The Virginia General Assembly approved a budget earmarking $50 million for reducing nutrient pollution entering the Bay, before adjourning in late February.
The lawmakers also called for establishing a permanent funding source to pay for the Bay’s restoration and other water quality problems. A study group is to make recommendations of funding options by next year’s legislative session.
The bipartisan action drew praise from environmentalists, who had made securing a permanent Bay cleanup funding source one of their highest priorities for the legislative session. “This is a major first step toward providing clean water for Virginians,” said Ann Jennings, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia office.
The $50 million, from the state’s general fund, is targeted at upgrading wastewater treatment plants with nutrient control technologies, which will be needed to meet the state’s new permit requirements.
In addition, the legislation calls for providing 10 percent of any general fund surplus that remains as of July 1 to Bay cleanup efforts. That’s expected to result in an additional $47 million this year. The legislation calls for 70 percent of that money to be used to curb nutrient runoff from farms and other sources, with the remaining 30 percent to be used for grants to wastewater dischargers, based on the financial need of the community.
Jennings cautioned that the legislative action was only a first step to fully fund Virginia’s water quality needs, saying the state required at least $160 million annually. She said the pledge to find a permanent, long-term funding source must be honored.
Nearly 7,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state, including its entire portion of the Chesapeake, fail to meet water quality standards. The state ranks last nationally in per-capita spending on environmental programs.
Several environmental groups had backed a $1 per week fee on sewer bills, but that failed to gain enough support to pass.
The House unanimously passed a resolution pledging $50 million a year for the next 10 years, out of general revenues, for the Bay cleanup. But many doubted the state could sustain that level of funding without a designated source of revenue.