Shannon Curtis, an ecologist with Fairfax County, at a monitoring site in the South Fork of Little Difficult Run. (Donna Peterson/Special to The Washington Post)

 In Northern Virginia, ground runoff and discharges from stormwater systems are the second largest contributors of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollutants to streams and rivers feeding into the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District are required under the Chesapeake Bay Program to reduce pollutants by 60 percent in 2025.

“Because of the Chesapeake Bay, specific cleanup requirements are now in effect,” said Jason Papacosma, watershed programs manager for Arlington. “Each state set a schedule to meet requirements.  For the first time, a set amount is to be reduced in three permit cycles.”

Three, five-year Multiple Separate Stormwater Sewer System (MS4) permits will be issued by the EPA for each jurisdiction in the bay watershed with a pollution reduction target tied to each cycle.  A five percent reduction needs to be met in the first five years, then another 35 percent cut, and a final 20 percent cut in year 15 in cycle three.


Ballston Pond in Arlington County, a retention pond for Interstate 66, is currently a mess but will be revitalized under the new program. (Donna Peterson/Special to The Washington Post)

“The basic concept should ring true for other jurisdictions but should have the flexibility to fit the programs they’re implementing,” said J. Doug Fritz, the stormwater permits manager for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Arlington County plans on meeting the rigorous permit requirements by creating greenscapes on public rights-of-way with vegetative plantings and special soil, and by restoring stream banks by raising the streambed so water can spill into the flood plain, which slows down water and dissipates energy.

 Also on Arlington’s to-do list: Ballston Pond will be retrofitted to enhance its capacity as a stormwater management facility; the county’s sanitary sewer system will be relined; and street sweeping will be stepped up to keep sand, salt, petroleum and debris out of streams. All this after spending $568 million to upgrade the county’s Water Pollution Control Plant, scheduled to be completed this year.

 Fairfax County will be the next jurisdiction to work out a proposed permit with the state Department of Conservation. As with Arlington, Fairfax is taking a proactive approach by starting with outreach to the public first.

“It’s becoming a more intensive program at the local level,” said Kate Bennett, an ecologist in stormwater planning for Fairfax’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.  “We’ll look at specific industrial facilities at high risk to identify facilities that should have a permit but don’t. We’re looking for societal change in the way people think.”

 Shannon Curtis, an ecologist with Fairfax County, says the Board of Supervisors has approved 22 new staff positions to meet the anticipated demands of a new MS4 permit. Curtis says Fairfax currently has four intensive stations monitoring conditions in streams throughout the county and 10 less intensive sites providing data on stream community health, which Fairfax shares with the United States Geological Service for its stream monitoring program.  They already have five years of baseline data to compare the next five years and see if their efforts are effective.

 “If we see many pollution-tolerant fish but not any intolerant, it’s indicative of pollution,” Curtis said.

 The District of Columbia was the first jurisdiction in the nation to receive a new MS4 permit, which took effect in January, while some portions are being appealed.

 “We need to remove 90 percent of the nitrogen,” says Jeffrey Seltzer, associate director of the Stormwater Management Division in the District’s Department of the Environment.  “To do new regulations is a complete paradigm shift.  It will give us a chance to be a leader on sustainability on these issues.” 

 The District will be planting 4,150 trees annually, Seltzer said, and also removing and keeping 103,000 pounds of trash from entering the Anacostia. There will also be educational outreach with the goal of changing behavior. Seltzer is hoping neighboring communities are as aggressive in their planning because “if we still get tons of pollution from Montgomery, all the work here will not solve the problem.”

 Arlington County and the District both expect to eventually create stormwater retention credits and sell them to developers who are having a difficult time meeting retention requirements.  The retention credits would be tracked and private deals could be made to sell the credits, and proof of sale would be also tracked.  “It’s a creative market-based solution,”Seltzer said.