We would like to respond to your January 5 editorial called “No ‘Rain Tax’.” There are a number of erroneous claims, but mostly a misunderstanding of what polluted stormwater runoff is and how detrimental it is to the rivers, streams, and communities it pollutes.
Polluted stormwater runoff from developed areas is the only growing source of pollution to the Rivanna and James Rivers, two key tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.
The editorial claims that “rainwater runoff from impervious surfaces does not significantly contribute sediment loads into surface waters.” However, the Rivanna is one of the largest sources of sediment pollution to the James and stormwater includes many other pollutants other than sediment, like toxic compounds and bacteria, which pose a major health risk to residents who swim, eat, and recreate in the rivers.
In addition, according to both Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in Virginia alone, polluted runoff from impervious surfaces accounts for 762 million pounds of sediment entering Chesapeake Bay every year—that sounds significant to us.
There are certainly political and policy debates to engage in regarding a stormwater pollution fee, but in our watershed, these fees have proven to be an effective mechanism for funding clean water programs. In Charlottesville, citizens had this debate throughout the 2000s as basements and streets were increasingly flooded with untreated polluted water. To address these issues, and the increase in erosion and sedimentation caused by stormwater runoff, the City of Charlottesville, like more than 20 other communities in Virginia including Prince William County, Isle of Wight County, Chesterfield County, Richmond, and Waynesboro, established its stormwater utility program as a part of its Water Resources Protection Plan in 2013. By all accounts, the program is functioning well and making progress toward meeting the goals set by Charlottesville’s City Council. www.charlottesville.org/home/showdocument?id=54463.
The impacts of polluted runoff to local streams and rivers, is significant and remediation of this pollution source is required by federal and state law. Albemarle County, like many communities nationwide, is working hard to meet and fund its legal requirements in a way that is transparent to the public and fair and equitable to all. This is reinforced by Albemarle County’s Advisory Panel, which concluded that 1) a stormwater utility is considered a fairer way to assess costs to individual properties than the value of real property, 2) it will result in a dependable and steady revenue stream that increases with community growth and will allow for long-term planning for capital investments, and 3) is preferred by federal and state regulators.
Roberta (Robbi) Savage, Executive Director,
Rivanna Conservation Alliance
William Street Executive Director,
James River Association