The Reston Association’s (RA) Board of Directors listened to a presentation about its surrounding environment as part of the Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and chair of RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee, presented the RASER study update to the board and RA’s members. The update has 18 authors and coauthors that include members of RA’s environmental advisory committee and outside individuals.

The update conforms to RASER’s five objectives listed on RA’s website:

  • Summarize existing quantitative environmental data for the Reston community in one publicly accessible document.
  • Establish an environmental baseline that can be reassessed annually to facilitate the identification of environmental trends and to evaluate the efficacy of environmental improvement and conservation programs and initiatives.
  • Provide relevant and timely environmental information that can help RA and its board of directors in shaping future policy and programs.
  • Help educate and inform Reston residents and other interested parties about Reston’s environmental health.
  • Create a living document that can be revised and expanded as deemed appropriate to meet future environmental challenges and information needs.

This latest RASER update focused on 21 natural resources or environmental topics. Each topic was color-coded green (good), yellow (fair), red (poor), or black (undetermined) to indicate its overall condition.

The following attributes received a green status: air quality, drinking water, wastewater treatment, hazardous materials and toxic waste, and environmental education and outreach.

Fair attributes include: streams, lakes and ponds, urban forests, meadows, landscaping and urban agriculture, birds, wildlife management issues, and light pollution.

Poor attributes include storm water management and solid waste management.

Undetermined attributes include: wetlands, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, noise pollution, and climate change.

Britt described storm water management as “perhaps the biggest existing problem” in Reston. He estimates that the issue dates back to the lack of strict county regulations when Reston was expanding in the 1960s and 1970s.

Single-use plastics are one of the primary concerns that resulted in solid waste management receiving a poor rating. Britt added that litter created by personal protection equipment and food carryout materials have been a unique issue in 2020.

Britt said the RASER group would come back at another board meeting to present a standalone report on energy efficiency. He said there is a plan to include the category in the 2020 RASER update, but the subject was so “complex to take on” that the group decided to separate the subject from this update.

The RASER project team will return to RA’s board in either January or February to present a combined list of recommendations for RA and a report card on how attributes have been addressed.

The board approved to accept the report as it was presented Thursday. Now that the nearly 200-page report has been accepted by the board, the full copy of it will be available to the public on RA’s website under the environmental page.

“This group has been the most amazing group of volunteers,” board member Sarah Selvaraj-D’Souza said of the RASER project team.

“It’s been a pleasure to watch them work. Their dedication is just unbelievable.”

RASER was first published in July 2017 and updated in 2018. It is now updated and published biennially while the RASER project team publishes a report card and recommendations annually.

Photo via Reston Association/Facebook

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The Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) will be presented to the Reston Association (RA) during its regular board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and chair of RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee, will present the study update and the state of Reston’s environment to the RA board and members.

The comprehensive study is roughly 200 pages long and comes on the heels of more than 1,000 volunteer hours to update the report on its bi-annual basis. The report covers 21 different environmental attributes of the community that includes natural resource maintenance, health of wildlife, air quality, and environmental education and outreach.

The study is co-led and co-edited by Robin Duska, a former environmental advisory committee member, and includes the work of 18 authors and co-authors. The authors include members of the environmental advisory committee and outside individuals with specialized expertise.

“For each topic that we address, we collect the most reliable information that we can about the subject here in Reston,” Britt said.

“When we don’t have enough Reston data, we’ll look at county data, regional data and state data. And then we organize each topic around a background that defines the environmental attribute and then an existing edition section, and then a conclusion section.”

RASER’s five objectives are listed on RA’s website as the following:

Summarize existing quantitative environmental data for the Reston community in one publicly accessible document.

Establish an environmental baseline that can be re-assessed annually to facilitate the identification of environmental trends and to evaluate the efficacy of environmental improvement and conservation programs and initiatives.

Provide relevant and timely environmental information that can help RA and its board of directors in shaping future policy and programs.

Help educate and inform Reston residents and other interested parties about Reston’s environmental health.

Create a living document that can be revised and expanded as deemed appropriate to meet future environmental challenges and information needs.

The report was expanded this year to include two attributes: solid waste management and climate change. It also utilizes a larger amount of visual exhibits with 182 photos, tables or charts.

To make the report more user-friendly, most references will include hyperlinks to more information on subjects or view the original sources.

Each attribute in the report is given a subjective assessment of its condition. Each assessment is given a traffic light rating of green (good), yellow (fair), or red (poor), and unlit icons signify that more information is needed on the topic. In the 2020 study, five subjects were given green, eight yellow, two red and six are unlit.

“Every time we update this report, we find more and more information that helps us understand the nature of the topic,” Britt said.

“I think we have come a long way from 2017 to where we are now in our understanding and documenting the status of the attributes and how they’re changing with time, if they are.”

Britt clarified that there were not “any major changes in the subjective quality of the attribute from the previous report.”

Portions of the study will include possible changes RA can create an initiative for, while individual residents can address other items. However, many potential changes will come from outside the community at the county or state level.

Various items will be highlighted for discussion through the study. Among those is a fact Britt said came out of a new chapter of the study on water management wherein it was found that residents in Reston use 19 million plastic bags per year and less than 1% of those are ever recycled.

Over the years, Britt has witnessed efforts being made in Reston to mitigate existing issues. Among those efforts have been Reston utilizing stream mitigation banks to restore over half of the area’s perennial streams, and RA adopting a program to secure lakefront areas with biologs to prevent erosion.

Also, based on a recommendation in RASER, RA applied for and received a grant to put on a local workshop last year on what individual homeowners can do to capture and retain storm water runoff on their properties.

Britt expressed that one of his primary concerns with this study is to get board approval for public distribution to allow for more exposure to it for a broader range of stakeholder in the community.

The RASER presentation next week will be separate from recommendations and a report card for protecting or enhancing individual attributes. Britt is planning to present those items apart from the full report in the RA board meeting in January or February.

Photo by Ruth Seviers

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Reston environmentalists received an award from Fairfax County last week.

The Reston Annual State of the Environment (RASER), a report compiled by nine people, won an Environmental Excellence Award from Fairfax County.

The report covers air, water, forests, meadows, wetlands, landscaping, urban agriculture, wildlife, hazardous materials, light and noise pollution and education in the Reston region, the Fairfax County website said. RASER was founded in 2017 and consists of professionals and citizen scientists who volunteer their time to synthesize the 325 data sources, the website said.

From the 2018 report, the group said Reston should focus on improving urban forests and community access to nature, which they say improves wellbeing for people in the area. The group sent in an application for the Biophilic Cities Network Program and drafted a pledge that residents can take to become more nature-friendly.

Based on other findings, they followed through on a biological diversity study in the area, called a BioBlitz, which cataloged more than 600 species of plants, animals and organisms.

“Through these and other actions, the RASER Working Group has established a strong foundation for the assessment and enhancement of Reston’s ecological resources and helped to create well-connected urban landscapes where nature and community members can thrive,” the Fairfax County website said.

In total, the report took volunteers more than 2,000 hours to complete, according to the website.

The nine members primarily responsible for compiling the report were invited to a ceremony on Tuesday (Oct. 22).

Photo via Fairfax County

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Reston Association’s Board of Directors appointed Doug Britt to fill a seat vacated by former director Sridhar Ganesan last month.

Britt, an environmentalist who led the team by the organization’s first RA’s State of the Environment Report (RASER), was appointed as an at-large director late last week during the board’s meeting.

The term will run through April 2020 because Britt was appointed by the board. The final year of the seat will be up for election next year.

He says engaging with focus groups can help stave off perceptions that decisions are pushed arbitrarily by a select group of people.

“You have to do the work upfront,” Britt told the board on Thursday.

Edward Abbott, a Reston resident of 39 years and chairman of RA’s elections committee, also applied to be considered for the position.

Britt, a Reston resident of 44 years, has a background in life sciences and resource management.

In addition to leading the RASER project, Britt has served as a volunteer stream monitor, worked at Walker Nature Center events, and helped draft Reston’s application to become a biophilic city.

He currently serves on RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee.

Photo courtesy Reston Association

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After a year-long hiatus, the Reston Association’s Pedestrian Lighting Working Group made a comeback at the Design Review Board’s meeting last night (March 19).

Working group members Larry Butler, Rick Landers and Bill Burton presented a progress report as a first step toward developing specific lighting guidelines for RA properties and pathways.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins’ recent call for more streetlights around Reston and some criticism of the lighting at the Sekas development along Sunrise Valley Drive renewed the focus on the lighting, Butler said.

“Lighting is going to be at the forefront for some time to come,” Butler said.

The report highlighted two main goals:

  • development of “contextual application guidelines” for lighting
  • prioritization of pedestrian lighting in the community — common areas including pathways and recreational amenities, transit station areas and clusters

Butler said that the working group is also adopting some guidelines from the Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER).

Burton showed the Design Review Board the Reston lighting map that was created by overlaying existing pathway lights on a new land use map. Burton said that the working group members walked or biked Reston pathways and corridors to note areas of no, low, medium or high lighting.

The map has four main zones:

  • zone 0: areas with no existing lighting for areas where RA wants to preserve darkness
  • zone 1: traditional residential areas — most of the Planned Residential Community — that may want additional lighting
  • zone 2: village centers, brightly lit schools and athletic fields that will need future lighting replacements
  • zone 3: transportation corridor and Reston Town Center

In addition to marking the traditional RA pathways, the map also notes travel corridors along certain roads that bicyclists and pedestrians might frequently use.

The map is meant to serve as a template for the Design Review Board’s review of lighting requests, he said.

Identifying areas that need more lighting is just one step.

“We want to do it right,” Butler said, mentioning LED lights on timers.

Landers added that the technological advances in LED lights provide more options for dimmer or brighter lighting, along with being more energy-efficient.

Vice Chair and Architect Member W. Neal Roseberry praised the three working group members for their effort, which has broad appeal to Restonians. “I think this is really pretty common sense,” he said.

While the Design Review Board supported the map and expressed a desire in making a future action item around lighting, Richard Newlon, the board’s chairman, questioned how much detail should get decided around lighting while still creating an enforceable guideline.

In addition to the progress report, Butler also gave the board a preview on other actions the working group is taking.

A pathway lighting project in Hunters Woods that the Design Review Board approved three years ago now has renewed interest because of a proffer commitment from Atlantic Realty — the developer behind the Hunters Woods at Trail Edge senior living facility — to add new pathway lighting

“We’re working with Fairfax County to get an interpretation on that proffer as to whether or not that money can be joined with our project, our current funding so that we can do lighting down there, because we don’t have enough money to do the whole project,” Butler said.

Butler said that he expects the working group to come back to the Design Review Board in April or May with information on the $81,300 promised in the proffer.

“The face of Reston is changing,” Butler said. “We want to make sure the lighting keeps up.”

Images via Reston Association/YouTube

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The Reston Association’s Board of Directors received a summary last week of the second annual report about the state of the environment in Reston.

Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and the director of Reston Association’s first Reston Annual State of the Environment Report, gave an overview of the 2018 Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) at a Reston Association meeting on Thursday (Nov. 15).

The study is intended to give readers a better understanding of Reston’s current environmental conditions in order to provide a baseline against which future changes to the environment can be measured.

The second RASER updates all of the topics addressed in the first one, along with adding new topics and recommendations. The results of the first RASER arrived in January after it was published last July.

The report has 11 new recommendations, which include the following:

  • Schedule dredging when nuisance aquatic weeds are dormant
  • Enforce shoreline distribution regulations for cluster shoreline properties
  • Create a plan to alert residents about lake safety issues
  • Assess whether de-icing salts are affecting water quality
  • Partner with organizations to conduct native plant education programs, to use edible plants in landscaping and to distribute leftover food
  • Determine baseline noise levels throughout parts of Reston

The report also has an analysis of 19 environmental attributes — rating them on a scale of green (good), yellow (fair), red (poor) and undetermined — and adds in excerpts from Fairfax County’s Environmental Vision Document. “I feel confident as a community that we are way ahead of a lot of other county committees in meeting the revised vision document of the county,” Britt said.

Attributes that got a “green” rating include air quality, drinking water, wastewater treatment, hazardous and toxic waste and environmental education.

Streams received a bump from “red” to “yellow” status this year after more diversity than expected was found in them over the summer, Britt said, adding that almost half of Reston’s streams have been restored. Lakes and ponds, urban forests, landscaping, wildlife management and light pollution also got bucketed in the “yellow” rating.

Attributes that lacked enough data for an adequate rating included wetlands, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and noise pollution.

Only one received the “red” designation: stormwater management. “When Reston first developed in the early 60’s and 70’s, the stormwater was typically shunted from development sites into nearby receiving sites as quickly as possible trough impervious surfaces,” Britt said. “This resulted in the streams not being able to handle the capacity of storm surges.”

South Lakes District Director Julie Bitzer said at the meeting that she has had a lot of residents talk to her about erosion and stormwater management, because of the amount of rain this year. “I think that is something we need to look at,” she said.

Britt encouraged the board to move away from the “band-aid approach” of expensive lake dredging to remove sediment and instead focus on soil erosion prevention, which he said will be a more cost-efficient choice for improving streams and water quality issues. He also suggested that the board empower residents to help by using low-technology solutions like rain gardens and also set higher standards for developers.

Britt also provided a breakdown of the progress of the 61 recommendations made in last year’s report. Two have been completed, while the rest include 14 lacking progress, 20 with limited work done and 25 with “substantial” progress.

“I don’t want anybody to get the idea that because only two were fully completed, that this designates some ignoring of these recommendations, because very few of the recommendations were what I would call ‘one and done,'” he said.

The three highest priorities should be protecting Reston’s urban forests, improving surface water quality and maintaining “robust” education and outreach programs, Britt said.

RASER recommendations will continue annually, while updates will come every other year, Britt said. The next updated text is expected to be released in 2020.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Environmental quality talk tonight — Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and the director of Reston Association’s first Reston Annual State of the Environment Report, presents findings from the report and gives an update on recommendations. [Reston Historic Trust & Museum]

The secret to make gold — The Greater Reston Arts Center’s newest exhibition will feature the work of DC-based artist Caitlin Teal Price. She explores the topic “green is the secret to make gold.” [Greater Reston Arts Center]

Community circles — Local students, teachers and community members work together to create a mural project called community circles. [Reston Association]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Aerial of Reston (Photo via Reston Historic Trust & Museum)

The Reston Historic Trust & Museum is hosting a talk on the environmental quality of Reston on September 5 at the Reston Community Center Lake Anne’s Jo Ann Rose Gallery.

Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and project director for the first Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER), will summarize the findings of the RASER and discuss new topics planned for this year’s report, which is currently in progress.  Britt will also provide an update on progress made since the first report was published in July last year.

The RASER included 60 recommendations on how to improve and protect Reston’s environmental quality. It is intended to summarize existing environment data, establish a baseline against which future changes can be measured and provide information that can policy and program decisions. The report covers topics like wildlife, light pollution, environmental education, water resources and air quality.

The second report will likely be submitted to Reston Association’s Board of Directions in the fall. Its scope was expanded to include more environmental attributes in Reston.

The event, which begins at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Photo via Reston Historic Trust & Museum

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