2022 Virginia Legislative Session

Chuck Epes

Success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint depends on commitments and actions by all of us—homeowners, farmers, industry, developers, and more—to reduce pollution to our waterways. As the recent State of the Blueprint report shows, time is running out. A healthy Bay, clean streams, and resilient rivers are at risk without a major acceleration in pollution reduction.

When the 2022 Virginia General Assembly convenes on January 12, legislators will vote on proposals that will impact the health of Virginia’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. CBF will be working to ensure legislators prioritize restoration of the Bay and local waterways so that future generations can enjoy their beauty and bounty. And your advocacy will be critical to our collective success. Below are some of the top priorities CBF will be focusing on this legislative session.

Fully Fund Clean Water Programs to Achieve Blueprint Goals by 2025

We are off to a good start. Virginia’s excellent financial status has created an unprecedented opportunity to invest in the key programs at levels that will achieve Blueprint goals for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Here is what is needed in the upcoming two-year budget to finish the job:

  • $286 million for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share and related programs, which provide funding, technical expertise and operational support to farmers who adopt sound, cost-effective conservation practices. These funds will support farmers who fence cattle out of streams, implement nutrient management plans on cropland, and adopt a host of other conservation practices. Farmers across the state rely on the program to implement these practices, and increasing funding is leading many more farmers to take part. To see how farmers implement these practices, check out this video.
  • $100 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) to help cities and counties reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban lands. SLAF provides matching grants to localities for projects such as wetland construction, living shorelines, stream restorations, and rain gardens. To see how the fund is helping communities, see our “Slowing the Flow" blog series.
  • $165 million to stop sewage overflows from combined sewage systems into the James and Potomac Rivers.
    • $100 million to Richmond.
    • $40 million to Alexandria.
    • $25 million to Lynchburg.
  • $69 million to continue upgrading Virginia’s aging municipal sewage treatment plants. This funding will provide cost-shared grants to help facilities reduce the nutrient and sediment pollution that causes dead zones in our rivers and the Bay, while protecting ratepayers from high costs.
  • $14 million over two years to ensure the Department of Forestry can help localities and residents protect and enhance the Commonwealth’s tree canopies.
    • $4 million for the Trees for Clean Water program.
    • $6 million for Urban and Community Forestry programs that help localities plant and maintain trees.
    • $2.89 million for the New Kent nursery that produces hardwood seedlings.
    • $1 million for water quality grants.

Assisting Localities to Enhance Tree Canopies

According to preliminary data, Virginia is modifying an astounding 47,000 acres of forests and non-urban tree canopy per year. Some of these acres will be replanted for future timber harvests, but some are lost to development, utility scale solar, and disease. We must take steps to protect our valuable tree canopies, which reduce local flooding and polluted stormwater runoff, reduce heat-related illnesses in cities, lower energy consumption, sequester carbon, and ensure livable communities and valuable wildlife habitat.

Currently Virginia law limits localities’ abilities to maintain their tree canopies during development. Proposed legislation would give cities and counties additional authority to conserve and expand tree cover in specific cases.

Protecting Resilience and Water Quality Gains

In the last several years, Virginia has taken a number of major steps to enhance its resiliency in the face of more severe weather and a changing climate. Protecting these measures is a priority for the 2022 Session.

First, Virginia should maintain its membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program to cap and reduce carbon emissions from power generators. This program supports the Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which provides grants to localities across the state—from Winchester to Hampton, Danville to Fairfax—to build desperately-needed resiliency against coastal and inland flooding. Virginia must stay in RGGI to assure the availability of funds to help communities threatened by intense storms and rising seas.

Second, Virginia should adopt into law the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, which aims to protect communities vulnerable to flooding and provides a roadmap for adapting to climate change. The master plan identifies priority resiliency projects, financing strategies, and a plan for coordination among state, federal, and local governments.

Recently, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission finalized guidelines intended to protect tidal wetlands from sea level rise and other climate change impacts. And the Department of Environmental Quality developed regulations to guide localities in taking sea level rise and climate change into account in considering land use proposals for Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas.

These advances are important measures to help Virginia residents safely address climate change impacts while protecting water quality in our streams and the Bay. None of them should be rolled back.

Banning Coal Tar Sealant

CBF supports a ban on the use of coal tar pavement sealant, a black liquid that is sprayed or painted on asphalt pavement to protect the pavement. Yet, coal tar sealants can contain high levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mutations to aquatic life. Many cost-effective alternatives exist now; therefore, CBF is urging the General Assembly to prohibit the sale and use of coal tar sealants to protect human and aquatic health.

Assessing Virginia’s Oyster Stock

Virginia and its many partners have brought oyster harvests back from a low of 22,000 bushels in the early 2000s to 550,000 bushels in the last few years. This keystone species has an enormous economic value to the Commonwealth. Its environmental services—from filtering water in the Bay to providing habitat to other species—can hardly be overstated. To ensure the continuation of the oyster’s recovery, the Commonwealth should develop and conduct a statewide oyster stock assessment plan, appropriating the funds that will allow the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to hire a staff assessment scientist to conduct this work.

Restoring Freshwater Mussels

A single freshwater mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day, which in turn can prevent pollutants such as nitrogen from reaching downstream waters. Virginia has historically boasted an astonishing abundance of freshwater mussel species across all its freshwater streams, notably in streams in the southern part of the state. These critters help ensure cleaner water in our streams and, ultimately, the Bay. Unfortunately, mussel species are our most endangered class of organisms; in fact, some 70 percent of mussel species are now vulnerable to extinction.

CBF is urging legislators to appropriate funds to the Department of Wildlife Resources at the level allowing the agency to hire two staff scientists to develop a statewide restoration plan for these bivalves.

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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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Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

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