Rivers Group Assess Water-Friendly Codes In Virginia

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Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An analysis of non-tidal Virginia localities that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed found wide variations in the adoption of development codes intended to keep sediment and runoff from entering rivers and streams.

The analysis was contained in a report by conservation groups concerned with the well-being of three Virginia rivers: the James, the Potomac and the Rappahannock.

The groups examined local development codes and ordinances of 41 cities, towns and counties to assess how well they’re embracing “low-impact development” practices. These are rules designed to filter and store rainfall runoff, for example, instead of letting them flow freely into rivers and streams. One approach involves creating more green spaces.

Each locality was rated on 76 low-impact principles grouped into categories. They include minimized land disturbances, the preservation of vegetation and reduction of impervious surfaces, such as narrower streets.

The scores ranged from 3 percent to 72 percent, with the average locality scoring 27 percent. Each locality scored well in at least one category.

Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association, said the study “shows that there’s a lot of opportunities” to improve on those practices.

“It’s important for folks to realize that the land that affects the Chesapeake Bay is not just those counties that touch it,” Street said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s the land all the way upstream along the James River and the Rappahannock and the Shenandoah Valley that drain into those rivers.”

Many of the practices advocated by the conservation groups have been promoted in tidal areas around the bay, which have a more direct effect on the 200-mile-long estuary. The Chesapeake Bay is amid a federally ordered restoration involving Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and four other states that form the 64,000-square-mile watershed. Years of pollution and neglect have impaired the bay, killing off marine life and creating “dead zones.”

Street’s group conducted the analysis with the Potomac Conservancy and the Friends of the Rappahannock. They looked at development from Craig County in western Virginia, to Loudoun County in the north, to the counties that encircle the outer reaches of Richmond area.

The highest scores were recorded by Culpeper and Charlottesville, while lower scores were generally found in rural counties, such as Alleghany, Bath and Highland. Rural counties face fewer development challenges and a lower score would not mean their local waters are more polluted.

“I think that’s an important thing to stress,” Street said.

Sustainable codes can also call for more green spaces in developments. Developers, Street said, are seeking to do “the right thing” but are often confronted with dizzying array of local codes and ordinances.

Water-friendly development, he said, “can save money and it can be better for our streams and make these developments more attractive and desirable.”

“Promoting Low Impact Development in Virginia: A Review and Assessment of Nontidal County Codes and Ordinances” was funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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