Prioritizing the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams is supported by 97 percent of Virginians, according to a 2017 poll*. This is a guide for public officials and residents to keeping Virginia on course to fully restoring its waterways.
In Virginia, our work to save the Bay shifts into high gear every January. The General Assembly commences, and legislation that has major impacts on local water quality comes at a furious pace. Through it all, CBF staff meet with legislators to discuss bills, speak in front of legislative committees, and organize members to advocate for clean water policy.
During the 2018 session CBF stayed engaged on dozens of legislative proposals, supporting those that are good for water quality and opposing harmful bills. Here are some of the results.
House Bills 1307 and 1308 (Hodges) had their genesis in General Assembly 2017, which approved a year-long stakeholder study (in which CBF participated) of possible changes to the stormwater management program for the rural coastal communities of Eastern Virginia. In view of the area's low development rate and unique hydrology, the bills are expected to protect water quality at a lower cost. CBF and many other stakeholders supported these bills, which have been passed by the full House and Senate.
House Bill 801 (O'Quinn) would have prohibited the State Water Control Board from adopting any regulation or standard relating to stormwater that is inconsistent with or more stringent than any federal requirement or guidance. CBF strongly opposed this bill, which would prevent Virginia from responding to local challenges with innovative programs that protect our waterways. On the floor of the House, Delegate Bulova gave impassioned testimony about why this bill would harm Virginia's waters. Watch the video (starting at 1 hour and 7 minutes). Fortunately, HB 801 was then rereferred to the House Ag Chesapeake subcommittee, which ended consideration of this bill this session.
House Bill 1566 (Hodges) would have weakened Virginia's statewide stormwater management program by allowing localities across the Commonwealth to avoid plan review responsibilities, accepting instead the work of developers' retained engineers on plans for large developments. Because this bill would undercut Virginia's ability to enforce stormwater rules on developers larger than one acre, CBF strongly opposed the bill. Ultimately, the legislator sponsoring the bill moved to strike it, ending further consideration.
House Bill 1004 (Byron) would have required localities to exempt airports from paying stormwater utility fees for their runways and taxiways to help localities manage polluted runoff and Senate Bill 367 (Newman) would have allowed localities to create such an exemption. We worked hard against both bills, which would have undermined local stormwater management programs. HB1004 ultimately stricken by its legislator patron, and SB367 was "passed by for the year," ending further consideration.
House Bill 805 (O'Quinn) and Senate Bill 507 (Carrico) would have restricted the application of modern, effective stormwater management rules to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, relegating Virginia's non-Bay watershed regions to the outdated and ineffective stormwater management rules that were in effect before 2014. CBF—believing that all parts of the state deserve clean water—worked and testified in hearing against these bills, which were both defeated.
Trees and Wetlands
House Bill 494 (Hodges) supports increased tree cover by affording localities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed the authority to expand tree planting and preservation with new development. Only localities with a high population density currently have had this authority. Recognizing that increasing tree cover can reduce the polluted runoff that enters waterways, CBF worked with the bill sponsor and other stakeholders, and testified to the committee in support of this bill. We are very pleased that this bill has passed the full House and Senate.
House Bill 400 (Keam) was similar to HB 494 discussed above, but would have gone further, by allowing localities to require tree planting and preservation at any level, without any upward limits. CBF testified in support of the legislation, but the bill did not advance.
House Bill 447 (Hope) would have required the State Water Control Board to adopt regulations for localities to encourage and promote preservation of mature trees as a stormwater management tool in Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act areas. CBF testified in support of the legislation in subcommittee, but the bill did not advance.
Preventing Other Sources of Pollution
House Bill 1475 (Poindexter) and Senate Bill 344 (Peake) will facilitate the implementation of new water quality standards for ammonia in fresh water streams. CBF, which has been closely involved in the development of these criteria, worked with other stakeholders and legislators to ensure that the final bill will implement these important standards without delay. The bills have been amended and have passed both the House and Senate in much stronger form.
Senate Bill 951 (Surovell) would have prohibited fracking in the Taylorsville basin, in Virginia's coastal plain. Recognizing the dangers of fracking for the Bay, and in support of localities in the affected region, CBF and other conservation groups testified in support the bill. It passed out of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Chesapeake committee as a four-year moratorium on fracking, but unfortunately was defeated in the Senate Finance Committee.
House Bill 675 (Hodges) would have reduced the effluent standards for septic systems. CBF opposed this bill, working with the legislator patron and other involved delegates. An amended and improved bill was approved by the full House, but thankfully did not advance in the Senate.
House Bill 1150 (Wilt) would have prohibited the use of toxic coal tar sealants in Virginia. These sealants have high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are harmful to humans and wildlife under certain conditions. The Chesapeake Bay Program has prioritized PAHs as the second most important toxic contaminant. PAHs are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mutations to aquatic life. CBF worked closely with its patron, Delegate Wilt, in support of this potentially groundbreaking legislation. While the patron ultimately determined to withdraw the bill, we will work to get the bill reintroduced next year.
House Bill 192 (Yancey) would promote the use of rainwater harvesting by requiring the Virginia Department of Health to develop a more extensive regulatory program on the use of rainwater and gray water. CBF testified in committee in support of the bill, citing CBF's Brock Center to illustrate the innovative possibilities for use of rainwater and graywater. We are pleased that this bill has passed the full House and Senate.
House Bill 822 (Knight) would have adopted into Virginia law recent updates to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's menhaden management plan, which provided both ecological and economic benefits. This common-sense legislation is needed for Virginia to remain in fisheries compliance, and CBF has worked hard with legislators, the Northam Administration, and other stakeholders on this issue.
This modest compromise bill was not heard before the legislative crossover deadline. It was then reintroduced at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam as House Bill 1610 (Knight). While that version passed the House Agriculture Committee, it was referred back to committee before it could be voted on by the full House, effectively killing the bill this session. CBF hopes a path is found for Virginia to remain in compliance with the ASMFC.
House Bill 1488 (Helsel) would remove a longstanding provision in the Virginia Code that prohibits carrying oyster dredge gear onboard a vessel while crossing an oyster sanctuary. In force since the 1950s, this prohibition is intended to prevent oyster poaching from sanctuaries, one of the Commonwealth's most serious natural resources violations. CBF strongly opposed this bill, working hard with legislators, who ultimately decided to "pass the bill by indefinitely," cutting off further consideration.
Senate Bill 950 (Hanger) would provide new environmental protections from the impacts of any future interstate pipelines that cross Virginia. In particular, this bill would ensure that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will not certify a proposed pipeline as protective of water quality unless and until it develops and implements an individual water protection permit that protects every stream and wetlands area to be crossed by the pipeline. Recognizing the bill as an important step forward, CBF has worked with the legislative patron and other stakeholders to make it as strong as possible. Fortunately, the bill has been passed by the full Senate and House.
Investing in Clean Water Programs
CBF has also focused on important budget amendments that would provide critical funding for clean water programs. House and Senate budget proposals are still being considered by the General Assembly, and there is still time to take action.
Budget proposals CBF supports include:
Agricultural best management practices such as fencing cattle out of streams and planting cover crops and streamside trees, which are cost-effective ways to keep valuable nutrients and topsoil on the farm and out of our waterways.
The program would receive $37.4 million in the first year and $10 million in the second year under the House proposal, and $37.6 in the first year and $12.6 in the second year under the Senate proposal. By contrast, the most recent appropriations for this program (FY18) were approximately $17 million.
Virginia's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) supports one of the state's most vexing water quality problems by providing matching grants to localities for projects that treat polluted runoff from our roofs, sidewalks, and roadways.
SLAF would receive $20 million in the first year under the Senate proposal but would not be supported in the House proposal, even though the General Assembly has not added new money to this program since 2016.
Support for oyster replenishment and restoration will help continue the comeback of Virginia’s native oyster. Overharvesting, pollution, and disease decimated Virginia's oyster population, but in recent years, oysters have shown signs of recovery. Increased investment will help to rebuild both the Bay’s ecosystem and an industry that once supported thousands of jobs and added millions to our economy.
Oyster replenishment to assist commercial watermen, currently funded at $2 million annually, would receive $2 million per year under the Senate proposal and $2,250,000 under the House proposal. Oyster restoration work for sanctuary reefs, which is currently not receiving state funding, would receive $750,000 in the first year and $1 million in the second year under the Senate proposal, and $250,000 in each year in the House proposal.
* Poll conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy and the Virginia Environmental Endowment. The poll focused on environmental attitudes, concerns, and policy preferences. It is based upon interviews of 826 registered Virginia voters conducted between January 29 and February 12, 2017, including 382 landline interviews and 443 cell phone interviews. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% level of confidence.