On December 15, 2021, long-suffering Chesapeake Bay got a holiday present from the state of Virginia. The gift brings the state’s 4-year commitment to restoring the bay over the $1 billion mark.
In Virginia alone, a restored Chesapeake Bay will generate more than $8 billion dollars each year in new economic value from improved commercial and recreational fishing, reduced drinking water treatment costs, resilience to climate change, and improved property values and quality of life in the region.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that his two-year budget proposal will provide a historic level of funding for Chesapeake Bay, clean water infrastructure and restoring/conserving the Commonwealth’s natural resources. With this proposal, the Commonwealth has now dedicated more than $1 billion to restore the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s tidal tributaries in the past four years.
“Virginia pledged to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to meet clean water goals by 2025,” said Governor Northam. “My budget will ensure that the Commonwealth lives up to its commitment and restores the natural bounty of the Chesapeake Bay. By assisting farmers and localities implementing our Bay clean-up plan, my budget supports the economic, public health, recreation and quality of life benefits of a restored Bay for future generations.”
The proposed budget will provide nearly $286 million to fully fund the Virginia Natural Resources Commitment Fund, assisting farmers and landowners to implement clean water and conservation practices. Working together, the agriculture and conservation communities have long advocated for full funding of Virginia’s agriculture BMP cost share “needs assessment” – a data-driven, stakeholder developed funding calculation. The cost share program supports various practices in conservation planning to treat cropland, pastureland, hay land and forested land. Additionally, funding will provide technical assistance for farmers and landowners to implement conservation practices.
“Virginia is facing a 2025 deadline to meet Clean Water Act mandates for reducing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Ann Jennings. “This historic investment in the Bay responds to calls from coalitions of local government, business and conservation interests. With this funding, we know that a saved Bay is within reach and one that will benefit all Virginians.”
The proposal also includes an additional $10 million for the Virginia Land Conservation and supports the conservation of forest and farmland through a $5 million investment to the Office of Farmland Preservation.
“Collaboration is key to ensuring the protection of the Chesapeake Bay and other important watersheds and lands across our great commonwealth,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “These bold investments in our farmland and forests in rural and urban areas, further demonstrate the critical role they play in protecting our environment, building healthier communities, and growing our economy.”
The proposed budget dedicates $233.6 million to address the inequities in clean water accessibility by tackling outdated sewer systems and failing septics. The proposal includes a $165 million investment to support the cities of Richmond, Lynchburg, and Alexandria and $68.6 million in funding for local municipal wastewater needs.
“Virginia’s farmers are key partners in the effort to restore the quality and bounty of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Delegate David Bulova, Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “By fully funding agriculture conservation practices and technical support, these investments ensure farmers have what they need to participate in Virginia’s cleanup plan for the Bay.”
“Conserving Virginia’s natural landscapes and open spaces supports tourism, one of Virginia’s most important industries,” said Senator Emmett Hanger, long-standing member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “These investments also help maintain our working farm and forest lands and support local communities protecting high-value natural resources.”
Additionally, the funding will address the shortage in seedling availability by re-establishing the New Kent Nursery, expanding the Urban and Community Forestry Program, and increasing tree-planting. These efforts will simultaneously support the goals of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan.
“Investments in our water infrastructure supports local economies and public health,” said Senator Richard Stuart, long standing member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. “This funding addresses the overflow of poorly and untreated waste to the Potomac, Rappahannock and James Rivers so our children and their children can swim and play in our rivers without being threatened by harmful bacteria pollution.”
The Governor made the announcement at the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center in Charles City. After the announcement, the Governor hosted the Chesapeake Executive Council for a working lunch at the Executive Mansion and chaired the Council’s annual business meeting.
Photo of Chesapeake Bay wetland is by Storm Cunningham.