The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) provided the answer this week with a five-point “Action Plan” aimed at candidates for state office this fall. Virginians go to the polls in November to elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Should any of the candidates for these offices wonder how best to clean up the Bay and Virginia’s 13,000 miles of polluted streams and rivers, look no further than CBF’s Action Plan.
Agriculture, Virginia’s largest land use, remains the largest source of Bay pollution. Virginia farmers have made great progress in reducing pollution, but much work remains to be done. Farm conservation practices reduce runoff from fields, pastures, and barnyards, improve farm production, and are proven to be the most cost-effective tools for clean water. Many Virginia farmers already use conservation practices, but many still do not, one of the reasons farm runoff remains a pollution problem for the Bay and thousands of miles of rural streams and rivers.
CBF urges incoming state leaders to fully fund and effectively manage the state’s conservation cost-share program in order to meet the state’s pollution reduction commitments in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint – 35 percent less pollution by 2015 and 60 percent less by 2017. Further, if the 35 percent goal isn’t achieved by 2015, Virginia should mandate certain farm practices, such as fencing to exclude livestock from streams. (Note: Recent statewide polling found that two-thirds of Virginia voters would support requiring farmers to fence livestock out of streams.)
Polluted runoff washing off rooftops, streets, and parking lots is getting worse and threatens to overwhelm past progress in restoring local streams and the Bay. Virginia will continue to see closed beaches, contaminated seafood, “dead zones,” erosion, flooding, and dirty local streams unless localities find new, cost-effective ways to better manage runoff. But localities need the state to help.
CBF calls upon Virginia to establish a dedicated, state matching grant program that helps cities and towns better manage runoff pollution. The grant program should incentivize innovative, cost-effective, job-creating conservation practices that reduce urban runoff. And it must be sufficient to ensure localities meet their five-year permit requirements for reducing pollution. (Note: The recent polling found that a 57-percent majority of Virginians would support a homeowner’s fee of up to $1 a week to provide steady funding for reducing runoff pollution from homes, businesses, and streets.)
Oysters cannot restore the Bay, but the Bay will never be restored without robust numbers of oysters. Oysters filter Bay water, and oyster reefs provide food and homes for many, many marine creatures. Overharvesting, pollution, and disease decimated oysters in the Bay, but in recent years oysters have shown signs of recovery. The oyster industry once supported thousands of jobs and added many millions to the state’s economy. Oysters can do so again, and more, if Virginia builds on efforts to grow the fishery and boost restoration.
CBF calls upon incoming Virginia leaders to fully restore oyster habitat and oyster populations in three Bay tributaries and to sustainably grow the state’s oyster harvest of wild and farmed oysters to 500,000 bushels a year. Success will be achieved by using responsible, science-based management and robust enforcement against poaching.
Atlantic menhaden have been called “the most important fish in the sea” because of their essential role in the diets of other fish, birds, and marine mammals. The harvest of these small fish also has supported the bait fishery and a reduction fishery in Reedville that converts menhaden into oil and other products. These fisheries provide hundreds of Virginia jobs. Menhaden numbers have plummeted to record lows, however, threatening Bay ecology and Virginia’s economy.
Thus, in four years Virginia must achieve the population target currently established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in its science-based, coast-wide menhaden management plan.
The future protection of Virginia’s natural resources depends upon the next generation of Virginians. Environmental education increases student engagement in science and other subjects. It also provides the knowledge and skills to become informed and responsible stewards and to succeed in a 21st century workforce. Virginia must ensure today’s students are prepared to address the complex environmental challenges they will face as future citizens, parents, voters, and leaders.
CBF calls upon the next governor to establish a Governor’s Commission on Science, the Environment, and Stewardship to develop a plan and timeline to ensure that all Virginia students graduate environmentally literate. (Note: The statewide polling found that 68 percent of Virginians would back such requirements.)
There you have it, current and future leaders. Want to Save the Bay and provide clean water to all Virginians? That’s how.
Bay Daily Virginia readers: I urge you to share the Action Plan with candidates. You can find more details here.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Top photo by iStock; others by CBF)