The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.
If you talk to longtime residents of Hampton Roads, you will hear stories about how waterways are starting to show signs that they may be on the mend.
On the Lynnhaven River, a newly burgeoning oyster industry is made possible by the removal of unsafe levels of bacteria that for years led the river to be off-limits to harvest.
The Lafayette River was once a dumping ground for the region's stormwater, but was recently taken off Virginia's list of bacteria-impaired waters.
Out in the Chesapeake Bay, there is a resurgence in underwater grasses and locals report seeing the clearest water in a long time.
Our region is literally defined by water, and we are just beginning to experience how cleaner water improves the economy and quality of life where we swim, fish and live. All of this good news is reflected in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay report released last month, which gave the Bay the highest marks since the report began in 1998.
But the C- score the Bay received is still nowhere near what it needs to be to support economic growth and additional recreational opportunities.
As The Pilot noted in a recent editorial on the State of the Bay, "any improvement is noteworthy, if only to show how much further we have to go." We definitely have a long way to go.
The advances so far are the result of decades of hard work. In recent years, a state-federal partnership to reduce pollution called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint has led to progress. But the recovery is fragile, and can easily reverse course if we don't keep up momentum.
This month, state legislators are making key funding decisions that will determine whether Virginia stays on track to meet goals for cutting pollution. Now is the time to let legislators know how important it is to fund these critical clean water programs.
Here in Hampton Roads, a lot of work still needs to be done. With so many buildings, streets and parking lots, every rainfall washes a destructive mix of oil, dirt, litter, fertilizers, pet waste and more off hard surfaces and directly into local creeks and rivers.
Cities across Virginia are working to implement projects to control this runoff. Fortunately, a state program called the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund provides matching grants to help localities install stream and wetland restoration projects, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and other pollution-control measures.
These projects effectively treat polluted runoff by allowing excess water to filter into the earth naturally rather than surge into local creeks and rivers. This has the added benefit of reducing localized flooding, another problem with which all of us in this region are familiar.
The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund is already making a difference in Hampton Roads. So far 12 projects have been funded in Norfolk, with another three in Virginia Beach and three more in Chesapeake. On the Peninsula, another 27 projects have been funded.
But this program is under threat right now. With budgets tightening, funding could very well be eliminated in this General Assembly session unless legislators hear enough support for this program.
Cities in the region don't want to see these grants dry up. In fact, officials from many of the localities in Hampton Roads have written legislators and the governor urging continued support for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund.
While the Bay and rivers such as the Lafayette, Elizabeth, and the Lynnhaven are getting better, the recovery can easily be reversed unless we keep up the momentum.
All of us who believe we should leave a legacy of cleaner water and more recreational and economic opportunities for future generations can take a small but important step today by contacting elected officials in support of the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. The fate of our waters is on the line.
—Harry Lester, Chairman, CBF Board of Trustees