Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Supes grapple with which uses, streams to include in new drinking water protections

The Skiffes Creek Reservoir can be seen from Route 60 near the James City County-Newport News line. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
The Skiffes Creek Reservoir can be seen from Route 60 near the James City County-Newport News line. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Water quality and how to protect James City County’s reservoirs were back on the table for discussion Tuesday night.

Discussion at the Board of Supervisors work session revolved around proposed new regulations developed by county staff and the Policy Committee to protect drinking water. 

While the ordinance is in the works, the Policy Committee and staff asked supervisors for additional guidance on a couple issues.

The main questions: Will all streams, both constantly-flowing and intermittent, be given a buffer? Should the new policies only cover industrial and commercial uses near reservoirs, or agricultural and residential as well?.

So far, the proposed language includes a 200-foot buffer around reservoirs that prohibits specific uses including storage of hazardous materials.

“What we’re doing is we’re saying we want to prohibit or limit the discharge of things that would actively hurt our water supply,” Chairman Jim Icenhour said. 

The Board of Supervisors first opened the subject of reinforcing policies protecting drinking water in May 2018. 

At the time, Supervisor John McGlennon mentioned a gas station had been proposed for a parcel of land near the Skiffes Creek Reservoir, and — as policies stood — there were no regulations that prevented a potentially hazardous item from being that close to drinking water.

In November, the board officially directed the Policy Committee to start developing policies to better protect reservoirs. Since then, the committee has been putting together its proposal.

Streams, too?

One of those issues the Policy Committee requested board feedback for Tuesday involves whether a protective 100-foot buffer around the reservoir would apply only to the reservoir itself, or whether it would also  “wrap in” the corresponding streams, Planning Director Paul Holt said.

If streams are included, the board must decide whether it wants perennial streams — streams that run all year — or just intermittent streams protected by a 100-foot buffer.

Supervisors asked staff to generate a larger map of the Skiffes Creek Reservoir and other reservoirs in the area to see exactly what the impacted area would be.

Planning Commission member Julie Leverenz said the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance — which aims to protect streams that feed into the bay — already covers perennial streams and provides them with protections including a 100-foot buffer.

She said the Policy Committee felt it would make most sense to add only intermittent streams to the new county policy and add a 100-foot buffer around them.

Adding only intermittent streams to new regulations would help avoid some overlap between the new regulations and what the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance already protects.

Supervisor Michael Hipple said he worried including intermittent streams could be prohibitive to development or homeowners.

“That could be a steam that’s only active six months of the year in the wintertime,” Hipple said.

Leverenz said there are some specific uses that are not allowed within that buffered area, but would not restrict all development.

Industry and commercial uses, or more?

Holt said the best way to move forward with developing a clear ordinance is to know what type of uses the board wants to cover with the ordinance.

Supervisors agreed they would like to see some definitions relating to agricultural uses — Hipple mentioned feed lots for farm animals — and how those uses are limited in numbers of animals and more.

“Fecal matter is one of the major causers of pollution in the waterways,” McGlennon added.

Holt said staff will bring maps and general county definitions for agriculture back to the Board of Supervisors in the future for additional discussion and direction.

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Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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