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The first step in reporting a possible violation of Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Law and Regulations is to contact the locality in which the observed violation occurred. If the locality fails to respond to the alleged violation, then contact the local DCR regional office that serves your locality. Throughout Virginia, there are eight such offices in which staff serve local governments, citizen groups and citizens.
Soil erosion is the process of detachment and transportation of soil materials by water, wind, ice and gravity. While "geologic" erosion naturally produces about 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States, "accelerated" soil erosion from man's use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent. Surface mining, forestry, agriculture and construction are the major activities that cause accelerated erosion. Although construction by volume does not cause most sediment pollution, it is the most evident and damaging because of the rate at which it occurs. Erosion associated with construction activities can be 200 times greater than that from cropland and 2,000 times greater than that naturally occurring in woodlands.
When natural landscape is converted to accommodate houses, subdivisions, shopping centers, and roads in rural areas, or development and redevelopment within cities and towns, these land use conversions are collectively referred to as urbanization. Water-generated accelerated erosion is unquestionably the most severe erosion in areas undergoing urbanization.
Erosion problems associated with construction activities include water pollution, flooding, stream channel damage, decreased groundwater storage, slope failures, damage to adjacent and/or downstream properties, and the time and costs associated with addressing these issues. Successful minimization of these impacts can be achieved by implementing erosion and sediment control (ESC) measures on construction sites to prevent soil movement/loss in the first place, enhance project aesthetics, reduce complaints, and most importantly, eliminate appreciable damage to off-site receiving channels, property and natural resources.
Virginia was among the first states to specifically address ESC from construction sites by establishing Virginia's ESC Program nearly 30 years ago.
Erosion and Sediment Control Law and Regulations
DCR implements the state ESC Program according to the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Law, Regulations, and Certification Regulations (VESCL&R). The law is codified at Title 10.1, Chapter 5, Article 4 of the Code of Virginia, regulations are found at Section 4VAC30-50, and certification regulations are found at Section 4VAC50-50 of the Virginia Administrative Code. [Click here for associated download(s).] The ESC Program's goal is to control soil erosion, sedimentation, and nonagricultural runoff from regulated "land-disturbing activities" to prevent degradation of property and natural resources. The regulations specify "Minimum Standards," which include criteria, techniques and policies, that must be followed on all regulated activities. These statutes delineate the rights and responsibilities of governments that administer an ESC program and those of property owners who must comply.
A network of local government-operated ESC programs regulate most private projects involving a land-disturbing activity, while DCR's ESC Program staff oversees state and federal activities. The requirement for submission, review, approval, and proper execution of ESC "plans," or "agreements in lieu of plans," which identify all onsite ESC measures and policies, form the basis for program implementation. While property owners are ultimately responsible for ESC plan approval and implementation, responsibility for ensuring compliance extends to the developer, contractor, consultant and Virginia's citizenry at-large. The successful execution of ESC programs affects a variety of interests, from anyone who owns, rents or develops property to those who reside or recreate on lands or waters adjacent to or downstream from land-disturbing activities.
Protection for All Citizens
The state ESC Program aims to ensure fairness so less conscientious developers do not gain an economic advantage. It also advocates technically sound and economical control of nonpoint source pollution. The program emphasizes that proactive implementation of ESC not only conserves and protects resources but also is more practical and cost-effective in the long-term when compared to reactionary approaches that may lead to costly delays or expensive remediation of damages from inadequate ESC implementation. Simply put, the standards and policies promoted by the ESC Program include quality construction, engineering, and administrative practices that endeavor to provide equal protection for all properties and resources across the commonwealth.
The ESC Program regulates only construction activities that constitute land-disturbing activities under the VESCL&R. To that end, it is essential that regulators and the regulated community fully understand this definition.
A land-disturbing activity is "any land change on private or public land that may result in soil erosion from water or wind and the movement of sediments into state waters or onto lands in the commonwealth, including, but not limited to, clearing, grading, excavating, transporting, and filling of land." This definition includes land-disturbing activities equal to or exceeding 10,000 square feet in area; however, the following 13 activities are specifically exempt from the definition:
Parties uncertain as to whether or not a specific activity is regulated should consult their local ESC program or the DCR ESC Program staff. A DCR pamphlet that discusses the exempt activities is available for download in the publications section below.
All regulated land-disturbing activities must comply with the 19 minimum standards (MS) specified in Section 4VAC50-30-40 of the regulations that are applicable to the specific project. All ESC programs are required to confirm project compliance with minimum standards by reviewing ESC plans and through onsite project inspection. However, an ESC program may waive or modify any of the minimum standards that are deemed inappropriate or too restrictive for site conditions by granting a written variance. The full text of the 19 minimum standards is included in the VESCL&R, and further discussion of their application is provided in the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook. Additionally, a DCR pamphlet that provides a condensed version of each standard is available for download in the publications section below.
Across the state, localities and DCR implement the provisions of the ESC Program in accordance with the VESCL&R. Responsibility for program implementation by each regulatory authority is further described below.
Local ESC Program Role
Most land-disturbing activities on privately owned lands must be covered by an ESC plan approved by the locally operated ESC program in the jurisdiction in which the activity is to be undertaken. Municipal water and sewer construction projects on private lands are regulated at the local level; the DCR ESC Program regulates activities by electric, telephone, natural gas and railroad companies (see DCR ESC Program subsection below). There are now 166 local ESC programs in Virginia. They include every county, city and many incorporated towns (some towns are covered by a county program). Specific provisions within local ordinances account for program administration, plan review and approval, site inspection, complaint response and enforcement on locally regulated projects. Although administrative procedures vary by locality, the basic components are consistent statewide. Local authorities must approve a project's ESC plan, including the name of a Responsible Land Disturber, before land can be disturbed. Such approval may be part of a permit process and may require submission of an administrative fee and performance surety set by the locality. Additionally, the local government or its agent will periodically inspect approved projects. Guidance for localities interested in establishing an "Alternative Inspection Program" is available for download in the publications section below, as are a model local E&S ordinance and a sample inspection report. When violations and/or damages are found, the inspector notifies the owner and/or developer about required corrections and the deadline for completion. If corrections are not made, the locality is responsible for executing enforcement actions outlined in its ordinance.
Land-disturbing activities that cross local jurisdictions may be regulated at either the local or state level. The applicant has the option of submitting the ESC plan to each locality involved or to DCR. Inspection and enforcement of multi-jurisdictional projects is generally carried out at the local level.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) often support local ESC programs. SWCDs may assist with ESC plan review, handle inspection responsibilities, assist with public education efforts and provide technical assistance. Further information, including a directory of current SWCD contacts and maps, is available from the SWCD page on DCR's website.
Contact information and specific local program requirements may be available from the given locality's website. The Commonwealth of Virginia website provides links to such websites.
State ESC Program Role
DCR's ESC Program regulates land-disturbing activities on state and federal lands, as well as on a specific group of activities undertaken by utility, interstate and intrastate pipeline and railroad companies. The state program is carried out through regional offices. An document that provides office contact information and services areas for each office is available for download from the publications section below.
All land-disturbing activities on state agency land must be covered by an ESC plan or annual ESC "specifications," including a identification of a Responsible Land Disturber, approved by the DCR ESC Program. However, plans must be consistent with local requirements that may be more stringent than the VESCL&R. State program staff is responsible for plan review and approval, site inspection, complaint response and enforcement on these projects. Additionally, to assist local ESC programs,
DCR establishes statewide standards and guidance, periodically reviews local programs, and provides training and educational opportunities. The DCR ESC Program also regulates a specific list of land-disturbing activities (outlined at Section 10.1-563D of the law) undertaken by utility, interstate and intrastate pipeline, and railroad companies. These companies are required to prepare project-specific plans and annually submit general ESC specifications to DCR for review and approval. State staff conducts inspection and enforcement on these projects. Further information regarding DCR's regulation of these activities is provided in a utility, pipeline and railroad FAQ available for download in the publications section below, as is a local program review checklist.
Activities on federal land must comply with the law and applicable federal nonpoint source pollution programs on all regulated land disturbing activities in the state. The law gives the Virginia Soil and Conservation Board and local ESC programs authority to cooperate and enter into agreements with federal agencies to facilitate ESC compliance. The federal agency is responsible for achieving compliance through separate agreements/contracts with onsite developers, regular field inspection, prompt enforcement action against non-compliant projects and/or other mechanisms consistent with agency policy.
Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board
The Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board has authority to provide oversight and enforcement for the Virginia ESC Program. This board meets periodically to address issues related to the Training and Certification Program, results of local ESC Program reviews, Alternate Inspection Programs and complaint resolution.
In 1992, DCR published the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook as the primary guidance document for all ESC programs. The handbook covers basic ESC concepts, ESC measure design, installation and maintenance, plan review procedures and administrative guidelines to support compliance with the VESCL&R. An electronic version of the handbook is available for free download by chapter/section in the publications section below (Note: Be sure to follow download instructions precisely as described.) Alternatively, a hard copy version of the handbook may be purchased using the order form.
Publications in support of the Erosion and Sediment Control Program are available for download (or order forms for the document) in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format below. Version 4.0 or later of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader Software is required to download these documents. Adobe Acrobat Reader 5 is available from the Adobe website (take care to designate the proper platform - Windows 95, 98, NT, Mac, Linux, etc.- in step one of the download.) To save a PDF document, right-click on the link below and save the "target" file to your computer. Users with standard phone line connections and/or an older computer should download documents by section whenever that option is provided to reduce download time and minimize potential "time-out" problems.
If you have questions about the Virginia Stormwater Management Program, please write SWMESquestions@dcr.virginia.gov.