Bill Supports Using Trees to Achieve Water Quality Goals

Jogging trail through wooded area CBF Staff 695x352

Whether along trails or along the coast, in suburbs or in cities, increasing and preserving tree cover allows local governments to both improve water quality and reduce local flooding.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Delegate Keam's HB 2333 gives localities important options

Virginia localities need to reduce local flooding and polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas. Trees are one of the most cost efficient ways to achieve these goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Virginia legislators to support H.B. 2333. This bill enhances the authority of localities to rely on trees to achieve specific water quality or water quantity goals.

Increasing and preserving tree cover allows local governments to both improve water quality and reduce local flooding. Tree canopies intercept rainwater, reducing polluted runoff and erosion. Trees also absorb excess nutrients, and they can help stabilize stream banks. Trees are thirsty—a single large tree can absorb more than 1,000 gallons of water per year and slowly release it to the atmosphere, which helps to combat local flooding.

Current Tree Laws

Last year, Virginia legislators took an important step by giving all localities within the Chesapeake Bay watershed the option to require some planting or replacement of trees during the development process.

But more needs to be done. Currently, localities may only require developers to plant and replace up to specific limits. For example, under current law the maximum tree canopy a locality can require for a commercial property is 10 percent of the total project area after 20 years. For a residential parcel zoned for 10 or fewer units per acre, the maximum tree canopy is 20 percent of the total area after 20 years. These limits do not consider trees’ many important water quality and flood mitigation benefits. Virginia shouldn’t limit the ability of a locality to protect its residents and infrastructure.

What H.B. 2333 Would Do

H.B. 2333 would grant localities more authority to set tree canopy requirements if they are used to help meet water quality goals, such as reducing nutrient pollution with streamside buffers or addressing local flooding problems. For example, coastal localities recognize that trees are a cost-effective way to increase resiliency to sea-level rise.

This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of more than 50 organizations, including CBF, the Garden Club of Virginia, and many other businesses and nonprofit organizations across Virginia.

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