The following first appeared in the Virginian-Pilot.
We're fortunate in Hampton Roads to be surrounded by beautiful rivers, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean. Not only does all this water improve our quality of life, but it is also a huge driver for our economy.
Fishing, boating, water- sports, and beaches attract tourists, residents, and workers. All of it depends on clean water.
These waters have been damaged.
Every rainfall in Hampton Roads picks up pollution from our buildings, streets, and parking lots. This runoff washes a destructive mix of oil, fertilizers, pet waste, pesticides, dirt, and litter directly into local creeks and rivers.
The health of our waters suffers. High bacteria levels close beaches. Algae clouds our waterways, and summertime algal blooms deplete oxygen in the water and smother fish and other sea life. In some cases, these blooms can even pose risks to swimmers and those who eat shellfish.
Luckily, we know what needs to be done to restore our waterways, and Virginia has a cleanup plan in place.
In recent years the state has provided matching grants to local governments for implementing effective upgrades to stormwater systems, reducing polluted runoff. They include measures like bioretention ponds and stream and wetland restorations, projects that filter water and build resiliency in the face of recurrent flooding.
That work is far from finished, and we may soon be missing a crucial part of the solution. Right now the Virginia General Assembly is making budget decisions for the next two years, and as it stands, funding could very well dry up for state stormwater grants.
The introduced budget did not include any money for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which has provided matching grants for local projects.
Legislators need to act in the coming weeks to make sure that the program remains strong. That's why they should support funding proposals currently being considered to provide $50 million for stormwater grants in each of the next two years.
It's even more critical for the six Hampton Roads cities, which this spring are slated to receive updated, more protective, federally required stormwater permits.
Those permits will mandate stormwater upgrades, potentially leading to big financial challenges for local governments. State matching grants have been available to assist with this work, but if legislators decline to replenish the funding in the coming weeks, cities in Hampton Roads and elsewhere will be left on their own.
No region in Virginia stands to benefit more from this program than Hampton Roads. At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, this region has to deal with our own pollution and whatever comes downstream from elsewhere. It's just common sense that Hampton Roads legislators would back statewide stormwater funding.
Other Virginia programs have also made progress in improving water quality. Farmers are reducing agricultural pollution. The modernization of wastewater treatment plants is greatly reducing pollution in Virginia's rivers.
But efforts to reduce pollution from urban areas is woefully behind. In fact, stormwater is the only major source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay that has actually increased in recent years.
Polluted runoff is a difficult problem, but one with known solutions.
Robust support for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund will help Virginians in Hampton Roads and across the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of clean water.
--Christy Everett, CBF's Hampton Roads Director