In this year's General Assembly session, which ran from January 9 to February 23, Virginia legislators considered critical investments in programs that reduce polluted runoff and lead to cleaner waterways, as well as significant 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. We are grateful that Virginia legislators recommitted themselves to programs that will restore the Bay by 2025.
Historic Investments in Clean Water and Oysters
In the budget now headed to the Governor's desk for signature, the General Assembly voted to invest:
- $89.7 million in Virginia's agricultural cost-share program. Of this, $5.7 million will be used in fiscal year 2019 to help exclude livestock from streams. The remainder will be used in FY20 to help farmers implement conservation practices that reduce runoff.
For an informative video about the program, see our Agricultural Cost-Share Program web page.
- $10 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.
For real-life stories about how the fund is helping communities, see our Slowing the Flow blog series.
- $4 million for oyster shell replenishment to assist commercial watermen and restoration for sanctuary reefs.
- $25 million to offset the cost of upgrading the city of Alexandria's combined sewer and stormwater system. When completed, this project should dramatically reduce sewage overflows into the Potomac River.
Supporting Sound Policies that Reduce Polluted Runoff
Legislators also demonstrated a growing recognition of the importance of strong stormwater rules. They passed a law requiring a periodic "needs assessment" for stormwater, which will help inform future budgets. And they handily defeated several bills that would have weakened the state’s stormwater program, including a bill that would have unwisely extended the time before developers must adhere to the more stringent 2014 stormwater rules and one that would have jeopardized protections for Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas and tidal wetlands.
Weakening the stormwater program would 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.
Legislators also passed a bill that seeks to lessen the conflicts between land owners and the oyster aquaculture industry. The bill was the result of recommendations from a stakeholder group that included local government, watermen, landowners, conservation groups, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
Addressing Recurrent Flooding
Legislators also passed new legislation required to put into effect a constitutional amendment that allows localities to provide a tax incentive to property owners suffering from recurrent flooding. The approved enabling legislation should prevent new development in flood plains and incentivize natural solutions to flooding such as constructed wetlands and living shorelines, which also prevent polluted runoff.
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
Localities need more flexibility to 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 role 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 was 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.