In separate bills approved this Sunday, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates released proposed amendments to Virginia’s two-year state budget. Building on proposals made by Governor Youngkin, the House and Senate amendments would provide additional funding for state programs that reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and rivers and streams across the Commonwealth.
A conference committee of legislators will now negotiate a single set of budget amendments, which will need approval from Governor Youngkin before becoming law.
The House and Senate proposals include the following levels of funding:
- Virginia’s Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) and related programs: Both the House and the Senate would add $137.1 million in cost-share grants to farmers who adopt important conservation practices that keep soil and fertilizer out of waterways. This amount would be in addition to the appropriation of $237 million over two years for these programs by the General Assembly in early 2022.
- Legislators in both Houses also propose several other amendments to enhance pollution reduction from farms, including $12.9 million to incentivize farmers to adopt the most cost-effective farm conservation practices (stream fencing, nutrient management plans, and forested buffers) and $1 million for engineering and other tools the Soil and Water Conservation Districts need to help farmers adopt these practices.
- Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades: Under both budget proposals, $237 million would be provided to sewage treatment plants to continue upgrades that reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution. This amount would be in addition to the $70 million appropriated in early 2022 for the two-year budget period.
- Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO): Both the House and the Senate would provide an additional $100 million for the City of Richmond to continue modernizing its outdated combined sewer system that currently allows raw sewage to be discharged into the James River in times of heavy rains. This would be in addition to appropriations in early 2022 for reducing CSOs in Richmond ($100 million), Alexandria ($40 million), and Lynchburg ($25 million).
- Stormwater Management: The House proposes an additional $10 million, and the Senate seeks an additional $20 million, for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) which provides grants to localities for projects that reduce polluted runoff. These amounts would be in addition to the $25 million appropriated for SLAF in 2022.
- Forest and tree canopy enhancement: The Senate proposes $500,000 for the Virginia Department of Forestry to conduct a technical study of changes in forests and tree canopy. This study will help Virginia and its localities protect and enhance forests, which are essential for healthy streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
- Oyster Shell Recycling: The Senate urges the appropriation of $100,000 to support oyster shell recycling.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner issued the following statement.
“These investments are crucial for Virginia to make progress toward meeting its longstanding commitments to reduce pollution to waterways under the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. Inflation and climate change are adding significant challenges to Bay restoration efforts.
“About 90 percent of Virginia’s remaining pollution reductions must come from agriculture. Increasing investment Virginia’s successful agricultural cost-share program, combined with innovative approaches that incentivize the most effective farm practices, will both help farmers and lead to healthier waterways.
“As these budget proposals demonstrate, Virginia legislators are committed to supporting existing and new pollution reduction programs that will continue progress in restoring our streams and the Chesapeake Bay. We look forward to a final budget that will accelerate this important work.”