I want to thank Peter Agelasto and the Friends of Rockfish Watershed for inviting me to be part of the activities involving stream restoration work here in Virginia.
I met Peter over two years ago in Virginia Beach at a Watershed Management Workshop. The workshop was informative, yet a lack of funding and political will has forced watershed management in VA to merely be a good idea instead of an implementation tool for the protection and restoration of our natural resources.
I grew up in Virginia Beach and have had the opportunity to live in several areas within the state including Blacksburg, Roanoke, Northern Virginia, and Richmond. Three years ago, while living in Virginia Beach I started an engineering firm focused on natural resources restoration.
I found myself frequently traveling to North Carolina to pursue work in watershed management and stream restoration. After spending more and more time in NC, a year and half ago I decided to relocate to Raleigh, where I have grown my business and continued to successfully pursue watershed management and stream restoration projects.
You may ask - Is the funding climate and political stance in NC that different than VA concerning stream restoration and watershed management? Yes, and here’s why.
In the Mid 1990s the NCDOT began to experience delays due to unavoidable environmental impacts. At the time they were attempting to satisfy all of their mitigation needs through internal staffing and outsourcing to the private sector.
In 1997 the Wetlands Restoration Program was formed (as part of NCDENR). Meanwhile, the program within NCDOT also continued to function and seek mitigation. The result was two programs operating independently of each other that both failed to meet the expectations of federal and state regulatory agencies and environmental interest groups.
In 2001, over 10 state and federal agencies met to discuss the problems with the current systems and how they could be solved.
The problems that were identified included:
§ Inadequate communication
§ Undefined roles and responsibilities
§ Poor timing of impacts and mitigation acquired
§ Poorly understood mitigation objectives
The panel also recommended that mitigation should be provided YEARS in advance of proposed projects.
In 2003, six years after the North Carolina Agencies began to formally manage mitigation, NCDOT, USACE and NCDENR signed a MOA that defined the procedures by which mitigation within the State of NC would be managed.
The program is now a National Model and has won several awards, including one from the Federal Highways Administration for outstanding environmental stewardship.
The NC program has undertaken 215 stream restoration projects – totaling 148 miles of stream mitigation.
NC’s mitigation program proactively addresses environmental impacts.
This facilitates responsible economic growth while providing high quality ecosystem enhancement. In North Carolina proactively responding to mitigation needs enables responsible infrastructure growth which fosters economic development.
In addition to the North Carolina mitigation program, a fund appropriated by legislation, called the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, receives funding each year allocated toward non-mitigation water quality improvement projects. Since 1996 the Clean Water Management Trust Fund’s budget has been on average, 48 M a year. Using data from the last two years, The NC mitigation program on average has allocated 28 M per year for mitigation needs.
So, in NC with approximately 76 M per year being allocated for mitigation and non-mitigation environmental restoration projects, it is easy to see why so much work is getting done in NC.
It is fair to say the stream mitigation program in VA is experiencing problems similar to those experienced by our neighbors to the south.
Instead of re-creating the wheel, I urge everyone within the group to learn from the experiences in NC and urge the decision makers and agency personnel to follow NC as a model.
In Virginia things are headed in the right direction. On July 14, Governor Warner signed an executive order to formally recognize the Stream Restoration Alliance.
Specifically the order:
§ Established the Stream Restoration Initiative – to promote and coordinate stream restoration
§ Created the Virginia Stream Alliance – to facilitate cooperation and effectively promote stream restoration at state and local levels
The order states that the Alliance shall consist of staff from several state agencies including VDEQ and VDOT – this means that the participating agencies must send a representative. This legislation justifies their participation.
So now given this recent legislation, it is our duty to promote stream restoration and use the executive order to formalize policies, develop formal agreements between agencies and begin the process of funding these projects from conception to implementation.
I urge everyone involved to use the resources at hand – look to other successful programs for guidance. We are at a turning point and have the opportunity to improve the current system if we just use the resources at hand.
The project here in Nellysford is a great example of the type restoration we need. It is a good start, to what could be a great program for stream restoration in Virginia. The next step is to have everyone work together to form an efficient and productive restoration program. To do this we must interact while always keeping in mind the goal of improving our natural environment through implementation of successful restoration projects.