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CREATIVE SOLUTIONS FOR URBAN WATERSHEDS: WATERSHED MANAGEMENT PLANNING IN DENSELY POPULATED FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA.

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The land along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Va. – pristine woodlands and wetlands once owned by George Washington – today is incredibly populated and developed. More than two centuries since Washington's time and about 60 years since development of the area began in earnest, Fairfax County, Va., is feeling the crunch of aging stormwater infrastructure, serious runoff problems, and poor surface water quality.

County officials are working toward revitalizing the health of the county's 30 watersheds. More than two years ago, the county began a process of creating new watershed management plans to replace outdated plans that had been developed in the 1970s.

The overall goals of the county in terms of watershed management are to:

Restore and protect the county's streams of which 70% are in fair to very poor condition


Meet state and federal water quality standards by identifying strategies to prevent and remove pollution


Support Virginia's commitment to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement to clean the Chesapeake Bay


Replace the currently outdated plans through the use of new technologies


Take a comprehensive approach in addressing multiple regulations, commitments, and community needs


The county selected one of the most developed and environmentally damaged watersheds in the region, Little Hunting Creek, to use as a pilot project – a basis for developing plans for all of the watersheds in the county.

Fairfax County chose Woolpert, Inc. as the engineering consultant to conduct this project. The Woolpert team worked with a specially created steering committee formed with the assistance of the University of Virginia's Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN). The committee was a group of stakeholders consisting of citizens, business owners, developers, and environmental leaders.

The collective project team created a unique two-track plan of infrastructure-improvement and stormwater policy/land-use recommendations for the 11-square-mile Little Hunting Creek Watershed. The recommended structural and non-structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) under the first track are specifically tailored for this high-growth region.

This paper describes how county representatives, the steering committee, and Woolpert worked to create a fluid, living plan with “quick wins” while keeping an eye on the long-term. The result: solutions that those facing similar geographic, ecologic, and demographic challenges can apply in their own communities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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