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Potomac River Prepares to Lose Virginia

Our neighboring state says it’s dropping out of a vital pact to protect the river. The question is why.

From where I stand, Virginia is on the wrong side of the river.

I’m not talking about that mansion plastered on the cliff downstream from Carderock that looks like a piece of dental work. Nor Donald Trump’s American flag on the shore across from Violette’s Lock where 450 trees used to stand. Not even the massive new developments in Loudoun County that light up the nighttime sky like a cruise ship.

I mean something more inscrutable.   

At a recent meeting for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) the group’s executive director, Joe Hoffman, was worried about a move that threatens the very reason for the ICPRB’s existence. Virginia wants out.

The commission’s creation 72 years ago marked the first time Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Colombia formally acknowledged that the only way to protect the Potomac was to do it together. It was a recognition that the river―and everything else in nature―doesn’t stop at political boundaries. Today, this idea is commonplace, but it’s not out of date.

This is why we in Maryland work with our Virginia friends to reduce pollution, control runoff, protect shorelines and ensure that the river will continue to meet our needs. Rather than a dividing line, the river is a common interest.  

No matter. Legislation has been introduced in Virginia’s House of Delegates to withdraw the state from the ICPRB. Funding for the commission already had been stripped out of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2012-2013 $85 billion biennial budget.

The Potomac’s convener

Maybe you’ve never heard of the ICPRB. Here’s a sampling of what it does.

The commission has led in developing the plan for making the tidal Potomac comply (finally!) with the Clean Water Act. It will now help the states and D.C. reach its total maximum daily load pollution goal for meeting water quality standards.

The ICPRB  works with Virginia and Maryland to restore the once-abundant shad to the Potomac River. The efforts are paying off, and shad fry from the Potomac are restoring stocks in Virginia’s Rappahannock River.

The ICPRB also convenes the states and area utilities to discuss how to manage the Potomac’s water supply, particularly during droughts. If Virginia drops out of the ICPRB, it will lose a seat at the table.  

McDonnell cites budget austerity as is the reason for withdrawing from the pact. It sounds plausible, since budget trimming is today’s political sine qua non, whether symbolic or real.

But in the case of the ICPRB, the line item in question is an annual $151,500, which amounts to about 0.00000355 percent of the state’s two-year budget.

Rob Hartwell, a Republican and McDonnell’s own appointee on the commission, recently released a letter condemning “glaring errors” in the governor’s austerity reasoning, including that dropping out of the ICPRB would cost Virginia at least $530,000 in cost-sharing federal programs and EPA grants.  

Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech, said the ICPRB provides only a "regional benefit" and should therefore receive "local financing."  Yet others point out that the river supplies water for more than three out of every eight Virginians.  

In fact, Virginia accounts for a full 39 percent of the Potomac’s watershed. Maryland’s share is 26 percent.

According to Hoffman, it is unlikely that the Virginia legislature will move to reinstate funding. And while states have retained membership in the ICPRB when they can’t come up with their dues money, Virginia's leaders have flat-out stated that their state will withdraw.

In a recent letter to the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the D.C. mayor, Frank J. Principi, chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, urged the state to reconsider.

“There are very few organizations as critical to the future success of our growing region,” he wrote.

Let’s just hope that Virginia thinks again before exchanging sound science for political science.

Scott Surovell January 25, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The ICPRB also manages the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area's water supply. About 40 years ago, the Fairfax County Water Authority partnered with DC and MD to construct three reservoirs to even out our water flow during the summer because the Potomac was running out of water. VA's taxpayers received at least $500,000 in services in return for our $150,000 of annual dues. Without the ICPRB we could not leverage resources from multiple states to obtain federal grants. There is a bipartisan coalition of legislators working to keep us in the compact and fund our dues. I have two budget amendments in along with Delegate Kory and Delegate Comstock. This week, we will find out where things stand. Hopefully, we will be able to fend this off.
Doug R January 25, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Thank you Virginia Delegate Scott Surovell! (My delegate in Virginia before I moved to Rockville a few years ago...)
Rob Hartwell January 25, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Excellent article and thanks for bringing this to the attention of our neighbors in Maryland. The Nation's River deserves the continued support of all its basin jursidictions, and while I applaud Governor McDonnell's efforts to check spending in these "austere" times, his own Blue Ribbon Commission on Government reform and savings did not recommend that ICPRB be defunded. A bureaucrat sent it up the ladder; the Secretary of Natural Resources did not do his homework, and the Governor trusted his able staff and bureacracy. We are trying to correct this wrongful effort and Delegate Surovell, Kory, and Comstock, and Senators Toddy Puller and Emmett Hanger deserve our thanks!
Richard Benswanger January 26, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Since Maryland owns the river as per relatively recent Supreme Court rulings maybe Maryland owns the river. As such, maybe the remaining members of the compact can cut off all Virginia access to any fresh river water for the use of Virginia citizens, can set up monitoring stations to ascertain how much pollution runoff is coming from Virginia and bill them for the cost of cleanup. This is typical Republican mentality.
Doug R January 26, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Mr. Benswanger, while I appreciate your feeling, that would hardly be fair to the citizens of Virginia, who like Maryland, have every right to depend on the river as its source of drinking water, as it has for hundreds of years. A bi-partisan group of Virginia legislators, as evidenced by the above entries, is working to fix this ridiculous suggestion. Thank goodness for that. Governor McDonnell, if anything, should have his staff be more careful about what "bureaucrats" (aka his political appointees, most likely) are slipping into his budget documents! Additionally, speaking as a former Virginian and consituent of Delegate Surovell's, you may want to note that the very Northern Virginians of whom you would deny drinking water hardly display in their voting patterns "typical Republican mentality"--they have shifted pretty hard toward Democrats over the last few decades, with even Loudoun and Prince William counties voting for Barack Obama in 2008. I suspect they may do that again in 2012, even if not by as large margins, perhaps. The vast majority of the elected officials in Northern Virginia are, in fact, Democrats.
In The Know February 02, 2012 at 09:36 PM
The spokesman for this move, Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech is an ex-member of the staff of Governor Gale Norton, who was Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration. During that time, the department was neck deep in scandal. One of Mr. Domenech's associates, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles holds the distinction of being the highest ranking Bush official to go to prison for something done during the time in office. (He himself was a millionaire Virginia lobbyist for the coal and lumber industries before he came to work at USDOI.) If you examine the "dots" and what they mean, it's not hard to connect them. In this case, it creates a very ugly picture. These people who run Virginia today are linearly connected to the same corrupt bunch that occupied the Administration during Bush II. They are all in the pocket of big money. Don't be surprised if, in 10 years, the Virginia stretch of the Potomac is foul with polluted run-off and the waste coming from some rich GOPer's riverboat casinos.
Rob Hartwell February 02, 2012 at 10:39 PM
To the person above writing about Sec. Domenech, I don't agree with him on this issue, and only met him last night in Richmond, where we clearly did not agree, but the linkage by association to one bad apple who worked for him is not the way to intellectually argue an issue. Like Domenech, and our Governor, I too, am a Republican, and proud of it. While I appreciate your defense of the River and passion, I would recommend a more intellectual rather than visceral approach to this issue. Some fine Republicans from Virginia, including Senator Emmett Hanger, and Delegates Barbara Comstock (Mclean); Dave Albo (Springfield/Lorton) and Jackson Miller (Manassas) are among those working across party lines with Democrats like Delegate Surovell, to fix this problem. With thoughtful and concerted support from all of those who care about the Potomac River, we will prevail. Rob Hartwell, Virginia ICPRB Commissioner
George Cody February 04, 2012 at 11:19 PM
That mansion south of Carder rock on the VA side is an eyesore. I have never seen more unnecessary decking in my life. Endless stairs and levels down to the very edge of the park, maybe even into the park. Whoever lives there is a piss ant. Personally hope that Karma bites'em.
Howard Katz February 07, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Don't thank Toddy Puller so fast. She continues to do little for her constituents and barely won re-election! Her failure to support tougher drunk driving laws in Virginia is an embarrasment
Doug R February 10, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Mr Katz. I am a former constituent of Senator Puller's. I will simply say that your accusation bears absolutely no resemblance to my experience of Sen Puller. She was a wonderful senator in every way that mattered to me, and I am absolutely certain that if Senator Puller opposed some bill relating to DUIs she had a good reason, and that I'm certain that she does not "support" drunk driving. I was not embarassed of Sen Puller's representation of me in Richmond, at all, in fact, I'd gladly take her again!
Bab February 10, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Socialism is always, and everywhere, wrong.
madatgov February 11, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Typical govie stupidity. They could.have saved that 151k just today by not pretreating my street with salt and god knows what other chemicals, for the snow that isn't going to fall tomorrow. Heck, my road has been "pretreated" at least 7 different times this season and theres been about one total inch of snow which fell on just one of those occasions. Morons!
madatgov February 11, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Oh Frank, just read your comnent. The countries you mentioned don't have millions of latinos here illegally getting free stuff. Even many of the ones that are here legally are probably the offspring of someone down their geneological libe who came here illegally. Socialist benefits like those the latinos get here in the states, go to real citizens in those countries- people whose families have been there for generations and whose geneological lines have contributed to their societies.
Al Peters February 14, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I agree with those who say if Virginia won't help to keep the Potomac as clean as possible, they should look elsewhere for drinking water. Idiot Governor included.
nate February 15, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Politicians are mostly idiotic due to the fact they spend other peoples money irrationally and dont even know the laws they are against or support until the press writes about it.
Paul Schwartz February 22, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Wow, such uplifting dialogue. Over 2 million people in the greater DC area rely on the Potomac for our drinking water. The river is also a recreational haven and generates great economic value for the communities and region it flows through. One might argue about the value of the ICPRB, but it is critical for our region that we continue to understand that we need to talk together across ideological and political divides regarding topics like sustaining and regenerating the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Too much is at stake for us to give in to false economy in which the price of everything is calculated but the worth of the endeavor is discounted or neglected. As a Washington, DC resident and consumer of the Potomac River on a daily basis, I know that the quality of drinking water and of the river I love is dependent on the upstream people in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, all of whom get benefits from and use the river as a disposal system well before the water flows to my tap and through my community. We must implore the Governor of Virginia to see that it is in his state's interest for this small investment in understanding and cooperation to be funded. A river flows through us, Democrats, Republicans, independents and others. This is a sacred duty. Paul Schwartz Washington, DC
larry wolter March 01, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The GOP has traditionally resisted establishing gambling, as it ultimately makes the poor poorer disproportionately. However, now that liberals allow the poor to use their Gov't. checks for gambling it's all O.K.?? So, please re-label those riverboat casinos accordingly. And, by the way, has anyone noticed how all the richest billionaires are democrats? Ted Turner, Warren Buffet, George Soros, Bill Gates... just Google it au perveyors of false and misleading information. (No where in the above article is stated the actual case made by The Governor). Does anyone believe that the Governor has based his decision exclusively on saving 1/ 0.00000355 ths of the state bi-annual budget? The liars and deceivers are on parade, in full regalia!!!
larry wolter March 01, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Bab, Don't worry about Frank's comments. If he was actually knowledgeable he would know that the economy of Finland is a tempest in a teapot and Sweden's economy is under major assault by allowing masses of muslim African immigrants, with no plan how to integrate or employ them. Perhaps if Barak Obama would take away Norway's right to produe off-shore oil Norway's entire economy would collapse? (You decide). The U.S., right this minute, has by far more known fossil fuel resource reserves than the entire world put together. Along with that we have the highest level of technologies available to develop these resources safely, while providing a higher level of environmental protection than ever before. We are literally crippled by the devastating economic policies of the left. Keynsian holocaust is still driving America to the precipice of oblivion. Frank needs to look no further than ANY socialist country which is NOT shored up by the benevolence of the American people and all the financial, food, energy, and military aid we provide to them. There he will find only starvation and economic devastation. Disclaimer: Countries of three people or less don't count.
Doug R March 01, 2012 at 04:54 PM
"The U.S., right this minute, has by far more known fossil fuel resource reserves than the entire world put together." Larry, please, by all means, enlighten us on this claim, and provide a source and link for this claim. I am very interested. Also, how would you suggest that we sequester some of the carbon that would be released into the atmosphere from burning all that coal, since if we increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by burning all this, the scientifically proven greenhouse effect of certain gases is likely to continue increasing our global temperatures even faster than they are accelerating now. Would love to know how you think it will all work!
jnrentz1 March 01, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Maryland owns the Potomac River.
Poop March 18, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Poop
Michael Nelson March 18, 2012 at 05:55 AM
This move makes no sense whatsoever--unless you are a legislator who doesn't represent northern Virginia and figure his constituents don't shouldn't pay a dime to help the people who live near and drink from the Potomac. Despite the fact that the good people of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County pay much more to Richmond than they get back, legislators from elsewhere think the spending cuts should start at the NE end of the state. Maybe it's time to secedelike West Virginia didand --
Poop March 19, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Poop pooperman says poopy potomac.
Pete A51 June 03, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I cannot believe that I read the entire article, all the comments (I think) and I cannot find anything in support of Virginia pulling out. It would be nice to at least know what their argument is, no matter how specious.
c smith June 22, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I hope you will think the same thing when you choke on the crap you will be drinking in a few years.
Joe June 25, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Maryland claims the original charter gives them possession of the Potomac right to the Virginia shoreline. It's tried to deny Virginia the right to draw drinking water from it. If Virginia doesnt have any of the river in it's territory, then Maryland should pay for the expenses. Maryland's just lucky Virginia didn't try this while they were trying to finance the Wilson Bridge!
Joe June 25, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I think jnrentz1's point is what Virginia is trying to drive home. It's Maryland's river. Once Maryland started to assert that point, Virginia made plans to quit contributing to it's upkeep. If Maryland agrees to adjust the border, Virginia I bet you will restore funding. Honestly, if you claim the river belongs to you, why do you expect other people to pay for its upkeep? Virginia realized that was what Maryland's position is, so it stopped.

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