Protecting Our Natural Resources
Vol. 4 Issue 2, Spring 1999
By Joe Coleman
 The Rural Economic Land Use task force released its report, “The 200,000-Acre Solution: Supporting and Enhancing a Rural Economy for Loudoun’s 21st Century.” The report, really a report on economic development, emphasizes protecting our natural resources, especially rural land and water quality. Securing the land and resource base for rural enterprises is one of the three goals of the business plan. By protecting these, the County will also protect wildlife habitat.
The report recommends creating performance standards to protect natural resources. Many of these standards already exist in the County’s Comprehensive Plan. The Rural Economic Plan also calls for a county department with oversight responsibility for our natural resources, a function largely abandoned when the Department of Environmental Resources was abolished several years ago. Since then, enforcement of what standards we do have, such as the Mountainside Overlay District, has been minimal.
Open-space requirements are routinely modified in the building-approval process.At one time, Loudoun County was known for its progressive planning. It was a model for protecting both our resources and our citizens with intelligent planning. Unfortunately, when the Department of Environmental Resources was disbanded, many of its functions were incorporated into Building and Development, and natural resource protection waned. Many of the existing standards are ignored, sometimes because they aren’t enforced, sometimes because the few people still responsible are preoccupied with overseeing the development of our rapidly growing county.
Because of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s work in protecting water quality, people often call us to complain that erosion and sediment are being inadequately controlled. When they call the county, as we suggest, to report the problem, response is usually quick and effective, but the available staff is clearly insufficient. Looking at some of the building taking place on our mountainsides, it is hard to believe that existing standards are being followed. This is an especially sensitive and critical area because runoff from the mountainsides affects not only our water quality but also the replenishment of our ground-water supplies.
Protecting our natural resources will protect wildlife habitat. All of us must encourage the County to uphold its existing standards, and insist that our leaders reactivate the many standards from the Comprehensive General Plan now left dormant.
Call when you have a question. Call to report the abuse of land. Remember this is an election year. Support the candidates who support protecting natural resources. Ask them how they feel about what happened to our department of environmental resources, and about enforcing the disused standards already in place. Check their records. Like all of us, I abhor layers of bureaucracy that slow down effective performance. But maybe, just maybe, because of the Rural Land Use task force’s 200,000-Acre Solution and the upcoming elections, we will be able to preserve some of this county’s rural character to benefit all of us, including our wildlife, well into the 21 st century.