VIRGINIA UPDATE

From the Desk of Ann Jennings Summer 2015
 

A Farewell Note   

Virginia has made tremendous progress in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but farm runoff still remains among the largest sources of Bay pollution. Our review of Virginia's 2014-2015 "milestones" progress demonstrates the need to accelerate the use of farm conservation practices to ensure Virginia remains on track to reach 2017 and 2025 Bay-restoration goals.

CBF VA Executive Director Ann Jennings.

CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings. 

Scientists estimate agriculture contributes roughly half of the excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment fouling Bay waters. That pollution stimulates algal blooms that rob the water of oxygen, stunt underwater grasses, and smother oysters, clams, fish eggs, and other aquatic life. Curbing farm runoff is among the top priorities of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to restore the Bay. 

It's also a top priority of ours. That's why CBF is taking action to ensure Virginia employs an effective combination of incentives and requirements to reduce farm runoff.  

For example, CBF has filed a lawsuit challenging the state of Virginia for failing to require the state's largest livestock farms to fence their animals out of streams. Keeping livestock out of streams is critical for clean water. The wading animals erode stream banks and excrete waste in the water, increasing bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution for those downstream. According to the state's own data, some 8,000 miles of Virginia streams are polluted because of bacterial contamination, primarily from farm animals in streams. 

Despite these facts, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and State Water Control Board last year approved a 10-year permit for the state's largest livestock farms that contains no requirement to exclude livestock from streams and rivers. 

CBF argues that the Virginia law authorizing the farm permit specifically requires "adequate buffer zones, where waste shall not be applied" to protect surface waters. CBF maintains that allowing livestock to freely apply their manure and urine in and beside streams does not constitute an adequate buffer as required by law. 

The Richmond Circuit Court took a different approach. Acknowledging that the law is "ambiguous," the court gave more weight to DEQ's legal interpretation than to CBF's and concluded that the 10-year permit does not require large farm operations to fence livestock from streams. CBF is carefully considering its options, including a potential appeal.

CBF also continues to advocate for adequate, reliable state and federal funding to help farmers install conservation practices and for Virginia to provide 100 percent cost-share funding for livestock exclusion. Later this summer and fall, we will be asking you to assist us in calling on Governor Terry McAuliffe to ensure critical agriculture cost-share funding is included in his budget for the next two fiscal years.

As chair of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council (EC), Gov. McAuliffe can play a key leadership role by ensuring Virginia accelerates use of farm conservation practices so the state remains on track to meet its clean water goals. He can also help pressure the federal government to provide the resources needed for the entire Bay region.  

On a personal note, this will be my last CBF note to you. I will soon leave my position as CBF's Virginia Executive Director to become the Virginia Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a panel of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania state legislators working to restore the Bay through legislative means. Although departing CBF, I'll still be working on Bay restoration issues, just from a slightly different perch. 

During my 18 years at CBF, I have consistently been impressed by the enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment of you—our members, volunteers, and friends. As we have always said, you are the backbone of CBF. Without your support, we cannot succeed; with your help, we cannot fail.

Thank you. It has been a genuine privilege working with you, and I hope our paths will converge frequently in the coming months and years. Save the Bay!

—Ann Jennings
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council is meeting July 23 to discuss important Bay restoration issues. Send a message right now to your governor and EPA before they meet, urging them to step up and fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. 

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