The Virginia General Assembly approved spending $54 million over the next two years to control pollution and help the state meet its 40 percent nutrient reduction goal.
Although that was slightly less than the $63 million Gov. Jim Gilmore had originally requested, it still represents a huge increase over the $15 million that had been budgeted for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"Never before has so much state funding been allocated to improving Virginia's water quality," said John Paul Woodley Jr., the Virginia secretary of natural resources.
The money goes into the state Water Quality Improvement Fund, a special fund created in 1997 to financially support a voluntary, statewide program of point and nonpoint sources pollution prevention and control. The budget for fiscal year 1998-2000 includes an appropriation of $37 million for point sources - primarily wastewater treatment plant dischargers - and $16.75 million for nonpoint source, or runoff control, improvements.
The funds support cost-share grants for the upgrade of sewage treatment plants and for management practices to control non-point source pollution.
A number of bills were introduced that would have amended the act creating the water fund. These bills were designed to open access to the fund for private facilities, projects in basins for which tributary strategies have not yet been completed, and other purposes. All bills to amend the act were carried over for further study and may be acted on in the 1999 session.
- The General Assembly modified permitting requirements for confined animal feeding operations, which are now covered by a general permit issued by the State Water Control Board. The bill mandates that facilities be inspected annually by the Department of Environmental Quality instead of once every five years and that siting, design and construction of an operation's waste storage lagoon be certified by a licensed professional engineer or government official. Also, notice must be given to neighbors of the proposed operation prior to registering for the permit. Owners or operators of facilities are to complete a training program offered by the DEQ before Jan. 1, 2000.
- After considerable debate, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources carried over to next year's session a bill for further study that requires the State Water Control Board to establish a regulatory program for poultry waste management in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The bill, as introduced, required that regulations address nutrient management plans, nutrient budgets, storage of waste, and poultry grower and processor responsibility for waste storage, management and disposal.
Fisheries & Habitat Management
- The General Assembly adopted legislation addressing the composition of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates the saltwater fisheries of the Commonwealth. It requires that one of the nine members of the Marine Resources Commission be a representative of the sportfishing industry or a recreational fisherman who is not em-ployed by the commercial fishing industry. Virginia Code now requires that a waterman be a member of the commission.
- The General Assembly directed the Virginia Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission to study measures to protect grass beds, or submerged aquatic vegetation, including addressing the impacts of certain fishery practices on SAV. Questions have been raised about the impact of fishery practices, including power dredging of wild clams and aquaculture operations on SAV restoration. The commission will report to the General Assembly by the next session.
Land Use & Management
- The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act was amended to allow local governments to incorporate certain penalty provisions into their ordinances developed to protect water quality in Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. Civil penalties may be assessed by a court for up to $5,000 per day for violating local program regulations. Local governments may also, with the consent of the violator, provide for the payment of civil charges which are not to exceed $10,000 per violation.
- Legislation was adopted that authorizes local governments to partially or totally exempt from real property taxation wetlands and riparian buffers that are subject to a perpetual easement which permits inundation by water.
- A study committee was created and charged with studying land development patterns and ways to address demands for increased services and infrastructure resulting from residential growth. The committee is to coordinate with the Commission on the Future of Virginia's Environment.
Environment Protection & Management
- The attorney general, with the concurrence of the local commonwealth's attorney, was given authority to prosecute violations of the Air Pollution Control law, the Virginia Waste Management Act, and the State Water Control law, as well as related offenses.
- The Commission on the Future of Virginia's Environment, chaired by House Speaker Thomas W. Moss, Jr., was continued for another year. During the coming year, the commission will examine effluent trading as a possible innovative means of pollution control as well as potential amendments to the 1997 Virginia Water Quality Improvement Act. In addition, the Commission is charged with developing a vision and plan for the future of Virginia's environment.
Adapted from summaries prepared by the Chesapeake Bay Commission.The commission is an advisory panel that includes members of the legislature from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.