Last Wednesday, Virginia’s General Assembly gathered in Richmond for veto session, a final legislative day to review and vote on the Governor’s recommended amendments to bills and budgets. 

There were sunny skies over the state’s capital — on this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day — but the COVID-19 pandemic continued to cast its long shadow over the Commonwealth. The images were stunning. Delegates huddled under tents outside the Capitol, battling stiff breezes, technology glitches, and fainting spells. Senators sported colorful bandanas and home-made masks as they fiercely debated, one from behind his own personal plexiglass penalty box. Despite the challenges, Virginia’s state legislators completed the people’s work, for now. 

Most of the clean water policies we helped pass during the General Assembly had already been signed into law by Governor Northam. But one bill, to expand the water quality tools available to local governments within the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area, came back from the governor’s desk with improvements. With these new amendments, House Bill 504 will empower localities to use trees to improve water quality and will encourage coastal communities to be proactive in adapting to climate change and sea level rise.

The Governor also asked the legislature to hit “pause” on all new state spending funded by tax revenue as we wait to see how the pandemic will impact Virginia’s economy. Unfortunately, that means that much of the clean water funding we advocated for in the biennial budget will be put on hold indefinitely. Still, as much as $56 million may be available in Fiscal Year 2021 for agricultural conservation practices. That’s welcome news given the stress that the pandemic has placed on farmers across Virginia. And it means we can keep making progress towards restoring the James River and meeting our Bay Cleanup goals by 2025.

Even with this setback, we’re proud to say that our advocacy team, our volunteers, and our partners did extraordinary work during the 2020 General Assembly. But we know that unprecedented moments like these call for patience. 

While we wait to see what the future holds for clean water funding at the state level, let’s do what we can to promote a cleaner, healthier James River at home:

  • Encourage your representatives to keep prioritizing clean water >>
  • Check out our Virtual Classroom and share a lesson with a young learner >>
  • On your next outdoor walk, take a bag to pick up after your pet or scoop up trash >>
  • Celebrate spring by installing a rain barrel or planting a tree >>
  • Consider making a difference with a donation to JRA’s work >>

 And then… record your James Changing action here! Let’s celebrate how we’re all making a difference for clean water in our communities.