“Sweet April showers do spring May flowers,” according to Thomas Tusser, a 16th century English poet and farmer. Last week’s intense rainstorms wouldn’t be termed “sweet,” but the azaleas and dogwoods now abloom are welcome May sights as we leave a seemingly interminable winter behind. Many of Mason District’s neighborhoods demonstrate their long-term stability with a mature landscape ablaze with lushly colored azaleas and varieties of pink and white dogwoods. The earlier pink petals of cherries and hawthorns float down gently in the breeze, spreading a pink carpet underfoot.
Now for those rainstorms… For decades, the primary stormwater conveyance in Virginia has been the ditch section along state-maintained roadways, whether a narrow neighborhood street or a four-lane primary road. Ditch sections are designed to receive water run-off and drain within 48 hours, too short a time for mosquitos to breed. Some newer areas have stormwater conveyances, such as curb and gutter, which connect to the storm sewer system. (In Fairfax County, storm sewers and sanitary sewers are separate systems. An easy way to differentiate is: storm sewers handle rain water; sanitary sewers handle what you flush. Storm sewers eventually convey stormwater to streams and rivers; sanitary sewers convey wastewater to a treatment plant.)
Until recently, stormwater was not subject to regulation at the state or federal level. However, federal and state requirements to restore the Chesapeake Bay mean that localities must address the effects of stormwater on the local landscape. The FY2015 budget includes a quarter-cent increase in the stormwater tax, which will fund additional inspections of numerous stormwater facilities, including wet and dry ponds, that dot the landscape across the county. While cynics may term it a “rain” tax, the reality is that the impervious surfaces that come with building roads, houses, schools, commercial buildings, etc., change the natural absorption of rainwater. The resulting run-off must be handled in an environmentally smart way, not an inexpensive undertaking.
Wastewater treatment plants are regulated through discharge permits issued by the state and the federal government. Fairfax County’s Wastewater Management Program operates and maintains more than 3400 miles of sewer lines, 59 pump stations, and 54 flow-metering stations. In addition to the Noman M. Cole, Jr. Pollution Control Plant on Richmond Highway, the county has treatment capacity in five other regional plants. Revenue to operate the treatment facilities is generated by rate payers. Most Mason District residents will find the sewer fees included on their water bills. New requirements for treating wastewater do add cost; as of July 1, ratepayers will see some new charges on their bills to ensure that the water returned to the river is as clean as current technology can make it. Clean water is as important to our community as the beautiful spring landscape we enjoy today.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.