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Chesapeake Bay Regulations/Resource Protection Areas (RPA's)

What are the Chesapeake Bay Agreements?

The Chesapeake Bay is on the Nation's Dirty's Waters list. Originally slated to be removed the list in 2010, clean up efforts have lagged and many question whether this is now possible.

From the start, leaders of the Chesapeake Bay states have resisted the EPA's regulatory approach, which is used for other waters on the Nation's Dirty Waters list. Instead, localities signed onto the landmark Chesapeake Bay Agreement, pledging to save the Bay through voluntary efforts. So far, we've seen a lot of saddle but not much horse.

When the Chesapeake Bay was first included on the EPA's dirty waters list, leaders of the states within the watershed resisted the traditional regulatory approach. Governments within the watershed pledged to save the Bay through voluntary efforts and formalized this commitment by signing onto the original Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

In 2000, partners reaffirmed their commitments by signing onto a new agreement, which included specific goals. Everything that happens on the land shows up in the water, so the goals are always specific to water. For example, the Agreement calls for new transportation programs to reduce dependence on cars as well as habitat restoration projects and efforts to fix failing septic systems.

Virginia Commitments

As a signatory partner of all the Chesapeake Bay Agreements, Virginia committed to voluntary actions that would help remove the Bay from the Nation's Dirty Water List by 2010. Governments of the partner states have taken varying steps to meet their obligation. Some, such as Maryland , adopted a regulatory approach and funded preservation programs. Virginia 's approach relies heavily on voluntary efforts.

The major pollutants are nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment. Many experts cite sewage treatment, overuse of fertilizers, insufficient farm conservation practices, failing septic systems and the impacts of urban development as primary sources of these pollutants. Land-use changes are the primary cause of degradation of the Chesapeake Bay.

In 2000, 24.3 million pounds of nitrogen entered the Potomac River. Now, localities must make changes that will reduce the total nitrogen load in half by 2010. Phosphorus must also be reduced to protect the Bay; caps now call for nearly a 50% reduction in phosphorous each year.

Sediment, which smothers aquatic life and carries pollutants into the water, is another problem. Erosion is the primary source of the sediment. Bare soil equals erosion, so problem areas are easy to spot throughout Prince William. Click here to report erosion problems.

Prince William Commitments

Nearly everyone wants to save the Chesapeake Bay. However, Virginia regulations aimed at turning this slogan into action are more controversial. In Prince William, and other rapidly developing areas, growth and political pressures challenge our capacity to make land use choices that help fulfill our voluntary commitments.

Virginia 's regulatory tools to save the Bay focus on protecting a 100 foot-wide undisturbed buffer strip along all creeks that are legally defined as perennial (year round water flow). Virginia localities with tidal wetlands, including Prince William County , have been granted regulatory authority to protect this buffer strip, which is called a Resource Protection Area (RPA).

Although protecting RPAs may seem insufficient considering the enormous destruction being metted upon the Chesapeake Bay , efforts to implement the regulations in Prince William are often highly controversial.

The controversy begins at the start of the process, where perennial creeks are identified and the RPA is mapped. Here, Prince William relies on developer funded studies for information on which creeks qualify as perennial and merit protection under the Chesapeake Bay regulations.

When data is gathered by assorted businesses with varying levels of expertise and funded by businesses with an economic interest in the outcome, the county's ability to protect waterways is impaired. Although Prince William has the authority to verify the study data, staffing shortages and political pressures present challenges that are difficult to overcome after the fact.

The result of this process is, unsurprisingly, that the data does not accurately represent reality, much to the puzzlement of citizens. I've watched more than a few people stand up at public hearings and question how creeks with water flow in August during a drought could avoid being classified as perennial (year-round water flow).

Even after the RPA is established, the use of this protected area is disputed. The legislation recognizes that land use within an RPA must be flexible in order to balance competing interests. Sometimes this allowance can be abused.

For example, the Wentworth Green development site on Linton Hall Road uses the RPA to fulfill 97% of the county's open space requirement and promises that it will remain undisturbed … except for construction of pedestrian trails, benches, picnic tables, trash receptacles, exercise stations, signage for amenities and education, and other similar type of passive recreational amenities, utilities, stormwater management, best management practices and drainage and sanitary sewer outfalls.

This doesn't seem to be “undisturbed,” but it's all legal. Despite this legality, the many uses in this RPA will likely negate much of its benefits to the Bay.

Developers are also allowed to include RPAs as part of individual residential lots. Despite the fact that the Chesapeake Bay regulations mandate that the RPAs are protected an an undisturbed buffer, many residents are unaware of the obligation that exists in their own backyard.

The 100-foot wide RPA, especially as it pertains to individual homeowners, is the main topic of the August 1 public meeting. Representatives from Prince William government and CBLAD will discuss landowner rights and responsibilities and the benefits of these buffers.

Protecting water quality within Prince William's rapidly suburbanizing conditions presents unique challenges. Considering the magnitude of actions needed to save the Bay, protecting the borders of creeks is only a first step to success.

Citizens as landowners can help protect streams in already developed areas, but they need to be armed with the right information. Citizen involvement and support for the Chesapeake Bay regulations is important to ensuring that government works towards protecting our waterways and the Bay.