Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore wants to boost spending on water pollution control programs by $45.15 million, mostly to help meet Chesapeake cleanup objectives.
The money, which would be available July 1 if the General Assembly goes along, would be deposited in the state's Water Quality Improvement Fund, and is in addition to the $54 million deposit made last year for the state's two-year budget cycle.
"Virginians deserve and expect the highest quality water," Gilmore said in announcing the proposal. "During the 1998 General Assembly session, we made a number of important investments in water quality, and with the continued economic growth of the past year, we can now do much more in the upcoming session."
Economic growth makes the investment possible because the law establishing the fund requires that a portion of any budget surplus be placed in the fund. If the General Assembly goes along with Gilmore's proposal, $114 million will have been put into the Water Quality Improvement Fund since 1997.
While most of the money deposited last year was steered toward the implementation of the state's nutrient reduction strategy for the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, much of the new money is aimed at supporting nutrient reduction efforts in the state's other Bay tributaries. Nutrient control strategies for the largest of those rivers, the James, York and Rappahannock, are to be completed early this year.
Of the $45.15 million, half would go to the Department of Environmental Quality to support wastewater treatment plant upgrades in those three rivers as well as the small coastal basins on the eastern and western shores of the Bay.
Ten municipal wastewater treatment plants in those rivers have already been upgraded with new nutrient control technologies and are eligible for reimbursement, according to the governor's office, and at least five others have expressed interest in adding nutrient control systems.
In addition, the Department of Conservation and Recreation would get $9.8 million to address runoff pollution, both in the Bay watershed and in other parts of the state. Of that, $6 million will fund additional agricultural and other runoff control efforts in the James, York and Rappahannock basins.
The remaining $3.8 million will be used to fund the state's first year of participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Under that federal cost-share program, landowners can get payments to implement and maintain conservation practices that protect sensitive riparian and wetland areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture picks up 75 percent of the program cost, with the state paying the rest.
Gilmore's proposal would allow Virginia to enroll 35,000 acres statewide in the CREP program, including 25,000 acres in the Chesapeake basin. According to a fact sheet from the governor's office, that should more than fulfill the state's commitment to restore 610 miles of streamside forest - Virginia's portion of the Bay Program commitment to plant 2,010 miles of riparian forest buffers by 2010.
Gilmore also called for spending $11.31 million to match federal funding to upgrade combined sewer overflow systems in Richmond and Lynchburg, both on the James River. Unlike modern sewage systems, some older systems transported both sewage and stormwater to wastewater treatment plants.
During storms, the systems often overflow and send untreated sewage directly into the river. The upgraded system will ensure that all the wastewater gets treated, even during times of high flows.
In other programs, Gilmore proposed that:
- $461,000 be given to the DEQ to expand water quality monitoring efforts in the state.
- $624,000 be used to begin implementing Total Maximum Daily Load plans for Virginia's impaired waterways. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to develop, for all impaired waterways, plans which estimate the maximum amount of a pollutant that can be in the waterway and still allow it to meet its designated use. In 1998, the state listed 240 waterway segments as being impaired.
- $250,000 be spent to collect additional fish and sediment samples to look for signs of PCB contamination in the Staunton River, which is outside the Bay watershed.
- $1.5 million be spent to find innovative ways to treat ship hulls with Tributyltin (TBT) without causing a water pollution problem. TBT is a highly toxic ingredient used in ship paints to prevent various marine organisms from attaching to the hulls. TBT is one of 14 chemicals on the Bay Program's "Toxics of Concern" list, which includes those compounds thought to pose the greatest threat to aquatic life in the Chesapeake.
Virginia is the only state with a TBT limit, and currently, it isn't possible for shipyards to treat hulls and stay within the permit requirements, putting Virginia shipyards at a competitive disadvantage, according to the governor's office.
The money, to be matched with federal and private funds, will go to the Center for Advanced Ship Repair and Maintenance, an industry, government and academia consortium trying to find innovative solutions to the problem.