Late last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell released his proposed amendments to Virginia’s new two-year budget adopted earlier by the Virginia General Assembly. This was the next step in approving a budget that includes $87.6 million to help Virginia localities pay for upgrades to their sewage treatment plants, among the larger sources of pollution plaguing the Bay.
While the Assembly will have the last word on the governor’s amendments, it’s likely the Bay funding will remain intact. That’s very important for the Bay, local rivers, and local governments.
Until recent years, that is. In 2005, the State Water Control Board adopted regulations requiring all new and expanding sewage treatment plants in Virginia to install nutrient-reduction technology to help restore water quality in the Bay system. Recognizing the importance of this effort, the Virginia legislature has appropriated significant state funding – to date more than half a billion dollars – to help localities pay for the plant upgrades.
Relying on this state funding help, scores of localities across the state have begun modernizing their wastewater plants or have signed contracts committing them to do so, investing hundreds of millions of local and state dollars into the effort. As a result, Virginia is putting a serious dent in the Bay’s nutrient pollution problems. The $87.6 million pending in Virginia’s 2013-14 budget continues that local funding assistance so critical to maintaining Bay restoration progress.
The money “should assure localities and citizens across Virginia that the General Assembly and Gov. McDonnell are serious about the state’s partnership role in restoring clean water to local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay,” says Ann Jennings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia executive director.
Other good news for the Bay: The pending biennial budget includes about $23 million for the state’s farm cost-share program, which helps farmers pay for conservation practices that reduce runoff from fields and pastures, another big source of pollution in Virginia waterways. In a related appropriation, the budget directs $4 million to Virginia’s local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The districts recruit, train, and assist farmers to enroll in the cost-share conservation program.
Many farmers in Virginia and across the Bay watershed already employ some conservation practices on their farms, taking advantage of state and federal cost-share dollars or in some cases paying out of their own pocket. As a result, this state-federal-farm partnership has cut about half the agricultural pollution needed to achieve Virginia’s Bay and river cleanup goals.
But half way won’t get the job done of saving the Bay. U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys show that the vast majority of cropland acres in the Bay watershed –- 80 percent -- need additional conservation practices to protect water quality from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution. That’s why every state and federal cost-share dollar is so important, why Virginia and the federal government must plow more funding into conservation programs, and why more farmers need to enroll in them.
And finally, the new state budget includes $80,000 to help provide outdoor environmental education to Virginia school students and teachers. With studies showing more and more children today disconnected from nature because they are so connected to computers and smart phones, it really is important to get kids outdoors and turned on to the natural world. Otherwise, how can we expect young people to embrace environmental stewardship and take better care of the planet than earlier generations have done?
The Virginia General Assembly reconvenes Monday, May 14, to take final action on the budget. If you live in Virginia and care about clean water, healthy rivers, and a cleaner Bay for you and your children, tell your state legislator to approve Virginia's spending plan.
Remember: the Bay can’t vote, but you can!
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
All photos by CBF Staff.