Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Rules for Backyard Chickens in Prince William County

By vote of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors back in 2011 a zoning change was made to allow backyard chickens in some parts of Prince William County. The Supervisors voted to create a Domestic Fowl Overlay District in the county where residents can keep a limited number of chickens and other domestic fowl.

In areas of the overlay district (pink area) that are zoned A-1 and consisting of more than one acre, chickens and domestic fowl are permitted “by right” subject only to any restrictions that may exist in the HOA Covenants and Restrictions. In areas of the Domestic Fowl Overlay District that are zoned SR-1, SR-3 or SR-5  that have more than one acre and not restricted by HOA Covenants and Restrictions, chickens and domestic fowl are permitted after a Special Use Permit is obtained from the County.

To obtain the Special Use Permit for those in areas zoned SR-1, SR-3, SR-5 within the Domestic Fowl Overlay District, you first fill out an application. Then the Special Use Permit applications are submitted to the Planning Office for staff review. The planning staff will then prepare an analysis and recommendation for consideration by the Planning Commission at a public hearing. The Planning Commission will then submit its recommendation to the Board of County Supervisors, and at a subsequent public hearing the Board will consider the case and the Planning Commission recommendation and either approve or deny the application. The Board action is final.

The maximum number of chicken or domestic fowl permitted is proportional to the size of the lot. One "bird unit" per acre is allowed for properties of 1 to less than 5 acres, three bird units per acre for properties of 5 to less than 10 acres. There is no limit on the number of bird units allowed on properties greater than 10 acres other than restrictions by HOA Covenants and Restrictions. A bird unit is:
10 chickens (though only one rooster per acre) or
6 ducks or
4 turkeys, geese or pea fowl or
1 ostrich or emu
20 pigeons, doves, or quail

Note: Only domestic fowl six weeks and older are allowed under the regulation. Also, only one rooster or guinea fowl are allowed per acre. Roosters and guinea fowl must be confined between sunset and sunrise within a caged area on any lot less than ten acres, and the caged area must be more than 150 feet from neighbor’s homes.

The domestic fowl regulations require coops or cages and runs on any lot with less than five acres and specifies construction standards and humane areas for each bird, distance from Resource Protected Areas (RPA) under the Chesapeake Bay Act, distance from well heads. The required coops, cages or runs must be enclosed with a minimum four feet high chicken wire fence and must be kept clean and free from excess feed, excrement, and such substances that may attract rodents or other predators.

Runs and cages for chickens must have a maximum density of four square feet per bird. For larger fowl, such as geese or turkey, the maximum run or cage density per bird is 15 square feet. For emus, ostriches and similar large birds, the maximum run or cage density is 100 square feet per bird.

Coops and runs must be located only in the rear or side yard and shall adhere to the same setbacks as non-commercial kennels. Such structures shall also be set back at least five feet from the principal dwelling on the property and at least 100 feet from an RPA stream (Resource Protected Area under the Chesapeake Bay Act) and 50 feet from all other streams. A zoning permit must be obtained for these structures.

Cages, coops and runs on properties not served by public water must be separated from the well head on the property. If the well is a class 3A or B with grouting then the minimum separation distance is 50 feet. If the well is a class 3C or class 4 well, then the minimum separation distance is 100 feet. If the chicken coop is enclosed, has a concrete floor and the chicken manure is removed and placed for trash pickup, or other best management practices are applied, then the separation distance for a class 3C or 4 well can be reduced to 50 feet. Waste management guidelines for surface and groundwater protection were established using Prince William Soil and Water Conservation district guidance. You can get the specifics from the District.

Prince William also regulates how the chicken and domestic fowl can be used. Fowl raised on properties less than five acres in size may only be used for producing eggs. No "dispatch" of fowl may take place on the premises. Chickens and domestic fowl raised on properties five acres or larger but less than ten acres may be dispatched for domestic use only. Fowl raised on parcels of ten acres or larger shall be under the same provisions for dispatch as any other livestock. Got it?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dominion Foundation Donates to PWEEF

On Earth Day the Dominion Foundation, the charity of Dominion Resources announced its 2017 grants of $1.2 million to 107 organizations working to improve natural spaces or encourage environmental stewardship. Though the Dominion Foundation has been making these grants since 2003, this is the first year that our own Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation applied. We were awarded $8,500 to support some of our educational programs, updating our Conservation Capsules and Farm Field Days. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Coal Ash Bill Goes to the House of Delegates

Last week marked the halfway point of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session, known as "Crossover." Crossover is when both the House and Senate finish work on legislation originating in that body and pass the legislation to the other body. One of the bills that originated in the Senate, SB 1398, sponsored by state Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th and Sen. Amanda Chase R-11th titled: Coal combustion residuals unit; closure permit, assessments required, passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 11 after being amended in committee. The bill moves on to the House of Delegates.

This bill prohibits the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from issuing a permit for the closure of coal ash pond (technically called “coal combustion residuals unit”) until the Director has reviewed an assessment of closure options prepared by the owner or operator of the coal ash ponds and is a direct response to Dominion Power’s pending closure of their Possum Point, Bremo, and Chesterfield Power Station pending coal ash pond closures. Applacian Power is also closing coal ash ponds at their Glen Lyn, Chesapeake Energy and Clinch River power plants. SB 1398 would require that the owner or operator of the coal ash pond:

  1. Identify and describe any groundwater or surface water pollution located at or caused by the coal ash storage. 
  2. Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through excavation and responsible recycling or reuse of coal ash.
  3. Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through the excavation and removal of the coal ash residuals to a dry, lined storage in an appropriately permitted and monitored landfill, including an analysis of the impact that any responsible recycling or reuse options would have on such excavation and removal.
  4. Demonstrate the long-term safety of the coal ash storage, addressing any long-term risks posed by the proposed closure plan and siting.

The coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to make electricity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that coal ash is solid waste, not hazardous waste tough it contains heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, boron, selenium and hexavalent chromium. The EPA finalized regulations in 2016 for coal ash storage and disposal. The finalized EPA regulation for coal ash requires that coal ash disposal site must have protective liners to prevent groundwater contamination. The rule also requires companies to conduct monitoring of disposal sites, clean up any existing contamination, and close and remediate unlined disposal sites that have polluted groundwater. Finally, monitoring data, corrective action reports, and other important information about the site must be made available to the public.

Possum Point in Prince William County is the first power plant in Virginia to apply for a solid waste permit to permanently close the coal ash ponds on site. Dominion used coal to fire the turbines for the Possum Point, Power Station located on the banks of Quantico Creek and the Potomac River, from about 1948 to 2003. There were 5 coal ash ponds on site: A-E. Coal ash Ponds A, B, and C are currently being decommissioned. One million cubic yards of coal ash from those ponds was moved into Pond D, a 120-acre pond that already contained 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash. Coal ash Pond E is being decommissioned and was replaced with a water treatment system that began operation this past summer.

Once the consolidation and dewatering are completed, the coal ash pond will be capped with an impermeable membrane to prevent infiltration of rain in the future.  Dominion’s closure plan should have included additional site investigation to demonstrate to the stakeholders in the community that the liner in coal ash Pond D is sound. The public, environmental groups, county supervisors and state Senators and Delegates have voice concerns. Many are well founded, and the process of obtaining permits for the closure was far from satisfactory to most stakeholders. Last fall Dominion Power agreed to install additional groundwater monitoring wells and conduct bi-weekly monitoring of the new wells.

The recent sampling of those wells showed elevated levels of boron, chloride, cobalt, nickel, sulfate and zinc upstream of the ponds. This was inconsistent with the model of the geology and groundwater in the area that Dominion has used in their permit applications. Groundwater often surprises you. Though, Dominion maintains that there is no evidence that its ash ponds have contaminated drinking water wells near the site, they have announced that they will pay for the homes near the Possum Point Power Plant to be hooked up to the Prince William County Public Service Authority water or receive water filtration systems. Offering the neighbors peace of mind and a safe source of drinking water is the right thing to do.

In addition it is essential that testing of groundwater, surface water sediments, and the water treated at the outfalls should have been done for a broader spectrum of contaminants to better protect the environment and determine the extent of impact if any from the decades storage of the coal ash on site. It is possible that trace contaminants including metals (and potentially hexavalent chromium) in the coal ash have already leached into the groundwater, Quantico Creek and Potomac from the coal ash ponds. 

Permanently disposing of the coal ash on site, when properly done, can be protective of the environment and water resources, but requires an effective liner and cap separating the coal ash from the groundwater and rain in addition to ongoing monitoring and maintenance.  Moving coal ash to another site for disposal, could potentially risk groundwater at another location unless the landfill monitors their site for the traces of metals that are common constituents of the coal ash. All physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by the monitoring and maintaining the systems. I have always believed that Dominion Power should have relined the pond at the beginning of this process, provided public water hookups for the residents and expanded monitoring. Now the Generally Assembly may step in.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dominion Power Offers Neighbors Public Water Connection

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, last week Dominion Power has announced that they will pay for the homes near the Possum Point Power Plant to be hooked up to the Prince William County Public Service Authority water or receive filtration systems. Offering the neighbors peace of mind and a safe source of drinking water is the right thing to do.

If you recall last fall Dominion Power agreed to install additional groundwater monitoring wells and conduct bi-weekly monitoring of the new wells. This brought the total number of monitoring wells to 24 and provided enhanced monitoring and protection for Quantico Creek, the upstream neighbors and the Potomac River from the dewatering of the coal ash ponds at Dominion’s Possum Point Power Station. The recent sampling of those wells showed elevated levels of boron, chloride, cobalt, nickel, sulfate and zinc upstream of the ponds. Though, Dominion maintains that there is no evidence that its ash ponds have contaminated drinking water wells near the site, they are offering neighbors a and says the new results seem inconsistent with what they assumed about the geology and groundwater. Groundwater often surprises you.

Several rounds of sampling from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Household Water Quality Program, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and a contractor hired by Prince William County have found varying levels of metals, such as hexavalent chromium, lead, antimony and other constituents that can be associated with coal ash, but are also present naturally in the groundwater of Virginia as well as low pH levels that corrode plumbing, in drinking water wells along Possum Point Road.

reviewed test results from both our Household Water Quality Program and the Virginia Department of Health. The VDH tested the water for thirteen contaminants that are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, total chromium, mercury, lead, antimony, selenium, thallium, radium). Though traces of various substances were found, none of the levels of contaminants were above the MCLs or SMCLs of the Safe Drinking Water Act so would be acceptable for public drinking water supplies. The VDH also tested for substances not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These contaminants were: boron, calcium, cobalt, lithium, magnesium, sodium, nickel, vanadium, zinc, alkalinity, bicarbonate alkalinity, carbonate alkalinity, hexavalent chromium, molybdenum, strontium, thorium, radium-228 and vanadium. The chart below shows the summary of results of what they found (you can request the information under the FOIA).

If you recall, Dominion Power has been moving forward with a plan to “close in place” 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash under the recently finalized U.S. EPA Coal Ash regulation. The plan for Possum Point is to consolidate all of the on-site coal ash into one impoundment. There is estimated to be 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash. Dominion has collected more than 1 million cubic yards of ash from four smaller ponds, put them in a 120-acre pond that already contains 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash that they have begun to dewater. Ultimately, the pond will be capped with an impermeable membrane to prevent future infiltration of rain. The groundwater results do not necessarily indicate contamination from the coal ash ponds, and Dominion Power will continue to press forward obtain their permit to close the site.

Closing the coal ash on site when properly done is probably the best solution. A safe closure requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance that is best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. All physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Conservation Districts Working Towards a Cleaner Bay

At the October 7th 2016 meeting of the Potomac Roundtable the Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for the Chesapeake Bay Russ Baxter reviewed Virginia’s Conservation Districts costs and accomplishments towards achieving our U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, mandated reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from waste water treatment plants, agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, septic systems, air pollution and other sources have impaired the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.

The EPA mandated a contamination limit called the TMDL (total maximum daily load for nutrient contamination and sediment) to all the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Washington DC. The pollution limits were then partitioned to the various states and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay computer modeling tools and monitoring data.

Virginia created a plan called the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) of how they intend to achieve their assigned pollution reduction goals. These plans lay out a series of pollution control measures that need to be put in place by 2025 to achieve the pollution reduction goals. While it will take years after 2025 for the Bay and its tributaries to fully heal, EPA expects that if  the pollution control measures are in place by 2025 the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem can heal itself.

To make the process manageable, EPA reviews Virginia’s progress every two years against what they call milestones -short-term goals. So far Virginia has met their state-wide milestone targets for nitrogen and phosphorus, but failed to meet its state-wide target for sediment. However, the Commonwealth presented plans to “catch up” and meet the important 2017 targets to the EPA.

The easiest targets for reduction have been taken.  Virginia has completed wastewater treatment plant improvements and expansions. In total Virginians will have spent about $2 billion from 1998-2017 to upgrade the waste water treatment plants in the watershed. Half the money came from the state and the other half came from the increased sewer rates for residents. That was expensive, but easy to achieve reductions.

The remaining areas for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment for the 2025 goals are in the agricultural, suburban and urban storm water management. These are harder targets to hit because the sources of pollution in these areas are non-point source pollution (NPS), diffuse sources of pollution. These pollutants do not come out of a pipe, but are carried to streams and rivers by runoff of rain and snowmelt. Reducing these non-point source pollution are a major part of the work of the state's Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The way to reduce non-point source pollution on the environment is to control stormwater and implement what is called “best management practices” (BMPs).  Virginia made great progress towards the EPA goal in management of livestock. A huge program carried out by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts to induce all animal operations to fence all pastures to exclude all livestock from rivers and streams and provide alternate sources of water for the animals away from rivers and streams. This is being accomplished by the state paying for 100% of the fencing for projects approved in the first two years and 80% combined with federal money for current projects.

In total, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts will have provided technical assistance worth $178,000,000 and financial incentives (paying for all or part of the cost to install these agricultural mitigations) totaling $200,000,000 to minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides; to reduce runoff and slow rain water, and exclude animals from rivers and streams over the past decade.

To achieve the TMDL goals, Virginia is going to have to expand BMP programs and induce homeowners and business owners to change how they take care of their lawns and take action one yard at a time to reduce stormwater runoff to meet tightened stormwater goals. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts together have estimated that it will take and additional $1,740,119,000 for the technical assistance and cost sharing needs to expand our existing programs and reach all farmers, and suburban homeowners.

Virginia is using its Soil and Water Conservation Districts to introduce urban and suburban storm-water residential retrofits through its Virginia Conservation Assistance Programs and Urban Cost Share Programs. These programs provide techinical assitance and financial incentives to homeowners, Churches and businesses to take small steps to improve storm water control one yard at a time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

We Won Silver

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has recognized the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District’s Adopt-A-Stream program as ranking number 2 (behind Fairfax) overall amount of trash removed from our rivers for the 2016 spring river clean ups. Yeah, Prince William Volunteers- give yourselves a big hand!!! Our Conservation District was ranked first in the state in mileage of waterways cleaned- 35% of the all miles of rivers cleaned under the Adopt-A-Stream program in Virginia.

This year 759 volunteers cleaned 77.4 miles of stream removing 20,877 pounds of trash in Prince William County during the Occoquan River Cleanup and the 28th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. The volunteers working with the Conservation District staff, community groups, employers, and schools participated in the annual regional river cleanup. There are many locations and opportunities to come out and help every year. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind, all are welcome. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity. 

The Adopt-A-Stream program is part of Stewardship Virginia which is one of the governor’s initiative. Unfortunately, it is necessary to hold these river cleanups annually. Year after year volunteers clean our streams, rivers, and stream beds of trash that started as litter and was carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. The trash does not magically disappear, but finds its way into our streams and rivers disrupting the natural water flow and beauty of our natural world.

The Conservation District would like to thank all the residents who have volunteered, or are currently volunteering, for the Adopt-A-Stream program in the District. The Conservation District works with the County to promote Green Communities in Prince William. Gather up a group of friends and come out and help us keep our water ways free of trash. Don’t litter and teach your children not to litter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Limits on Fracking in King George County

On Tuesday, August 16th 2016 the Prince George County board members unanimously voted to amend their zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan to limit fracking. The county had spent almost two years studying the issue. Prince George County became the first in what’s known as the Taylorsville basin, a five-county area east and south of Fredericksburg, to put restrictions on hydraulic fracking.

The restrictions are intended to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents—as well as drinking water and other resources of King George. The board imposed strict limits on natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing known as fracking. The new ordnance states that no drilling could be done 750 from resource protected areas (as defined in the Chesapeake Bay Act) , such as rivers and creeks, as well as roads, buildings and schools. Under those guidelines, drilling could take place in only 9% of the county. This is not a ban, but a significant limitation. .

I was a member of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (VASWCD) committee that developed the VASWCD policy limiting fracking that was adopted by a vote of our membership. At the time of the last legistative session DMME was still in the midst of the regulatory process for oil and gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing; however, HB 1389 and SB 706 bills that sought FOIA exemptions to DMME for chemical 'trade secrets' used in the hydraulic fracturing process were introduce. HB 1389 was tabled until 2017 session and SB 706 was pulled by its sponsor. It is important that no company be exempt from DMME disclosures and that localities be able to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents though zoning and their Comprehensive plan.