(RICHMOND, VA)—With the release of budget conference numbers today, Virginia's General Assembly is wrapping up a remarkable session for clean water. The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates are expected to vote Thursday on a budget for the next two years that includes the following levels of investment in programs that benefit Virginia's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay:
- The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which helps localities keep polluted runoff from waterways, would receive $50 million over the two-year period. Last year, legislators appropriated $10 million to this stormwater program.
- New investment to upgrade sewage treatment plants—a long-term success story in Virginia—totals $50 million over the two-year period. This is the first time in several years that Virginia has invested in wastewater upgrades.
- New investment of $10 million in innovative bond financing for constructing sanctuary oyster reefs to meet restoration goals, and $4 million per year in ongoing oyster restoration and replenishment programs. Last year, legislators last year appropriated $4 million in oyster restoration and replenishment funding.
- Virginia's Agricultural Cost-Share and related programs, including technical assistance, support farmers in adopting conservation practices like stream fencing and nutrient management plans. These programs would receive $95.7 million million over the two-year period. CBF will advocate for additional cost-share funding next session. Last year legislators appropriated $83.8 million for fiscal year 2020 to these farm practices.
Beyond the budget, the General Assembly has also passed significant legislation that will lead to healthier Virginia waterways. This session legislators:
- Transferred the management of the menhaden fishery to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to ensure the science-based management of this critical forage species;
- Banned oil and natural gas offshore drilling and related infrastructure in Virginia waters;
- Established steps to accelerate farmers' efforts to fence cattle out of streams and adopt nutrient management plans to reduce fertilizer runoff from cropland;
- Authorized Virginia's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, reducing emissions of carbon and nitrogen from fossil fuel-based energy generation, and;
- Established milestones and a 2035 deadline for Richmond to eliminate sewage overflows into the James River.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner issued this statement.
"This session has been truly remarkable--among the strongest we've ever seen in Virginia for clean water. New initiatives and an unprecedented level of investment in clean water should significantly accelerate restoration of Virginia streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
"Continued support for the Agricultural Cost-Share program will help more farmers install conservation practices that lead to healthier streams and rivers. Virginia legislators this year also approved record levels of investment in oyster restoration and Stormwater Local Assistance Fund grants to reduce polluted runoff from developed areas.
"Sewage treatment plant upgrades that reduce pollution have already led to notable improvements in many Virginia waterways. This budget will help ensure that everyone who lives downstream of these plants reaps the benefits of cleaner water.
"We thank Virginia's legislators, as well as Governor Northam, for their continued commitment to our waterways. This strong support is essential for Virginia achieve to its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals by the 2025 deadline."