Question # 58:Please provide budget details about the Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project.

Page updated on Jul 10, 2020 at 2:48 PM

Question:

Please provide budget details about the Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project.  If this project were deferred, how would it impact the pollution reduction requirements outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Action Plan? (City Manager Jinks)


Response:

 

MEMORANDUM

   

DATE:            July 10, 2020

 

TO:                  THE HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF CITY COUNCIL

 

FROM:            MARK B. JINKS, CITY MANAGER

 

SUBJECT:      BUDGET MEMO #58:  TAYLOR RUN STREAM RESTORATION

­­__________________________________________________________________________

 

On March 27, 2020, Members of City Council and the City Manager received an email message from Mr. Russell Bailey (see Attachment #1) regarding the Taylor Run Stream Restoration capital project. Subsequently, Mayor Wilson requested a budget memo to provide background on this project and to respond to the issues/concerns raised by Mr. Bailey.  The format of this memo is to pull quotes or paraphrases from Mr. Bailey’s email to create a series of “comments” followed by a City staff written “response.”

 

Background

The City’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Action Plan identifies urban stream restoration as a cost-effective strategy that protects and enhances local water quality and the environment while addressing state and federal mandates to clean up the Bay by reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution from urban stormwater runoff through three successive 5-year cycles of the City’s municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit.  The City met the requirement to reduce pollution by at least 5% at the end of the 2013 – 2018 permit.  The current 2018 – 2023 permit requires the City to reduce pollution by a total 40%, with 100% achieved by the end of the 2023 – 2028 permit.  Recently, the City ‘retrofitted’ Lake Cook to increase pollutant removal efficiencies while enhancing wildlife habitat and creating additional recreational amenities for the public.  The Ben Brenman Pond Retrofit is currently underway and nearing completion with the same multiple benefits for the public and the environment.  Like the City’s current urban stream restoration projects that are being designed, these regional pond retrofits projects received Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) matching grant funding from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ). 

   

1. Comment:   Given that the restoration is not necessary to meet Alexandria’s current                 Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction was obligations, deferral of the project would be a good cost reduction step in the current budget revision. 

 

Response:   Given that pollution reduction requirements increase significantly with each MS4 permit, the City adopted more aggressive internal targets, evidenced by the Bay Pollution Reduction Goal of 45% by FY 2021 in the City’s Strategic Plan.  To comply with the MS4 permit mandate, the City is currently working on three separate urban stream restoration projects – Lucky Run, Strawberry Run, and Taylor Run – that have received matching SLAF grant funding from VDEQ as one of the most cost-effective practices to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

 

The Taylor Run Stream Restoration total project cost of $4.45M has been awarded a 50/50 matching SLAF grant of $2.225M from VDEQ, with the City match portion coming from prior allocated funds from the Stormwater Utility fee, which is a dedicated source that by Virginia Code can only be used for stormwater management. 

 

Per the protocols approved by the Chesapeake Bay Program using site-specific data as discussed below, and discussed in the City’s Chesapeake Bay Action Plan, the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project will reduce about 300 lbs. of phosphorus pollution at an overall cost of about $14,800/lb. or about $7,400/lb. just considering the City’s cost share.  By contrast, the total project cost for the Lake Cook Retrofit of about $4.5M and Ben Brenman at $3.8M will achieve about 160 lbs. and 150 lbs. respectively at a cost of about $28,000/lb. and $25,000/lb. respectively.  These projects were chosen for the cost benefit with respect to water quality and the environmental benefits, as well as the quality of life benefits offered by these projects. 

 

The City has a limited number of opportunities for these types of large-scale projects that are very cost-effective and address state and federal mandates while delivering community benefits.  Cost estimates for smaller scale stormwater best management practices (BMPs) retrofits were derived by the City during initial planning for the Bay TMDL.  These estimates were based on best engineering practices, local assumptions, discussions with regional partners, literature research, and anecdotal data derived for the installation of these BMPs during redevelopment in the City.  Estimates for these smaller scale BMPs is about $55,000 to $75,000/lb. of phosphorus.  So, by comparison, deferring the Taylor Run Stream Restoration with a total project cost of $4.45M to construct smaller scale BMPs to achieve the same reduction, the City would need to spend about $16.5M to $22.5M while Taylor Run would not be restored and continue to degrade.

 

2. Comment:   I have been concerned that the proposed stream restoration project for Taylor Run Valley may have greater environmental and “quality of life” costs than benefits. 

 

Response:   Urban stream restoration benefits include stabilization of impacted streams, restoration of stream ecology, protection of critical infrastructure as applicable, and enhancement of aquatic and terrestrial habitat, by employing natural channel design techniques approved by the Chesapeake Bay Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).  Urban stream restoration stops the environmental degradation from development, enhances stream and terrestrial ecology, and affords enjoyment of the restored ecosystem.  City staff from Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES); Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA); and the Department of Project Implementation (DPI), working with the City’s environmental consultant, sought to maximize environmental benefits of the project will minimizing impacts to the ecology.  Through public outreach and successive iterations of ongoing design, the project minimizes impacts to identified matured trees and avoids impacts to the wetlands delineated with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the consultant’s wetland scientist.  The pollutant removal effectiveness of the stream restoration depends on the restoration of the stream ecosystem.  Without stream restoration, accelerated erosion of the bed and banks will continue and even more trees will be undermined and lost as evidenced by the great number of exposed roots and fallen trees within the stream corridor.

 

3. Comment:   According to a City fact sheet, the project would reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff by 30 percent and 9 percent respectively.  These numbers, however, were reached not by a site-specific analysis but by the application of a generic formula.  Thus, the actual pollution reduction that would be realized is not known.  

 

Response:   Urban stream restoration benefits include stabilization of impacted streams, restoration of stream ecology, protection of critical infrastructure as applicable, and enhancement of aquatic and terrestrial habitat, by employing natural channel design techniques approved by the Chesapeake Bay Program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

 

The techniques and approach of urban stream restoration to reduce pollution and enhance stream ecology are found in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Recommendations of the Expert Panel to Define Removal Rates for Individual Stream Restoration Projects (Expert Panel Report) that was developed over a number of years with a diverse group of professionals on the expert panel, including environmental scientists, wetland scientists, stream restoration experts, soil scientists, and civil engineers from state agencies, universities, local government, and the private sector. The Expert Panel Report went through a rigorous multi-year review and approval process by Bay Program groups comprised of a diverse group of professionals.  These review bodies included the Urban Stormwater Work Group (USWG), the Watershed Technical Work Group (WTWG), and the Water Quality Goal Implementation Team (WQGIT).  The final Expert Panel Report includes four protocols that define the pollutant reductions associated with individual stream projects predicated on extensive research and testing.  The practice of urban stream restoration is being applied to over 441 miles of urban streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to help states meet Watershed Implementation Plan goals to clean up the Bay.   

 

Site-specific field investigations were conducted to determine the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution reductions that could be achieved per the protocols in the Expert Panel Report by restoring the stream using natural channel design techniques. 

 

4. Comment:   I believe that the City should postpone the project until a fuller assessment of the environmental pros and cons and alternative ways of reducing storm water runoff into the stream can be evaluated. 

 

Response:   Perennial streams are fed by stormwater runoff from rainfall and groundwater as baseflow which allows for year-round flow.  These two sources of water are key to ensure perennial streams always flow to support the ecosystem.  Perennial urban streams can be negatively impacted by urban development in the streams’ drainage area.  Taylor Run has been heavily impacted by stormwater flows and pollution from urban development in the local watershed built prior to the current stormwater management requirements. 

 

Other impacts of urban development include realignment of Taylor Run as evidenced by historic aerial photography, piping of the upstream portion to where it exits or ‘daylights’ at the end of the stormwater pipe at the Chinquapin Recreation Center in Forest Park, and the historic placement of concrete debris in the stream bed as a an old, unsuccessful practice to reduce erosive flows. 

 

The City previously performed a Phase 1 and Phase II Stream Assessment to classify the City’s streams and condition.  Building on this work, the City performed the Phase III Stream Assessment:  Stream Restoration and Outfall Rehabilitation Study (Phase III Stream Assessment, February 2019).  This assessment was conducted by a diverse group of professionals comprised of a private consulting team experienced in urban stream restoration and City staff with T&ES, RPCA, and DPI.  The Phase III Stream Assessment considered the feasibility and prioritization of five streams as candidates for restoration.  Field investigations included site-specific analysis for each of the five stream reaches to determine the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution reductions that could be achieved per the protocols in the Expert Panel Report by restoring the stream using natural channel design techniques.  The City identified Taylor Run as a top candidate for urban stream restoration based on erosion, bank stability, and other factors and calculated the pollutant reductions based on these site-specific data.

 

5. Comment:   As for the quality of life consequences of the project, it is important to recognize that the Taylor Run valley is one of Alexandria’s natural gems.  As such, it should receive special attention and efforts to maintain this status.  The valley is filled with many large (in some cases massive) native trees.  There is also an unusual wetlands and a seepage swamp that is not only unique to Alexandria but rare elsewhere as well.  …

 

Response:   Other impacts of urban development include realignment of Taylor Run as evidenced by historic aerial photography, piping of the upstream portion to where it exits or ‘daylights’ at the end of the stormwater pipe at the Chinquapin Recreation Center in Forest Park, and the historic placement of concrete debris in the stream bed as a an old, unsuccessful practice to reduce erosive flows.  The increased flow of stormwater runoff from this outfall due to urban development has greatly eroded the stream channel.              

 

This erosion has caused ‘downcutting’ that has lowered the stream bottom and impacted aquatic habitat and eroded the stream banks to undermine trees causing them to fall into the stream resulting in tree loss.  Through the implementation of natural channel design techniques consistent with the Expert Panel Report, the project will slow the flows of stormwater to mitigate these impacts.  The City has put together a diverse project team to maximize cost-effective pollution reduction and environmental benefits in the design and implementation the project.

   

6. Comment:   On the other hand, the project would require the cutting of a large number (maybe several hundred) of mature native trees and the stripping of what would be a significantly widened stream bed.  As far as I am aware, the pollution reduction value of the trees that would be removed has not been calculated though it is likely to be considerable. This value could possibly be greater than the pollution reduction value of the “restoration.”

 

Response:   The restoration is being designed to raise the stream bed that has been lowered by ongoing erosion, which will at times of high flow periodically create a connection to the adjacent wetlands and help maintain healthy inundation of these wetlands.  Stabilizing the banks to mitigate erosion and tree loss will be accomplished without having to appreciably widen the stream or impact the existing walking trail.  T&ES staff has continued to work closely with RPCA staff and the consultant to maximize the environmental benefits of the project.  This includes refining the limits of disturbance to mitigate impacts to trees identified for saving and not impacting the wetlands, as well as replanting and establishment of native vegetation and the protection of existing low-growing vegetation.  In addition to cost-effectively reducing nutrient and sediment pollution to address state and federal Bay clean up mandates, the Taylor Run Stream Restoration is being designed to deliver ‘co-benefits’ such as, enhancement of the aquatic and terrestrial habitat, protection of critical infrastructure, and stabilization of the ecosystem to improve the resiliency of the stream from further impacts.  Without the stabilization of the bed and banks, the stream will continue to erode, and trees will continue to be undermined and die, falling into the steam which in turn creates blockages.  Saved and replanted vegetation as part of the stream restoration will provide ecosystem stability and offer additional pollution removal to the overwhelming pollutant removal accomplished by restoration of the stream channel. 

                

7. Comment:   In sum, the pros and cons of the Taylor Run project need a deeper look, including a look at potentially less expensive ways of meeting pollution goals by keeping storm water out of the stream as an initial matter.    Postponement of the project would allow this assessment and would at the same time help the City’s efforts to reduce expenses as it amends its proposed budget in light of the likely revenue reductions caused by the current national health emergency. 

 

Response:   Urban stream restoration is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce the impacts of urban development and reduce nutrient and sediment pollution to our local waterways, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay.  The City has performed an in-depth assessment of the City’s stream through three phases of stream assessments.  The Phase III Steam Assessment gathered site-specific data of Taylor Run and employed the techniques of the Chesapeake Bay’s Expert Panel Report to determine pollution reductions for the restoration.  The design of the restoration is being performed by a professional consulting firm with extensive experience stream restoration design and a diverse group of City staff across departments to ensure adherence to proper design and landscape guidelines for the restoration. 

 

The Taylor Run Stream Restoration total project cost of $4.45M has been awarded a 50/50 matching SLAF grant of $2.225M from VDEQ, with the City match portion coming from prior allocated funds from the Stormwater Utility fee that is a dedicated funding source that can only be used for stormwater management projects per Virginia law.  There is no additional funding impact for FY 2021.


  Attachment #1:          March 27, 2020 Email from Mr. Russell Bailey to Mayor Wilson, City Manager Jinks and City Staff

From: Russell Bailey <rrussell.bailey@gmail.com>
Date: March 27, 2020 at 2:04:59 AM EDT
To: "Mark.Jinks@alexandriava.gov" <Mark.Jinks@alexandriava.gov>
Cc: Bob Williams <Bob.Williams@alexandriava.gov>,  "jesse.maines@alexandriava.gov" <jesse.maines@alexandriava.gov>,  "justin.wilson@alexandriava.gov" <justin.wilson@alexandriava.gov>
Subject: [EXTERNAL]Recommended item to cut from City budget: Taylor Run Stream Restoration

Dear Mr. Jinks:  

In the current re-evaluation of its budget Alexandria should be seeking to cut non-essential or less than essential projects.  This is to suggest that Alexandria defer the proposed Taylor Run stream restoration project.  The project is likely to be highly controversial as it receives further public vetting, is not necessary at the moment to meet the City’s water pollution reduction goals under its Chesapeake Bay Action Plan, and deferral would reduce the City’s expenses in the near term by $2.25 million.

 

Discussion:

 

I am a resident of Alexandria who uses the City’s parks almost daily, including Taylor Run frequently.  For the reasons set out below, I have been concerned that the proposed stream restoration project for Taylor Run Valley may have greater environmental and “quality of life” costs than benefits.  I believe that the City should postpone the project until a fuller assessment of the environmental pros and cons and alternative ways of reducing storm water runoff into the stream can be evaluated.  Given that the restoration is not necessary to meet Alexandria’s current Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction was obligations, deferral of the project would be a good cost reduction step in the current budget revision. 

 

According to a City fact sheet, the project would reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff by 30 percent and 9 percent respectively.  These numbers, however, were reached not by a site-specific analysis but by the application of a generic formula.  Thus, the actual pollution reduction that would be realized is not known.  

 

On the other hand, the project would require the cutting of a large number (maybe several hundred) of mature native trees and the stripping of what would be a significantly widened stream bed.  As far as I am aware, the pollution reduction value of the trees that would be removed has not been calculated though it is likely to be considerable. This value could possibly be greater than the pollution reduction value of the “restoration.”  In other words, the project could be counter productive as an environmental matter.  (I would note that two of the purported benefits the City has cited are invasive removal and improved wildlife habitat seem to be a bit “make weight.” Through intensive efforts by the City over the last several years virtually all the invasive species on the City’s portion of the valley have been eradicated, and the wildlife in the park is doing quite well right now.)

 

As for the quality of life consequences of the project, it is important to recognize that the Taylor Run valley is one of Alexandria’s natural gems.  As such, it should receive special attention and efforts to maintain this status.  The valley is filled with many large (in some cases massive) native trees.  There is also a unusual wetlands and a seepage swamp that is not only unique to Alexandria but rare elsewhere as well.  The wetlands and swamp contain an extraordinary variety of ferns, sedges and wildflowers that could be jeopardized by the project.   The plan is to try to protect these fecund areas, but with the project’s planned raising of the stream bed, the jeopardy to them will be increased.  Also, while the plan is to replant native trees and shrubs along the stream and hillside, the fact is that no one receiving or sending this e-mail will be alive to see the forest restored to what it already is today.

 

In these circumstances, the project should be postponed.  Alexandria expects to “far exceed” its 40 percent pollution reduction requirement specified in Phase 2 (2018-2023) of its Chesapeake Bay Action Plan without the Taylor Run project, or even the Taylor Run and two other projects -Strawberry Hill and Lucky Run -  collectively.  See Alexandria’s Phase 2 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Action Plan for 40% Compliance, pp. 3 and 23. (Note that the Taylor Run project is by far the most expensive of the three projects but does not seem be produce a clearly greater pollution reduction.)

 

In sum, the pros and cons of the Taylor Run project need a deeper look, including a look at potentially less expensive ways of meeting pollution goals by keeping storm water out of the stream as an initial matter.    Postponement of the project would allow this assessment and would at the same time help the City’s efforts to reduce expenses as it amends its proposed budget in light of the likely revenue reductions caused by the current national health emergency.    

Thank you for your careful consideration of these views.  

Sincerely,  

Russell Bailey

705 North Overlook Drive

571-696-5534

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