News | September 2, 2009

SELC Takes Aim at Construction Site Runoff

SELC is pressing for stronger local, state, and federal controls on muddy runoff from denuded construction sites, one of the chief threats to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Eroded soils smother habitat for fish and other wildlife, block sunlight needed by aquatic plants, and increase nutrient pollution that leads to oxygen-starved dead zones. Sediments also build up in public water supplies and reduce their capacity over time.

In Virginia, SELC is using legal action and other strategies to press regulators to put more teeth in state controls. One of our targets is a general permit for construction projects recently issued by the state that would fail to keep pollution out of waters already suffering from high levels of sediment. “Additional sediment-laden runoff can tip a teetering system over the edge,” explains SELC water quality expert Rick Parrish. “Without this protection, we will never be able to restore impaired waters in the state, including the bay.”

In a related development, the Board of Supervisors in Albemarle County, Virginia, voted unanimously in favor of a proposal we introduced to limit the time that inactive construction sites can remain stripped of all vegetation. This new measure in the county’s water protection ordinance will help reduce the amount of dirt that washes off construction sites into local waterways, which are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It was a key recommendation in a pair of reports we produced last year on how the county and neighboring Charlottesville can curb polluted runoff.

At the same time, we are encouraging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action at the federal level. EPA is studying options for strengthening construction runoff requirements to protect the Chesapeake Bay and other U.S. waters in distress.