FEATURES The Fincastle Herald

Looney Creek Watershed residents eligible for cost share on septic pump outs, repairs




319 Non-point Source Management Program.

Impaired Waters.

They are the acronyms and terminology that mean many homeowners in the Looney Creek Watershed are eligible for cost-share funds to have their septic tanks pumped or their failing septic systems repaired or replaced.

Homes and farms within the Looney Creek Watershed are eligible for as much as 75 percent cost-share funds to pump septic tanks, repair or build new septic systems and for fencing and alternate water sources to keep cattle out of streams.
Homes and farms within the Looney Creek Watershed are eligible for as much as 75 percent cost-share funds to pump septic tanks, repair or build new septic systems and for fencing and alternate water sources to keep cattle out of streams.

The funding that will pay 50 percent of the cost of having a septic tank pumped, and up to 75 percent of the cost for fixing or replacing a failing septic system is part of the far-reaching program to reduce pollution in America’s streams by reducing E. coli and other bacteria in small watersheds.

Looney Creek and its primary tributaries—Mill Creek and Back Creek—were declared impaired streams and put on the Dirty Waters List in 1998 under the 1972 Clean Water Act criteria.

Since then, federal and state agencies have worked on plans that will help homeowners and farmers to reduce the E. coli in those streams.

Three years ago, that plan was finalized and last year funding became available to implement the plan.

The Looney Creek Watershed runs from Troutville to Buchanan and from the Blue Ridge Parkway west beyond I-81 essentially to the crest of the ridges that drain into Mill Creek. Mill Creek parallels US 11 and I-81 from Troutville to its confluence with Back Creek just south of Buchanan where it becomes Looney Creek or Looney-Mill Creek.

Back Creek parallels Lithia and Nace Roads (Rt. 640) along the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Looney Creek drains into the James River behind Limestone Park in Buchanan.

Already several residences in the watershed have received financial assistance for septic tank pump-outs and repairs and replacements of failing septic systems, according to Erica Moore, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) technician/education coordinator for the Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District (MCSWCD).

Moore has held several informational programs for residents in the district to explain how pumping and repairing septic systems can protect their own drinking water and improve the quality of water in the streams.

In order to be eligible for financial assistance—which can amount to 50-75 percent cost share—the residence (or at least the septic system) must be in the watershed and be connected to an occupied dwelling. The cost share is based on a sliding income scale.

“Residences in close proximity to streams and springs are strongly encouraged to contact the (MCSWCD) district for additional information,” Moore said.

Moore said the Virginia Department of Health has technical authority over the program but will not be contacted by the MCSWCD. She said it is the applicant’s responsibility to apply for the appropriate permits if they participate in the Looney Creek TMDL Residential Program.  She said all inquiries to the district are strictly confidential.

The Looney Creek TMDL Residential Program focuses on reducing the amount of bacteria that goes into the streams from homes.

For every stream on the Dirty Waters List, the Clean Water Act and the federal Environmental Protection Agency require that states develop a TMDL for each pollutant in the stream.

TMDL is Total Maximum Daily Load, or a “pollution budget” for a stream. That is, it sets limits on the amount of pollution that a stream can tolerate and still maintain water quality standards.

The TMDL for Looney Creek requires the state to reduce E. coli in the stream.

According to the TMDL plan, the Looney Creek watershed covers about 40,000 acres and has over 4,100 residents.

It is primarily forested land because part of the watershed is in the Jefferson National Forest.

But, a Bacterial Source Tracking Study determined that 16-21 percent of the E. coli in Looney Creek at the test point near its confluence with the James River was generated by humans.

Twelve to 14 percent was generated by pets and livestock generated 30-32 percent of the E. coli.

Wildlife accounted for 34-40 percent of the E. coli.

While wildlife accounted for the highest percentage of E. coli, the TMDL plan does not address ways to reduce that source of pollution.

However, reducing human, pet and livestock sources would get the watershed off the Dirty Waters List.

That’s the reason behind the cost-share program for septic systems, and another cost-share program for farmers to encourage them to fence cattle out of streams and create buffers between livestock and open water.

These are part of the $3.2 million multi-year, multi-agency Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) for Looney Creek Watershed.

The Looney Creek Watershed TMDL Residential Program provides 50-75 percent cost share for various septic projects. The percentage is dependent on a resident’s income, but the least the program pays is 50 percent.

As an example, the program pays 50 percent for any septic tank pump-out up to $150.

It will pay up to $3,000 for a septic system repair; and 50-75 percent for the installation or replacement of a failed septic system, with a cap of $4,000-$6,000, depending on the owner’s income.

The program also has funding for alternative waste treatment systems when a septic system isn’t viable.

So far, the program has provided $18,563 in cost share for residential improvements since December. Another $12,750 has been approved but not paid, These include several septic tank pump outs, several system repairs, installing septic systems with a pump and cost share on an alternative waste treatment system.

Another $18,687 is still available this year for residential work.

The agriculture cost-share program has approved four agriculture projects in the watershed since April with a cost share of $108,105. Those projects include fencing cattle out of streams and/or providing alternative watering systems for livestock and a project to manage manure at a dairy.

That program has $16,895 left this year.

For more information about the residential or agriculture programs in the watershed, contact Erica Moore at the Mountain Castles SWCD at 977-2698 or by email at Erica.Moore@va.nacdnet.net.

About the author

Edwin McCoy

Editor, The Fincastle Herald
Executive Editor, Main Street Newspapers
Award-Winning Community Journalist
Graduate of Washington & Lee University

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