The Virginia General Assembly is poised to turn back time -- and not in a good way for those of us who care about clean water and a healthy environment. Here's the skinny and what you can do to help.
The legislature is debating several bills that seek to delay or change a pending state runoff protection program. Conservation groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), are fighting these bills day by day, committee by committee, and legislator by legislator. The battle cry is, “No delay, no dilution, no exemptions.” Here’s why.
Runoff pollution, also called stormwater, is getting worse and threatens to undo past progress made to restore the Chesapeake Bay and clean up local rivers and streams. Runoff is the water that washes off buildings, streets, parking lots, and lawns when it rains, sweeping a toxic brew of fertilizers, chemicals, pet waste, and dirt into local waterways.
Baywide, runoff is increasing because of ever expanding development and the hard-surfacing of the landscape without proper management of the resulting runoff and its impact on the environment.
Two years ago, the Virginia legislature directed that localities take responsibility for managing local runoff and to implement the state’s new, tougher protections by July 2013. Every locality in the state, however, asked for and was granted a year’s extension, until July 2014.
Now local governments are pressing the legislature to delay the program for yet another year, to weaken the protections, or to exempt certain localities. Meanwhile, polluted runoff continues to cause local flooding, choke streams and rivers, threaten public health, close beaches, and contaminate seafood.
One measure in the Virginia House of Delegates, House Bill 1173 amended in the nature of a substitute (Delegate Hodges), is being promoted as a compromise, has already cleared a crucial subpanel, and is headed for a full committee vote on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
CBF and other conservation groups strongly oppose the bill unless it is amended to strike a fatal flaw -- its call for a new Clean Water Act construction permit. As written now, not only would the bill remove important complementary, interlocking runoff protections, but it breaks with longstanding Virginia policy to require permit compliance with all state and federal environmental rules.
CBF and the Virginia conservation community urge Virginia readers to contact member of the House of Delegates’ Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee before Jan. 29 and tell them to oppose House Bill 1173 if it is not amended.
Virginia must advance stronger runoff pollution protections, not weaken or delay them. Otherwise, it will be impossible for Virginia to meet its Chesapeake Bay and local clean water goals, with great cost to society, the environment, and the economy.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photos: Top, Krista Schlyer/iLCP; bottom, CBF staff)