Group IDs stream cleaning focus areas

Nesha McRae, right, development coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Valley Regional Office, points out possible locations for pet waste disposal units in residential areas near Stephens City at a residential working group meeting at Lord Fairfax Community College. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – Area conservationists and officials discussed efforts to reduce water contamination during a residential working group meeting at Lord Fairfax Community College this week.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Valley Regional Office has identified a number of streams in Warren and Frederick counties that are listed as impaired waters due to their bacteria levels.

Nesha McRae, development coordinator for the office, has held meetings for agricultural and residential groups to address solutions and implementation plans. The Thursday meeting was the second residential meeting after the second agricultural meeting in March.

Tables handed out at the meeting listed the number of failing septic systems per watershed – estimated based on the age of homes – and best management practices with their associated costs.

The total cost for implementing all those fixes was estimated to be more than $4 million. Very few systems could be connected to public sewer – by and large, repairs and replacements with alternative waste treatment systems were determined to be the best practices.

McRae gave an idea for the percentage of failing septic systems in different subwatershed areas with an area map. One watershed with a particularly dense amount of failing systems was Stephens Run.

“Sometimes in these implementation plans we will include a targeting strategy like this, if we know that resources are limited,” she said.

She spoke of a successful postcard mailing system implemented in Rockingham County that made residents aware of cost share and assistance for septic repairs. Those mailings initially targeted areas with a high volume of failing systems. She also said cost share programs are frequently handled by the area conservation district, which Lord Fairfax chairman Richard Hoover took note of.

Those at the meeting also discussed proper pet waste disposal procedures and ideal locations in resident-dense neighborhoods. McRae suggested stormwater solutions like rain gardens and bioretention filters for different areas. While septic system practices could be exercised in all watersheds, the stormwater and pet waste practices were focused on Stephens Run and Crooked Run areas.

McRae asked those present whether homeowner associations might be able to manage certain practices in residential areas. Although many of the programs could benefit from funding assistance, Warren County Building Official David Beahm estimated that few businesses would consider stormwater installments even with grant money. He said there would be additional upkeep and maintenance costs for things like rain gardens.

“When you look at grants or monies that are available…that’s only the initial costs, that’s not the costs that’s taken into consideration further down the road,” he said.

Besides physical installations, McRae also discussed the value of educational outreach. All in all, she said the Crooked Run and Stephens Run watersheds need to reduce bacteria by 5 percent from residential areas, which the proposed solutions would accomplish.

“I like the diversity of this kind of approach in that you’re working with residential property owners, possibly industry, schools, the local government,” she said.

Most everyone at the meeting agreed that implementation of the residential best practices would take around 10 years, while some mentioned 15 years instead. Attendees suggested multiple different organizations and departments that could help manage different aspects of the plan.

Master Naturalist Emily Ford, Warren County Planning Director Taryn Logan and Wayne Webb, a director of Friends of the Shenandoah River, volunteered to be part of a steering committee. That committee will meet to finalize an implementation plan before a final presentation.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com