Planners Approve Sweeping Changes to Storm Water Management Regs

The Clarke County Planning Commission has approved sweeping changes to the county’s storm water management ordinance that will have a broad impact on both residential and commercial future construction. The changes, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, will vault Clarke County to the forefront of compliance with recently approved Virginia regulations requiring storm water management and administration.

Virginia’s new storm water rules are intended reduce polluted runoff – the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay – to the streams, creeks and rivers that feed the Bay. Clarke County’s current storm water management regulations have not been overhauled since being established in 1998. The proposed changes impact Section 147 of the Clarke County Code.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers about 60 percent of Virginia

Rick Travers, a consulting engineer from Chester Engineering , told the Planning Commissioners that much has changed in the way that localities manage storm water.

“Environmental site design can help maintain pre-development run-off levels and natural resources through low-impact development strategies” Travers said. “Today the focus of storm water management emphasizes conservation best-practices and use of natural on-site features integrated with small scale hydrologic controls.”

Virginia’s new rules, adopted in early 2010, will reduce the amount of  phosphorus that flows from new  development  and redevelopment projects in the Chesapeake Bay  watershed  portion of Virginia, about 60 percent of the state, by 38 percent. The rules require developers to install runoff-reducing practices, such as retention ponds and rain gardens that allow more water to soak into the ground. The new practices will reduce the amount of rain water runoff from roads and parking lots which, in turn, gather pollutants on its way into storm drains and local waterways.

Travers said that Clarke County’s new regulations will require measurement of total phosphorus load in storm water runoff as the key indicator for assessing the presence of nitrates, metals, sediment and other pollutants in the water.

While the new regulations will apply to residential and commercial development, “hot spots” like gas stations and convenience stores will receive special scrutiny.

County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston told the Commissioners that existing businesses are exempt from the changes, however, any substantial site change will trigger adoption of the new regulations.

“For example Sheetz has discussed adding diesel fuel services to their current product offering” Johnston said. “Our position will be that if Sheetz wants to go forward we will require improvements to the storm water management plan.

The new storm water management techniques include a wide range of passive and technical solutions including water-permeable pavement, mechanical filtration devices, vegetative swales, rain gardens, infiltration trenches and rain barrels.

Several Planning Commissioners questioned how the county would pay for the costs to administer the new program. Johnston said that some of the cost will be passed on to developers through permit fees but the amounts collected would probably not be enough to cover the ongoing cost of inspections and enforcement.

“The cost per project to the developer will probably only be a few hundred dollars” Johnston said.

Planning Commissioner Clay Brumbach asked how inspections were handled currently. Administrator Johnston replied that there currently is no inspection process due to the relatively small amount of development in the county so far but that local inspection and administration is required under the new Virginia ordinance. It appears that Clarke County taxpayers will pick up a substantial portion of the the costs.

While the new Virginia ordinance has generated controversy about its effectiveness and cost in relationship to improving the Chesapeake bay watershed, Chester Engineering’s Travers said that Clarke County will gain significant local benefit due to local administration of permits and construction approval. Travers said that local administration of the program will allow the county to require runoff reduction methods that enhance local groundwater recharge, improve stream health and decrease erosion and flooding.

“The major benefit will be improved protection of Clarke County’s aquifer and water supply.”

Planning Commission member and County Supervisor Pete Dunning supported the need for the stricter controls. “If we had to replace the water supply for Boyce or Millwood it would be bloody expensive.”

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to forward the suggested regulations on to the Board of Supervisors for review and approval.