Projects in James Terrace, Essex Court Aim to Cut Stormwater Runoff

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Channels like this one in James Terrace overflow with water when it rains. (Photo courtesy of James City County)
Channels like this one in James Terrace overflow with water when it rains. (Photo courtesy of James City County)

The James City County Board of Supervisors recently awarded contracts for two projects that aim to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.

The first project is a three-phased effort in the James Terrace neighborhood that includes the installation of a rain garden adjacent from Grace Baptist Church and a series of terraced wetlands called Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance channels.

JCC stormwater director Frances Geissler described the system as a gradual slope where water can pool at different levels that feature vegetation and rocks.

“The reason we like [the RSC channels] is because they are vegetated, and we have found that vegetated stormwater treatment needs less maintenance over time compared to a pond or other kinds of treatment options,” Geissler said. “It takes less room and needs less long-term maintenance.”

Geissler said the James Terrace neighborhood was built in the 1960s, a time when stormwater drainage was not as emphasized as it is today when neighborhoods are developed.

The neighborhood’s current stormwater management system consists of roadside ditches and runoff between houses is not well-managed, Geissler said.

The improvements are estimated to cost more than $550,000 and will be completed by Williamsburg-based Henry S. Branscome LLC. The county will cover some of the costs with a matching grant from the state Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, but the total value of the award has not yet been determined, Geissler said.

The second project is the restoration of a stream channel near Essex Court, which has “widened and undercut” over time due to old agricultural practices and subsequent development. Geissler said the widened channel is now moving toward a house nearby.

This stream near Essex Court, photographed Nov. 13, 2015, will be directed into a new channel. (Photo courtesy of James City County)
This stream near Essex Court, photographed Nov. 13, 2015, will be directed into a new channel. (Photo courtesy of James City County)

Geissler said the stream as-is carries more pollutants to Powhatan Creek, which residents use for recreational activities like kayaking.

“As this channel widens and deepens, that sediment is going somewhere,” Geissler said. “All that sediment does have a negative impact on our ability to use the stream.”

She said the stream will be redirected to a new, wider channel that connects it to its floodplain, Geissler said.

A contract was awarded to HGS, LLC/DAB Angler Environmental, which offered to complete the project for $211,955.

Geissler said both projects will cut down on phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment discharge and help the county meets the goals of its Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load action plan, which seeks to reduce the amount of water pollution that flows from JCC waterways into the Chesapeake Bay.

She said it is important for the county to invest in drainage improvements and stream restoration work so residents can continue to enjoy local waterways recreationally.

“When you look at the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, cleaning up our waterways for our own use has a benefit to the Bay,” Geissler said. “At the end of the day, we really think it’s important because of our own uses of water.”