Think of the EPA like an emergency dispatcher. They get a call that Reedy Creek is having problems, and they send the city of Richmond to take care of it. The city arrives, recognizes the chief complaints of the creek, and then starts treating to something completely unrelated. Citizens tell the city this and suggest better treatments, but the city responds, “We get paid for the amount of treatment we give, not the effectiveness of the treatment”. This system has the right goals, but it needs policy that matches those goals by promoting the best solutions.
In 2010, the EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load to target sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution through 2025. The legislation established goals for states in the watershed, which were broken down into region and city goals. Richmond, struggling to meet the benchmark of 60% by 2017, rushed a project to restore Reedy Creek by relocating the creek and establishing a new floodplain to filter nutrient and sediment pollution.
The city is right that the Reedy Creek Watershed needs help. 40% of its land area is impervious surfaces, the creek is channelized and flows fast enough to tear down banks during one of its frequent floods, and it is well above the acceptable amount of fecal bacteria. However, to solve these problems, the city has proposed a plan that removes bends from the river and further alters its banks.
Bill Shanabruch, a retired biologist who worked for the Department of Environmental Quality, believes that too many credits are given to stream bank restoration. Since bank restoration credits are easy to earn and are given per foot of restored bank, they are overrepresented in restoration projects. Although worth less credits, there are more effective solutions for Reedy Creek that will likely be more cost-effective in the long term. The real problems with Reedy Creek are the volume of storm water that flows through it because of all the impervious surfaces in the watershed and the fecal bacteria content.
Bill believes that the best hope for the creek is to educate homeowners with land near the creek about best management practices. His and the Reedy Creek Coalition’s goals are reminiscent of Dr. Forsyth’s research about community involvement. To make meaningful change, the community has to be aware of the problem and of the solutions they can implement.