(Letter to the Editor - printed in the August 11, 2002 Washington Post)
According to the Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Quality Standards, Prince William waterways should be swimmable, fishable and drinkable. We swim in Powell’s Creek (Lake Montclair). We fish in Quantico Creek, Powell’s Creek, and the Potomac River. We drink water from the Occoquan Reservoir. The 2002 Report on Impaired Waters issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is an eyeopener for many residents. With a rapidly urbanizing landscape, Prince William waterways are well represented on this list of waterways that fail to meet Virginia’s water quality standards.
The new Impaired Waters list contains disturbing information. Around our Potomac River shoreline, information on PCB’s in Powell’s Creek, Quantico Creek and Neabsco Bay is troubling. Fecal coliform is also a concern in this area as well as in the western Prince William creeks, including Broad Run and Cedar Run. All of the Occoquan Reservoir’s 1,700 acres are included on this list, cited for phosphorous, low levels of dissolved oxygen and dissolved copper. The water might look fine to the human eye, but science indicates some serious problems.
PCB’s, fecal coliform and phosphorous are pollutants with strong relationships to land uses. Land use has direct consequences on water quality resources. Changes to an area as small as 2% of the watershed can have an effect, either positive or negative. The choice is ours. In the words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Balancing water quality protection and economic growth is possible . . . and essential. Coordination and cooperation between all partners is the backbone of this investment in our future. New York City, charged with providing clean water to almost 9 million residents, recognized the advantages of this approach after studies showed that the estimated 2 to 8 billion dollar cost to install an elaborate filtration system could be eliminated by a $250-300 million dollar investment in land conservation. The outcome was a land acquisition program targeted toward the purchase of undeveloped and sensitive lands near reservoirs, streams and wetlands within the reservoir’s drainage area. This will protect hundreds of stream miles, thousands of acres of natural areas and allow continued high water quality without the cost of a multi-billion dollar filtration system.
The tools to protect the natural values of Prince William lands, and to maximize the benefits of our tax dollars spent, are available only if we choose to take advantage of these opportunities. The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act commits Virginia to strengthening programs for land acquisition and preservation, and to permanently preserve from development 20% of the land area in the watershed by 2010. Surveys show that the majority of residents support the protection and preservation of critical natural resources and recreational opportunities, and understand the important role these play in ensuring high quality of life for residents. The recent issues surrounding land use choices on the Cherry Hill Peninsula demonstrated that many, many citizens clearly understand these values and are ready to incorporate conservation values into the fabric of our community.
It is still possible to ensure protection of the Cherry Hill Peninsula and Powell’s Creek if citizens are willing to actively seek and support the opportunity. While it is too late to conserve sensitive lands on the Occoquan Reservoir, there is still time to protect the headwaters of this water supply. Citizens must be willing to actively seek and support these opportunities. There is time to restore and protect creek buffers, wetlands and wildlife areas, and reclaim swimming, fishing and drinking waters. There is plenty to do and much to be gained. Take a closer look at your own backyard, share ideas with your friends and neighbors, talk to your elected officials, join community efforts to restore and clean up Prince William ways. You can help. Indeed, it can’t be done without you.
Kim Hosen, Executive Director
Prince William Conservation Alliance
9118 Center Street, Manassas, VA 20110