We're at a crucial moment in the long-term effort to restore Virginia's waterways. Success depends on the outcome of Virginia's 2020 legislative session, which runs from January 8 until mid-March.
Last summer Governor Northam released Virginia's final update to the Clean Water Blueprint, a detailed plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. The plan addresses climate change, improves the quality of life in communities, and creates green jobs.
Now legislators must implement this strong Blueprint for success. The new leadership in Virginia's General Assembly can do so by fully investing in the Commonwealth's successful clean water programs and supporting other key Bay priorities, such as protecting menhaden, expanding oyster restoration, and banning oil and gas drilling off our coast.
Investing in the Clean Water Blueprint
This session is especially critical because Virginia will adopt a budget for the next two years that covers fiscal years 2021 and 2022. Virginia's Blueprint calls for accelerated investment in key clean water programs, including:
- Virginia's Agricultural Cost-Share Program: $100 million per year. This program helps farmers across Virginia adopt sound, cost-effective conservation practices like fencing cattle out of streams, planting streamside trees and grasses, and installing cover crops. For an informative video about the program, see our Agricultural Cost-Share Program web page.
- The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF): $182 million for the two-year period. SLAF provides matching grants to localities for projects that reduce polluted runoff through stream restorations, rain gardens, and other effective practices. For real-life stories about how the fund is helping communities, see our Slowing the Flow blog series.
- Sewage Treatment Plant Upgrades: $120 million over the two-year period. By installing the right technology, many wastewater treatment plants have dramatically reduced the amount of pollution they send into rivers. But some wastewater facilities still lag behind in making these upgrades. Virginia must continue investing in sewage treatment by providing grants to wastewater treatment plants to ensure a balanced effort and certain results across the Commonwealth.
Key Blueprint Policies
- Protecting Streams from Livestock: We support legislation that sets a deadline for fencing cattle and other livestock from all permanent streams and that provides incentives and flexibility to assure farmers can meet this timeline. This effort will significantly improve the health of local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
- Better Management of Fertilizer: With nutrient management plans, farmers can make sure fertilizer is not over-applied, avoiding both unnecessary costs and pollution. We support legislation that sets a deadline for implementing these plans on 85 percent of all cropland acres in Virginia's Bay watershed.
- Reducing Greenhouse Gases: Enabling Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants, an important step in responding to climate change and sea-level rise. Cutting down on these emissions will also reduce nitrogen pollution to the Bay and its rivers through air deposition.
Protecting Menhaden in the Bay
In 2019, Omega Protein announced it caught more menhaden than allowed under the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap, which was adopted overwhelmingly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. To avoid future violations, legislators should transfer management of the menhaden fishery to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which manages every other saltwater fishery in Virginia.
Investing in Oyster Restoration and Replenishment
Oyster restoration builds sanctuary reefs off-limits to harvest, while oyster replenishment helps watermen through boosting the oyster population. CBF supports the Governor's proposal to provide $10 million for oyster restoration work, in addition to the current $4 million annual investment in oyster restoration and replenishment. We also urge $500,000 in funding for a study to finally determine the size of Virginia's wild oyster population.
Stopping Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling
Drilling for oil and gas off Virginia's coast would present an unjustifiable risk to our economy, military operations, and the health of our waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay. We support banning drilling in state waters and related infrastructure at Virginia's ports.
Cutting Down on Single-Use Plastics
CBF supports legislation that would allow localities to opt to ban or tax single-use plastic bags and other plastics, with revenue generated to support the Clean Water Blueprint.
Protecting Tree Cover
Preserving and expanding tree cover reduces polluted runoff, mitigates climate change, and results in cleaner air and a healthier community. CBF supports legislation that harnesses trees to help restore our waterways.