Pushed by ongoing development in the community, Reston Association committed to publishing an annual report about the state of the environment in Reston last year. Now, the results of the first Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) are in.
The workgroup charged to lead the effort will present its findings at a community meeting on Thursday from 7-8 p.m. at the Walker Nature Center (11450 Glade Drive).
The nine-member group invested more than 1,000 volunteer hours to produce the report, which draws from interviews and documents from researchers, scientists and others.
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.
“As urbanization expands rapidly, not only in Northern Virginia but also worldwide, there is a growing disconnect between people and nature. When people are isolated from nature, they perceive it as less relevant and more threatening, and its physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits are devalued. Consequently, interest in conserving and protecting the natural environment is weakened, and society comes to accept a lowered environmental quality as the new norm, ” according to the report.
In light of the limited use of tools to manage stormwater when Reston was developed, the study calls on Reston Association to track and block any requested waivers of stormwater management during the land development and redevelopment process.
Other recommendations include the following:
- Develop an incentives system to encourage Reston property owners and associations to manage stormwater runoff on their sites.
- Plant more trees and replace removed tress with native species to increase the quality and quantity of tree cover.
- Push residents and businesses to landscape using native plants instead of turf grass.
- Encourage the placement of more electric car charging stations.
- Identify stream reaches most vulnerable to channel modifications due high-energy water flows.
- Support more follow-up studies of restored Reston streams
- Identify sources of phosphorus and sediment loading in watersheds of lakes
The complete 176-page report is available online.
Photo by Fatimah Waseem
Erosion has contributed to the exposure of eight sewer lines in the hillside leading from South Lakes Drive to Lake Audubon. If significant action is not taken, Reston could face serious environmental and public health situation.
That was the takeaway from a long discussion at Reston Association’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday, where the board passed several motions to commit money to study the issue and continue pressing Fairfax County officials to act on the issue.
“This is a health hazard waiting to happen,” said RA land use attorney John McBride, who warned that recent events in Flint, Mich., where a money-saving effort to change the water supply resulted in dangerous lead contamination.
Granted, Reston does not get its drinking water from Lake Audubon, but it is a popular recreational spot, and boaters, swimmers and pets who enter the lake could be severely affected.
“Any time you have public sewer lines and laterals in the air, you have problems,” said McBride. See more from him in this presentation.
At issue is stormwater runoff that starts at South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School, goes under South Lakes Drive and then through a steep drainage ditch running between Wakerobin Drive and Cedar Cover Cluster, emptying into Lake Audubon.
Years of runoff have contributed to significant erosion, which has left eight sewer pipes exposed, said Charles Smith of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
Smith, speaking to the board Thursday, said the runoff area scored poorly in a scoping study done by the county last fall. The 49-acre area is 43-percent impervious surface (parking lots, roofs, turf athletic fields and other hard materials).
“Anything above 10 percent, streams start to unravel,” he said. “When you see a degraded stream and this amount of imperviousness, it is really not a surprise.”
Adding to the issue — a planned 40,000-square-foot addition for South Lakes High School. Fairfax County Public School officials said the addition does not have to follow updated environmental rules and is grandfathered in under older ones.
The RA Board passed motions to implore school board chair Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill), Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to “as soon as possible” allocate stormwater management and stream restoration funds — estimated to be about $1.1 million — to restore and stabilize the outfall channel.
RA also will ask FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza and the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services to not approve the pending SLHS site plan “until a stable, non-erosive and adequate outfall is restored in the drainage channel.”
The board also authorized allocating up to $20,000 from its operating reserves fund to conduct an independent audit of the waterflow and mitigation measures and to use the results to research the validity of FCPS’ waiver of stormwater management/ best management practices.
School system officials were not present last night’s meeting. In a December letter to RA Board President Ellen Graves, Hynes said FCPS is proud of its commitment to environmental stewardship and adheres to best practices.
“In spite of FCPS’ commitment to environmental stewardship, the school system’s primary mission is to educate students countywide,” wrote Hynes. “…the school system must be very careful and purposeful in how capital funding is used. Regrettably, FCPS does not have the ability to either construct or fund initiatives which are not related specifically to that primary mission.”
However, money for remedies could be found in the county budget, which will work on Fiscal Year 2017 this spring, said Smith. If the county could include the issue for 2017, design and scoping work could begin this year and the project could be completed in three years, said Smith.
Most of the affected area is RA land, but some of it is on private homeowner property. If a fix takes place, it would require major land rights work to gain right-of-way on private property, said McBride.
However, it would be in residents’ best interest to allow it as they could be responsible for fixing breaks in the sewer line — as well as environmental cleanup — should they occur on their land, said McBride.
“What we need to do is to avoid Lake Audubon being a story on 60 Minutes,” said At-Large Director Ken Knueven. “We need to hold the supervisors accountable to create a mitigation team immediately. A pipe out in the open can break and cause a health situation.”
A situation was narrowly avoided in July, when a leak in an exposed pipe was discovered. It was fixed by the county, but not before 100 gallons of sewage spilled into Lake Audubon.
Terry Maynard, a Wakerobin resident and co-chair of the Reston 2020 Committee, says FCPS needs to find the money in its capital improvement budget for the fix.
“Given the slow growth in projected enrollment, I think it would be appropriate for the school board to divert up to one percent of that capital facilities budget –$4.7 million — to bring its stormwater management system at South Lakes High School in to compliance with current environmental law.
“I think our school system owes Reston this investment in its stormwater management to help prevent our ditch problem from becoming worse.”
Photo: Exposed sewer pipe near Lake Audubon/Credit: Fairfax County Pubic Works
Reston Association and residents who live in neighborhoods across from South Lakes High School are increasing their efforts to bring awareness — and hopefully, action — about stormwater runoff eroding the land nearby.
Water from the school area runs under South Lakes Drive to a steep, downhill drainage ditch that runs between Cedar Cover Cluster and Wakerobin Lane into Lake Audubon. Fairfax County Public Schools officials say a planned 40,000-square-foot addition, as well as more than 100 additional parking spaces, will not add to the stormwater runoff.
Residents say they have dealt with soggy ground for years, and they expect the planned addition for the high school will only make the problem worse. Meanwhile, the school system applied for and received a waiver to meet updated runoff regulations, rather than new ones that went into effect last summer.
“Residents of Wakerobin and Cedar Cover Cluster have been plagued for more than two decades with the ever-growing ditch between our two developments,” Terry Maynard, a Wakerobin resident, told the RA Board in December.
Maynard pointed out that the now six-foot deep ditch has left water and sewer lines exposed. That led to a rupture in the sewer line there in July, which discharged approximately 100 gallons into Lake Audubon. Since then, the sewer line has been patched, and Fairfax County is examining how to permanently repair the line and manage the erosion.
“The resulting erosion has left sewer lines hanging out,” RA Environmental Advisory Committee Chair Sue Beffel told the RA Board at December’s meeting. “Our immediate concern is that the school addition will make erosion worse.”
A recent County Scoping Study also found that the drainage ditch should be a high priority for repair.
Reston Association concern about the issue is growing, and there will likely be more formal action taken at RA’s January meeting.
RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) said in a memorandum last month that “normally, stormwater discharge is permitted as a matter of right from a higher property to a lower subservient property, as long as it follows its natural course and as long as it is not increased by actions of the owner of the higher property from which the stormwater originates. “
But RA may have the right to see increased runoff into Lake Audubon as a trespass on its property, the EAC says.
“The increased amount of silting caused by the erosion of the Ditch may result in the need to dredge the Lake sooner than would otherwise be necessary and thereby cause increased expense to the RA,” the EAC memorandum states. “The lake wildlife could also suffer damage by virtue of the increased silting.”
The EAC recommends reviewing the issue with RA’s land use attorney for possible further action, as well as more investigation about runoff from SLHS. The EAC also says it would prefer to focus on stormwater management practices such as rain gardens and filtration trenches that could be tied to the school curriculum rather than focusing on the remediation of the problem created by the
generation of excess stormwater.
Meanwhile, RA President Ellen Graves has sent a letter to FCPS School Board Chair Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) outlining RA’s concerns.
“As a model school system in the Commonwealth, and perhaps the country, it is hard to believe that all County school additions and renovations do not strive to become the model of responsible and progressive best management practices, particularly with regards to environmental concerns,” Graves wrote of the SLHS possible impact on stormwater and the outdated rules it is following.
“Reston was founded on such innovative practices. Reston Association hopes FCPS would be a willing partner in achieving these same goals.”
Photos: Top, map of drainage area; bottom, SLHS addition/Courtesy Fairfax County