As we head to the halfway mark of our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint restoration efforts we are beginning to see our rivers, streams and the Bay start to heal. During Virginia's 2017 General Assembly Session, CBF supported policies and funding for key programs to maintain this progress.
Farm Conservation Practices
Farm conservation practices (also referred to as best management practices) like fencing cattle out of streams and planting trees alongside waterways are the most cost-efficient steps Virginia can take to restore the Bay and local rivers and streams. Virginia's agricultural cost-share program provides financial and technical assistance for farmers willing to do their part to reduce runoff.
This year, Virginia's legislators approved a budget that includes an investment of about $17 million in Virginia's agricultural cost-share program for fiscal year 2018, a decrease compared to the fiscal year 2017 level of $61.7 million.
Sustained, consistent investment in farm conservation practices is necessary to keep Virginia on track to restore its waterways. Like other businessmen, farmers need to plan for capital investments. Additionally, the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which help implement the practices, need a stable budget to reduce staffing turnover and training costs.
Fortunately, the budget established a stakeholder group to recommend methods to stabilize investment in farm conservation practices. A separate group will look into what is needed for continued progress with Resource Management Plans, which help farmers best take advantage of practices that improve both farming operations and water quality. CBF is very pleased to be named part of both groups.
Reducing Polluted Runoff
In Virginia's cities and suburbs, rains wash pollution from roofs, sidewalks, and roadways and into our waterways, creating polluted runoff. Matching grants from Virginia's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) have helped local governments construct wetlands, restore streams, and install rain gardens to reduce runoff into their streams and meet Clean Water Blueprint goals.
We're disappointed that the state did not invest in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund for fiscal year 2018. CBF will continue to work with local and state elected officials to ensure support for this vital program in next year's General Assembly session.
Keeping the Bay Act Intact
The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) has protected tidal waters in Virginia since 1988. But proposed legislation this year threatened to weaken the Bay Act. CBF strongly opposed this legislation, and the bill was, fortunately, withdrawn. Weakening Bay Act requirements could derail the progress Virginia has made towards clean, healthy waterways.
Other polluted runoff bills that were initially troubling were amended so that CBF could support them. CBF will sit on a stakeholder group to study how small rural localities can more easily manage their responsibilities to reduce polluted runoff.
Reducing Sewer Overflows
This legislative session CBF supported efforts to reduce the 12 million gallons of sewage overflows that enters the Potomac River annually. Alexandria is one of three cities in Virginia that still uses a combined sewer system, which sends untreated sewage directly into the river during rainfall. This leads to excess nutrients and other pollutants, and poses serious health risks to recreational users of the river.
CBF worked in support of legislation that will bring a sewage outfall in Alexandria into compliance with the Clean Water Act no later than 2025.
Protecting and Restoring the Commonwealth's Fisheries
CBF opposed several bills that would have loosened up penalties and safeguards against poaching of oysters and other fisheries. These proposals ultimately did not prevail. Additionally, CBF supported a menhaden study bill, which would have determined the best way to manage this important forage fish. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass.
Keep Virginia on Track to Meet Clean Water Goals
Virginia is largely on track to meet its clean water goals for 2017 thanks in large measure to the many programs and safeguards established during prior general assemblies. The Commonwealth is making steady progress, but we can't fall behind, not now when a fully restored Bay is within reach. That's why continued investment in programs that restore local waterways is so vital.