Virginians: Urge Your Legislators to Support Investments in Water Quality!
We’re entering the final stretch of Virginia’s efforts to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint depends on all of us—from homeowners to farmers and businesses to local governments. But the actions of state legislators during Virginia’s 2021 legislative session that convened on January 13 and adjournes February 27 will be paramount.
CBF has identified the following legislative priorities to help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams for future generations.
Accelerate Investments to Meet Clean Water Goals
We urge Virginia legislators to make additional investments in the most important programs for Bay restoration goals:
- Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) Program
Approve a total of $100 million. This program offers funding and technical support to help farmers adopt sound, cost-effective conservation practices. These funds will support farmers who fence cattle out of streams, adopt nutrient management plans on cropland, and follow other conservation practices. Increasing funding is leading many more farmers to take part. This video from the Choose Clean Water Coalition explains more about VACS.
- Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF)
Approve a total of $80 million. SLAF helps cities and counties reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban lands. The program provides grants to localities for projects such as wetland construction, living shorelines, stream restorations, and rain gardens. For real-life stories about how the fund is helping communities, see our “Slowing the Flow" blog series.
Legislators should also enact legislation to enable localities to rely on practices that reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and that helps fiscally stressed communities have access to larger grant funds.
- Upgrade Wastewater Treatment Plants
Approve $55 million. The modernization of many of Virginia’s sewage treatment plants has dramatically reduced the amount of pollution they send into rivers. But some plants, especially along the James and York Rivers, have yet to make sorely needed upgrades. Additional funding will help facilities that still need to upgrade, protecting ratepayers from covering those high costs.
Prepare the Next Generation for Environmental Stewardship
CBF supports efforts to expand environmental literacy programs, which unlock opportunities for students and bolster test scores through access to outdoor classrooms and experiential learning. We urge legislators to provide at least $250,000 to support on-the-water education programs.
The Power of Trees: Help Local Governments Expand and Preserve Tree Cover
Planting and preserving trees brings a host of benefits to communities, including addressing local flooding, reducing air and water pollution, cooling neighborhoods prone to extreme heat, creating wildlife habitat, and beautifying communities.
Currently, Virginia law limits how localities can maintain and increase tree planting and preservation when sites are being developed. Legislation this session (H.B. 2042 – Del. Guy and S.B. 1393 – Sen. Marsden) would give cities and counties more flexibility to expand tree cover in specific cases, including addressing recurrent flooding, meeting stormwater (MS4) permit requirements, and remedying the “heat island” legacy of now-outlawed redlining practices. The proposal would allow localities to choose to expand their use of trees as a cost-effective tool to tackle these priorities.
Advance Environmental Justice in Virginia
CBF continues to advocate for environmental justice in Virginia. That work focuses, in part, on ensuring that communities most threatened by pollution have a meaningful voice in environmental decisions affecting them.
CBF supports two bills (S.B. 1373 – Sen. McClellan and H.B. 2221 – Del. Hayes) that would require operators of proposed new or expanded polluting facilities to conduct effective community outreach concerning the proposals, including public meetings and newspaper and social media notices, well in advance of submitting applications for environmental permits.
CBF also supports bills (H.B. 2074 – Del. Simonds and S.B. 1318 – Sen. Hashmi) that would create the Environmental Justice Interagency Workgroup. The bills would also require all state agencies to adopt specific environmental justice policies that ensure meaningful consideration of incremental and cumulative impacts on affected communities of proposed agency actions, robust public participation plans, and other protections for potentially impacted vulnerable communities.
Ensure Effective Wastewater Treatment Upgrades
Virginia will not meet its 2025 commitments to reduce pollution under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint without continued upgrades of wastewater treatment plants. Cutting pollution from wastewater is the most reliable and path to healthier waters.
Two bills (H.B. 2129 - Del. Lopez and S.B. 1354 - Sen. Hanger) address the next steps in upgrading Virginia’s wastewater plants. CBF has worked closely with legislators and partners to strengthen these important bills, which should provide a big boost in reducing pollution to the Bay and to local waterways.
Adding Flexibility and Equity to the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund
The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) provides grants to localities to complete projects that will reduce polluted runoff. An important bill (S.B. 1404 – Sen. Lewis) supported by CBF should add flexibility to this program by allowing consideration of nitrogen reductions as well as phosphorus reductions. This change would boost support for many projects with multiple benefits, such as living shorelines and constructed wetlands.
Another change included in this bill addresses equity concerns. Currently, the SLAF program funds up to 50 percent of eligible project costs, but the legislation would allow grants of higher percentages of eligible costs when sponsored by fiscally stressed localities. Historically, these communities have struggled to access these funds.
Providing Local Governments Fiscal Flexibility to Address Stormwater and Flooding
Localities are already dealing with recurrent flooding, erosion, and deteriorating stormwater management facilities. This will get worse as climate change leads to increased rainfall in our region.
CBF supports legislation (S.B. 1309 – Sen. Ebbin) that allows local governments to use local stormwater management funds to address flooding, prioritizing nature-based practices where practicable.
Help Families Upgrade Failing Septic Systems and Plan for Climate Change
CBF supports (S.B. 1396 – Sen. Hashmi), which will create a fund to assist low-income property owners to repair or install septic systems, establish an advisory group to assess wastewater needs, plan for climate change effects on wastewater treatment systems, and related steps.
Prevent Pollution from Food Containers and Balloons
The threat of litter from all sources to our rivers, creeks, and oceans has gained well-deserved attention in recent years.
CBF supports two bills that would reduce pollution from food containers and balloons, both of which can pollute waterways and harm wildlife. Food vendors and restaurants would be banned from using polystyrene food containers under H.B. 1902, introduced by Del. Carr. Releasing nonbiodegradable or photodegradable balloons outdoors would be banned under H.B. 2159, introduced by Del. Guy. Currently Virginia only prohibits releases of over 50 balloons.
Study Carbon Sequestration
To mitigate the impacts of climate change, we must consider ways we can store (or sequester) existing carbon dioxide so that it does not reach or remain in our atmosphere.
CBF supports legislation by Sen. Lewis (S.B. 1374) that would create a task force to study carbon sequestration so Virginia can identify opportunities to use its natural resources programs to store carbon.
Taking Stock of Greenhouse Gases
CBF supports S.B. 1282, introduced by Sen. Morrissey, requiring Virginia to conduct an inventory of overall greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth.
Evaluating the Potential Risks of Gold Mines
CBF supports H.B 2213 (Del. Guzman), which asks the Secretaries of Natural Resources, Health and Human Resources, and Commerce and Trade to conduct a study of the risks of gold mining to public health and the environment. The bill would also prohibit issuance of any permit to operate a gold mine larger than 10 acres pending the outcome of the study.