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With the True North Data decision facing the Loudoun Board of Supervisors next week, it’s useful to pause and look back.

In October, our nation celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Congress passed this legislation to restore and maintain all of our waters, from little streams to mighty rivers. It was designed to protect existing uses, like providing drinking water, and to ensure that we can safely swim and fish in our waterways.

When the Clean Water Act was enacted, the need was obvious. Story after story of industrial pollution filled the news—from raw sewage being piped into the Potomac River to the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in Cleveland.

The Clean Water Act was very effective in getting point source pollution (which comes from pipes) cleaned up. Today, the water from the sewage treatment plants that goes back into our streams is usually cleaner than the existing stream flow, and industrial pollution has been significantly reduced. Now, we are focused on how to offset the negative impact of nonpoint source pollution, such as surface contaminants in stormwater runoff and the deposition that occurs from vehicle emissions when it rains.

Waters that are clean enough to sustain aquatic life, and free enough from pollution to safely swim in, are also less expensive to make safe for drinking water. Most Loudoun residents who don’t depend on wells drink water that comes from three combined sources: Goose Creek (including the Goose Creek and Beaverdam reservoirs) and the Potomac and Occoquan rivers.

In turn, these sources are fed by a network of Loudoun’s other major waterways including Catoctin Creek, Broad Run, Sugarland Run, Bull Run, Piney Run, Dutchman’s Creek, Clarks Run, Limestone Branch, and their tributaries throughout Loudoun and beyond.

A healthy water supply depends on healthy watersheds. Watershed health depends on preserving forests and fields and keeping a continuous buffer of natural areas along streams. It also depends on limiting impervious surfaces. This allows for adequate filtering services to naturally cleanse water entering the streams.

In the past 45 years, many Loudoun County residents have chosen to conserve and restore natural areas and streamside filters. But our local government must also act with that same commitment to water quality and stream protection. It should not compromise the environment in the quest for future tax revenue.

Focusing on short-term revenues to the detriment of other values ignores long-term costs. Without natural resource protection today, the next generations of taxpayers, our children and grandchildren, will pay more to treat contaminated water. They will miss out on the joys of fishing and playing in healthy streams, and will bear the burden of restoring our waterways to health. And stream corridors are a resource in their own right, providing valuable habitat and the potential for trails and greater exposure to the natural world.

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors is facing a rezoning decision for True North Data, which pits resource protection against potential revenues. The application is for a data center on the banks of Goose Creek, just upstream from the Goose Creek reservoir and public drinking water intake. It would strip mature trees and natural vegetation to be replaced by impervious surfaces over much of the land and add diesel storage onsite. This would create an unhealthy increase in pollution over what would come with by-right development (1 house per 10 acres). It would also set a precedent for an additional 700-plus acres in the Transition Area to become office and industrial, which would continue to degrade stream health in the area.

The Goose Creek reservoir was built over 60 years ago, and has been dredged once at a cost of over $1.5 million dollars. The dredge material, which must be treated as toxic waste, was stored nearby to eliminate the cost of transport and securing another site. If the True North site is converted to commercial and industrial uses, the cost of providing safe drinking water would go up, including more frequent dredging and its associated costs.

Data centers have been good for Loudoun revenues and have helped the County stay fiscally healthy through the economic downturn. Higher design standards, targeted siting in the airport noise zone and new energy policies could make data centers part of a more sustainable future for Loudoun—a win-win solution. Unfortunately, the proposed location for the True North Data center forces a win-lose choice between revenues and resource protection. The current data center site is not in the best interest of Loudoun and her residents.

The challenge and opportunity in meeting the goals of the Clean Water Act today come in local decisions and actions. The Act envisioned a role for the public in cleaning up and maintaining the healthy watersheds needed for clean streams. A critical part of our role is to let our local government know that we value clean streams and want them to be protected.

Let the Board know what you think before its planned vote on December 5.

Monica Billger
Audubon Naturalist Society

Dennis Kruse
Bike Loudoun

Bonnie Mattingly & Lori Keenan
Goose Creek Association

Nicole Sudduth-Hamilton
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy

Gem Bingol
The Piedmont Environmental Council

William Niedringhaus
Potomac Heritage Trail Association

Don Goff
The Transition Area Alliance

Chris Tandy

350 Loudoun


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