FY 07-FY10 Strategic Plan -Water Resources Priority



Enhanced Riparian (Stream) Buffer Program Work session



Tucker, Foley, Davis, Graham, Ambler






June 7, 2006


ACTION:     X                       INFORMATION:   



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At the Board of Supervisor’s September 9, 2005 Strategic Plan retreat, the Board identified a priority to implement additional strategies for natural resource protection as part of the FY 07-FY 10 Strategic Plan.  At the April 5, 2006 Strategic Plan work session, the Board concurred with the staff recommendation that consideration be given to the development of an enhanced riparian buffer program. Staff agreed to bring possible strategies for an enhanced riparian buffer program to the Board in June.  For this work session, staff has identified several opportunities to enhance the existing riparian buffer program and seeks the Board’s direction on which opportunities should be pursued.   To facilitate this discussion, staff will provide a PowerPoint presentation at the work session that follows this executive summary.    




Current Strategic Plan: Goal 2.2,   Protect and/or preserve the County’s natural resources

 FY ’07-’10 Strategic Plan:  Implement additional strategies for resource protection – i.e. mountain protection, forestry, and water




Importance of Riparian Buffers

Staff recommended consideration of an expanded riparian buffer program because it was seen as a convergence of numerous issues important to the County.  Those issues include Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Program, minimizing stream impairments within the County, protection of the County’s water supply, support of biodiversity/natural heritage, and support of soil conservation practices.  The history of Virginia’s efforts with respect to the Chesapeake Bay and the importance of stream buffers to that program are noted in attachment A, as is an overview of the County’s current Riparian Buffer Program.  With regard to stream impairments, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has designated parts of the Rivanna River, Hardware River, Ivy Creek, Totier Creek and Moore's Creek as impaired waters.  Staff would note that two of these streams, Ivy Creek and Totier Creek serve as water supply sources in the County and both are considered impaired because of bacteria associated with animal/human waste (fecal coliform).  Riparian buffers have been well recognized as minimizing animal wastes reaching streams. 


Beyond these impairments, County water supply is also threatened by loss of capacity due to sediment reaching the reservoirs.  Along the Mechums River, which flows into the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, it has been estimated that one-half of the sediment may originate from streambank erosion rather than soil erosion on the land.  Well vegetated stream banks greatly reduce streambank erosion and allow more sediment to be deposited on the adjoining floodplain rather than carried downstream to the reservoirs.  Current estimates for removal of sediment from the reservoir are in excess of $150 per cubic yard.  Thus, one dump truck load of dirt is equivalent to about $1,500 of water supply storage.  The County also recognizes the value of well buffered streams through the biodiversity sections of the Comprehensive Plan. Those buffers provide connectivity, shelter, and food supply for many species. Finally, the County’s Comprehensive Plan places a strong emphasis on sound agricultural and forestry practices, which consider stream buffers important.       



History and Context

Before offering a discussion of possible strategies for enhancing stream buffers, staff is offering a brief history that explains why local governments have been authorized to enact riparian buffer programs and how Albemarle County has used this authority.


Virginia’s Riparian Buffer Program   


County’s Riparian Buffer Program 



Opportunities to Enhance Protection of Riparian Buffers

  1. State Grant Opportunity

Beyond enforcement of the County’s Water Protection Ordinance, staff has sought opportunities to enhance protection of riparian buffers.  That effort has included:


  1. Virginia Incentive Based Programs

Staff has become aware of other programs in Virginia that the County may be able to use with an enhanced riparian buffer program.  Those programs include:


  1. Options for Enhancing the County’s Riparian Buffer Program

Staff has found three areas where it appears possible to expand protection of riparian buffers.  A brief description of those areas follows.


1.  Increase Program Regulation

·   Increase the land uses subject to the riparian buffer ordinance requirements by removing the agricultural exemption.  While this would close a significant loophole in the existing ordinance, staff anticipates that this would be a controversial amendment.

·   Increase enforcement of the ordinance requirements in water supply watershed through regular physical inspections of the South Fork Rivanna and Totier Creek shorelines, increased inspection of construction projects, and requiring buffers to be marked in the field prior to authorizing land disturbance. This effort would require additional staff for inspections and enforcement.    

·   Develop a unit cost for replanting buffers, and utilize that cost as a monetary penalty for buffer violations. 

This ‘buffer bank’ of accrued funds would be used to initiate new planting in targeted watersheds.  Based on current estimates, staff anticipates that this unit cost could be as high as $700.00 per 400 square feet.


2.  Make Implementation More Consistent, Standardized, and Streamlined

·   Incorporate the stream assessment information from the 2004 Stormwater Master Plan into the Water Protection Ordinance.  Utilize stream rankings to refine required buffer widths and calculate mitigation ratios for encroachments.  The assessment only covers the County’s Development Areas.  Thus, it would only affect 5% of the County’s land area and have a relatively small benefit.

·   Develop maps that illustrate location of required riparian buffers for use by staff and the public.  Staff anticipates that this would require significant effort to develop, but in the long term would reduce the burden on staff by reducing citizen inquiries and reducing the need for field delineations.


3.  Increase outreach efforts and incentives

·   Improve the educational component to include direct mailings to riparian land owners and sponsor workshops targeted to homeowners associations and the general public.  Improvement from this effort is anticipated to be difficult to measure but the effort would have a relatively low cost. 

·   Utilize existing State enabling authority in § 58.1-3666 to provide property tax relief for riparian buffers under easement.  The tax relief incentive program would result in a loss of property tax revenue.  While staff has not attempted to quantify this dollar amount, it is believed to be relatively small as the land is most likely currently taxed under land use.  Staff would recommend considering this provision with consideration of the land use taxation program and conservation easement program.    

·   Encourage increased use of buffers for non structural stormwater management.  This could be a low cost administrative effort, but staff will need to develop standards for this use. 

·   Initiate demonstration projects on County-owned land.  Cost of those projects is anticipated to vary on a case by case basis, but it may be possible to obtain State grants for establishment of demonstration projects. 

·         Target the purchase of conservation easements by the County to existing high quality riparian buffers to ensure their continued protection and contribution to water quality and habitat protection. In addition, target the purchase of conservation easements by the County to riparian areas in need of restoration where multiple water quality and natural resources goals can be achieved through restoration and permanent protection.   Cost of those projects is anticipated to vary on a case by case basis, but it may be possible to obtain State grants for purchase of these properties.




The budget impact will vary significantly depending on the Board’s input regarding the general direction of any program enhancements.  Staff will do additional analysis of budget impacts based on the Board’s general direction. 




1.       The purpose of this work session is to educate the Board about possible opportunities for enhancing the County’s Riparian Buffer Program and determine what general direction the Board would like to pursue to bring about those enhancements.  Staff requests that the Board consider the program enhancement opportunities and advise which should be explored in greater detail.  Based on that guidance, staff will develop possible implementation strategies and assess their budget impacts for further Board consideration.  

2.  With respect the grant opportunity discussed, staff requests that the Board authorize the County Executive to sign a grant agreement with the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the Riparian Buffer Restoration Initiative grant.  This action would authorize the receipt of the Water Quality Improvement Fund Grant funds and authorize staff to administer the existing program as in-kind match to the grant.  No additional County funding is required for this grant. 


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