In 2002, Fairfax County initiated a process to develop management plans for each of its 30 watersheds. Its purposes were to restore and protect the county's streams, of which 70% are in fair to very poor condition, and to support Virginia's commitment to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, which includes the goal of developing watershed plans for two thirds of the Bay's watersheds by 2010. Watershed planning was also required by state and federal regulations.
Little Hunting Creek was the first watershed in Fairfax County for which a plan was developed. According to the Fairfax County Stream Protection Strategy (2001), it was one of the five watersheds in the poorest condition in the county.
The Little Hunting Creek Watershed Management Plan was developed by a private engineering contractor (Woolpert LLP), with input from the Little Hunting Creek Steering Committee, in association with the Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia. The county held public forums, attended by hundreds of people, to help increase community awareness and support.
The plan was completed in December 2004, accepted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on February 7, 2005, and is now in the implementation phase. Consideration of the plan's policy recommendations was postponed until additional watershed management plans were complete.
When fully implemented, the plan will reduce the stormwater runoff peak flows in the primary tributaries, reduce nutrient loadings in the streams, and improve the stream habitat.
Because the watershed is already highly developed, there are limited opportunities to install new stormwater management facilities on a large scale. Rather, the plan aims to involve the public in actions to reduce runoff from their residences. Almost half of the impervious area in the watershed is roofs and driveways of residences. The plan calls for the county to:
Facilitate and provide technical assistance to homeowners for LID projects, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and cisterns.
Build demonstration projects to promote innovative "low impact development" (LID) technologies on county land, such as schools, and in collaboration with churches and other private and commercial organizations. (Examples of LID methods include wet ponds, dry ponds, shallow wetlands, infiltration basins, sand filters, bioretention, vegetated buffer strips, etc.)
Where possible, build new stormwater facilities, and improve and better maintain existing ones.
Wetlands and vegetated buffers filter runoff from adjacent development, provide habitat for native plants and animals, and help protect streambanks from erosion. The plan calls for the county to:
Restore riparian buffers by planting native plants and trees adjacent to streams.
Restore streams to reduce erosion and improve aquatic habitat.
Restore wetlands at suitable locations to improve habitat and filter runoff.
Conserve critical wetlands areas through land purchase or conservation easements.
In addition to sedimentation from stream bank erosion, pollution from other sources continues to degrade the water quality in the creek. The plan calls for the county to:
Identify sources of fecal coliform and illicit discharges (e.g., paint or toxic chemicals) and take actions to stop them.
Investigate sources and extent of chlordane and PCB contamination, and develop a plan to remediate it.
Clean up trash and remove dumpsites.
Sweep up and reuse sand used for traction control in icy road conditions. Coordinate with VDOT to limit use of de-icing materials that impair water quality.
Because public participation is essential for restoring the watershed, public awareness is a necessary first step. The plan calls for the county to:
Educate the public about reducing pollution in stormwater runoff.
Install signs and prepare materials to promote watershed awareness and stewardship.
Promote watershed organizations, for example through a new small grant program to sponsor volunteer groups.
Changes in county policies are needed if meaningful improvements in water quality are to be achieved. For example, the plan calls for the county to:
Provide incentives to developers to reduce the amount of impervious surface on developments. Make it easier for them get county approval to use improved "Low Impact Development" (LID) technologies.
Require greater reductions in runoff from commercial and residential redevelopment sites, and in road widening projects.
Give the county the authority to inspect private stormwater control facilities, and to require property owners to maintain them.
Not grant waivers of water quality controls for non-bonded lots with more than 18% impervious surface.
Adopt green building approaches and landscaping with native plants and trees at all public facilities in the watershed.
Evaluate how the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance is enforced and applied, to determine if riparian buffers are being adequately preserved and protected.