Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed

People, land, and water of the Upper Thornton River Watershed: A model watershed assessment

RappFLOW and fifteen partner organizations including the Rappahannock County government, with support from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, completed in November 2006 the project "People, land and streams of the Upper Thornton River Watershed: A model for countywide watershed management planning."

Final Report November 2006 (PDF, 117 KB)

Upper Thornton Watershed Project (PDF, 77 KB)

Maps of Upper Thornton Watershed

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Our goals for this proposed project are to:

  • Preserve, protect and restore the water quality in the Upper Thornton River watershed.
  • Create, test, and evaluate an approach to community-based watershed assessment and planning for Rappahannock County that is applicable elsewhere in the Upper Rappahannock watershed.
  • Use the project findings to develop a management plan in one subhydrologic unit of the Upper Thornton watershed;
  • Design the next phase of work to complete assessments/management plans in other areas of Rappahannock County.
  • Support local decision making regarding watershed protection for riparian lands.
  • Help citizens prepare for

    1) future TMDL implementation processes in areas surrounding the five category 5 impaired stream segments identified by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality;

    2) meeting goals in the Rappahannock Tributary Strategy; and

    3) meeting the goals of the Chesapeake Bay 2000 agreement.

Building on past progress

In summer 2002, interested citizens and representatives from local and regional stakeholder groups founded RappFLOW. Our mission is to help preserve, protect, conserve and restore water resources and Rappahannock County’s watersheds. Our first phase of work was funded in part by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and over $31,000 in matching in-kind support from local organizations and volunteers. Phase I established a foundation for future watershed protection efforts through broad community involvement, education and outreach, an atmosphere of inclusiveness and openness, strong ties with experts in government, business, and nonprofit organizations, and identification of high priority watershed protection issues. RappFLOW planned, promoted, conducted, and reported on five public education events on air and water quality in the Shenandoah National Park; riparian buffers; erosion/sedimentation/stream protection; sustainable forestry; and the effect of agriculture on water quality and mitigation strategies. Attendance increased at each public event, from 75 to 300 participants. Partners include citizen volunteers, state and federal agencies, local government, and local and regional conservation organizations.

Phase I culminated in a strategic planning workshop of 25 participants representing key stakeholder groups. They identified the following issues as central to future watershed management and water quality protection in Rappahannock County:

  • Lack of detailed data on water quality and related land cover/land use in a usable form to support landowner/local leader decision-making on watershed assessment and water-related priorities.
  • Increasing fragmentation of land holdings, land cover and land use due to development, gentrification, and shifts in agricultural economics and practices.
  • Need for greater landowner awareness and education regarding best management practices and associated cost sharing programs such as CREP.
  • Need for deeper awareness/understanding among citizens and civic leaders of watershed and water quality concepts, facts, and issues. “People see our streams as clean and plentiful.”
  • Need for stronger and more detailed implementation of the policies and principles of the Rappahannock County Comprehensive Plan and enforcement of existing ordinances.

Deciding on a method for addressing the issues

RappFLOW organizers worked in the fall and winter of 2004 to decide how to meet these needs. We chose the Rapid Watershed Assessment methodology for identifying and analyzing key information because we desire to establish a scientifically defensible knowledge base for this work. We will use this analysis to support individual and community participation in decision-making in a multi-year watershed planning effort. RappFLOW has a five-year goal of facilitating the County leaders and citizens through a process to develop and implement additional local plans and incentives (perhaps ordinances) and volunteer efforts to support watershed protection. The next project will support this goal by

1) creating a systematic database and analytic framework;

2) establishing the methodology for county and regional watershed planning;

3) implementing immediate on-the-ground projects that protect water quality and serve as demonstration projects; and

4) building community support for future efforts and adoption of watershed managements plans.

The objectives of this pilot project are to:

  • Integrate scientific, social, educational, economic, engineering, and political aspects of watershed management in ways that work for our people, topography, geology, cultures, land uses, land cover, economy and political processes;
  • Use a rigorous scientific method which evaluates geospatial, biological, chemical, and physical data to characterize a stream and its subhydrologic unit, then determines its vulnerability;
  • Engage the full range of stakeholders, with support of local, state and regional government and other organizations; and train volunteers in scientifically rigorous methods of conducting such assessments;
  • Work with landowners/other stakeholders to analyze and understand the health and vulnerabilities in small watershed areas; present information to landowners/ stakeholders in ways useful for decision-making; and help landowners to decide upon and implement best management practices for improving our watersheds;
  • Help Rappahannock County’s governing bodies understand public policies and tools best suited to addressing our watershed’s vulnerabilities; and
  • Evaluate the environmental, economic, and political effectiveness of our model approach.

What our community learns from this project will greatly enhance our ability to develop an effective county-wide watershed management plan over the next five years. At the same time, we intend for our model to be useful to other similar localities in rural Virginia.

Criteria for Choosing the Upper Thornton Watershed for Study in Phase II

RappFLOW chose the Upper Thornton watershed, an area of approximately 93 square miles, as its main study area for the pilot project (see map). The following criteria helped identify that area:

  • Includes properties owned by large land owners and is undergoing changes in land use
  • Represents a mix of land uses (varied vegetative cover types, forestal, agriculture, residential, commercial)
  • Includes some of Rappahannock’s impaired water segments
  • Contains some growth areas with planned future residential and commercial growth - Includes examples of CREP implementation and several examples of BMPs
  • Begins in the upper reaches of the Rappahannock River watershed and lies entirely within Rappahannock County (helpful for management planning)
  • Includes the Shenandoah National Park, one of our key watershed protection assets - Represents a topographic mix from steep slopes to flood plains (see map).

The Upper Thornton watershed also:

  • provides an opportunity to address gentrification as it pertains to water quality;
  • is represented on the Board of Supervisors by the current Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

It includes:

  • at least three examples of CREP and some BMPs;
  • two water segments designated as impaired by VA DEQ; two of the County’s major growth areas, the Town of Washington and the village of Sperryville.

Sperryville has the county’s only treatment plant (in addition to one in the SNP), and Washington is planning to build a new treatment plant.
Residential and commercial development are expected in both locations.

Please Join Us! for ideas about how you can participate in this project. Click here to download the full proposal (PDF file, 166 KB).

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