Rockfish River Watershed Community Forum

February 3 & 4, 2001
The Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) at the University of Virginia in partnership with a local coordinating committee is developing a community watershed forum for the Rockfish River. The goal of the forum is to involve community members in developing a plan to improve the health of the Rockfish River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and ultimately the quality of life of local residents.

The Rockfish River Valley, with its winding river and streams, mountains, hayfields, vineyards, small organic farms, galleries and country lifestyle is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations for tourists. An increasing number of people are moving to the valley to take advantage of the rural character and proximity to Charlottesville. This population growth is reflected in a growth rate of 10 percent per year which will mean 1,100 more people in the next ten years moving to the County, many of whom will likely choose to locate in the headwaters of the Rockfish River. In managing development, the health of the Rockfish River and its surrounding watershed are of concern. Patterns and types of development, as well as related services such as road building, paving land surfaces, changing from agriculture to suburban land use patterns; bring with them issues of runoff pollution, increased stream temperatures, increased flooding and streambank erosion, air pollution, traffic congestion and changes in the rural landscape.

Today, the Rockfish River is impaired with excessive siltation, which has harmed the aquatic life in the river. While we can't stop growth, we can channel it to appropriate locations, change development patterns to preserve open space, retain stormwater on site, reduce or eliminate pollutants, and preserve our farms and culture -- but only if we begin planning now for our desired future. Failing to plan is planning to fail. That's why the Rockfish River Community Watershed Forum Coordinating Committee was formed -- to help the community envision and plan for the type of watershed where we all want to live. Addressing problems now will help us avoid the costs of river restoration, flood repair and river cleanup. By working together now, we can seek solutions that meet all of our needs and restore and preserve the things we all value, whether we are farmers, homeowners or businesses.

The project will complement existing efforts such as the Middle James River Roundtable and the James tributary strategies. The Rockfish River was chosen to pilot this watershed forum model, which can later be replicated throughout Virginia. The Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program provides funding. In kind sponsors include Rural Nelson and the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Service who are providing staff support and services for the Forum. The Coordinating Committee is made up of representatives from the local community who are working to identify issues affecting the health of the River and the future of the Rockfish River valley. These issues will be presented at a Forum scheduled for February 3 and 4 (snow date Feb. 17, 18) at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. Citizens will be provided with tools and training to evaluate the current health of the watershed and to draft an action plan to address these issues. Components of the plan will also be used to inform the content of the Nelson County Comprehensive plan, which will be finalized in Spring 2001. The Comprehensive Plan guides the county's growth and development and seeks to identify important resources, such as historic structures, water supply, and areas for growth and preservation.

Overarching Goals
The goal of the forum is to involve community members in developing a plan for improving the health of the Rockfish River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay watershed along with the quality of life of local residents. The community will create a local implementation plan for protection and restoration of the Rockfish watershed by: identifying environmental values important to the community; learning about innovative tools to protect, manage and monitor the watershed; and, devising strategies for protecting the watershed's social, cultural and environmental resources.

Forum Planning
The Community Watershed Forum will be held February 3 & 4 at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. The IEN is helping community representatives on a local coordinating committee to design a forum that meets the needs and interests of the local community. Committee members include Hugh Swain, Farm Bureau; Michael Lachance, Extension Service; Fred Boger, County Planner; Conny Roussos, Kim Cash, Dana Pauly and Peter Agelasto, Rural Nelson; Gene Poutasse, Nellysford Area Merchants; Chip Morgan from Wintergreen Nature Foundation; and Karen Firehock and John Hoover, IEN at University of Virginia.

Day one of the Forum will consist of presentations and day two will be devoted to developing an implementation plan for the projects and goals articulated during the first day. The community watershed forum will incorporate the following elements: learning about the local watershed ecosystem; working in small groups to envision and identify common community concerns and values; brainstorming and designing implementation ideas and strategies for the community using tools and techniques presented at the workshop; linking ideas between groups and devising strategies and responsibilities for their implementation; and, identifying organizations, programs and funding sources to meet needs.

The Coordinating Committee will continue working after the forum to ensure that ideas and actions are incorporated into the county's comprehensive plan. A forum planner's guide will be created, including a bibliography of resources and organizations helpful in conducting the forums. The module will be made available to organizations wishing to implement additional forums. In future years it is hoped that forums can be held in the middle and lower Rockfish to address the needs of the entire Rockfish watershed.

For More Information
Karen Firehock or John Hoover,
Institute for Environmental Negotiation,
P. O. Box 400179,
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4179
PHONE: 804-924-1970

Kim Cash, Field Officer,
Rural Nelson,
P. O. Box 401,
Lovingston, VA 22949
PHONE: 804-263-5000

Michael Lachance,
Extension Service,
P. O. Box 298,
Lovingston, VA 22949
PHONE: 804-263-4035