Virginia's Path to Clean Water

Clean Water Policies for Virginia

Richmond State House_iStock_695x352

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.

2019 General Assembly

In this year's General Assembly session, which began on January 9, Virginia legislators will consider critical investment in programs that reduce polluted runoff and lead to cleaner waterways. Legislators will also vote on many other policy proposals that affect our waters.

CBF's latest State of the Bay Report shows the Bay's recovery is fragile, but restoration efforts are working. That's why this year it's more important than ever that our legislators support the following priorities:

Investing in Clean Water and Oysters

We urge legislators to support the following:

  • Investing $90.5 million in Virginia's agricultural cost-share program in fiscal year 2020. Robust and reliable funding helps farmers offset the cost of installing clean water practices, such as fencing livestock out of streams and planting trees along waterways. 
    For an informative video that makes the case for the program, see our Agricultural Cost-Share Program web page.
  • Investing $50 million in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which provides matching grants to localities for projects that reduce polluted runoff, including stream restoration, wetland construction, and rain gardens. In the existing budget, the General Assembly appropriated $20 million for the current year, but nothing for fiscal year 2020.
    For real-life stories about how the fund is helping communities, see our
    Slowing the Flow blog series.
  • Investing $4 million total in oyster replenishment to assist commercial watermen and restoration for sanctuary reefs in fiscal year 2020, an increase compared to the $3 million appropriated in the existing budget.

Supporting Policies that Reduce Polluted Runoff

CBF urges the General Assembly to maintain a strong Virginia stormwater program, which was significantly overhauled in 2014 with improved technical requirements and an effective administrative framework. Weakening this program will hinder Virginia's ability to meet state and federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments to reduce pollution from runoff and would create a bigger, more-costly gap to overcome.

Addressing Recurrent Flooding

A recent constitutional amendment requires legislation to allow localities to provide a tax incentive to property owners suffering from recurrent flooding. This represents an opportunity to increase resiliency while improving water quality. We will work to ensure the required enabling legislation doesn't encourage development in flood-prone areas. The legislation should also incentivize natural solutions to flooding such as constructed wetlands and living shorelines, which also prevent polluted runoff.

So Far This Session

Tackling the Coal Ash Threat

Numerous unlined coal ash ponds across Virginia's Chesapeake Bay watershed threaten to pollute waterways with toxic waste and contaminate groundwater. Legislators reached a bipartisan agreement on cleaning up coal ash ponds in the Bay watershed. Senate Bill 1355 prohibits capping in place and requires that at least 25 percent of the ash be recycled, with the remainder disposed of safely in modern, lined landfills.

Update: 1/24/19 CBF Statement on Virginia Coal Ash Agreement 

More Trees, Please--H.B. 233

Localities need more flexibility so that they can rely on trees to improve water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Trees absorb polluted runoff and stabilize soils, reduce the cost of drinking water treatment, improve air quality, reduce urban temperatures, absorb greenhouse gases, and increase property values. Under current Virginia law, Chesapeake Bay watershed localities may only require developers to plant and replace a very limited number of trees. Unfortunately, H.B. 2333, which would have allowed cities and counties in Virginia to require more tree cover to achieve clean water goals, did not pass.
For more information on the roll trees play in keeping our waters clean, see our 10 Million Trees campaign website.

Protecting the Most Important Fish in the Sea

Virginia's menhaden fishery is currently on the path to noncompliance after legislation to make required modest updates to the harvest quota did not pass in the 2018 session. To support wise management of this key forage fish, we encouraged legislators to support bringing the state's menhaden regulations in line with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Bills which would have transferred management of this critical forage fish from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, unfortunately failed to pass in subcommittee.

Opposing Oil Exploration and Drilling Off Virginia's Coast

Offshore drilling in our region would pose an unacceptable risk to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's coastal waters and threaten our economy. CBF supported legislation that would have limited oil exploration and offshore drilling in our waters, but it, too, failed to advance.

Stay tuned for updates as we fight for policies friendly to clean water in 2019.

More information on the policies needed to reduce pollution, restore our iconic fisheries, and strengthen local communities is available below.

Reduce Pollution

Fortunately, Virginia is largely on track to achieve its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals for reducing pollution. Moving forward, the Commonwealth needs to continue investing in programs that reduce runoff from agriculture and developed communities.
Read More


Restore Oysters and Iconic Fisheries

The recovery of oysters, crabs, and other Bay fisheries will support Virginia's once-legendary seafood industry and the thousands of jobs that rely on it. To flourish, these fisheries need clean water, healthy habitat, and sound, science-based management.
Read More


Strengthen Local Communities

Virginia's rivers and the Bay are economic assets supplying jobs in tourism, seafood, and outdoor recreation industries. Fully implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint would increase the value of Virginia's natural benefits by $8.3 billion annually.
Read More


* 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.

Photo credits (from top): Bobby Whitescarver, Chesapeake Bay Program, CBF Staff

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What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

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