James Pinsky: Help wanted: Conservation translator

James Pinsky


Hey Jay, I think your dog was on your keyboard. No. He’s under my desk actually. What’s wrong, don’t you understand conservation talk when you hear it? Here, let me try again. CWA. NEPA. Hey … where are you going? I was talking to you about how to save our drinking water.

Sure you were Jay.

When I was in the military one of the things I became accustomed to was a significant vocabulary of acronyms and jargon, which I (usually) understood, but most everyone else who wasn’t in the military didn’t. Now retired four years from the U.S. Navy, one thing I know is the military certainly doesn’t own a monopoly on overusing jargon and acronyms. The world of conservation can be just as confusing to outsiders.

Ugh. There’s the problem. If you walk, talk, breathe, swim, drink water, dig into soil, laugh, cry, drive a car or just pass the time by rocking back and forth on your front porch swing, then you are not an outsider to the conservation world. Everyone is a conservationist sooner or later, so let’s make having a conversation about conservation a little easier by decoding some of the words and acronyms you might hear around a conservation campfire or water cooler. After all, it’s not my world we’re trying to save – it’s ours.

TMDL: The sum of the individual wasteload allocations (WLAs) for point sources, load allocations (LAs) for nonpoint sources and natural background, plus a margin of safety (MOS). TMDLs can be expressed in terms of mass per time, toxicity, or other appropriate measures that relate to a state’s water quality standard.

• BMP: Methods, measures, or practices determined to be reasonable and cost-effective means for a landowner to meet certain, generally nonpoint source, pollution control needs. BMPs include structural and nonstructural controls and operation and maintenance procedures.

• DEQ: The Department of Environmental Quality is a state agency here in Virginia that administers state and federal laws and regulations for air quality, water quality, and water supply and land protection. In addition, other programs cover a variety of environmental activities, such as improving the ability of businesses and local governments to protect the environment, and offering technical and financial assistance for air and water quality improvements.

• NRCS: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners and managers.

• LFSWCD: The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District is one of 47 other soil and water conservation districts in Virginia. We serve the counties of Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick along with the City of Winchester. Soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) were established in the 1930s to develop comprehensive programs and plans to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods and conserve, develop, utilize and dispose water. Today, 47 districts serve as local resources for citizens in nearly all Virginia localities. Districts, which are political subdivisions of the state, manage conservation programs, employ staff and deliver conservation services free of charge.

• CWA: The Clean Water Act (formerly referred to as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972), Public Law 92-500, as amended by Public Law 96-483 and Public Law 97-117, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. The Clean Water Act (CWA) contains a number of provisions to restore and maintain the quality of the nation’s water resources. One of these provisions is section 303(d), which establishes the TMDL program.

• NEPA: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a United States environmental law that established a U.S. national policy promoting the enhancement of the environment. Additionally, it established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The law was enacted on Jan. 1,1970.

Now there are hundreds more terms and acronyms we use, but these are some of the more common ones to help at least bring you into the conversation because we want to hear what you have to say. After all, if you don’t know how to tell us that you want to help enforce the CWA to help lower the TMDL by using some BMP’s paid for by DEQ then none of us at LFSWCD are any good to you, are we?

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.