What You Need to Know About the 2017 Legislative Session
With federal support for Chesapeake Bay restoration at risk, it is more important than ever that Virginia's elected officials back programs and policies that protect our waterways. Virginia's General Assembly held a short 45-day session for 2017. Due in part to a significant revenue shortfall, the session featured both successes and challenges for clean water in the Commonwealth.
Farm Conservation Practices
Virginia's agricultural cost-share program helps farmers reduce runoff through cost-efficient steps that restore local rivers and streams, including fencing cattle out of streams and planting trees along waterways. This year Virginia's legislators approved a budget that invests about $17 million in Virginia's agricultural cost-share program for fiscal year 2018, an amount that will be important to farmers and waterways yet still significantly less than the Fiscal Year 2017 level of $61.7 million.
These year-to-year fluctuations in funding levels are troublesome. Consistent support for farm conservation practices is vital for restoring the Chesapeake Bay. To find ways to address this problem, the General Assembly established a stakeholder group that will recommend methods to stabilize investment in conservation practices. A separate group will consider ways to make progress with Resource Management Plans, which help farmers implement techniques 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, matching grants from Virginia's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund have helped construct wetlands, restore streams, and install rain gardens to reduce polluted runoff. Unfortunately, Virginia did not invest additional funds in this program in fiscal year 2018. While we are disappointed, CBF will work with local and state elected officials in the coming year to ensure support in the next General Assembly session.
Keeping Bay Act Protections Strong
Since 1988, the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) has provided important guidelines to reducedevelopment impacts to Virginia's tidal waters. However, a proposal this year threatened to weaken these Bay Act protections. CBF strongly opposed this legislation, and fortunately the bill was withdrawn.
Reducing Sewer Overflows
CBF supported legislation this session to accelerate work on ending the annual discharge of millions of gallons of raw sewage to the Potomac River from Alexandria's combined sewer system. Overflows during rainfall lead to excess nutrients and pollutants in the river and pose serious health risks to people who swim and paddle the Potomac. The bill would bring a sewage outfall in Alexandria into compliance with the Clean Water Act no later than 2025. The legislation passed the General Assembly and as of press time is awaiting final action from the governor.
Protecting the Commonwealth's Fisheries
CBF opposed several bills this session that would have eased penalties and safeguards against poaching of oysters and other fisheries. Fortunately, these proposals did not become law. Additionally, CBF supported a menhaden study bill that would have determined the best way to manage this important forage fish. Unfortunately, this beneficial bill was not successful.
Keep Virginia on Track to Meet Clean Water Goals
We are seeing so many signs of progress towards a restored Bay, and Virginia is largely on track to meet its clean-water goals for 2017. Continued commitment from legislators and Virginia's governor has been essential to this progress. Maintaining this investment is vital to success, and CBF will keep working with elected officials to restore Virginia's waters.
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation