Water options ripped

Residents want smart growth, county hears

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Residents, environmentalists and other speakers at last week's Charles County Comprehensive Plan Water Resources Element public hearing made their message clear — make the WRE more in line with smart growth.

Speakers at the public hearing criticized the draft element for its lack of a smart growth, "Waldorf-centric" land use scenario, lack of science, lack of concern for water resources and the environment and inconsistency with state guidelines for drafting the element. Smart growth is development that directs growth to places where infrastructure exists and builds denser communities to allow for efficient land use, public transportation and walkability.

A WRE evaluates the effects of land use scenarios on water resources and makes recommendations on how to protect water resources. The draft element includes three land use scenarios for 2030: a baseline scenario based on the 2006 comprehensive plan, a focused growth scenario that concentrates development in Waldorf and Bryans Road, and a deferred development district scenario that opens up a 15,000-acre area in the southern portion of the development district to development.

The development district is an area stretching from Indian Head to Waldorf that the county directs 75 percent of its growth toward.

The draft element recommends the focused growth scenario because of its lower impact on drinking water and pollution loads than the other scenarios.

Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, asked the commissioners to send back the draft element to the planning commission "with instructions to include a new, truly smart growth scenario" that meets the pollution standards of the county's waterways "just as the [WRE] guidelines recommend."

He described the true smart growth scenario as "Waldorf-centric."

In a follow-up call, he said a true smart growth scenario should base development around priority funding areas instead of a development district. Long has problems with the focused growth scenario because it concentrates development in Bryans Road.

Long said the runoff from Bryans Road drains into Mattawoman Creek tidal waters, where many fish live and breed. Long said opening up the DDD to development would be "an amazing example of sprawl" and open a lot of the Mattawoman stream valley to development. Long called the baseline scenario "business as usual."

Long also said it would be unlikely the county would meet Phase II of the Watershed Implementation Plan, a regulatory document that guides how to protect and clean up a jurisdiction's watersheds, if it followed the land use scenarios in the water resources element.

Such a move would be costly to the county, Long said, meaning that smart growth land use scenarios can save money for the county in the long run.

In the follow-up interview, Long offered a caveat that other consultants can bring their input in providing smart growth land use scenarios.

Long said at the hearing that a smart growth scenario would meet WRE state guidelines by coming early in the process of the upcoming comprehensive plan, being a "sound foundation to implement smart growth" and adjusting land use scenarios to meet total maximum daily load requirements, limits the EPA sets for the maximum pollution loads in waterways.

Long said the draft element fails to meet the Mattawoman Creek's TMDLs.

The current TMDL limits for the Mattawoman Creek are 116,699 pounds per year for nitrogen and 5,304 pounds per year for phosphorus. According to the draft element, the Mattawoman currently has 252,882 pounds per year of nitrogen and 13,231 pounds per year of phosphorus in nonpoint source nutrient loading.

The focused-growth scenario estimates nonpoint source nutrient loading at 188,066 pounds per year of nitrogen and 8,456 pounds per year of phosphorus for the Mattawoman Creek, lower than the other two scenarios, but 71,375 pounds per year of nitrogen and 3,152 pounds per year of phosphorus more than TMDL limits.

At an earlier meeting, Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management with Planning and Growth Management, said the county is not mandated to meet TMDLs in the element.

Long said that the local government has to take the initiative in protecting its water resources and make the WRE the foundation of land use decisions. Long said an additional scenario in the draft element would help to make a better WRE for the 2012 comprehensive plan and save money for the county in implementing phase two of the WIP.

Many of the evening's speakers supported the Mattawoman Watershed Society's position.

Opposition to the draft element at the meeting began with Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) and flooded the room as person after person criticized the draft element.

Before the public hearing began, Robinson said, "I have a real problem approving a document in 2011 that's dated 2006," considering that the 2012 comprehensive plan update process has begun and will produce a new water resources element.

The state passed a bill in 2006 that required the inclusion of a water resources element in county and municipal comprehensive plans.

Robinson said the draft element's attempt to meet future water needs by increasing groundwater permits "doesn't make any sense." He also said the draft element does not have enough science.

In a follow-up call, Robinson said he wanted to see more information from Maryland Geological Survey reports regarding the viability of the aquifers in Charles County.

The criticism increased as the night continued.

Bruce Kirk of La Plata said that the planning commission, county staff and consultants did not follow state guidelines in drafting the WRE because it lacked a smart growth land use scenario, which would evaluate the impact of Waldorf-centric growth on water resources.

Kirk said that state guidelines intend WREs to protect land and water resources, to protect public health and safety and to meet "local and state smart growth policies."

Edward Joell of Indian Head had a few problems with the draft element. He said that one of the land use scenarios in the draft element, the focused growth scenario that evaluates the impact of concentrating development in Waldorf and Bryans Road, allows Bryans Road to become a city of 20,000 people. Joell said that the residents of Bryans Road do not want that amount of development. He criticized the proposal to use water from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Ty Robinson of Bryans Road told a story about seeing a bald eagle after moving from Southern California to Charles County. He said that seeing the bald eagle and other natural wildlife has impacted him.

"You can't get that anywhere else," he said. Robinson asked that the water resources element incorporate smart growth principles.

Phil Angle of Nanjemoy asked the commissioners, "If you don't do this smart growth thing, where are you going to get the water?" Angle opposed the idea of using WSSC water, preferring water that "dinosaurs peed in," water from underground aquifers, to WSSC water.

Donna Cave, a resident of Hughesville, said the county could use WSSC water for current residents but not to "propagate development."

"Water quality is crucial to my quality of life," said Tara Carlson of Waldorf. Carlson said the WRE needed a smart growth scenario and that the WRE should be a foundation for the comprehensive plan.

Linda Redding of Nanjemoy said that deepening the 16,000 wells in Charles County would cost taxpayers $160 million.

"You have a fiduciary duty not to increase that burden on taxpayers," she said.

Redding also said that the TMDLs the Environmental Protection Agency established for the Mattawoman Creek have been ignored for years.

"The WRE needs to contain the scientific data that will drive this comprehensive plan update for 2012," said Pauline Brewer of Hughesville.

The commissioners voted to keep the public record open for 30 days.