Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed

Subject: 9/21 Planning Commission & RappFLOW

The following is a brief report on the RappFLOW discussion with the Rappahannock County Planning Commission on September 21, 2005, and followup meetings.

The following RappFLOW-related persons were present, in addition to the members of the Planning Commission, Mr. McCarthy, and Candace Wroth:

Beverly Hunter & Larry Oliver (presenters); Hal Hunter; Sarah Gannon; Paul Farmer; Mitzi Young; Mary Beth Martin; Gwen and Clyde Hays; Don Audette. (who did I miss in this list?)

Main topic of the RappFLOW presentation was the status of the current study called “People, land, and streams of the Upper Thornton River Watershed.” In advance of the meeting, members of the Commission were provided with a five-page Project Brief and several thematic maps depicting such factors as land cover, topography, and stream buffers for each of thirteen subwatersheds in the Upper Thornton River watershed. We explained some of the factors used in conducting the rapid watershed analysis, which is task number 1 of the project. Larry Oliver, high school student GIS intern from Rappahannock County High School, explained how we conduct the spatial analysis of each factor in each subwatershed.

Mr. McCarthy asked whether conservation easements were included in the rating scheme for subwatersheds. Answer: yes. The total acreage of land in easement is divided by the total land area of each subwatershed that is outside of the Shenandoah National Park, to produce a percentage of private land in easement. Protection points are awarded each subwatershed based on that percentage multiplied by two. Percentage of land protected by the Park within each subwatershed is multiplied by three in the point system.

There were several questions from the Commission members about 303d impaired streams (there are two in the Upper Thornton watershed: Thornton and Rush). Mr. McCarthy discussed at some length the idea that if we don’t fix the impairments now under voluntary programs, we will be confronted with mandatory requirements later.

Mr. Strittmatter (Commission Chairman) asked whether CREP program is a part of the RappFLOW agenda for this study. Hunter explained that the NRCS (USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service), which administers the CREP program, is a key partner in the study and that Joe Thompson, the NRCS conservationist based in Culpeper, meets with RappFLOW to help develop the strategy for the watershed assessment. The Culpeper Soil and Water District has committed staff time to participating in meetings with land owners to assist in land use planning.

Mr. Strittmatter asked whether RappFLOW knows how many land owners are in CREP and other cost-sharing programs to implement best management practices on their land. Hunter explained that RappFLOW has requested this information through a Freedom of Information Act request, per the instruction of the CSWCD. Sarah Gannon is taking charge of obtaining this information from the federal and state governments. RappFLOW hopes that these land owners can serve as models for other citizens to learn from.

Commissioners asked whether RappFLOW studies to date have identified the cause of the impairment to the 303d streams. Hunter explained that RappFLOW had conducted a pilot study of a small subwatershed below Sperryville last spring, that did identify the cause of the impairment at that section of the Thornton River. The cause that was identified was livestock in the streams that are tributaries to the Thornton River. Some members of the Commission expressed doubt at that finding, because of the large number of residences and new development upstream. Hunter offered to share the detailed study with members to further explain the study and its findings.

Mr. Tepper asked what is the next step in the study. Hunter stated that the next challenge is to engage the land owners in each of the thirteen subwatersheds of the Upper Thornton River watershed in participating in the study. Small subwatershed neighborhood meetings will be held to this end.

Commissioners and Mr. McCarthy expressed appreciation for the work of these volunteers and stated it is useful to the Planning Commission.

During the public comment period, Gwen Hays of West Wind Farm on the Thornton River raised an issue about people taking water out of the Thornton River to irrigate, thus reducing the flow for people downstream.


Follow-up meeting with Tom Junk of the Piedmont District

On Thursday Sept. 22, Hunter and Junk met to discuss RappFLOW studies of the Thornton River and what are the concerns about water quantity and quality from the perspective of the Planning Commission. Some of these concerns include questions about potential septic overflows, wastewater treatment plant effectiveness, and impact of residential and commercial development on water quantity and quality.

Follow-up regarding Hayes questions about removing water from streams for irrigation. Hunter inquired of the CSWCD whether there are any restrictions on removal of water from streams by riparian land owners for purposes of irrigation. It appears that under Virginia law there are no such restrictions.

Please feel free to distribute this information freely, and to comment on its accuracy.

Beverly Hunter
RappFLOW Coordinator
(540) 937-4038

Rappahannock News Coverage of Planning Commission Meeting