(RICHMOND, VA)—Legislation to allow Virginia counties and cities to better use trees to address flooding, reduce polluted runoff, and take steps to address the “heat island” effect, which is part of the legacy of past discriminatory lending practices, is expected to be heard in key House and Senate committees in the coming days.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is among many organizations supporting the legislation because of the benefits trees provide to the environment and communities. The bills are H.B. 2042, patroned by Del. Nancy Guy of Virginia Beach, and S.B. 1393, patroned by Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax County. The bill is on the agenda for the Jan. 21 meeting of the House Counties, Cities, and Towns Subcommittee at 7 a.m.
The list of benefits tree canopies provide is long—mitigating local flooding, filtering air pollution, reducing polluted runoff, cooling areas prone to extreme heat, creating homes for wildlife, taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and more.
Currently, Virginia law limits how localities can promote tree preservation and replacement when sites are being developed. The legislation would give Virginia cities and counties more flexibility to expand tree cover in certain cases, including addressing recurrent flooding, meeting stormwater (MS4) permit requirements, and remedying extreme heat in some city neighborhoods that is a 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 specific priorities.
“Our cities and counties should have greater flexibility to use trees as a cost-effective tool to address numerous challenges Virginians face, from flooding threatening homes, to dangerously hot summertime temperatures, to polluted waterways,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner. “Trees are an inexpensive and effective way to make our neighborhoods more livable while helping the environment. We urge our legislators to take a firm step in the right direction this session to plant a better future for our communities.”
Supporters of the legislation include CBF, the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, the Virginia Conservation Network, Friends of the Rappahannock, and Lynnhaven River NOW, among others. On Jan. 19, the City of Virginia Beach formally added the legislation to its 2021 Legislative Agenda at a City Council Meeting.
“People who live in Virginia Beach understand the impact that recurrent flooding has on our community. Flooding damages homes, property, and it disrupts our lives. We need to consider every possible tool in order to mitigate the impact of flooding on our neighborhoods and on our lives,” said Virginia Beach City Council Member Michael F. Berlucchi. “This legislation will allow localities the flexibility of establishing higher tree replacement percentages in order to achieve our strategic goals of reducing flooding and improving water quality.”
The leafy canopies of trees slow rainfall before it reaches the ground, allowing it to infiltrate into the soil. There, tree roots absorb water and pollutants before they exacerbate pollution and flooding. Virginia loses a staggering 16,000 acres of trees annually to development, disease, and storms, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. That loss affects both flooding and pollution to waterways. A one-acre parking lot collects and discharges 27,000 gallons of stormwater during a single one-inch rainstorm. In contrast, an acre of forest allows only about 750 gallons of stormwater runoff to enter waterways.
CBF urges Virginia legislators to take action on tree legislation this general assembly session.