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River-friendly yards plan could help restore the Chesapeake Bay
By RUSTY DENNEN
Creating clusters of river-friendly yards could help the state meet pollution-reduction goals in cleaning up the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay.
That's the gist of an initiative--still in the planning stage--aimed at homeowners, local governments and landscaping companies.
It's called the Rappahannock River Friendly Yard. The Village of Idlewild, a residential development in Fredericksburg, is being used as a case study by the Rappahannock River Basin Commission.
"These are preliminary findings, but what this project tells us is that this type of suburban landscape conversion holds enough promise to be considered along with other conventional pollution reduction strategies already in our tool bag," said Kevin Utt, Fredericksburg's site development manager.
The study suggests that a landscape conversion of a typical suburban lawn can eliminate more than a pound of nitrogen per lot per year.
Nitrogen is a nutrient and a major source of pollution in the bay. It feeds vast summer blooms of algae that die and decompose, consuming oxygen needed by fish, blue crabs and other aquatic life.
The city's pollution diet under the bay cleanup program calls for a reduction of about 4,000 pounds of nitrogen a year by 2025. There are about 7,000 residential lots in Fredericksburg, so reductions of a pound per lot would be significant, even assuming that a percentage of those lots wouldn't be converted.
And the study brochure suggests that this type of conversion could cost less than multimillion-dollar stormwater retrofits in the city's most developed areas.
The case study area within the Village of Idlewild, off Gateway Boulevard, contains eight homes surrounding a common area owned by the city.
A project team met to consider just what constitutes a river-friendly yard, coming up with two levels.
The first, relatively easy and inexpensive, would include a soil test, nutrient-management plan and a wildlife habitat certification by the National Wildlife Federation.
Level two would include those elements and more, such as a vegetated roof, rainwater harvesting, permeable pavement, rain gardens and the like. The actual cost of such improvements would vary depending upon the lot and the improvements.
The Rappahannock River Basin Commission last year embarked on a multiyear initiative to test economic approaches to watershed restoration that combine innovation and cost-effectiveness. One component, the Rappahannock River Friendly Yard project, would include landscapers, homeowners and local governments in an effort to improve water quality, create jobs and reduce the cost to taxpayers for restoration of streams and rivers.
The RRBC and Conserve, which uses economic-development programs to restore nature, received grants for the project from the Virginia Department of Forestry's Urban and Community Forest Division and the National Wildlife Federation.
Local partners include city staff, Friends of the Rappahannock, George Washington University Sustainable Design and Sustainable Landscapes Department, University of Mary Washington, Biogreen U.S.A. Inc., ACF Environmental and Union Firstmarket Bankshares Corp.
To read the Phase 1 brochure, go to riverfriendlyyard.com online.