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Sprawled across six states and covering more than 64,000 miles, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is the largest in America.

Its network of more than 150 streams and rivers includes a Fort Lee neighbor, the Appomattox, which flows through Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell before dumping its contents into the James, a direct tributary for the bay.

Because of the proximity of the Appomattox, and the Chesapeake Bay itself, residents of the Tri-Cities and Fort Lee need to remain educated on actions they should take to keep the waterways clean and safe for inhabitants above and below the water, as well as the greenery along its shores.

Community members should be particularly concerned about issues like over-fertilization of green spaces, animal waste pollution, wetland destruction for agriculture, and deforestation and erosion from new construction. These activities have resulted in declines and diseases among the marine population and sediment buildup that kills off the aquatic grasses that keep the bay clean and provide a habitat for wildlife.

Efforts to protect the bay are paying off, but the work is still not finished. A good way for Team Lee members to help is maintaining awareness of illicit discharges – simply defined as any drainage into the storm-sewer system that is not rainwater. These releases are considered “illicit” because the sewer system is not designed to accept, treat or safely discharge such waste. In other words, anything that flows into the storm drain is carried directly to streams, rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay without treatment.

Home car washing, irresponsible dumping of trash and improper disposal of hazardous/toxic chemical substances all contribute to this problem. Waste and sewage from recreational vehicles are among the more disturbing pollutants.

As good stewards of the environment, Fort Lee has a Municipal Small Storm Sewer System permit issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Having this permit means Fort Lee is responsible for detecting and eliminating illicit discharges through monitoring, inspection and removal. Community members can help by reporting these incidents.

Ways to identify a possible illicit discharge include the following:

• Water flowing from a storm-water outfall pipe even though it has not rained for more than three days.

• Smelling strange odors (i.e. sewage or gasoline) or seeing unusual colors in runoff water.

• Spotting leaking chemical/paint/cleanser containers in dumpsters or storage areas.

Tips for reducing illicit storm-water discharges include the following:

• Dispose of household chemicals/paints at approved collection sites.

• Limit car washing to facilities that recycle waste water.

• Place drip pans under engines to prevent petroleum, oil and lubricants from ground contact and runoff.

• Follow label directions when using lawn fertilizers and pesticides (more is not always best).

• Keep yard waste out of the storm drains.

• Avoid unauthorized digging to prevent soil erosion and sediment from being transported to the storm sewer system.

• Pick up and properly dispose of pet waste.

• Use recycling programs to divert trash from landfills.

For more tips or to report a suspected illicit discharge, contact the Fort Lee Environmental Management Division Compliance Team at 804-734-3760 or 734-3772.