Statewide tributary strategy unveiled | Funding the Bay cleanup | 7 Steps to Reduced Runoff | News from Director Maroon | ONLINE UPDATE: More budget details | Not Daniel Boone's log cabin | EPA approves stormwater permitting by DCR | Adopt-a-Stream by the Numbers | Greening Blacks Run | Mark your calendars | Put your lunch money where your mouth is | Putting your money where you mouth is | Stewardship Virginia won public support in 2004
Master plan directs local action, reflects cost-effective approach
As part of the Commonwealth's commitment to restore the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the Secretary of Natural Resources, W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., has announced a detailed plan to rid Virginia's streams and rivers of harmful pollutants. The statewide tributary strategy (PDF), released on February 2, covers all Bay tributaries and provides an overview of forthcoming watershed-specific plans. The document synthesizes an approach crafted by DCR to minimize nonpoint source pollution with measures for tackling point sources put forward by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
By its own admission, the statewide strategy seeks to meet an "ambitious nutrient and sediment reduction goal" - one set forth in hopes of removing the Bay from the Environmental Protection Agency's impaired-waters list by 2010. Because more than a third of the Chesapeake basin is within Virginia, the state plays an integral role in ongoing efforts to restore water quality in the Bay. To meet its commitment, Virginia must reduce annual loads of nitrogen by 34 percent, phosphorus by 39 percent and sediment by 18 percent, according to the document.
And success comes with a staggering price tag: almost $10 billion in state, local and private expenses. The report acknowledges, "the proposed strategies go far beyond what current programs with current resources can deliver and well beyond the highest participation levels ever achieved." To mitigate contaminated runoff, the strategy estimates that best management practices must be used on 92 percent of agricultural acreage, 85 percent of open land and 74 percent of urban land. The implementation of the strategy sparked considerable discussion at this year's General Assembly session. Budgets from the House of Delegates and the Senate both elevated annual water quality spending to as-yet-unseen levels, generating talk of a new $50 million baseline. "It is very encouraging to see the high level of interest on the legislature's part for tackling the water quality problems that exist in Virginia's rivers and the Chesapeake Bay," said DCR Director Joseph Maroon.
Balancing science with sound fiscal policy
Four years in the making, the tributary strategy was crafted with the aid of an advanced computer model that evaluates the outcome of different pollution control strategies in various locations. And because success requires local implementation and widespread public support, input from localities and landowners also informed Virginia's approach.
Finally, budgetary constraints and the looming decade's-end deadline rendered efficiency as important as effectiveness. Thus the tributary strategy advocates cost-effective methods to achieve sizable nutrient reductions in the near term, with more costly and complicated measures to be addressed as funding allows. That approach echoes a report issued last December by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory group of legislators from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania (click here to view the commission's report).
When speaking before members of the Senate Finance Committee, Secretary Murphy cited plant upgrades and agricultural BMPs as the twin pillars of Bay restoration: "Sewage treatment should be one of the priorities, because you get immediate results… Agricultural practices provide the most cost-effective way on the nonpoint source side." The expense, he suggested, is not disproportionate to the aim. "When you look at a total budget of $60 billion annually, the question becomes: What kind of a priority do you place on the Bay cleanup?"
The statewide tributary strategy provides what may be the most comprehensive estimate of Bay cleanup costs to date. Its $9.9 billion figure encompasses all expenditures, public and private, through the year 2010. Where might that money come from?
Bay Program partners (six basin states and the EPA) now spend a combined $1 billion annually on the Bay, a mere pittance of the $12 billion needed to jump start the cleanup according to a finance panel chaired by former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles. In January, Governor Mark Warner and his counterparts from Maryland and Pennsylvania vowed to lobby for increased federal funding to close the gap; they were joined by a bipartisan cabal of senators and representatives. President Bush's recently proposed 2006 budget rebuffed those requests.
At present, Virginia's Water Quality Improvement Fund is the economic engine behind the effort. Proposed by then Del. W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., the fund was established in 1997. Under law it receives 10 percent of the state's end-of-the-year budget surplus to split between point source and nonpoint source eradication efforts. The latter, administered by DCR, include the Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
WQIF deposits fluctuated between $10 million and $37 million until 2002, when budget shortfalls left the coffers bare. The fund was reinvigorated by a $21 million contribution for 2005, and pending legislation could top off 2006's estimated $47 million deposit with $50 million from the state's general fund earmarked for sewage-treatment plant upgrades.
The nonpoint source approach … will focus on seven programmatic areas:
News from DCR Director, Joseph H. Maroon
For DCR, this year began more favorably than did its predecessor. While the funding behind our diverse programs is far from overflowing, the budget proposed by Governor Warner and the amendments now emerging from Virginia's General Assembly promise a funding boost for the department. Most significant are new funds for water quality improvements and state parks. This additional funding could not be more timely, as numerous state park projects initiated by voter approval of the 2002 Virginia Parks and Natural Areas Bond will come to fruition this year and next. Deposits to the state's Water Quality Improvement Fund triggered by the present budget surplus will coincide with the formal adoption of nutrient-reduction strategies for Virginia's Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
In October 2004, we dedicated the visitor center at Wilderness Road State Park, which we understand is the first state-owned facility in Virginia to receive LEED certification for leadership in energy and environmental design. This is the first of more than 30 bond-financed projects due to debut within a two-year span. These improvements range from the cabins at Lake Anna to preservation work soon to begin at historic Chippokes Plantation. New appropriations proposed by Governor Warner and the General Assembly for fiscal year 2006 begin to address the serious, long-standing and growing operational and staffing challenges that exist throughout the park system. New funds would help to close the budget gap created by rising construction costs and provide new staff to operate these expanded facilities. In all, 10 state parks will unveil new facilities, and the state park system will hire more staff across Virginia. In fact, the amount of new funding necessary to meet the needs of our state park system this year may be unprecedented.
The new year also brings with it several advancements in DCR's efforts to address nonpoint source pollution. For example, DCR staff were heavily involved in the year-long development of the state's recently unveiled Chesapeake Bay Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Tributary Strategy, a plan for the implementation of water quality measures on each of Virginia's Bay tributaries.
In addition, proposed deposits to the state's Water Quality Improvement Fund will bring the amount of funding available to DCR - exclusive of deposits allocated to the Department of Environmental Quality for sewage treatment plant upgrades - to almost $30 million for fiscal year 2006, triple the department's allocation for 2005. Already, the department is working to distribute WQIF money to localities, farmers and landowners as soon as it becomes available. The vast majority helps underwrite agricultural best management practices through a cost-share program administered in conjunction with state's Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Another sizable share is devoted to establishing riparian buffers on farmland through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a joint effort in which each state dollar is matched by four federal dollars. Our goal in spending these funds will be to see that real, tangible progress is made towards the Bay cleanup and in Virginia's streams and rivers, and that cost-effective practices are given priority.
Another key component of DCR's runoff-mitigation programs slated to move forward this year is the Stormwater Management Program, which has received EPA approval to begin issuing permits to municipalities with shared stormwater systems and to construction zones statewide. DCR assumed its expanded responsibilities under the program on January 29.
These undertakings and several more throughout the agency promise big challenges for DCR in the coming months. Challenges that in turn provide opportunities for DCR staff (some of the finest in state government) to again demonstrate our commitment to excellence, customer service and, of course, Virginia's natural and outdoor resources.
Parks, Bay get major boost
The biennial budget for 2005 and 2006 adopted by Virginia's General Assembly on February 27 provided significant increases for DCR programs, some in excess of those requested by Gov. Mark Warner at the outset of the legislative session. The budget is still subject to Warner's line-item veto. However, he has indicated support for increased allocations to the state's natural resource agencies.
A funding boost of almost $18 million for Virginia's state parks will supplement rising construction costs for General Obligation Bond projects. In addition, the funds will supply furniture and equipment for new park facilities. Perhaps most importantly, the allocation provides for new staff to operate and maintain park improvements.
"These funds will be a real boast to our state parks system . . . I understand that this level of support is unprecedented in our agency's history," said DCR Director Joseph Maroon.
A $650,000 allotment-the first installment of a four-year commitment-for dam upgrades in state parks will enable DCR, the state's lead agency on dam safety, to model sound management. In addition, more than half that amount was provided to soil and water conservation districts for dam maintenance.
Another big winner in this year's budget wrangling was the Chesapeake Bay. The legislature earned accolades from environmentalists for its $50 million investment in sewage treatment plant upgrades. However, DCR-led efforts to combat nonpoint source pollution were buoyed by deposits of more than $22 million for 2006, raising the nonpoint source share of the state's Water Quality Improvement Fund to $30 million.
Those funds serve to provide matching grants for the implementation of agricultural best management practices and to offer farmers greater incentive to plant streamside buffer strips through DCR's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
Another major grant program administered by DCR, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, received a $10 million boost from the assembly. The foundation provides grants to localities and nonprofits for the acquisition of easements and parklands. DCR's own state Natural Area Preserves saw a $300,000 funding increase for public access and wildlife management. The preserves safeguard rare plants and animals in some of Virginia's most sensitive ecosystems.
Among the more ambitious state park improvements funded by the 2002 General Obligation Bond, the visitor center at Wilderness Road State Park is a cutting-edge model of green design. Virginia's first state-funded building to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, it was engineered for minimal environmental impact. DCR is committed to adding at least one LEED-certified facility to each of its seven state park districts.
Dedicated in October, the $1.8 million Wilderness Road visitor center will soon be fully operational. Associated parking and landscaping upgrades will be complete before May 13, when enthusiasts convene for an annual reenactment of the 1769 Raid at Martin's Station. Last year, more than 88,000 visitors toured the park and its re-creation of a settler outpost circa 1775.
In addition to an exhibit area, gift shop and conference room, the new center includes an auditorium where guests can view Wilderness Road: Spirit of a Nation. Created especially for the park, the film tells the story of early settlers, led by Daniel Boone, who forged through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky during our nation's first quarter-century.
"The center will greatly enhance any visitor's experience," said Park Manager Don Harris. Of the film he added, "It tells the wonderful story of Virginia being America's first frontier, allowing you to get an orientation before you go out and see the fort."
Besides a history lesson, interested visitors can also receive a primer in resource-efficient design. The center's LEED certification also recognizes its potential as a teaching venue. "We plan to interpret the building itself," explains Harris, who describes it as "today's version of the wood culture of the frontier."
The building's rustic log exterior reinforces the historical significance of its location. However, many visitors will be surprised to learn the extent of all-natural materials used in its construction. Underfoot lay natural slate flooring, a carpet of recycled nylon and linoleum made from cork and linseed oil. Countertops are made of a natural composite that is 40 percent sunflower-seed hulls. An amalgam of wheat-straw fiber and post-industrial recyclables replaces plywood, and the use of a bamboo veneer nods to bamboo's ability to fully regrow within eight years.
Wide windows flood the exhibit space with light. And besides reducing the need for electric lighting, they open to invite cool breezes, thus reducing the need for air-conditioning. Added insulation, a metallic "cool roof" and motion-sensitive light timers will also reduce the electric bill.
On January 29, DCR staff assumed responsibility for stormwater discharge permits issued statewide to construction sites and municipalities with shared stormwater systems, known as MS4s.
Last year, the General Assembly authorized the department's Stormwater Management Program to oversee a permitting process previously split between DCR, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department (now part of DCR) and four state boards.
State and federal law required that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first delegate to DCR and the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board the permit-issuing authority formerly held by DEQ. The EPA announced the transfer of authority on December 30, 2004, after reviewing a proposal submitted by DCR in October.
DCR is in the process of hiring staff and developing policies and procedures for the permitting system. Full implementation requires 15 new positions split between the Richmond headquarters and regional offices.
Since its establishment in 1990, DCR's Stormwater Management Program has overseen regulated land-disturbing activities on state and federal property and advised localities on stormwater regulation. Last year, the General Assembly's unanimous passage of HB1177 consolidated regulatory authority into the agency, and a "cleanup" bill now before the legislature will finalize several facets of the change. Additional work will be done in the next year and a half to develop criteria that delegate authority to local governments on specific matters.
"The consolidation of responsibility into DCR is of particular interest to builders and local governments, who will now receive stormwater discharge permits, erosion and sediment control certifications, and advice on Bay-friendly site design from a single agency," said DCR Director Joseph Maroon.
"Our number-one goal is to build a trail, but a trail isn't good enough on its own," explains Todd Hedinger, president of Friends of Blacks Run Greenway. Recognizing that fact, the group adopted a four-fold mission statement when it incorporated in 2000. The vision entails not only constructing a multi-use greenway with parks en route, but also restoring the health and beauty of Blacks Run, which according to Hedinger is "badly degraded … scarred and ugly."
The stream flows south through downtown Harrisonburg and suffers from polluted runoff, litter and eroding banks. So, while plodding through the prerequisites for trail construction (drafting plans, obtaining easements and raising funds), the Friends have set about restoring the waterway. Their initial one-mile commitment to DCR's Adopt-a-Stream Program proved so successful that the group has since adopted another 10 miles along the proposed greenway route.
That ranks the Friends among Virginia's top stream stewards. Hedinger, however, has no fear of a manpower shortage. "We managed to muster 400 volunteers for our annual cleanup last year," he recalls, adding, "People have been coming to us." Hedinger attributes this to a conscious effort - also enshrined in the group's mission statement - to cultivate strong ties with the community.
Among the most regular volunteers are students at nearby James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University and Bridgewater College, many looking to fulfill service-learning requirements. Last fall, a determined throng of JMU students undertook cleanup of a hard-to-reach stream segment. There, out of sight to passers-by, they found a logjam of litter. In four hours, the crew removed 17 tons of rubbish from the waterway, including an errant porta-potty.
Science faculty members at area colleges have also agreed to help monitor stream quality in the watershed. But, the Friends' partnership with local schools is a two-way street. When asked to cite his group's major achievements, Hedinger begins, "One of our biggest accomplishments has been the amount of education outreach. Last year we reached 700 to 1,000 students from elementary through college … I'm very proud of that accomplishment."
The group also solicited advice from Harrisonburg third- and ninth-graders when designing Liberty Park, its first major green space improvement. Approaching completion, the park includes wheelchair accessible gardening plots and a rain garden (a depression planted with perennials able to thrive in the collected runoff). Intended as a gateway to the planned greenway, Liberty Park already serves as an outdoor classroom. Its construction entailed precautions to minimize stormwater runoff, and its restored streambank - completed with help from Virginia's Department of Forestry and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries - serves as a model for ongoing restoration along the length of Blacks Run.
Along seven sections of Blacks Run, the Friends have cultivated native plants, some of which were nurtured from seed by schoolchildren. As these natural buffers mature, they will provide aesthetic enhancement along the greenway. Additionally, the vegetation will filter sediment and pollutants from runoff before it enters the stream. The net result of the Friends' holistic approach may well be that life returns to once-barren Blacks Run. Hedinger has already seen hints of promise: "Before last summer, I had never seen a crawdad in Blacks Run, but last summer I saw three."
Last fall, a poignant reminder of the long-term value of environmental stewardship arrived at DCR headquarters in the form of a $50 check.
A student at Lynchburg's Linkhorne Middle School, Amber Osinga is the smiling face of those future generations for whom today's conservationists toil. The 13-year-old, whose favorite subjects are math and science, developed her affinity for the natural world through childlike curiosity: "I like to go in the woods in my back yard … I like exploring and watching animals."
When she learned that Virginia's state parks and preserves were strapped for cash in the wake of budget shortfalls, Amber determined to do her part to close the gap. Speaking with DCR staff during her winter break, she recalled, "I saw an article in the newspaper that said you were running low, and the government hadn't given you what you wanted."
No doubt many grown-ups who read the article merely grumbled their disapproval before turning the page. Amber, however, decided to pass the collection plate. For a week and a half, she made the rounds of her school lunchroom. "I asked for spare change, and went around with a box for donating." She estimates that 100 students contributed. Amber's mother, Jennifer Osinga, learned of her daughter's fund-raising plans one morning before school. "The amazing part to me was she just came up with the idea herself. She wanted to do it on her own and she did it on her own … and I was so proud of her."
Jennifer and her husband John offered words of encouragement and volunteered the use of their banking account. When the noisy box of coinage contribution by Linkhorne's middle schoolers was tallied, Amber had raised $50. Her donation arrived at DCR headquarters in an inauspicious handwritten envelope, a poignant reminder that environmental stewardship really is an investment in the Commonwealth's future.
In a letter of thanks, DCR Director Joseph Maroon commended Amber and her classmates for their generosity: "You should be proud, as should all your classmates … Together you demonstrated that small sacrifices can make a big difference. That's an important lesson when it comes to conservation."
Many Virginians give lip service to conservation causes, but some multiply the portion of their tax dollars channeled to these causes by volunteering their tax refunds. The tax check-off program allows you to donate some or all of your tax overpayment to the Open Space Conservation Fund or Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. The former provides grants to localities for the establishment of public green space and underwrites DCR's own parks and preserves. The latter supports education and cleanup programs targeting the Bay watershed.
And with tax season on the horizon, deductible donations have added appeal. Individuals who donate undeveloped land to an eligible agency qualify for a 50 percent tax credit. In addition, most state-administered funds, such as the Soil and Water Conservation Dam Maintenance, Repair and Rehabilitation Fund, have provisions that allow them to accept private donations.
Private gifts to the Chippokes Plantation Farm Foundation Fund help maintain the Farm and Forestry Museum at Chippokes State Park. Similarly, many of Virginia's state parks benefit from the support of private "Friends of" groups. These groups, Youth Conservation Corps members and other volunteers <www.dcr.virginia.gov/parks/volnteer> offer valued manpower to park managers. Since time is money, volunteerism is by far the most common way Virginians give to DCR programs.
In recognition of their contributions to Stewardship Virginia in 2004, Governor Mark Warner and Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. issued certificates of appreciation to more than 12,000 individuals and groups. The campaign's first full calendar year saw a record number of citizens volunteering for 269 different hands-on conservation projects.
Businesses too were involved, making donations and encouraging employees to volunteer. Phillip Morris USA, Avionics Specialties, the Virginia Poultry Federation and Dominion Virginia Power supported the campaign. It was the Alcoa Foundation, however, that raised the bar by donating $18,000 for conservation projects at Pocahontas and Staunton River state parks. One hundred employees of Alcoa and its subsidiaries then provided the necessary manpower.
"Many Stewardship Virginia activities were performed by Alcoans," explained Ruth Mack, president of Alcoa Consumer Products and part of a team that volunteered at Pocahontas State Park. In a watershed-restoration project similar to many conducted under the Stewardship Virginia banner, the group braced a crumbling stream bank with large stones and planted native shrubs and trees to mitigate further erosion.
Trail maintenance is also a key aim of the volunteerism initiative, and a group of Alcoa employees helped to clear trails at York River State Park, where hundreds of windblown trees were lingering reminders of Hurricane Isabel. Naturally, Stewardship Virginia participants also carried out reforestation efforts. "One effort I'm particularly proud of involved 33 volunteers," said Mack. "These South Boston Alcoans planted trees at Staunton River State Park."
In fact, according to the park's assistant manager Joshua Ellington, the team planted 25 eight-foot white oaks and trimmed two miles of trail in a matter of hours - tasks that would have required several days of park staff. "They were willing to do the work to help out," he recalled. "The only thing I had to do was make sure we had the supplies."
That task was facilitated by Alcoa's financial contribution, which enabled the park to plant sturdy saplings in an area where mere seedlings were unlikely to take root. The investment will have long-term benefits. "You're looking at 60 years before they're in their prime," Ellington says of the oaks. "They'll be here for more than 100 years." Trail maintenance must be repeated every few years, but the volunteers expressed interest in returning to help clear additional mileage this fall.
While DCR spearheads Stewardship Virginia, the initiative extends well beyond state parks. Because all state natural resource agencies contribute, volunteer activities encompass a broad range of conservation issues, including education and historic preservation.
Local parks and even privately held lands benefited from this year's efforts, which varied from a grounds cleanup at the Virginia Living Museum to a riparian buffer planting by the Fort Defiance Future Farmer's of America. In some instances, DCR or county parks departments planned activities; in others, volunteers recognized local needs and took the initiative to meet them. Groups were invited to plan events and register them online at www.dcr.virginia.gov/stewardship, where others in turn learned of activities planned for their community.
Events took place over a pair of two-month periods in the spring and fall. Under this structure, participants enjoyed relative flexibility when scheduling events and mild temperatures in which to work. And rather than being forced to juggle summer patrons and volunteers, park staff took advantage of extra help when preparing first for peak crowds then for winter weather. Moreover, the timing proved conducive to school participation, and multiple student groups elected to participate.