 pounds of phosphorus, requiring "a reduction of approximately 17,000 pounds," said Flanigan.

Nutrients like phosphorus are necessary for the growth of algae which are an essential part of the food chain, but problems occur with excessive algae growth. Thus far, the county met in-lake phosphorous runoff standards set by a Chesterfield ordinance at a maximum of .05 milligrams per liter. However, Virginia is expected to lower the level to .04 milligrams this year.

"We have not completed the modeling with respect to the state's proposed median annual in-lake total phosphorus concentration of 0.04 mg," said Flanigan. Matoaca Planning Commissioner Wayne Bass estimated that the lower level would require taking another 5,000 pounds of phosphorous out annually before it reaches the reservoir.

"If the state drops the level to .04," said Dale Planning Commissioner Sherman Litton, "that could stop [the extension of] the Powhite Parkway. It's not just residential rooftops that create phosphorous runoff. This could get ugly." Typically, commercial development generates more phosphorous runoff than residential development.

To find a solution, last month the planning commission recommended that the county board adopt revised amendments that included doing away with the master BMP (Best Management Practices - ponds that collect runoff) plan. County administrators had hoped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would allow in-stream BMP ponds, but the federal agency has given the thumbs down on that idea.

At last month's board meeting, Clover Hill Supervisor Art Warren motioned for the amendments, calling them "an interim step." But his motion died for the lack of a second.

Matoaca Supervisor Renny Humphrey called the amendments "another patch job." Bermuda Supervisor Dickie King criticized the county's consultant, saying, "All this money has been spent - $500,000 to $600,000 - and we didn't get anything for it."

"The amendments proposed by the environmental staff and the planning commission move us toward saving the reservoir as a valuable resource," Warren told the Chesterfield Observer. The reservoir provides about 12 million gallons of water daily to county residents, about 30 percent of Chesterfield's water needs. Communities around the reservoir such as Brandermill and Woodlake also view it as important to their property values.

"The planning staff saw the amendments as a way to stop the hemorrhaging," explained Planning Director Kirk Turner. "Developers were paying money into the master BMP plan and not treating the runoff."

Now the BMP plan has been scrapped, and most county leaders think developers will have to assume the responsibility for trapping runoff before it gets to the reservoir.

Late last year at another board meeting, most of the board demanded action from the planning commission on the Upper Swift Creek Watershed Plan. Privately, many commissioners blamed county administrators for inaction since they hired CH2MHill, which has not yet reported its final estimates. And uniformly, the commissioners were disappointed the board didn't approve the amendments.

But the county board deferred the amendments until its Mar. 14 board meeting, asking County Administrator Lane Ramsey to set up a work session to lay out the options.

"I was surprised the board didn't know more about the watershed and our sense of urgency," said Bass. "Delaying a decision until March was the wrong thing to do."

"I don't think the county administration thoroughly briefed board members," said Clover Hill Planning Commissioner Russ Gulley. "We need a strategy to take out 17,000 pounds [a year]. I don't think we need to stop development in the watershed now, but we do need to adjust the deferred growth line." Generally, Chesterfield doesn't currently allow development west and south of that line.

For developers to contain the runoff, large bodies of water will most likely be needed. "We may need to rename the Upper Swift Creek Watershed as the 'Land of Lakes,'" joked Bass.

"The county has some tough choices to make," offered Tom Pakurar of the environmental group Hands Across the Lake. "There is Virginia precedence for downzoning."

Other options include tightening the standards for commercial development and less intense development with more land dedicated to open space. Those solutions raise the costs for developers. A temporary moratorium on rezonings is unlikely since it might not be legal, said Turner. Midlothian Planning Commissioner Dan Gecker hopes developers will get together in a "pollution trading credit system" to be monitored by the county.

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