The best path forward for saving Lake Accotink might to let it shrink, a Fairfax County task force has proposed.
Created by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in May, the 30-person group was charged with exploring alternatives to fully dredging the sediment that has accumulated in the man-made body of water or converting it to a wetland, as recommended earlier this year by county staff.
In a final report delivered to the board yesterday (Tuesday), the Task Force on the Future of Lake Accotink suggested that 20 to 40 acres of the lake could be preserved with “a program of regular maintenance dredging,” which would allow kayaking and other water recreation to continue at the popular Springfield park.
The remainder of the lake could be turned into “some combination of a managed wetland and a grassland,” the task force proposed. Originally 110 acres in size, Lake Accotink has already been reduced to 49 acres, thanks to sediment build-up from the area’s development, the report says, citing Fairfax County Park Authority project manager and senior planner Adam Wynn.
“There is no doubt that preserving a smaller lake meets significant community and social goals,” a task force subcommittee charged with analyzing alternatives to a full dredging wrote in the report. “Even a small lake would allow the maintenance of the current marina area, a community gathering place for picnics, birthday parties, and many others who enjoy the calming effects of a lake environment. And, importantly, a small lake would still preserve the beauty that so many find in a lake for generations to come.”
Frequented by over 250,000 visitors a year, Lake Accotink Park (7500 Accotink Park Road) is one of the park authority’s top attractions. It features miles of trails, a carousel, a mini golf course, a picnic area, bicycle rentals and a recently updated playground in addition to a marina, where visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.
However, sediment carried into the lake by Accotink Creek needs to be periodically dredged, a process undertaken in 1985 and 2008. The Board of Supervisors approved a plan in 2019 to conduct an initial $30.5 million dredging operation, followed by annual maintenance dredges that would cost an estimated $2 million per year.
But the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and its consultant, Arcadis, reported in February that 43% more sediment would need to be removed than initially estimated, and the costs of both the initial dredgings had skyrocketed to roughly $95 million.
The first 20 years of the annual dredging program would require an additional $300 million in funding, according to the February report, which was based on data collected since 2021.
As a result, DPWES staff recommended letting the lake fill up and revisiting the park’s master plan to determine how it might be maintained in the future as a “wetland and/or floodplain forest complex” — a proposal that alarmed community members. Read More
A 21-year-old from McLean will help give young Virginians a say in how the U.S. government addresses climate change and other environmental issues.
Sophia Kianni, who founded the nonprofit Climate Cardinals, is one of 16 people appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever youth advisory council, which will provide independent guidance and recommendations on policies related to greenhouse gas emissions, clean air and water, and more.
Announced last week in a press release and a Teen Vogue interview, the National Environmental Youth Advisory Council (NEYAC) consists of people aged 16 to 29 who will serve two-year terms. It will report directly to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who visited Flint Hill Elementary School in Vienna last year to highlight Fairfax County Public Schools’ new electric school buses.
“Young people have been at the forefront of every movement for political and social change in American history, and the environmental movement is no different,” Regan said in the press release. “Today we are cementing seats for young leaders at EPA’s table as we tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time.”
This isn’t the first time Kianni has gotten a prominent platform for her environmental advocacy. Currently studying at Stanford University, she previously served on a Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change to the United Nations secretary-general, and a TED Talk she gave in 2021 has drawn over 2 million views.
The talk centered on the same topic at the heart of Climate Cardinals: the need for climate research an educational resources to be available in different languages.
Inspired by a visit to Iran when she was in middle school, Kianni founded Climate Cardinals in 2020 — the same year she graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, according to a Northern Virginia Magazine profile. The nonprofit’s reach is now international, with 10,000 volunteers in over 80 countries who can translate 100 languages.
I look forward to your contributions to the fight against climate change, Sophia. You make VA-11 proud!
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) November 16, 2023
“I am immensely proud to congratulate my constituent Sophia Kianni on her selection for the @EPA National Environmental Youth Advisory Council,” Connolly said in a tweet. “Sophia will serve our community and our nation as she provides advice and recommendations on climate concerns affecting America’s youth.”
In a graphic shared by Warner, Kianni said she was “excited to work alongside Administrator Regan and his incredible team to leverage intergenerational insights and innovation to work together for a more sustainable and equitable future.”
Glad to see the launch of this program to mobilize young people against one of the most pressing issues of our time – climate change. I’m particularly glad that Virginia will be represented by Sophia Kianni, a Vienna, Virginia native! https://t.co/zv3dYc6Ujq pic.twitter.com/esKaMrf9XO
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) November 16, 2023
The EPA announced in June that it would establish a youth advisory council, inviting older teens and young adults from around the country to apply for the 16 spots. At least half the seats were reserved for people from communities considered disadvantaged due to flood and wildfire risks, pollution, housing and transportation barriers, and other obstacles.
According to the EPA, the inaugural members were chosen from 1,000 applicants “to represent a variety of interests, lived experiences, partisan affiliation, and geographic locations.” They come from 13 different states and have backgrounds in issues from climate change and conservation to food security and workforce development.
NEYAC will meet at least two times every year, starting in 2024.
A Fairfax County judge is weighing whether to throw out a lawsuit from environmental groups challenging Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s effort to remove Virginia from a regional carbon market.
Judge David Oblon heard oral arguments from Virginia Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson and Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Nate Benforado Friday morning in Fairfax Circuit Court. The hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes, concluded with the judge saying he would take the case under advisement before issuing a written decision.
Ferguson argued on behalf of the State Air Pollution Control Board, the Department of Environmental Quality and DEQ Director Mike Rollband to dismiss the lawsuit filed by SELC on behalf of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS), Appalachian Voices, Interfaith Power and Light and the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals. The suit challenges Youngkin’s regulation to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, is a multi-state carbon market that requires electricity producers to purchase allowances to emit carbon. The allowances are then returned to the states; in Virginia, those proceeds are funneled into energy efficiency and flood resilience programs.
Youngkin, even before he became governor, has alleged that RGGI creates a “hidden tax” on Virginia utility customers, since utilities in Virginia are allowed to recover costs for the allowances from their ratepayers.
In July, the administration published the regulation to repeal Vrignia’s participation in RGGI at the end of this year.
Environmental groups have decried the withdrawal since Youngkin began pushing for it by citing the funds – over $500 million – it directs toward reducing energy bills for customers by helping homes conserve energy better and preventing flood damage through planning and infrastructure projects.
On Friday, Ferguson opened arguments by stating that out of all the plaintiffs, only the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals had demonstrated any harm worthy of a lawsuit because the group claims that they work with professionals who rely on the revenues the state receives from RGGI. The suit from the other groups, including Fairfax County-based FACS, doesn’t demonstrate that the other entities are directly impacted by the loss of any RGGI revenues, and should be dismissed, Ferguson argued.
The environmental groups could also have jurisdiction in Floyd County, where the Association of Energy Conservation is based, in Richmond where Interfaith Power and Light is headquartered and in Charlottesville, where the Southern Environmental Law Center is based, Ferguson added. He said that in the interest of “judicial economy,” the case should be dismissed entirely and not allowed to be transferred elsewhere, to prevent the plaintiffs from searching for favorable venues. Read More
Fairfax County’s efforts to establish more regulations for data centers are heating up.
With the industry continuing to grow in Northern Virginia, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) presented guidelines on issues like noise, water and air quality, energy demand and aesthetics to the Board of Supervisors’ land use policy committee on Tuesday (Oct. 17).
Currently, the county allows data centers by right — meaning they only need administrative approvals instead of going through a public hearing process — in industrial districts, along with medium or high-intensity office districts and some special planned districts.
Deputy Zoning Administrator Carmen Bishop said the county could consider establishing a maximum size that “would be allowed by right.” Larger sizes could be allowed with special exception approval.
“Now, of course, another option could be to require special exception approval for all data centers regardless of size,” Bishop said. “Other locational considerations could include setbacks, screening, additional screening requirements and other performance criteria.”
Data centers require generators, which can be noisy, according to county staff. To mitigate the noise impacts, Bishop said the county could consider requiring noise modeling, expanding existing equipment enclosure requirements and establishing standards for emergency generator usage and testing.
To protect water quality standards, the county could require monitoring before discharging to the wastewater system.
“If the monitoring indicates a need for pretreatment, then that could be required to be provided on-site,” Bishop said.
The DPD also proposed adding safety features for diesel handling and spill containment.
As for aesthetics, county staff suggested adding standards for facade differentiation, defined entrance features and screening.
Katie Hermann, the DPD’s environmental policy branch chief, said there could be added guidelines dictating LEED certification for data centers.
She said the county could also consider a salt management plan for exteriors spaces, maximizing tree preservation, and where applicable, establishing conservation easements or dedications to the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Loudoun County is the leading place in the country for data centers, with more than 100 projects, according to county staff. Fairfax County currently has at least 12 data centers, with five more in the pipeline and a controversial project in Chantilly nearing approval.
Research found that the demand for data centers is expected to double from 2022 to 2030.
Next Thursday (Oct. 26), the DPD will meet with the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s land use process Review Committee. Then, the department will put together a final report to submit to the board by December.
“We envision the board potentially directing staff to prepare proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan and or the zoning ordinance and those amendments would go through their own process, including public hearings before the Planning Commission and the board,” Hermann said.
Photo via Jordan Harrison/Unsplash
Fairfax County residents are underutilizing publicly-funded incentives to make their homes more green. That’s according to James Walkinshaw, Fairfax County Supervisor for the Braddock District, who hosted the county’s first Climate Action Conference on Sept. 30.
Greeting a crowd of community members gathered at Lake Braddock Secondary School, Walkinshaw said the focus of the conference was to give residents “all the actionable information and the tools you need to reduce your emissions and save money.”
“Whether you’re an individual, a family, a homeowner, a business leader, or a leader of a faith community or faith group, now is the time to take advantage of those opportunities,” Walkinshaw said.
Walkinshaw was joined by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck.
The board members touted their record on the environment, including the hiring of 16 employees to address climate policies and piloting electric buses on both Fairfax Connector and Fairfax County Public Schools bus routes.
Sherie Cabalu, a homeowner in Vienna, came to the Climate Conference to learn about what she could do personally to combat climate change.
“I really wanted to just find out what we could do at a home level and a personal level,” Cabalu said. “You know, we hear about all the policies and everything, but how does that translate into actual, you know, doing something at the individual level?”
The event’s keynote speaker was Michael Forrester, assistant director of partnerships in the Office of State and Community Energy Programs at the Department of Energy. The mission of Forrester’s office is to share information at the community level about federal incentive programs that people can partake in to reduce their carbon footprint and save energy costs.
“We’re trying to activate local communities, and we’re trying to put these technologies in people’s homes to make a big significant difference on the nation’s carbon footprint,” Forrester said, adding, “Significant amounts of money are flowing from the federal government to local communities and to individuals’ homes.”
Low-income households can apply for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which offers home energy audits and makes necessary improvements and repairs to heating and cooling systems. The improvements are free of charge and may include work on windows and doors, roof repairs and HVAC sealing, thereby improving efficiency and lowering lower energy bills, according to Forrester.
Clean Vehicle Tax Credits are also available for Virginians to get back up to $7,500 for the purchase of a new electric vehicle, or up to $4,000 for a used electric vehicle. Restrictions apply based on the buyer’s annual income and the value of the vehicle.
Forrester also said homeowners are eligible to receive a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of energy-efficient home improvements like solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. This long-term credit is part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and will be in effect for 10 years.
More incentives are coming soon to Virginians. Starting next year, Forrester said homeowners will be eligible for additional support. Under the Inflation Reduction Act’s Home Energy Rebate programs, homeowners will be able to receive up to $3,200 in additional tax credit for investment in more efficient heating systems, windows and doors. Read More
Any Fairfax County residents who recently bought a budding tree or shrub may want to keep an eye on its leaves.
A relatively new disease called vascular streak dieback is killing plants from nurseries in Virginia and five other states, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services’ (DPWES) Urban Forest Management Division says.
“Dieback may look like yellowing or paling of the leaves’ green color (leaf chlorosis), brown or scorched leaf margins and stunting and/or wilting of current year’s growth,” DPWES said in a press release on Tuesday (Oct. 3).
In Virginia, the plants that appear to be most susceptible to the disease are maple, dogwood and redbud trees, according to Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VEC), which have cataloged 21 different affected woody ornamental plant species, as of March.
First detected in cacao in Papua New Guinea during the 1960s, vascular streak dieback was mostly confined to southeast Asia until the past couple of years. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) confirmed that the disease had emerged in the state last year.
Researchers have traced the disease to a fungus called Ceratobasidium theobromae, whose spores get carried from plant to plant by the wind, according to DPWES.
“After a spore infects a leaf, it travels into the branch and the main stem’s woody tissue, eventually killing the plant,” the department says. “Researchers continue to study VSD, and the fungus related to it, to find ways to prevent infection and the potential spread into the natural environment.”
Available data on how to prevent VSD is limited, but Virginia Tech and the VEC say it can help to minimize stress on plants by ensuring they have the right amount of soil, water and other conditions needed to stay healthy.
Here’s more from DPWES:
Virgina Cooperative Extension recommends that nurseries ensure best management practices of plant stock to prevent chances of infection. Residents looking for trees in nurseries may consider asking nursery staff about vascular streak dieback and if the internal woody tissue may safely be checked for VSD before purchasing. Also, look for any signs of scorched leaves and buds or dieback of young stems. If VSD is suspected in a recent purchase report it to the Virginia Cooperative Extension and dispose of the plant material correctly to prevent its potential spread. Plants, or the suspected live branches, also may be bagged and either taken or mailed to the Extension, where the disease can be positively identified. If mailing, a two-day delivery is best to avoid damage to live tissue.
The county’s urban forest management team has also been combatting a beech leaf disease that emerged in the area last fall and the invasive spotted lanternfly, which feeds on trees, shrubs and herbs “in unusually large numbers,” DPWES has said.
Virginia is beginning to create plans for how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the primary driver of climate change, on a state and regional basis thanks to millions of dollars from the federal government.
This June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded about $6 million in grants to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, regional planning organizations in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads and the Monacan Indian Nation to create two plans.
One, the Priority Climate Action Plan, will identify projects that can immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The other, the Comprehensive Climate Action Plan, aims to craft long-term strategies to achieve reductions.
“This grant will help us plan for reducing climate pollution and promoting climate resilience in the commonwealth, both of which are central to our mission,” said DEQ Director Mike Rolband at a webinar last week. “Just as changing climatic conditions impact all of Virginia, these changes also impact all of the environmental programs here at DEQ. “
The funding for the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, major federal legislation passed last year that aims to spur investments in climate technologies.
The priority plan is due in March 2024. Projects included in the plan will be eligible to compete for an additional $4.6 billion round of grants for implementation.
The comprehensive plan is due later, in July 2025, and will involve broader strategies for reducing emissions from the transportation, electricity and other sectors, as well as an analysis of the benefits of greenhouse gas reductions.
Both plans require that officials consider the benefits of reductions for low-income and disadvantaged communities and monitor emissions.
Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality will be the lead agency coordinating the state’s planning process, which will include the Virginia Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Community Development, Department of Conservation and Recreation and other agencies.
Virginia has already taken a number of significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many of which DEQ cited in its application to the EPA.
The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act seeks to decarbonize the state’s electric grid by 2050 by setting renewables development targets for regulated utilities and mandating that increasing portions of their generation be carbon-free. In 2021, Virginia also tied its vehicle emissions standards to California’s rather than remaining on the federal standard in an effort to drive greater adoption of electric vehicles, and the state is planning to use National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program funds for charging infrastructure buildouts.
Additionally, Virginia since 2021 has participated in the regional carbon market known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. That program requires electricity producers to pay for allowances for each ton of carbon they emit and returns the revenues to the state for energy efficiency and flood preparedness programs. Read More
The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) has proposed a new grant program to help curb flooding in the county.
The flood mitigation assistance program (FMAP) would reimburse residents and property owners for purchasing and installing approved products and services that reduce the risk of flood damage to their property.
The program calls for a cost-sharing agreement where the resident or property owners cover 50% of the cost, and the county covers the other half up to $5,000, DPWES Deputy Director Eleanor Ku Codding told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an environmental committee meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 3).
The program was made to be flexible, according to Codding. It’s open to residential or commercial multi-family properties, common-interest communities, and places of worship. Approved flood mitigation practices include:
- window wells
- flood gates
- modified basement areaways
- sump pump backup batteries
- utility protection
- exterior grading or drains
However, if an owner wanted to use another flood mitigation service not listed, it would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Codding said, since drainage is not a straightforward issue, sharing the cost is a good solution.
“By establishing a cost-share program, we are allowing residents to be empowered to take action to mitigate that risk of flooding,” she said. “In addition, we have seen that the best flood risk reduction programs — including FEMA — include these types of cost-share programs.”
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust supported the program but called for the county to take more action.
“We should be thinking bigger in terms of stormwater management because it’s a huge problem,” Foust said. “And once we adopt this, then we’ll be done with it. We’ll check it off and move on to the next thing, and I just think the problem deserves more.”
Codding said other programs could be brought to the board in the future.
The county has discussed raising its building stormwater standards to accommodate more frequent and extreme flooding, and earlier this year, it piloted a program for sharing the cost of projects with private property owners, essentially testing the approach proposed for the new assistance program.
Funded through the county’s Stormwater Service District taxes, FMAP would start on July 1, 2024, and applications would be reviewed on a first come, first served basis. The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District would administer the program.
DPWES will return to the board at a public hearing to get authorization to sign the memorandum of understanding with the conservation district. The agreement will establish rules for how the district should administer the program.
Screenshot via FCFRD/Twitter
A senior at Langley High School, a county planner who helped craft an environmental plan for Reston, and a local business dedicated to reducing waste are among the recipients of this year’s Fairfax County Environmental Excellence Awards.
Handed out annually since 2000, the awards recognize residents, county staff, businesses and other organizations “who demonstrate extraordinary leadership within the community and exceptional dedication to the preservation and enhancement of the county’s natural resources,” according to the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.
Announced at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 12), the winners were selected by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, an advisory group appointed by the board. The council administers the awards with OEEC’s support.
“By giving their time, passion and expertise for the betterment of our environment, these awardees are true climate champions,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the board’s Environmental Committee. “We applaud them for leading by example and helping to ensure that our county residents and visitors can enjoy a healthy and beautiful Fairfax County for decades to come.”
The lone winner in the individual county resident category was Mei Torrey, a rising senior at Langley High School who “promotes and actively seeks opportunities to increase awareness of, and take action on, local sustainability issues,” the OEEC says.
Now president of her school’s Saxons Go Green environmental club, Torrey has organized fundraisers and worked with the nonprofit Clean Fairfax to design and distribute reusable bags to local retailers and low-income communities, according to the county.
The 2023 award lineup features three winners in the “county employee” category:
Hugh Whitehead, an Urban Forester with the Urban Forest Management Division. In 2016, Mr. Whitehead initiated a tree planting program in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Since 2016, a total of 494 trees have been planted at twenty-one different K through 12 schools including seven Title 1 schools. This program not only supports the Board’s Sustainability Initiatives, reforestation goals, and recommendations from the Joint Environmental Task Force, but furthers educational opportunities throughout the county.
Joe Gorney, a Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, Environment and Development Review Branch. Mr. Gorney works collaboratively with other county agencies on a diverse range of environmental review topics, working to create a sustainable future for residents and employees. He was the staff lead for the Environmental Plan guidance update for the Reston planning study, designating Reston as “biophilic” community.
Craig Carinci, Director of Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Stormwater Planning Division. Mr. Carinci provides excellence in leadership through monitoring and improving stream health. During his tenure as Director, Fairfax County has restored over 100,000 linear feet of streams, facilitated by his open-minded leadership and business acumen that fearlessly encourages his team to push forward on initiatives and collaborate with partners to achieve cost savings.
The Environmental Excellence Awards for organizations and businesses went to Trace the Zero Waste Store, which can be found at 140 Church Street NW in Vienna, and the grounds committee of the Montebello Condominium Unit Owners Association. Read More
In an effort to reverse a decrease in the tree canopy, Vienna’s government is taking another step towards tree preservation and plantings. Last week, the town council discussed proposed amendments to enhance tree canopy, including moving forward with a tree conservation ordinance and the possible creation of an independent tree commission.
Town Attorney Steven Brigalia said the tree conservation ordinance would put the town in line with Fairfax County, which has had conservation rules since 1990. He said it would require builders to indicate which trees can and cannot be saved before cutting them.
“They are still allowed to develop their property,” Brigalia said. “But they have to upfront identify the trees and give justification if they’re going to take out trees, and then they still have to meet a canopy requirement.”
Under the town’s current canopy requirements, developers are only required to replace eliminated trees to meet canopy standards. Also, for single-family residential lots, builders must provide enough trees to cover at least 20% of the lot after 20 years. A conservation ordinance would increase that 20-year standard to 25%.
Brigalia said the town would have to provide provisions if they increase the standard to 25%. For example, if a developer says they are unable to preserve a 25% canopy, they would pay into a tree bank or tree fund.
There’s also a requirement for allowing additional credits for the developer if they provide certain types of trees.
Brigalia also hopes to strengthen the town’s tree board.
“There’s not a lot of authority for what they can do except advise the town on good tree planning processes and advise the town on planning on public property,” he said, adding that the board could eventually give recommendations of where to plant trees with money from the tree fund.
Councilmember Howard Springsteen said he hadn’t heard of the tree board in his 14 years of service.
“I never heard of it, so I rather have a tree commission that reports to council,” he said.
Springsteen also said residents are starting to voice concern about the town’s tree coverage, prompting the need for the council to act according to council member Ray Brill.
“We need to set up something separate, that focuses on tree canopy if, in fact, we believe it’s an issue. I personally believe it’s an issue, and we need to focus on it and get it done and get it done,” Brill said.
The council voted to refer the proposed ordinance to the planning commission for their consideration and review. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 23.