It’s not just rain drops that wind up in our waterways. Stormwater runoff brings natural and human-made pollutants and deposits them in lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. The Sophers of Farm Colony in Stanardsville tired of watching the muddy erosion on their property and in the past year their yard became the first Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) project in Greene County. 

“It was a major gully washer every time it rained, just right through our backyard and it just stayed muddy,” said Nancy Sopher. “I heard from a neighbor about this program and contacted them and we have just been so pleased.”

VCAP provides financial, technical and educational assistance to property owners in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who install eligible stormwater control practices, according to Richard Jacobs, P.E., conservation specialist with the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District that serves Greene County.

“It helps those chronic erosion or ponding areas or areas that you just can’t get vegetation to grow,” Jacobs said. “The program provides cost share of up to 75% of the cost.”

Eligible practices include conservation landscaping, impervious surface removal, rain gardens, dry swales, rainwater harvesting, vegetated conveyance systems, constructed wetlands, bioretention, infiltration, permeable pavement, green roof and living shorelines.

“When we do construction and build our houses and driveways and parking areas, all that hard surface increases the amount of runoff and that increases the speed at which the water flows across the landscape,” Jacobs said. “So, we try to do the dry swales to slow down the water and minimize erosion. Erosion is going to occur when the water’s moving faster than slower. And by slowing it down we allow the water to soak into the ground a bit more and if there’s any sediment it helps settle those before they end up in our waterways.”

The Sophers did some conservation landscaping using native plants to help stabilize areas so that things can grow along the slope to the side of their driveway.

Into the backyard from the slope, the project includes a dry swale which incorporates two small ponding areas as a way to slow down the water.

The Sophers did the dry swale in 2018 and the driveway slope in 2019.

“It’s had a noticeable difference,” Nancy Sopher said. “I mean, we could not walk across our yard because it just stayed muddy anytime it rained.”

Bruce Sopher agreed, adding, “The turf grass is starting to grow out back now.”

Jacobs said before the project grass wasn’t able to grow because the water would rush through there, washing the seed and the mulch into the creek below.

VCAP is a statewide program, funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

“Last year we were able to get state funding, so the state took some of their funds from the water quality improvement fund and moved it over specifically for this program,” Jacobs said. “This year with the General Assembly starting we’re hoping to get the same amount if not a little bit more.”

Nancy Sopher said Jacobs helped the couple choose the best plants for the area, as well.

“We worked with a native plant nursery,” she said. “He provided a lot of good input.”

For the dry swale, Jacobs said, they chose the water-loving plants that will tolerate the ponding, such as the Blue Flay Iris, which is a native Virginia plant. The purple and yellow irises are not native. For the steep bank, they included some terrace logs to help the plants get established there, including the New Jersey Tea, Golden Ragwort and Silver sedge.

“Native plants typically can tolerate the native soil conditions and the native climate,” Jacobs said.

The project’s full cost was $15,500 and the cost-share grant covered $11,500.

While it’s the first project funded in Greene County, there have been about two dozen projects district-wide, which includes the counties of Madison, Orange, Greene, Culpeper and Rappahannock. VCAP is open to residential, commercial and government-owned property, Jacobs said.

“If they have impervious surfaces contributing to an area that’s having issues of erosion, periodic localized ponding or flooding and they can’t keep any cover, any sort of vegetation in those areas, those would be areas that we would look at,” Jacobs said.

Due to application deadlines, Jacobs said it’s not too early to start thinking about your own property now.

“The availability of funds is based off of demand and we do have a ranking protocol,” Jacobs said. “If you don’t get funded this time around, if it’s not an emergency, maybe it could be funded later, in the next round.”

Jacobs said contractors interested in learning more about the program should contact him. He said he’d like to do trainings here in Greene if there is demand.

Those who think the program is worthy of funding can contact their delegates and senators in the General Assembly now while they’re in session.

“It’s made all the difference,” Nancy Sopher said. “Certainly, we couldn’t go from one side of our yard to the other without mud boots. You could just see the brown water washing down to the creek.”

For more information about VCAP, visit www.vaswcd.org/vcap. To request a site visit, contact the district at (540) 825-8591 or email Jacobs at RichardJ@culpeperswcd.org.

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